Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Waiting for a star to fall: When celebrities tumble onstage

Years ago, my mom and I were walking and talking in downtown Atlanta during one of my regular visits to the city where my mother had moved shortly after I left home for college. I was doing most of the talking (about what, I can't quite recall), and when the time came for her weigh in, there was silence.

I waited. Not a word. I looked over my shoulder and realized that my mother was no longer walking beside me. I turned around, and there she was, about half a block behind me, sitting on the sidewalk, looking up at me. Her eyes were saying, "What is wrong with you, boy?" She'd taken a nasty spill, and I had been to busy yakking to notice.

I ran back and arrived just in time for a lady to help mom off the ground and say, "God bless you," before walking away. I felt terrible that my mom had fallen, and I had been too engrossed in telling my silly story to notice. Had anyone shown up at that moment and started laughing at her misfortune, God knows what I would have done to them. (I'm not sure if my mom remembers this incident, but the other day, when I received an email from her with "Still Standing" in the subject line, I breathed a sigh of relief.)

Fast forward more than a decade later, and my friends and I are at a restaurant in Buenos Aires, laughing at YouTube videos of divas falling in concert. First Mariah Carey. Then Beyonce (mid-"Ring the Alarm," a song that requires total control, both vocally and physically, to work). Both falls looked painful and painfully embarrassing, and falling, which can be quite hazardous to one's health, is no laughing matter.

When we see someone fall on a bustling sidewalk, it's not necessarily side-splitting stuff. During my many years living in big cities, I've seen countless people take nasty spills in transit (usually women), and not once do I recall even cracking a smile. And God knows, I've had my share of public wipe outs -- trudging through iced-over snow in New York City; jogging in Buenos Aires; dancing, drunkenly (natch!), on a platform in Alibi, a club in Milan; wobbling, inebriated (natch!), down the stairs in Heaven, a disco in London -- and I've never seen anyone bust out laughing.

But I'm still chuckling to myself at the mental image of Jennifer Lopez tripping while performing on the American Music Awards last year. And I'm not sure how Naomi Campbell, or any model for that matter (Remember Carrie Bradshaw's catwalk disaster on Sex and the City?), can show their faces in public again after toppling over on the runway. When you think about it, it's bound to happen at some point to anyone who makes a living negotiating complicated movements on a stage. Unfortunately for them, in this age of YouTube, the pain my go away, but the image of the falling star lives on in infamy.

Of the two superstars at whose expense my friends and I were laughing on Saturday night, Beyonce's trip was by far the most spectacular because there were steps involved and, unlike Mariah, she wasn't pregnant, so the laughter wasn't punctuated by pangs of guilt. I'm still not sure how Beyoncé managed to quickly get back on her feet and continue performing without any evidence of physical pain, but I guess that's what super troupers do. The show must go own? Haven't got time for the pain? (Feel free to insert your own relevant song title here).

Meanwhile, the rest of us die laughing and look forward to the next fallen star.

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