"Everyone except me is just so STUPID."
I like finding out that people or institutions don't suck as much as I'd thought. It happened three years ago, during the writing of the TWoP book; I had a contemptuous entry all ready to go about Jamie "The Heights Of Ray Pruit" Walters, but when I found out he'd quit the biz to become an L.A. firefighter, I was strangely proud of the guy. I like to be right — but the world has enough sucky people in it, and really it's better to be wrong.
I didn't expect to be wrong about Don Henley, though. I've never cared for the man; I like the Eagles, and I absolutely can't argue with "The Boys of Summer," an all-time-great song of the '80s that seems likely to stand the test of time. Dude played the drums while singing lead; I have to give it up for that. But Henley has, in his public life, often seemed like that humorless, denim-vest-wearing, "back in the sixties, we cared about things" Laurel Canyon liberal who sincerely believes he's the only one who's noticed that Iraq is not working out, because even though he's famous he takes the time to read the newspaper and make salad dressing from scratch or whatever the hell.
Maybe he is in fact that guy, but I have reason to believe that behind the pill-ish faÃ§ade also lurks a guy I can hang with, based on a Rolling Stone piece on the Eagles from the late seventies. Right after he finishes bitching about fans sending him "corrected" lyrics which they'd actually read wrong — which is petty, but in a way I find eminently relatable — Henley takes an all-in-one-breath sidebar on his life as a working superstar:
Music is a lot of hard work, as far as I'm concerned. I've been doing this for seventeen years now and I've worked in dumps and in Louisiana bars where I saw a guy get stabbed and I played "Gloria" thirteen times for some goddamn fraternity at the University of Texas and I've played clubs in the goddamn Valley and in Northridge and I've been criticized and maligned and misunderstood and this is a twenty-four-hour-a-day job, ya know. This is not something you leave at the office. This is something I take around with me all the time. Every minute I'm awake, even when I'm asleep, I'm worried about the next album and what's going to be written on it and how it's going to do and how it's going to be accepted and how my peers are going to react and how we're going to make it better than the last one and how the record company is on our case about hurry-up-we-didn't-get-an-album-from-you-in-1978-and-it's-not-going-to-look-good-on-our-stock-report-and-what-about-the-profit-sharing-plan. Shit like that. I get a little self-righteous sometimes about the whole thing.
At that point in the article, I went back, read that part again, put the article down for a minute, stared at the coffee table, and said, "…Huh." You can read it as whining, what he's doing there — "oh boo hoo, the life of a rock star on the road is so hard, let me dry my tears with a fistful of money" — and what he's describing is standard dues-paying for a musician, the kind that doesn't even come to anything for the vast majority of gigging bands. But I liked Henley by the end of it: at least he admits that he gets self-righteous, and also, sometimes, this is exactly what it is to write for a living, whatever genre you write in. You don't really get to leave it; it leaves you, when it's ready, and sometimes, when it leaves, it doesn't take a cinematic farewell, just limps off to the curb and keels over there and it's like, why didn't I go to business school, and the knowledge that you really don't get to feel all that sorry for yourself over it because some people have real problems just makes you feel more sorry for yourself. It's unusual to see it nailed that firmly, not to mention that it's Henley doing the hammering.
And even if you still think Don's a d-bag, you have to admire the rhetorical devices he employs. The author of the article, Charles M. Young, may have goosed it a bit, but the use of detail, the spare punctuation, the order in which the details come — it's good structure. It paints a picture; I can envision that frat party and everyone present perfectly.
The whole article is fascinating. I've ripped RS but good in the past (and bagged on Henley in the process, if I recall correctly), and Young can go overboard with the imagery; his description of Glenn Frey's laugh is not fresh enough to be that pleased with itself. But his rendering of the recording process as witnessed by a civilian is evocative and economical, and he gets great quotations, from Frey ("I hate this song! I hate this album! God help me! I'm bumming!" — been there, dude) and band manager Irving Azoff ("I'm tired and I'm rich and I can do what I want. I'm going home to sleep"). Young spent some months with the band, I think, on tour and elsewhere, but he doesn't name-check the fact — you can tell from the texture of the writing that his narrative authority is earned. The magazine used to know how to do these stories; the current cover story on the Eagles isn't half bad, either, but Young's is exceptional.
Another personage I've developed a recent and somewhat reluctant regard for: Barbara Walters. I watched her Oprah appearance — I don't know why; I seldom watch that show, and while I don't not care for Barbara Walters, I don't care much about her, either — and it fell short of my expectations, dish-wise, as most Oprah guest shots tend to do. But I've always thought of Walters as…you know. Barbara Walters. Soft-focus lavender blouses; parody of herself; unserious. "Baba Wawa." I'd forgotten how much ground she broke back in the day for women on TV and in the news, but the excerpt from her book in Vanity Fair put it into perspective — and I have to say, she's kind of awesome. She had to put up with a lot of shit over the years; never mind all the drama on The View, or "Baba Wawa," which, after an initial period of having no sense of humor about it, she came to find funny and flattering.
Walters also had to deal with Harry Reasoner, among myriad others, acting like an unprofessional sexist dickhead. As in, he timed her segments with a stopwatch to make sure they didn't run longer than his did, and then chided her if they did — on the air. In front of millions of people. Way to keep it pro, Harry. She's getting vilified in the TV columns for having the gall to make a million dollars at ABC, even "Uncle" Walter Cronkite is ripping on her, and she's sitting there on the anchor desk every night like, "Does anyone else see this? This is bullshit, right? …Hello?" Man, that must have sucked. And as the pioneer, she couldn't even call anyone up to commiserate about it, at a time in history when a lot of people would have just to told her to pack it in and start a family instead (which she had already done, and she was supporting her parents and challenged sister). Nightmare. But she didn't let them run her off, and she didn't get bitter. And she's still Baba Wawa. I can't say I'll make more of an effort to seek out her product in the future; The View gives me hives. But I like knowing she's actually a tough lady.
Alas, the same issue of VF revealed that one guy is still exactly the butthole I'd suspected. No, not Billy Ray Cyrus. No, not James Frey, who still seems to need some revisions on his self-image (and shame on Evgenia Peretz for boot-licking his new novel, which every review I've read has categorized as an indulgent mess — the profile's worth reading, though). No, I mean John Cusack, the subject of this month's Proust Questionnaire. In Cusack's defense, the PQ is designed to elicit abstract pomposities; the best any answerer can hope to do is drop a few gauzy-sounding remarks about family and Martha's Vineyard and try not to embarrass himself by taking the thing too seriously.
Mission not accomplished here, to a ghastly degree. I've never drunk the Lloyd Dobler Kool-Aid, but even those who have would have to admit that Cusack has not enjoyed good press re: his interpersonal skills; he's (allegedly) a terrible tipper, rude to service-folk, curt to fans, and prone to leaving fecal comments for the costume department. He's also come to see himself as a political pundit, with an occasional column on HuffPo and a war satire that he wrote and produced premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, and this is part of the same problem, to wit: the reserve of public goodwill that he enjoys derives chiefly from Say Anything, a film that despite a generation's regard for it is minor, and almost 20 years old. Cusack has made genuinely execrable films since (Con Air, Must Love Dogs, Serendipshitty), and even if he hadn't, it's no call to treat people like crap, or to prate on about war profiteers as though only you see the truth in current events.
You'll have to read it for yourself; I can't do it justice without reproducing the entire thing. When Cusack's not giving a smug lecture, he's supplying a nonsensical answer that probably seemed like Warholian opacity to him but comes off more as contempt for the question, or name-dropping Bob Dylan and Salinger for the three 15-year-olds who read VF and would consider that profound, or taking a not-all-that-fringe position on Jesus by way of a Flannery O'Connor quote…it's a tour de force of autodidact affectation, all the more remarkable because it contains a reverent reference to shamans, something you don't often hear from a man old enough to rent a car.
The trait he deplores most in others? "The inability to think for themselves. Or the need to define one’s core in five-minute sound bites." Riiiiight. Because admiring Hunter S. Thompson is courageously contrarian — and if you think the Proust Questions are so beneath you, just decline to participate instead of openly disdaining the exercise, far less subtly than you think you did. Cusack mentions elsewhere that he would like to "try not to be famous for at least a week or two as an adult," and I would strongly recommend that for him too, if only because most 41-year-olds who have to live in the world don't still believe snottiness is an effective form of protest.
Tags: books feminism movies music news politix publishing