This is Rob Long with Martini Shot KCRW.
Year ago, when a friend of mine was leaving his small town in Missouri to drive to Hollywood, to be an actor, his mother hugged him good bye and said, "Don't lose your soul."
Which is one of those things, I guess, that you blurt out when you don't know what else to say, when the idea of actually going to a place like Hollywood to work in movies or television or -- I don't think real people use the phrase "the entertainment industry;" they say show business or just "Hollywood," when the idea of going to Hollywood to work as an actor or a writer or anything, really, is just so remote and vaguely alarming to the people back home, for whom Hollywood is a sort of unattractive mystery.
I'm sure when he heard her say, impulsively, "Don't lose your soul," he sort of rolled his eyes and thought, "Oh come on," the way you do when you're twenty-three and your mom says something embarrassingly…corny, but really, when you think about it, that pretty much sums up what the stakes are, doesn't it?
I mean, all of us who work in this industry have people back home -- and back home can mean a small town in Missouri, Pittsburgh, or even Van Nuys -- who will never understand what we do out here, who will always ask, "So, you working on anything I might get to see?" Who will wonder, if they ever come to visit us, what the people who mill around Los Angeles in the middle of the day do for a living. Or, worse, what it is that we do for a living. Or, more to the point, what it is we do for money, since most of us seem to work intermittently, scramble for jobs, and spend too much on clothes.
You can lose your soul when you make it big, but you can just as easily lose it when you don't, and let's face it, most people who work in entertainment never quite get as high or as far or as rich as they expected to when they piled their belongings into the back of the car and headed west. For most of us, the trick is to figure out a way to be happy with a lot less -- or, better put, with something a lot different -- from what we secretly hoped would be a winning lottery ticket and a lot of acres north of Sunset. I mean, there are so many ways to lose your soul. So it's quite a blessing to have someone, somewhere, out of town or maybe just not in the business, keeping an eye on you, and your soul, just in case.
Years later, when he was a lot older and had kids of his own, my friend's parents came to visit. They were driving around town, collecting some kids from playdates, taking some kids to birthday parties -- and after some quick turns along side streets, his mother looked at him and sighed, "wow, you really know your way around," in kind of a sad voice, like she suddenly realized that this place -- Los Angeles -- was his home, that he was raising kids here, he wasn't going to pile his stuff into the back of his car and drive back to a small town in Missouri, that he knew his way around, and that he hadn't -- so far, anyway, lost his soul. I think that for the people we know back home, there is something bittersweet about our living here, working in this business, making this place our home. They're happy for us, of course. But they also worry. They also wonder. Not a bad thing, actually. We should do more of it ourselves.
This Martini Shot is for Jan Fall, who died last month in Helena, Montana, leaving her husband Jim, two daughters, seven grandchildren, and a son who, thanks to her, was never in any danger of losing his soul.
For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.