The Undignified Life of John Mayer


John Mayer seems like a lucky guy.  His four albums have all  gone multi-platinum; he has won four Grammy Awards, dated some of the world’s most glamorous women, is a successful design artist and has nearly three million people following him on Twitter.  And all before the age of 33.

Then why does this guy sound so broken, full of regrets and  lacerated by self-recrimination?   That would be the impression anyone would receive after reading the latest profile of the artist in Rolling Stone Magazine.

The piece begins with Mayer’s description of his repeated encounters with women whom he seduces into joining him in his bedroom, only to find himself rejected before the relationship is consummated.

In the article, Mayer declares that since this has happened more than once, he knows what the girl is thinking: ” Wait till I tell my friends I turned down John Mayer!”  Indignity is heaped on rejection when the departing women ask for his autograph.

Throughout the interview (with Erik Hedegaard), Mayer makes it clear that all is not well in Mayerland.  Two high profile relationships with tabloid superstars collapsed;  his nights are usually spent alone and even his dreams are haunted by the pursuit of paparazzi.

But just as clear is the fact that Mayer has brought many of these problems upon himself.  His pursuit of fame and attention, and his obsessiveness with his image, is all in contrast to the portrait of soulful balladeer, consumed by his music and art.  This troubled, conflicted image has led to his most recent incarnation as a tabloid staple.

Why then should anyone reserve sympathy for John Mayer?  With his fortune, his fame, his  success and romantic conquests he has achieved, at a relatively young age, what other men fail to achieve in a lifetime.

The answer is that Mayer is not a free man, but a victim of fame.  His notoriety, which he admits he cultivates, operates now as a wedge between himself and the rest of the world, making it impossible for him to nurture or sustain relationships.   Though he is really not honest enough to admit it, it is painfully clear that he is aware that something vital is missing in his life and that his own fame has become a trap.

I usually don’t waste time writing about celebrities, since there are quite enough other people already doing it.  But there is a lesson for everyone in Mayer’s life trajectory.  How do we establish dignity in life?  How do we remain committed to the values and ideals which are at the core of our existence without being distracted by what others think of us or trying to become something other than what we are?  For without dignity there can be no successful relationships nor connections to other human beings.

With the collapse of the wall that divides our public from private lives, millions of us, not necessarily as famous nor as rich as Mayer, are asking ourselves the same question.  In the age of Twitter and Facebook, when minute details of our private lives become transparent for the world, we may be losing the struggle to maintain individual dignity and a sense of worthiness.

Mayer, obviously intelligent and aware, emerges from the article deeply conflicted about this, even as he launches into self-aggrandizing soliloquies.

Whenever I read such profiles, I am reminded again of  Judy Garland’s admonition: “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.”

Garland, sadly, fell victim to the cult of fame and was ruined by it.  Its a good lesson for John Mayer and perhaps for us all.

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