by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
July 18, 2003
HAVE YOU AUTOGOOGLED?
SEATTLE -- There are times when I wish that I had a less ordinary name, one shared with fewer people, something along the lines of those splendid members of Cromwell's parliament, the Barebones brothers. One was named Paisegod Barebones and the other, probably the younger, If Christ Had Not Died Thou Hadst Been Damned Barebones. The latter is said to have been known in the family as Damned.
My full name, to tell the truth, is not entirely ordinary, for my middle name is Fleetwood. At various times in my youth I encouraged the desire of some of my fellow students to call me Fleet, which struck me as more masculine, though the male animal that the word brings to mind is a deer.
In high school I went, as did everyone else, by my last name. "Tum u hyear Bwown," said Machinegun Mike O'Neal, whose speech impediment derived from his having been gassed in WWI, as he summoned me to his desk to be publicly paddled for not grasping the Binomial Theorem.
But I am stuck, evidently, with a name that, for all its everydayness, has been shared by men of real distinction, the two most prominent being Clarence Brown the famous Hollywood director, and Clarence Gatemouth Brown, the jazz musician. There was also Clarence J. Brown, a Congressman from Ohio, and his son, with whom I went to college in the late 1940s and with whom I became rather well acquainted through our frequent meetings to exchange letters and packages meant for the other. I believe that he followed his father into the House of Representatives.
From time to time, whether through vanity or madly ill-advised curiosity, I submit my name to Google.
This is fairly humiliating, even if sometimes enlightening.
There are tons of references to the famous director of Greta Garbo in this and that, and now that a theater in Tennessee bears his name there are even more.
But Gatemouth puts us all to shame. Born in 1924, he became an immortal on the jazz fiddle. In between gigs he was a deputy sheriff in Texas. He traveled everywhere in Europe, South America, and the Soviet Union. Asked why he went to such politically delicate areas of the world, Gate replied: "People can't come to me, I go to them."
The scattered references to myself can be occasionally shocking. She wrote that about me!!!? But I thought we were friends! The shock is easier to take, but still great, when I come across things that I've written and then utterly forgot.
Did I review a Website called "Zembla"? Evidently I did: there it is in black and white. Did I publish with Victor Erlich of Yale an open letter on the topic of Soviet brutality toward writers? Yes, futile to deny it. Google has it.
The most shocking of all is perhaps to come across my obituary--and this not once but many times. Evidently being named Clarence Brown is not a good omen for longevity: my homonyms are dropping like flies.
Know thyself, said the Greeks, an utterance so famous that I even remember it in the original: Gnothe seauton. Want to know who you really are? Go Google yourself.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.