I recently began writing a cultural column for a website that addresses the concerns of citizens over fifty years of age. Yeah, I know. You can't read it yet because the site's still in beta, but rest assured, when it goes "live" I'll let you know, even if you aren't over fifty years of age. In any event, I sent the below to my editor warning him that the contents were a little on the "downbeat" side, and he wrote back to me saying, yeah, they were, and that's why he was gonna decline to run it. So I have to come up with something else. FML, as the kids say. Anyway, I figured I'd put it up here so the last couple of days of downbeat cogitation wouldn't be a total waste. N.b. that the title, the styling, and the general mode of address are undertaken with an imaginary audience not entirely like the one for this blog in mind, so bear with that, if you would be so kind.
Mr. Jones and me, and you
The short, impish, British Monkee, Davy Jones, died at the end of February at the relatively young age of 66, of a heart attack. The eulogizing that went on in the various cyber arenas rather predictably touched on the burning question of the musical validity/authenticity of the ‘60s group referred to in some quarters as “the Pre-Fab Four” (for the record, my own contribution to the Twitter debate was the bald statement “The Monkees made great records. Period.”). Which was followed by sentimental romanticizing about how Jones died with his boots on, so to speak, still plugging away on the showbiz circuit. One entertainment blogger who makes something of a specialty of demonstrating his courageous honesty by finding something vinegarish to say about every celeb whose death notice comes under his transom wrote, “I was walking south on Eighth Avenue when I happened to notice he was doing a live show in a modest venue near the corner of 42nd Street. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well, it's a gig at least.’” Guess it’s a good thing for this guy’s sense of self-worth that there’s no blogger equivalent of B.B. King’s Times Square nightclub, the venue in question. Which does, truth to tell, book nostalgia acts mostly. In any event, the conventional wisdom is that if you’re still doing what you love when you kick it, you’ll have gone out somehow somewhat ahead of the game.
Then again, it’s arguably all a matter of perspective. It happens I have a friend, a contemporary of Jones', who worked with the man WAY back in the day, on stage, when they were both child and teen actors respectively. “Well,” my buddy, whose subsequent life/career trajectory was rather different from Jones’, reflected, “this business is even tougher than usual when you come into the way we did.” Jones and my friend were among the last of the “born in a trunk” kind, post-vaudevillian entertainers from childhood on, trained and thrown on a stage so early they never even necessarily got to figure out if they were in fact doing what they loved. And while I’m all for the notion that doing what you love, either professionally or as a hobby, can keep you young at heart and of brain, the culture these days does tend to spin a pretty facile narrative around that notion. That narrative contains at least two fallacies: first, that one reason doing what you love is desirable is that doing what you love is easy, or it should be, you know, provided you love it enough. The other is that doing what you love will be a kind of panacea that’ll take care of all the other ills of your life, and life in general. Going all utopian on the idea tends to, among other things, elide all sorts of economic/structural realities. But it also ties in to another rather dubious cultural meme, all about our “stories.” This week I saw the movie “Being Flynn,” which was adapted from the memoir “Another Bullshit Night In Suck City,” and the title change tells you everything you need to know about the movie, really. In any event, at one point in the movie, its hero, a young writer (who, to be fair, DOES encounter some difficulty in doing, you know) observes, “We all need to create a story that makes sense of our lives.” This observation may indeed have its roots in Joseph Campbell or someone equally venerated, but the last time I heard it put so flatly was in a damn Citibank commercial. My own takeaway from a too-soon death like that of Jones’ (a cultural figure I certainly respected but did not hold hugely dear), or anybody else’s, eventually gets to the inadequacy of our own platitudes to really deal with them.