Random thoughts on a Saturday morning…
So I am currently ensconced in the Ritz Carlton hotel on Amelia Island, off the coast of J-ville, Fla. Working… or something like it. Perhaps the accurate way to describe it would be, “earning my paycheck,” since this hardly passes for work, even in our spoiled-rotten society. I’m here for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, which, if you care about antique cars, you already know about. If you don’t care about cars, more power to you, I’m not even going to explain.
So yesterday I flew here in the morning because I had to attend a party at 6pm, at which I drank prodigious amounts of free Heineken and talked about old cars. But since I didn’t have a whole lot to do in the afternoon (rain, antique cars and photography don’t mix), I ordered up one of those movies on the Spanktrovision.
‘Cept I ordered Almost Famous instead of one of the Caught From Behind series. Two hours and about 50 “Fuck yeah!”s screamed out loud at the TV set while making the sign of the devil with both hands raised above my head, my only lament is that I had no lighter with me. God, I love Stillwater, but that is the obvious line. Now I’m not going to go into some great marvelous ranting about why this movie is a must see for anyone who’s reading this Web site—just look at our freakin’ title. “Rock and Roll can change your life” is right. It did and it still does, despite the fact that Lester Bangs proclaimed it dead before I was even born (according to Crowe, if you believe that this flick is an autobiography of sorts).
What I am going to say is that for those of you who have your doubts about the veracity of the scenes played out with the band, you know, the Stillwater-on-tour-with-the-journalist stuff, well, as Orson Welles was like to say, It’s All True. No, I was not hanging with Cameron when he was a teenager (we’ll have to chalk that one up to a fantasy for the time machine), but I’m a “journalist” right now, so I know. That’s what my life is like. Just replace the rock stars with old white dudes who buy and sell and design and build and race cars. (And unfortunately, replace the Band Aids with auto industry flacks who, like the party girls of the ’70s, want nothing more than to screw you.)
The point is that I travel all over the country/world, being wined, dined, and ass-kissed by a bunch of people who all want the same thing as Jeff Bebe (nice job, BTW, Jason Lee)—to be made to look cool. And the auto people I run with, despite their aged-ness, their honkey-ness, even their corporate-ness, are cool, to me. I am an auto nut, a gearhead, a race fan—but I’m never going to be one of them. I’m a hanger-on. I go to the parties and I’m the guy getting introduced, not the guy introducing. You, reading this right now, have a much better chance of being my friend than any of these people. Because in the end, I am left with the words of Lester Bangs in the film echoing in my head: “Be honest. Be unmerciful.”
No one wants honesty. No one wants to be shown for what we all are, even the cool ones, especially the cool ones, the rock stars, the Ferraris. We’re all human, we all have silly pictures to post on Web sites. We’ve all done a lot of stupid things, we’re all decidedly not perfect, we all have Skeletons In The Closet. Corporations are just as susceptible to this fact of life as individuals. Somehow though, the ones that I deal with seem to think that creating the disconnect between reality (“The first rule of the [auto] industry is to make money.”) and perception (“Wow! Look at the all-new [Ford, Toyota, Cadillac, BMW, Dodge, Audi, etc.]! It’s the best car ever built.”) is the way to success. Denial of the Truth—as we learn from Russell in the flick—is not the way to fame and fortune or the cover of Rolling Stone. Yet this fact seems to be lost on most.
Which brings me to the next point, which brings me back to last night, after the party, after I had ordered room service (on The Man’s tab, of course). I watched Walter Kronkite on Larry King Live. I heard him—Kronkite—bemoan the lack of responsibility and adherence to basic journalistic principles (like Lester “said,” Be Honest, Be Unmerciful) in our contemporary era. I sat there, eating my Cobb salad, saddened by the fact that I know it to be true. I am a part of it.
There are so many people out there, claiming to be writers, claiming to be “journalists” that are only there for the parties, the free trips, the camaraderie, the fun. I can see through 99% of what passes for “news” or “journalism” these days—it’s nearly all dreck, a part of creating that disconnect that enforces images of perfection of all our idols, be they athletes, rock stars, politicians, or corporations.
Ever notice how journalism, as a word, has been replaced by the term “Media?” There’s a self-evident reason for this.
We’ve let corporations buy everything—they own Stillwater and Rolling Stone magazine now—and it’s become all too convenient of a world, devoid of anything real. If Russell was driven to getting his head full of acid and climbing on a roof in 1973, what would he do today?
To be continued…