Brown dwarfs are objects in the universe that are smaller than normal stars, bigger than planets. These objects are incapable of sustaining stable nuclear fission like ordinary stars do. So what happens is that they slowly but surely contract. Their light dims.
Last week, sab mentioned how many rock stars of days gone buy are still working it, yet are becoming embarrassments. He cited Lou Reed. Pete Townshend. Bob Dylan (aptly noting that the picture on the new disc makes him appear to be the reincarnation of Vincent Price). And others. So far as he’s concerned, one of the fortunate few who is maintains relevance is Neil Young. (As I watched/listened to Young perform “Imagine” in last night’s “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” it occurred to me that he is probably the only artist living who can actually do the song.)
So a question that arises is whether some of the people whom we blithely designated as being “stars” are really no more than brown dwarfs: Bigger than many, but with an inability to really sustain a shine. Certainly, to stick with this whole astrophysics metaphor, it is true that all stars eventually burn out. But when a star goes, it goes big: It gets extremely hot before it collapses into a black hole.
Related to all of this (funny how things come together) is an ad that I encountered in the October, 2001, issue of Wired for the Toyota Camry. As a bit of background: Toyota is undertaking its biggest marketing campaign in its history. For one thing, it has the all-new Camry, a car that has been the best-seller in the U.S. for years running, a position for the car that the company wants to keep. For another, the managers at the company know that “Toyota” has become synonymous with “quality” and “reliability.” While those are certainly good attributes to have for a vehicle, they think that it is important that people associate the brand with emotion, too. So the new tagline for the company is “Get the Feeling. Toyota.” (Similarly, Lexus, Toyota’s luxo marquee, has gone from “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” to the “The Relentless Pursuit of Passion.”)
One of the things that all of us associate with emotion (and all too rarely for some people, I’m afraid, passion) is music. So in the multipage gatefold add, the new Camry, tagged “Number 1. With a Bullet”, is associated with musicians, two solo artists and two bands.
The first solo is Kina, a musician from Detroit whose music I am entirely unfamiliar with, so I must, fairly, leave her out of all musings to follow.
But the next one is, surprisingly, Lyle Lovett. Surprisingly, because although I admire the Camry from a technical standpoint, I must admit that the last car that I can imagine Lovett rolling in is a Camry. Something old. Something beat up. Something with, well, character.
Then there are the Go-Go’s. OK. The band has a relatively new album. It is attempting to make a comeback. The band has a certain nostalgic freshness for people who followed its music through the ’80s. Perhaps in an effort not to fade, Belinda Carlisle, arguably the front woman of the band, recently appeared in Playboy. One of my office colleagues brought in the issue (note: there are four males in the office). The photos were examined as though we were the “Lone Gunmen” of X-Files fame. And we became convinced that while the noggin was Belinda’s the remaining, ah, attributes had to be those of another. In an earlier time, when wearing fur was something that was still acceptable, there was a series of ads with the line “What Becomes a Legend”—a.k.a. a bona-fide “Star”—”Most?” and the payoff was Blackgama furs. The photo in the ad was an actress or singer wearing, ostensibly, nothing but the fur coat. Now, evidently, what is imagined to be becoming is nothing. (Apologies to Sartre.)
The final band in the Toyota ad is Earth, Wind & Fire. As I have already dealt with their Pfizer-powered comeback in a previous post, I’ll let them go at the moment (although the relationship of the photo of the Go-Go’s and EW&F is somewhat amusing: Belinda is the closest member of the band to the Viagra-sponsored).
So I wonder: Are Lovett, the Go-Go’s, and Earth, Wind & Fire stars or brown dwarfs? The first has never really made it “big.” Perhaps by design. But maybe a performer doesn’t get to make the choice of big or not: the public makes that decision. The Go-Go’s and Earth, Wind & Fire, by the measure of recordings sold, certainly are star material, but just as the astral brown dwarf is incapable of sustaining stable fission, there was an apparent diminution of their luster over the years, and I doubt that appearing in a Toyota ad is going to help generate the flare that would be characteristic of a real star.
But maybe there is another consideration that has to be made. Few besides astronomers are familiar with things like brown dwarfs. Most of us live our lives without having the slightest idea of where the nearest celestial object is located (hint: you’re on it right now). Perhaps breaking down Camry ads is as curious a pursuit as gazing at the real stars in our universe.
(Shine on, Neil.)