Today is Keith Moon’s birthday and my Facebook friends, I’m certain, are sick to death of hearing about him. But I can’t help it. There are a handful of rock musicians that I honestly love: John Lennon, Roger Daltrey, Ringo Starr and Moon.
Moon, because he was crazy. Because he was the supreme manifestation of the id. Because … he was a fucking genius.
Ringo was the reason I wanted to be a drummer. Moon is the reason I want to stay one. Watching videos of him onstage is elevating; he was at once so happy and so mad. He was a remarkable drummer. For all his histrionics, you can see the concentration in his face in concerts like the Isle of Wight. The speed of his hands, the precision of everything he did, even when he fucked up. He was a serious musician who honestly loved his instrument, who made it an extension of himself. He was the original showman drummer, but he was not the lesser musician for that. There’s nothing like the happiness on his face; it’s a release, a channeling of his supposed madness. He’s having a great time; what’s more, he wants everyone else to have one too.
All too often stars like that vanish underneath the weight of their celebrity. Moon was a wild man offstage and that sometimes is all we remember. How he drank himself to death, how he blew up toilets, destroyed hotel rooms, drove cars into pools. Courted chaos at every turn. But, if Townshend and Entwhistle and Daltrey and almost anyone else who knew him are to be believed, he was also a genuinely kind, genuinely loving person.
In the end, though, none of us now can know Keith Moon, or assess who he really was. All we have left is the music. And what music it is.
This is going to be another brief and sappy post. Brace yourselves.
In almost exactly a month, I’m leaving Edinburgh. I’m going back to America, back home, to my parents, my family, some remarkable friends, my state, my nation. I’m looking forward to it, seeing people I haven’t seen, seeing a country I’ve been away from for a year, hearing American voices, eating chili dogs. Hell, I even miss high fructose corn syrup.
Last week, I had a mini freakout. Edinburgh suddenly felt ridiculous. The tourists are impossible for a city of this size. The road works are confusing. The preparations for the festival seem to be put there specifically to make life difficult for anyone trying to live in this town. It’s still cold at the end of July; the sun only makes sporadic appearances. The pubs close too early. I hated Edinburgh. Good riddance that I’m leaving, I thought. To hell with it.
Which is not true, of course. I don’t hate Edinburgh. I’m not in love with it, like some of my friends are, but I don’t hate it. I’ve enjoyed living here, all things considered. I like the pubs and the wandering narrow streets, the weird directions, the gothic buildings. I love the strange otherworldliness of Old Town and the clean Georgian elegance of New Town. I even kind of love the crowds, which aren’t so bad once you get off the Royal Mile. I’m ready to leave the city, but I actually think I’ll miss it.
But the worst part is the part that I really don’t want to deal with, or think about. It’s the people. I will miss the people. I’ll miss getting a phone call at 9:30 with those fatal words ‘let’s just go out for one’. I’ll miss the blow-out parties at Lindsay’s flat. I’ll miss lying in the Meadows on those rare sunny days. I’ll miss the coffees we’ve drunk. I’ll miss the drunkenness and the sobriety. I’ll miss the faces of people I know so well. I’ll miss going to the Vue on Saturdays, and getting drunk on Tuesday afternoon (or Wednesday or Thursday for that matter). I’ll miss sitting down in a pub and the smiles when someone says ‘I wrote a thousand words today!’ I’ll miss the stories.
I’ve left places before. I’ve left friends before. Clinton, St. Andrews, New York and now Edinburgh. People scattered across the world in random nations, states, provinces. Keeping in touch by facebook. Hearing about friends getting married, or losing loves, or getting a job, a home, another life. I’ve managed to stay in contact with a lot of people, and I plan on seeing them all again. But it’s never the same. Not because people change too much. Hell, I’ve got friends I’ve known since middle school and, despite growing up, we’re still friends. But it’s never the same because something has always ended. A year at graduate school, at college, at high school. We grow up and stay close, but the experience cannot be repeated.
All of the philosophical stuff comes out at times like this. Life is ephemeral. We only have the moments as they happen and then they are gone. We should not try to hang on to them too tightly, for we will only live in the past. All I can think right now, though, is that a good friend is about to leave to go home. She’s not the first to leave; she won’t be the last. Toasts will be drunk and promises made and, eventually, kept. It’s not the end; it’s merely another step along the road. That doesn’t make it any easier.
OK, a little misleading. I’m not talking about REAL bad men. Not really nasty no-good sonofabitches. I’m talking about fake ones. Bad boys. Bastards. Assholes. Villains.
There’s just something about them, isn’t there? They’re not anti-heroes; they’re just the bad guys. You know that at the end of the movie, or the book, or the play, they’re going to either be dead, or heading to jail, or at least punished for their misdeeds. Most of the time. Not always, anymore, but at least in mainstream media the bad guys still tend to get it in the end. And we don’t really want it any other way.
I have a fascination with villains. My favorite character in Disney was I was a little tyke? The cat Lucifer in Cinderella. He was mean and fat and wanted to eat all those annoying little mice and I loved him. Not that I wanted him to win in the end; no, not at all. But I enjoyed watching him be bad. I enjoyed the fact that he just did not care. He was a jerk, and I loved him.
Many years on and my fascination with villains has not waned. Best Shakespearean character? Iago. And he’s listed as literally ‘A Villain’. Not a soldier, a commander, a husband, a lieutenant, a friend … nope. Just ‘A Villain’. That’s what his character is and he fulfills it, better than any other Shakespearean villain. He’s mean and evil and hates everyone, including himself. He murders his own wife, he destroys his own friend, he drives Othello to destruction, he gloats and grimaces and makes the audience complicit in his nastiness. He’s hateful and cruel. He has no real motivation, no reason to do what he does … except that he’s a villain. And he’s delightful. He’s far more interesting than Othello, at least to me. He’s defined by his villainy. At the end of the play, does he beg for forgiveness? Does he confess to all the terrible things he’s done? Nope. He refuses to say a word. He’s responsible for the untold destruction of almost all the other main characters and he does not care. He just doesn’t give a shit.
So, why villains? What makes them so fascinating that they sometimes even overshadow the heroes? John McClane is a badass in ‘Die Hard’, but where would he be without the sneering, sexy Hans Gruber? We all hope Robin Hood saves the day, but Guy of Gisbourne is pretty fucking cool (and he’s Basil Rathbone). George Sanders made his career out of being an erudite, purring villain. And he’s more delightful to watch than most of his antagonists.
Part of it, I think, is simple sex appeal. Villains, often because of their villainy, get to be sexy in ways that heroes simply don’t. The hero has to fulfill all these stereotypes. He must be pure, intelligent, gentlemanly. If he has flaws, he must overcome them. He never gets to do bad things because he’s the hero. We’ve got to root for him. When he does something nasty, he must justify it in the end. Otherwise we won’t accept his triumph.
The villain has no such difficulties. Shoot innocent people? Done. Kidnap the heroine? Sure, why not. Cancel Christmas? You don’t get any presents. He gets to sneer and make snide remarks (Rickman, Irons, and Oldman are heirs to Rathbone, Rains and Sanders in that department). He’s often erudite, urbane, an aesthete, an intellectual. He tends to get the best lines, in books, in movies and in plays. He can be mean and sarcastic and do horrible things, and at some level we forgive him, we’re not bothered by it, because he’s the villain and that’s what he does. The villain, in other words, does not carry the moral weight of the world on his shoulders.
Hitchcock understood this. His villains tended to be likable, complex individuals, while his heroes tread the lines of hypocrisy. Consider the lackadaisical All-American boy detective (more or less the ‘hero’) in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. A duller romantic figure never existed. The battle of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ is really between Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright, the Old and Young Charlies. And Cotten is charming, funny, frightening but incredibly enjoyable to watch. Then there’s the sociopathic Brandon in ‘Rope’, while Jimmy Stewart find himself descending deeper and deeper into a hypocritical netherworld. The dedicated lovesick Alexander Sebastian in ‘Notorious’, versus the cold and even cruel hero Devlin. And the charming Johnny of ‘Suspicion’, who gets to be both hero and villain in one.
The most distressing of these villains in the Hitchcockian oeuvre is Bob Rusk in Frenzy. He’s a rapist, a murderer and a psychopath. He’s also more interesting, funnier and more charming than the supposed hero. We follow him throughout the film, having seen him murder a woman in one of the most terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever had to sit through. And what is really disturbing is that we actually begin rooting for him. He scares the hell out of us, but as soon as he’s caught, the movie’s over.
Rusk is an extreme example of charming villainy, but he makes the excellent point that part of what we like about villains is how easily they charm us. The villain forces us to examine a dark side of ourselves. Half the movies we see and books we read (detective stories, thrillers, adventures) are directly wrapped up in the darkness. We want to see the murder, hear the screams, laugh at the one-liners. We want to see good triumph, but there’s something delightful in evil getting its day. Hitchcock always pushed us closer to discomfort, making us shift in our seats as we realized that the man we like the best is also the man doing the worst things. He reminded us that the good guys aren’t always so hot, that there’s something attractive, fascinating in the bad. It’s disturbing, it’s uncomfortable, it’s … dark as hell. But it’s true.
“Just to let you know, your facebook statuses are getting douchier and douchier.”
My dear and always honest friend Lindsay expressed this to me several months ago, when I was in the midst of a paper on Nietzsche and postmodernism that was, like, totally blowing my mind. And my, but my facebook statuses were indeed getting douchier and douchier. No question. Since that fateful day, however, I have begun to hear the word douche used in new and exciting contexts. How douchey can we be? seems to be the question of the day.
Now, the etymology of the word ‘douche’ has a long and complicated history. When we call someone a ‘douche’, we are not, of course, referring to the actual item of feminine hygiene. Nor are we particularly comparing said individual to that item. Back in the day, my father informed me, to call someone a ‘douche’ was one of the worst things you could say. Now, we say it routinely. It references someone (very often male) who behaves in a pretentious, obnoxious, or generally … uh … douchey manner. It continues to be a derogatory term, of course. Or does it?
Recently, I have heard (and used) the word ‘douche’ in a highly self-referential fashion. ‘Hipster douchiness’ has become a regular statement among my circle of friends here in Edinburgh.
“Come and be a douche with us!” stated a text message, inviting everyone along to hang out in the Meadows. When one sits in a cafe, drinking organic coffee, typing one’s novel on one’s MacBook (or, for true douchiness, iPad), one is achieving a true level of douchiness that few ever arrive honestly at. Dressing like a hipster, saying things like ‘That is sooooo Postmodern’, reading Nietzsche, speaking of one’s existential self, updating one’s blog with ironic referential comments, shopping at Urban Outfitters, complaining of the difficulty of one’s life while lying in the sun, being a barista in any capacity, talking about being a barista, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, listening to obscure folk music … these are not the hallmarks of true douchiness. No, true douchiness must be achieved by being AWARE of true douchiness. By the recognition that one is behaving like a total, complete, remarkable, capitalized Douche.
“We’re so hip, we’re going to a band that even we haven’t heard of!”
This, my friends, is true douchiness. The Way of the Douche is fraught with peril, for the pitfalls might turn you into an acoustic guitar playing juggler on a unicycle who has no freaking idea of how douchey he/she truly is. It might turn you into a twenty-something would-be novelist in a cafe bitching about how no one gets just what post-postmodernism is. The Way of the Douche must be carefully discovered, hopefully with people just as pretend-douchey as you are. For the true Douche is not a douche at all. Just someone who enjoys a ironic joke, a scene of pop-culture referentiality, an honest moment in the sun with friends. Someone who can laugh at themselves.
So, verily, I say unto you: go and discover the Way of the Douche. I know I have.
This is going to be one of those ‘geez, my life is fascinating’ sort of posts. Brace yourself. I live in Edinburgh–a glorious city, beautiful, gothic, that drives me completely insane 9 days out of 10–and, this being Scotland, it was something of an event when the sun shone yesterday. Not only did the sun shine, but the wind had sunk to a light spring breeze, the sky was totally clear, there was no chance of getting all four seasons in one day, as there usually is in Edinburgh. So as I am on ‘vacation’ from grad school, so to speak, I betook myself to the Meadows, a public park in the middle of the Old Town. There I witnessed what happens on a sunny day in a place known for its continuous greyness.
It seemed that the entire city turned out to picnic in the park. There were people juggling, boys on unicycles, crowds of students with those little barbeques you can buy at Tescos, couples sleeping, children playing, bicycles inexplicably and dangerously traversing the crowd. I laid down on a nice sunny patch of grass, had my lunch, opened my book, turned on my music and settled myself in for a few hours of existential contemplation.
The problem with existential contemplation on a sunny day in Edinburgh is that you begin to consider, naturally enough, your existential self. Which I did. It happened when I sat up to remove my shoes. In a flash, I saw myself, sitting there on that green expanse. And I did not like what I saw. I saw a twenty-something girl in Levis, H&M tank top, wearing worn down red Converse with no socks, listening to folk music on her iPod, iPhone tucked into her back pocket. I saw a girl drinking an organic smoothie while reading ‘American Psycho’, eyes shaded against the sun by her horn-rimmed, retro sunglasses, head propped up on a messenger bag with pins that read ‘Peace: Back By Popular Demand’ and a picture of Che Guevera. I saw (and I tremble as I write this): a hipster. The only thing missing was a pashmina and skinny jeans.
Allow me to rephrase that: I saw a fucking hipster. Because I, like the rest of the civilized world, do not like hipsters. They are false creatures of darkness who use ‘ironic’ ironically. They move in packs, like werewolves, and listen to bands you’ve never heard of just because you’ve never heard of them. They ride unicycles…and there is nothing I irrationally despise more than the unicycle (it defies all laws of God and Man, but let’s not get into that). They are pop-culture leeches and they have usurped all the good things, like Godard and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and acoustic guitars.
And I am one. Joanna reassured me that I could not be a hipster if I wasn’t doing any of the things I was doing ironically. But of course, I am ironic by nature. I’m a sarcastic, snarky film snob. And isn’t not doing something ironically that you should be doing ironically by extension ironic? The irony of being un-ironic in an ironic setting? Dear. God.
Kerouac defined the hipster of the 1940s, but went on to say that there are a million and one false hipsters out there. There’s an excellent quote from ‘Desolation Angels’ about this, but I can’t find it. And now I’m referencing Kerouac and my cliched nature is complete. Fuck.
In my defense (from myself), I actually want to read American Psycho. I have a Che Guevera button because I respect him, and I have read some of his work. I love my Cons, and my iPod, and my iPhone Caligula. Levis fit me, and they are not artificially distressed. I was drinking a fruit smoothie in an attempt to get my 5 a day. If anything, I am a sincere hipster.
Everybody has a blog. My grandmother’s cat has a blog. Actually, that’s a lie. My grandmother doesn’t have a cat. But if she did, and if said cat were of an outgoing nature, a creature of publicity and remarkable sufficiency–say, perhaps, a Siamese or American Tabby (none of your self-centred Scottish Folds)–that cat, you can be assured, would have a blog. So, now I have a blog. I’m not quite sure why. I’m certain that it will largely be used to subject my friends to what ravings they do not hear from me on a regular basis.
It will also be utilized for me to make noises about what movies, books and television shows I think are underrated, overrated and never rated at all; what authors are idiots and not worth the money they earn, and what authors have been needlessly and sadly forgotten. What directors ought to be shot of cannons, and what directors deserve greater veneration. And finally, of course, this blog will be used for shameless self-promotion as I attempt to actually get my own fictional work into print. Not to mention the promotion of my exceptionally talented and neglected friends.
I have titled this blog ‘Suddenly, a shot rang out …’ because I find it amusing. And because that best sums up my own writing style: a little snarky, a little romantic, a little violent and a little … Snoopy-ish. If Snoopy didn’t write those five words first, he certainly wrote them best.
So, it was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out …