Thing a Week Redux

5 years ago Jonathan Coulton (that's me) started a project called Thing a Week, in which I released newly recorded song every Friday for a year. I'm replaying it in real time here with all the songs and the text from the original posts.

May 7

Thing a Week 33: Tom Cruise Crazy

Poor Tom Cruise. Sure, he’s got plenty of money and fame and power, but the dude is seriously effed up. I’m a fan, I think he’s a pretty pretty fellow and he makes a fine action film. And I’ve really enjoyed watching him freak out in public of late. But there’s something about these superfamous types that I find very sad – the Michael Jacksons, the Madonnas, and now I can’t think of a third one. Which just goes to show, it’s a very exclusive club – there are only a few of these people who get so absorbed by popular culture that they lose the ability to exist on our plane.

Note to Tom Cruise/Scientologist Heavies: please don’t sue me or have me killed.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Victory! This one really had staying power, it’s become an important part of the repertoire even though at the time it wasn’t a huge viral hit or anything. It’s fun to play and fun to sing, and it’s one of those songs that works for almost any audience.

The chord progression and melody of the chorus were floating around in my head for months before it got written, every week it was one of the ideas I would circle back to and try to make work before I would write anything new. This week I either had some success with that technique, or more likely just couldn’t think of anything else and had to push it through. Tom’s Oprah appearance was in May of 2005, and that was the beginning of a string of stuff with him and Katie Holmes and a thing with Brooke Shields about anti-depressants and just general wackadoodle business. It was on my mind, and it’s possible I was also thinking about fame in relation to my own newly chosen career.

I really do feel bad for Tom Cruise. I’m a little more well acquainted with how it feels to be famous (kinda sorta) than I was, and I have to say, it does feel pretty weird sometimes. I always love making a connection with people through the music or through a performance, that’s not what I’m talking about. The strange part is the other stuff, the stuff that’s not connected with the things I make and do - and I get very little of this, but it amounts to “Look, there’s that guy.”

There’s an aspect of fame that is mostly about scarcity. You might want to have your picture taken next to the Eiffel Tower for the same reason you might want to have your picture taken next to Tom Cruise: because it marks the moment that you were there in that unique place. This is less a factor for me, because I’m not famous enough to be famous just for being famous. But when it does happen, I can feel it breaking my connection with myself for a second. The interaction between object of fame and admirer of fame has very little humanity in it - in both directions, I know, I’ve made an ass of myself many times in front of famous people. It just makes everyone crazy for a little while. While the non famous (or less famous) person is trying to mark the moment, or say something important, or in some way take advantage of this rare opportunity, the famous (or more famous) person is trying to act the way they’re supposed to act, trying to live up to what they’re supposed to be, trying to live up to the moment that is so important for this other person. And meanwhile they might be tired, sad, unshowered, in the middle of an argument, constipated, whatever. It’s not a real interaction between people, it’s some other kind of bizarre transaction, and our hearts are not built for it.

I never feel famous inside my head, and so when people treat me like a famous person, it creates a little tear in the fabric of reality. That tear is easily repaired by spending time as just me, hanging out with friends or family who know me as Jonathan. But I can imagine that if enough of those tears happened over a short enough span of time, you might not easily be able to come back from it. And what happens when even your private time gets corrupted? When you can’t go to the grocery store without people trying to take pictures of you and sell them to magazines? When you start to suspect even your friends are treating you differently, maybe even start to wonder if they are even your friends? And what if there’s a pseudo scientific system/religion/cult that blames all of your disconnectedness and failing relationships on the spirits of ancient aliens who are living inside your body? Does that make any less sense than the fact that complete strangers are hiding in bushes outside your home with cameras, going through your garbage, speculating on your sexuality, and wondering if you are really in love with your wife or just pretending to be? That would be weird, right?

I recognize this is a first world problem. And I’m not complaining - I love my job, SO MUCH, and I’m not trying to make you feel bad about having your picture taken with me. I am grateful for (and henceforth forever in desperate need of) your attention. I do my best to always stay grounded, appropriately thankful, and as real as I can be given the circumstances. But it’s not always easy even at my meager level of fame, and I simply cannot imagine how it must be for Tom and people like him (I call him Tom, we’re pals because we’re both famous).

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com.


  1. ugly-machine reblogged this from jonathancoulton and added:
    This is definitely my favourite song from this project, and the updated contemplation from Jonathan doesn’t hurt.
  2. revelevon reblogged this from jonathancoulton
  3. chicazul said: As a non-famous person the whole experience is bizarre, too. I spend so much time with your fanbase that I’m continually fascinated by fame as it pertains to you—so I get a kick that you & your famous friends can talk about it at such length. (:
  4. redbandgeek reblogged this from jonathancoulton
  5. cinderlily reblogged this from jonathancoulton and added:
    Tom Cruise is so in love with Katie, at least all his people tell him so.
  6. jonathancoulton posted this