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Nathan Hale died on September 22, 1776, at the age of 21.
September 22, 2018
A few weeks ago, as mentioned in this newsletter, I performed at a live-band karaoke night for my friend Bertis’ birthday party. We all did U2 songs. I sang “The Fly” with my friend Carrie. I wore pleather pants. It was a whole thing.
There was a time in which karaoke was a much larger part of my life. Over a certain stretch, it became a sort of slam-dunk, no-doubt, end-of-night activity, after I’d been out with everybody drinking all evening but wasn’t quite ready to wrap it up yet. I once went to see a band play at 7 p.m. and ended up, about 10 hours later, squawking out a Johnny Cash and June Carter’s “Jackson” at a bar I’d never heard of in a neighborhood I’d never been. From, say, 2002-2007, all nights eventually led to karaoke.
I’m a terrible singer, but I am excellent at karaoke. The key is not caring whether you can sing and simply embracing the performative aspects. I had four primary songs back in the day, which alternated depending on the feel of the evening. The first, and without question the most common, was REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” This fit the ironic vibe I was going for at the time, a cheesy 1980s hair band song, from a band from Champaign, Illinois (thus establishing my Midwestern roots in a town where I was searching for an identity), a song that was familiar to people but not so much that it was an obvious pick. And I’d throw myself into it, crawling across the floor and coming crashing through your door. It was a feeling I could not fight anymore.
The others were Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (great for screaming, but you need a willing partner and a patient audience; that song is very long), Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” (it’s always good to have a song you can rap from memory) and The Misfits’ “Last Caress” (when I was trying to seem tougher and hipper than I was).
Anyway. My point is that anyone who has known me for a long time would not be the least bit surprised that I’d go a little apeshit on the mic, particularly with a song I’ve loved for nearly 20 years and a fantastic live band behind me, and particularly after I’ve been watching real, live musicians who can sing like angels for an hour before me. I had to bring it, you know? I am comfortable bringing it, because, again, as anyone who has known me for the last 15 years knows, I’m a freaking ham. I’m a performer. I like it. I don’t know if I’m good at it, but I sure do enjoy it. Give me a microphone, a great song and a terrific band, and I’m gonna get after it.
Which is why it was so surprising to me, then, to see the reaction of the people I knew to my performance of “The Fly.” They were ... shocked. I mean, full-on flabbergasted. They acted as if the mild-mannered science teacher with the pants pulled up to his chin had suddenly put a lampshade on his head and started moonwalking to Linda Rondstadt. “Will! We had no idea you had that in you!” One person actually said, “Jeez, you think you know a guy, and then they come out and do that.”
And then I realized: Nobody in Athens knows me as that guy at all. They know me as William’s dad, or Wynn’s dad, or Alexa’s husband, or the guy you see picking up his kids at school, or the guy who’s always at his house, I hear he’s a writer but I don’t know about what, sitting at home all day sounds more like unemployed if you ask me. I’m not the guy who drank all night and wrote all day for a decade in New York, or the nervous single dork, or the guy who once got yelled at on national television for reasons he still doesn’t entirely understan. I’m none of those things to them. I’m just another dad and husband who, now that he’s in his 40s, is pretending like he has some idea what he’s doing and what’s going on like the rest of us. To them, I am just Dad Guy. Probably because, for the entire time I have known them, that’s what I’ve been.
There is an axiom that people don’t change, that you are at 50 essentially the same person you were when you were 20. There is some truth to this, I suppose, but this strikes me as a vast oversimplification. We may be one constant personality on the inside — though I doubt it; the soul contains multitudes — but in the real world, the only place that actually matters, where there are real people who bounce off us in infinitely complicated ways, we are whatever we need to be in that moment. In Athens at the age of 42, I am stable Dad Guy. In St. Louis at the age of 22, I was Confused But Earnest Kid. In New York at the age of 27, I was Reckless Searcher Who Smoked Too Much. And even within those constructs, there were modifications. With one group of friends, I was a raconteur; with another, a follower; with another, a leader; with another, a quiet voice of reason; with another, the loud obnoxious one. I was one way when dating one person, and another with another, and another with another. Water adjusts to its level.
Part of this is anyone’s journey sorting themselves out. I act differently now than I did when I was 27 because I’m 15 years older now and no longer do most of the dumb shit I used to do. (Though that may be more because of a lack of energy than a sudden emergence of smarts.) You get older and you figure out what works for you; there’s a lovely little line (delivered by Dave Chappelle, of all people) in the new A Star Is Born that encapsulates that sense of “you know what, my life is good right now, so I think I’ll just stay here” that you (hopefully) get as you grow older. But I think that still switches to your audience. I am different when I talk to my friends from New York than when I talk to my friends in Athens, than when I talk to my friends from college than when I talk to my parents, than when I talk to my children.
I do not think that this is being fake, or diffuse. This is just being human. You combine all these things together, and it adds up to something close to what you really are. This is what Roger Ebert was trying to get at in his review of Synecdoche, New York, this idea that everything you are and everyone around you is in some way a projection, a little different because they’ve bounced off you just like you’re a little different because you bounced off them. “We find something we want to do, if we are lucky, or something we need to do, if we are like most people. We use it as a way to obtain food, shelter, clothing, mates, comfort, a first folio of Shakespeare, model airplanes, American Girl dolls, a handful of rice, sex, solitude, a trip to Venice, Nikes, drinking water, plastic surgery, child care, dogs, medicine, education, cars, spiritual solace — whatever we think we need. To do this, we enact the role we call ‘me,’ trying to brand ourselves as a person who can and should obtain these things. In the process, we place the people in our lives into compartments and define how they should behave to our advantage. Because we cannot force them to follow our desires, we deal with projections of them created in our minds. But they will be contrary and have wills of their own. Eventually new projections of us are dealing with new projections of them. Sometimes versions of ourselves disagree.”
It can be disorienting, this constant shifting, the idea of who we are being in constant flux, switching based on our circumstances. This is why a class reunion, or running into an old friend or an ex you hadn’t seen in many years, can feel so discombobulating; you are instantly confronted with the current projection of yourself against a former one. But they’re both you. They all add up to you. They all add up to all of us. They’re not consistent. They’re not predictable. They’re not even tangible. They’re just all the whole collective mess. You keep shifting and trying to hold onto it as long as you can, still trying to adjust to all that keeps getting thrown at you, and then one day you die and it ends. That might sound depressing, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s a journey.
The best lesson I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that while you may make improvements along the way, no one ever figures it all out. I’m just feeling my way through the dark like I always have been, and I suspect you are too. It’s why I find all these people who are so goddamned certain of themselves so full of crap, so performative in their self-assurance when we all know that, at the end of the night, they look up at the ceiling and blink heavily and know they don’t have any more answers than the rest of us. Had I known, when I was a kid, how little all the adults really knew what they were doing, I would have never taken a single thing any of them said seriously. But I’m glad I did. It made you feel like there was more order to the world than there really was. Knowing better is a little scarier now.
But it’s OK to be a little inconsistent, to wear different hats, to have internal contradictions, to be confused by all of this, and who you are, and how you act. One of the more fascinating aspects of life is that a person who meets me for the first time, simply by having that experience, knows something about me that I will never, ever know. This is good. This is the way it should be. I’ll never truly know you, and you’ll never truly know me. It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky, the universe exploding because of one man’s lie. Accept the mystery.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. The Amazing Play That Broke College Football, New York. That North Texas play has all sorts of ethical implications!
2. What Oliver Stone Got Right and Wrong with “Any Given Sunday,” Decider. Always an honor to write for my old friend Mark Graham over there.
3. Review: “Life Itself,” Paste Magazine. If Schmaltz Tarantino is your bag, here’s your movie.
4. Your Surprise MLB Leaderboard, MLB.com. Scooter Gennett!
5. Ten Crazy Streaks That Are About to End, MLB.com. Jordan Hicks forever.
6. The Thirty: 2018 Breakout Players for Each Team, MLB.com. An easy one, all told.
7. Debate Club: Genre Movies Based Off TV Shows, SYFY Wire. Sorry, no “Lost in Space.”
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
“Arli$$?” Sure! Arli$$!!! Watch our show right here on Amazon or on SI TV.
Grierson & Leitch, glad to be back, with “The Predator,” “White Boy Rick,” “A Simple Favor” and the insane “Mandy.”
Seeing Red, oh jeez, one week left.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, recap of the MTSU blowout, previewing the Missouri blowout.
Go Cards! Bryan Leitch is on board!
Have a great weekend, everyone.