Entertainment People Skin deep: A melting moment makes Garry Linnell ponder fame

Skin deep: A melting moment makes Garry Linnell ponder fame

Garry Linnell sympathises with New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as he remembers fame and power can be just skin deep. Photo: Getty/TND
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I don’t know about you, but I vowed a long time ago to never again wear make-up on hot days.

I make this admission after watching former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani at his press conference last week.

Mr Giuliani was squinting into the harsh TV lights, babbling on about election fraud in his dutiful role as Donald Trump’s legal crony, when he began sweating profusely and dark hair dye trickled down the side of his face.

I stared at those chocolate streaks dribbling across his fleshy jowls and, unlike many, did not wonder about the vanity and insecurity that drives a balding 76-year-old man to use cheap hair colouring.

I just assumed he must have bought a half-used bottle of the stuff after stumbling into one of Rupert Murdoch’s weekend garage sales.

I sympathised with the man because I, too, have been left with a melting face that a hungover Pablo Picasso might have painted on a bad day.

About 10 years ago I invited friends to a New Year’s Eve party at my place. It had a rock star theme and I drove for hours until I found the only fancy dress store in the state with a spare Gene Simmons costume for hire.

Hotter than hell! Garry at the party (it was early in the night before the make-up melted – but late enough for the photo to turn out blurry). Photo: Garry Linnell

Simmons is the long-tongued bass player in Kiss – the glam rock band that burst on to the music scene in the early 1970s with painted faces and a blazing stage show featuring so much smoke and pyrotechnics a generation of budding arsonists were left with feelings of severe inadequacy.

I was obsessed with the band during my teenage years.

I slept on footpaths in order to be at the front of the queue when concert tickets went on sale. I camped overnight in the car park of a stadium just to get in line for their shows. And, of course, I wore make-up just like them.

The New Year’s Eve party was an excuse to revisit those years, not to mention an opportunity to wear six-inch boots, a thick black wig, a metal-studded codpiece and a tight-fitting lycra outfit that would leave my middle-aged body resembling a split shopping bag jammed with sponge cakes and doughnuts.

But on the night of the party one of the worst heatwaves in history hit the east coast. By 10pm it was still 40 degrees and only a dozen guests had turned up.

Not one of them wore a costume. Not one of them would dance.

To be fair, some did twist and contort themselves, but only so they could fit into the ice-filled eskies on the balcony.

I strutted about serving guests food and drinks while trying to lift them from their zombie-like torpor with impersonations of Gene Simmons on stage.

As I sweated I had no idea that the foundation camouflaging my age spots, the eye shadow and mascara transforming my squinty eyes and the thick lipstick disguising my grim thin lips was clarifying like warm butter.

I did not notice the murky black trail on the floor that followed wherever I walked.

Not long after midnight everyone left and I drove to the train station to pick up my teenage son, who had been to the city to watch the fireworks.

I have never forgotten how his face paled as he stood there with a large group of friends and recognised the figure waving and walking toward him dressed in dripping lycra with a bare chest stained with melted make-up.

Thankfully it only took a decade for him to begin speaking to me again and now he appreciates that his old man hails from a different era when teenagers were far more fanatical when it came to following their idols.

For me it was Kiss.

For the girls who sat in my high school class with tartan strips sewed to their school uniforms, it was the Bay City Rollers.

Garry at a Kiss concert at VFL Park in 1980. Photo: Garry Linnell

For our young history teacher it was Beatlemania with its thousands of screaming hysterical girls.

It was a time when famous people were unknowable, when being a real celebrity meant they appeared taller, stronger and better looking than most of us mortals.

They were larger than life because we had no way of glimpsing them without the spotlights and smoke and mirrors of their publicity machines.

But now the mystery has faded. When was the last time you heard about fans camping outside hotels trying to catch a glimpse of a touring star?

When was the last time fleets of ambulances stood outside concert halls waiting to revive hundreds of fainting fans?

Video might have killed the radio star, but social media has shrunk the celebrity.

Actors and music stars now post photographs of their breakfast muesli on Instagram, tweet every hour about their thoughts on global warming, and issue daily updates on Facebook about how much sleep they had the night before.

It turns out they are disturbingly like the rest of us, apart from their mansions and access to decent plastic surgeons.

Their grammar is just as bad. They can look very ordinary in the morning. Some even wear tracky pants around the house.

They have become mundane.

It’s what happens when you strip away the make-up. Or when it melts.

Walkley Award winner Garry Linnell is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected journalists and editors