Fame Game (for Joni Mitchell)

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me, and how you suffered for your sanity; how you tried to set them free. They would not listen they’re not listening still; perhaps they never will.”  – Vincent – Don McLean

Vincent fell asleep at four am with the lifeless brush still in his paint stained hand. He woke at noon and fixed himself a coffee and turned on the TV. A well dressed lawyerly looking man was enthusiastically extolling the benefits of his services. He said he could fix it so if anyone would simply phone him NOW he could get them “compensation for their pain and suffering”. Vincent thought this was a good deal but wondered how with the budget deficit and Barack cutting back NASA funding such an astronomical amount could possibly ever be raised. He also thought that if these gifts were distributed equally starting with those who had the most pain and suffering, like the natives in Africa without food and clean drinking water, that he and his ilk living in the luxury of the USA would come in far down the list of worthy recipients.

Vincent left his chalet and wandered the streets toward the Pub. He was dirty, disheveled and tottering a bit in his worn down shoes. He was welcomed at the bar by local prostitutes who loved to fawn over him while he drew sketches for them on bar napkins that they so admired; they let him trade them in exchange for their services. A man arrived and approached the bar. He ordered a drink and told the bartender to fill Vincent’s glass with the cheap wine he was drinking. They struck up a conversation and the man discovered that Vincent was a Painter.

The man told Vincent that he was an art aficionado and curator for a local gallery. He asked Vincent if he would take him to his studio and show him his paintings. They slapped their glasses down on the old, worn wooden bar, doffed their caps to the bartender, said good-by to the women and set out. Upon arriving at Vincent’s meager hovel Vincent displayed his paintings and the man was astonished. He thought them magnificent and that Vincent was a great undiscovered, unwashed talent not unlike Jean Michel Basquiat.

The man asked to buy a particular painting. “What’s it called” the man said. “Starry Night” Vincent said. “How much” The man asked. “Fifty dollars” Vincent answered.  “I do like it, but I’m a little disturbed by the yellow bit in the corner”. “That’s the Moon” Vincent said. “Could you paint me one like it but with a little more blue and grey” the man asked. “Sure” Vincent said. The man left and Vincent slumped in his chair. Vincent dined that night on yellow paint and feral squirrel and he dreamed all night about a beautiful girl.

A week went by and as Vincent lived on yellow paint and carrion he found in the streets that he cooked on a hot plate in his make shift kitchen he painted his palette blue and grey and looked out on the winter’s day with eyes that showed the darkness in his soul. He painted the shadows on the hills and the trees and the daffodils and caught the breeze from the winter chill that rushed through the open window. He painted the swirling clouds in a violet haze that reflected in Vincent’s eyes of china blue. His weathered face was lined in pain but soothed now beneath his artist’s loving hand.

Vincent finished the painting and the man bought it. The man held a dinner party at his house that Saturday night and proudly displayed the painting to his artsy friends. They decided that Vincent was their next great meal ticket. The men promoted Vincent’s work and managed to get him a one man show. Vincent and his now famous painting blew up and soon the men had Vincent flying around the world first class to great acclaim. He became rich and famous and the men who had promoted him made a fortune.

Vincent’s shows were the talk of the art world. He would create a painting live onstage in front of screaming crowds. Every time he’d start a painting the groupies in the Mosh Pit would yell to Vincent; “Do another Starry Night man”. “Do another Starry Night”. One fateful night when the absinthe and the cocaine and the women and the screams of the crowd to repeat his masterpiece combined with all the adulation that now overwhelmed Vincent’s flagging creativity, driving Vincent’s brain to oblivion, he faced the screaming fans, took out a pen knife from his pocket that he used to open the ends of the paint tubes and slowly, to the horror, shrieks and applause of the crowd, calmly, deliberately, sawed off his left ear. Vincent showed it to the assemblage and then gave it a great toss into the crowds in the cheap seats. The fans fought over it like a foul ball hit by Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium.

Vincent turned and walked down the old stairs from the podium and through the stage door. He felt ruined by worship and destroyed by success. He stepped into his new chauffer driven limousine and snorted a bit of the white powder that the men who fed off his soul provided and that had become his only friend; never asking a thing in return. As the car pulled away slowly he felt as though he was astral planing in a dream state, pious; calm and strangely holy; though mostly Vincent felt relieved. He drove silently to the Pub where his journey had started those many years ago when he met the man he now thought must have been Mephistopheles. He wondered; had he sold his soul to the devil? Vincent took the shabby piece of paper he had written the TV lawyers phone number on, and kept for all those years of somnambulist void, to the phone booth, closed the door and dialed the number. Vincent explained his conundrum as best he could to the lawyer, describing his indescribable pain and suffering. The lawyer listened. Then he told Vincent that he couldn’t help with the kind of pain and suffering that plagued Vincent.

And so, early that next morning, as the prostitutes from Vincent’s favorite place left the Pub; while Vincent’s paintings hung in empty halls; the women knelt weeping over Vincent’s lifeless body as he lay crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

For they could not love you; but still your love was true, and when no hope was left in sight on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do. I could have told you Vincent; this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” Don McLean


About circusinpurgatory
Nick Masesso Jr’s fictionalized short stories, poetry and prose have been published in the Starry Night Review, Elegant Thorn Review, Language and Culture.net and Vagabond Press; the Battered Suitcase. His latest book “Armor of Innocence” and first book “Walking the Midway in Purgatory, a Journal” are available on-line and through bookstores.

2 Responses to Fame Game (for Joni Mitchell)

  1. pinkbubblespinkbubbles says:

    This is simply brilliant. They say time travel isn’t real….it was, the day you wrote this.

  2. James Mcfarland says:

    Reality is stranger than fiction, so they say, until Masesso sends you on a one way time warp … into madness.

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