On October 30, 2018, Russ Taff: I Still Believe was shown in select theaters across the US. I was so inspired after seeing this film about one of my favorite Christian singers, that I just had to write down all the thoughts that kept me awake for most of the night. As I started organizing my brainstorming, I realized this movie had some valuable lessons worth sharing.
Be sure to read Part 1 if you haven’t already! This post will make a whole lot more sense.
The Dark Side of the F…ame
Unlike a famous, fictional force, there’s nothing to be gained from the dark side of fame. There’s no power to be had. Just disillusionment, pain, and temptations that can destroy you and any good you might have been accomplishing by being in the spotlight.
In this day of YouTube and other social media, being famous is a more realistic possibility than ever before. Talent shows on TV quickly get you before a large audience and start the clock on your 15 minutes of fame.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”—Andy Warhol, 1968
With video cameras in every smartphone and laptop, there’s no longer a need to reserve a TV or recording studio. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home!
This quick and easy access to the spotlight only increases the inherent dangers associated with being well-known. Fame is risky to begin with; shortcuts only compound that risk.
Yes, those who have risen to fame will argue that they’ve had to work hard at their craft to get where they are. And I agree; it’s what separates them from all those duped into thinking it was super easy.
Still, a slower path to fame is better than a quick one. Why? Because many mistakes and corrections can be made, lessons can be learned, and—most importantly—character can be improved and ingrained in relative anonymity long before the white-hot spotlight reveals flaws or creates temptations.
Even still, there’s no guarantee that fame will be all you hoped for. It’s like a gilded façade on a plain old house. It may look like an opulent mansion on the outside, but inside is still a house that needs cleaning, maintenance and repairs. Somewhere at some point, it will fail to meet your expectations.
Russ Taff’s story reveals some of this dark side of fame. And it’s not just his story alone; other famous and award-winning Christian singers in the film echoed the same sentiment that there’s an empty ring to it.
Russ had to do the harder work of actually learning how to sing and play his guitar. He also put a band together and then physically went out to audition and otherwise ask for opportunities to play before an audience.
His work paid off. He soon found himself as the opening act for The Imperials, a famous and well-established Gospel quartet (a big/popular genre for many years prior to the 1970’s).
When the quartet needed a new singer, they remembered Russ’s captivating voice and invited him to join them on their national stage. The Imperials were obviously ready to reinvent themselves to appeal to the younger Christians who were creating the Contemporary Christian Music genre. And Russ was the catalyst they needed.
Even though he was an equal member of the four, his irresistible voice and passionate style was the driving force behind their increasing fame. Someone in the film said the group could have been more accurately named Russ Taff and The Imperials at one point.
The awards soon started coming in. Surely, that is a sign of success—of achieving fulfillment! Sadly, no. They did nothing to resolve the aching emptiness and pain Russ felt.
The constant demands of being famous didn’t help, either. Although he was blessed to travel with his brand-new bride, Tori, (he started with The Imperials almost immediately after their wedding!), there wasn’t really the freedom to be real and work on what troubled him deeply. Gotta keep up the appearance of being a vibrate, victorious Christian since that’s what the public perceived.
And here’s where temptations of opportunity come in with quick fixes. Staying in hotel rooms with mini-fridges well-stocked with various drinks, and feeling particularly tormented one day, Russ grabbed a beer and “drank it like a soda,” even though it was his first ever. It seemed to quiet the tormenting voices in his mind, so he drank another … and another. And the seeds of addiction started growing.
Immediately, Russ felt ashamed. (Drinking alcohol was anathema in the American evangelical church world at the time.) So, he successfully hid his growing dependence on the liquid drug. For a while, anyway.
Transitioning into a solo career brought no relief, just more awards and acclaim. At this point, Russ speaks of the pressure he felt to create another award-winning song like the first one he’d recorded as a soloist. This pressure to perform, to match and even do better, is a great trap of fame.
Eventually, Tori found out Russ’s dark secret of alcoholism and began to wage a war of love against the enemy of her husband. But she did not fight it alone. And this brings us to my next point and starts the positive side of this blog series.
Thanks for reading!
 This quote, which launched the concept of 15 minutes of fame, was printed in the program/catalogue for Andy Warhol’s 1968 Moderna Museet (Stockholm, Sweden) exhibition. Consequently, the quote has been attributed to him, although he may have never actually said it, per Wikipedia, The Phrase Finder, and Smithsonian.