Two visitors leave the office along with me tonight. They’d had a meeting that went pretty well, apparently, well enough to break the silent force field that most people turn on in large New York elevators.
I’m also wearing shorts and carrying a bike helmet, so maybe they think I’m a bike messenger.
“Well that went well,” the man says, his voice lingering on the “well”, with a pause meant to cue his female partner. “Oh I KNOW,” she says, her hands fluttering, “you were just awesome in there! Especially how you stood up and gestured and threw all those comps to the side and everything — you’re such a ROCK STAR!!”
Whenever someone says “Rock Star” in an office setting, Keith Moon’s spirit buys a pair of pleated khakis at TJ Maxx.
My soul groans a deep and lowing tone, the sound of a majestic redwood that’s about to just give up completely. When I worked as a business banking researcher, my manager would refer to (other) members of our little team as “Excel Rock Stars,” or “research Rock Stars.” She would also leave photocopied prayers for strength and forgiveness on the office copier. Later in our relationship, when she was letting me go, she told me while shaking her head that I “just didn’t have a passion for banking research.”
“I think she’s buttering me up a little, don’t you,” he says, “trying to get some free drinks out of me before the train leaves for Connecticut.” She giggles a little more, and looks at me, saying “no, he was a Rock Star in there, he really had it together! It was incredible!”
“What do you think, man, is she putting it on a little here or what,” he says, totally milking her for more elevator-appropriate adoration.
What I think is:
Nothing says “you will spend the rest of your life in a beige and climate controlled purgatory” like being called “Rock Star” for showing up on time with a succinct PowerPoint presentation.
But I don’t say that. What I say is, “well, you have to be careful when you hear that phrase at work. It usually means something’s coming. I always brace for it whenever I hear that term.”
“Oh, stop,” she says, looking at her partner and laughing still. He’s looking at her, but asking me, “what is it, then?”
“In my experience in office settings, ‘Rock Star’ is the steam wafting off of a pile of corporate bullshit,” I say, before I can stop myself.
But look, people. We’ve got to think about our language a little here, go a little deeper into the subtext. Real Rock Stars show up at least an hour late and blow the hearts and minds of thousands of screaming people. They writhe and sweat, they put their hearts on the line night after night and leave the stage in a hail of cheers and underpants and then shower women way better looking than themselves with champagne at dawn. It’s the reward for years and years of having heart and eating beans, of nurturing the flames in their souls long after it’s time to compromise, shave and get a day job.
Every time someone calls me a ‘Rock Star’ it reminds me how far I am from that. And man, it just burns.