Celebrity Troubles: Someone Out There Is Always Doing Better Than You

Jay-Z in 2015

Last fall, Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, purchased a beautiful home fronting on Georgica Pond in East Hampton. It set them back $26 million. This is just a small sum in the scheme of their things. Jay-Z, the legendary music entrepreneur, is one of the richest men in America. He’s been on the cover of Forbes magazine. She is the highest-earning woman in the music industry, Forbes says.

But since last month, bad things have been happening.

The Grammy Awards happened. Jay-Z had more nominations in more categories than anyone else in the industry. Song of the Year? Best Rap Album? Best Rap Song? Best Music Video? Best Rap/Sung Collaboration? Record of the Year? Best Rap Performance? Album of the Year? Eight times they called out the winner to come up, and eight times it was someone else. This had never happened to him before.

Next came a brief Twitter tangle with Donald Trump. After Trump reportedly said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Jay-Z sounded off on CNN.

“After the anger, it’s really hurtful because he’s looking down on a whole population of people, and he’s so misinformed because these places have beautiful people,” he said. “This is the leader of the free world speaking like this.”

Trump fired back on Twitter. “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!

That’s what you get for tampering with the big Tweeter Totter.

Now comes news that the architect Richard Meier, who bought a piece of vacant land on Georgica Pond 46 years ago, has submitted plans to build a magnificent modern house for his grown daughter, Ana, on the property. He’s already transferred the property to his daughter. And now he’s applying to the East Hampton Village Board of Appeals for zoning variances he needs to make the project happen as he wants.

Guess what? At the hearing, beside the lawyers for the Meiers, were lawyers for Jay-Z and Beyoncé. They are alarmed by this project. If approved and built, it will block the view of the pond from Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s newly bought house. All of it? Part of it? I don’t know.

You know what? No matter what you’ve got, there’s always somebody who’s got more.

I’ve known Billy Joel for many years. Once, visiting me at my office, he told me that he had just learned he had more albums go platinum than anybody else ever.

“But I think this is going to last maybe a month,” he said. “Garth Brooks is going to pass me.”


I think this message holds true for everything and everybody in life. Go to the top of One World Trade Center, 1,776 feet high. Someone might tell you it’s the tallest building in the world, but it’s not. There are half a dozen taller.

The only exception I can think of in this regard, where you don’t worry about the approaching hoof-beats, is the 2,717-foot-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai. People living up there can say, truly, that they’re Number One. Nobody is higher.

But then there is a gust of wind and the building moves with it. Gulp.

And then someday there WILL be something higher.

Wait. I think another exception to this is Donald Trump. I think he believes that he is the guy who is going to be the one that surpasses everybody else, and nobody can stop him.

His businesses went through a terrible bankruptcy around 1990. It seemed he was finished. A year or two after that, as he was still in business, I asked him about it. I was wondering if there was ever a time during that brush with bankruptcy that he felt he might wind up on a street corner with a tin cup. How close did he come?

“Even in the worst of times,’’ he said, “I always thought I’d get through. Somehow. There was nothing to be gained by worrying about it. So I didn’t.”

He talked about the West Side Yards, his planned tallest building in Chicago, his expansion of the Taj Mahal. There’d be 2,500 suites, not just 1,400. All to come. Nearly all of them didn’t happen, but there he was, answering my question this way.

So it’s Donald Trump and the Burj Khalifa. And the wind blows.


I’d like to end this by telling a story about myself.

One evening years ago, one of the owners of the New York Knicks arranged for me and my wife to sit courtside to watch a game. As it turned out, it wasn’t exactly courtside. It was second row, just behind courtside. In front of us was another couple, unfamiliar to us, blocking our view. Why weren’t we courtside? This couple were very lovey-dovey to each another. They’d hold hands, smile at each other. Whenever the Knicks made a great play they’d lean forward and cheer and with that, the black shirt the woman directly in front of me was wearing would lift in back, and I could see she was wearing a red thong.

During the third quarter, someone came over to the man in front of my wife and asked for his autograph on a program. My wife leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s Jay-Z.” I knew about Jay-Z, and he is a nice looking man, but frankly I had not recognized him. “Let’s get his autograph, too,” my wife urged. And so I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned, and when I asked he smiled and signed the program.

Then this girl next to him said, “I’ll sign, too.”

She signed. It was somebody I’d never heard of. And I thought this was a rather forward thing for her to have done. Jay-Z had been nice enough. Who did she think she was, anyway?

At home I showed off the Jay-Z autograph to my kids, who at that time were 12 and 10, and they asked about the other autograph, so I told them the story about his girlfriend signing. It seemed to lessen the autograph of Jay-Z in some way. But what the hell.

About a year later, I saw a performer on television I’d never seen before, but it made me run back to the program I’d saved to look again at the signature.


Well, here’s the last word on this, from Jay-Z, as he spoke on CNN about his brush with the Donald last week.

“It’s not about money at the end of the day,” he said. “Money doesn’t equate to happiness. It doesn’t. That’s missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings. That’s the main point.”

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