In last week’s New Yorker, there is a profile of the musician Nico Muhly. Muhly is apparently hip, young, ingenious and in demand. The profile goes on at length about everything from his culinary skills to his interesting childhood. Naturally, he is insanely productive and well-learned, and is constantly throwing out ideas in the jittery, hyped-up fashion common to such talents, but at the same time, he is casual and cool, a guy you could hang out with – cool enough not to think of himself as cool. In his picture, he has wide eyes and mussed hair. Long about the passage which begins, “At eighteen, Muhly enrolled in a joint program at Columbia, where he studied English, and Juilliard, where he got a master’s in composition,” and goes on to tell a story about how Muhly was trying to get through an exam to test out of his music-appreciation course at Juilliard in time to make a flight to London to work on the score for ‘The Hours’ with Phillip Glass, I suddenly managed to perfectly articulate what I had been thinking the entire time I had been reading this article about Nico Muhly, which was, in short:
“Fuck you, Nico Muhly!”
I don’t know about you, but I seem to have been reading a lot of articles about brilliant young people recently (this will happen to you if you subscribe to far more literary periodicals than you ought to have time to skim, and bookmark way too many blogs, all written by young folk who live in Brooklyn and spend all their time worshiping and promoting other young folk who live in Brooklyn [on a side note, isn’t it funny that a surefire way to get published in Brooklyn-based lit mags is to write profiles of Brooklyn-based writers who in turn write profiles of Brooklyn-based writers and so forth, ad infinitum]), and I believe I have reached my saturation point. There are a number of people that I never want to hear about again, and more specifically, there are a number of things I never want to hear about anyone again, and these include:
- I do not want to hear about all the open windows on anybody’s Mac desktop while they are at work. I do not want to hear that they work on their novel (for which they’ve received a record-breaking advance) in one window, while editing a small film in another window, while emailing the Hollywood writers of a new subversive satire with sample jokes for their possible collaboration in another window, while updating their popular political blog in another window, while bidding on an antique gramophone on ebay in another window, while watching a Fellini film on mute in another window, while putting together an itunes soundtrack to their show that’s about to go up in a SoHo garage space in another window, while booking tickets for their upcoming inspirational speaking tour of the Eastern bloc in another window, while IMing their eight million friends and admirers in another window, AND all the while doing push-ups and making bouillabaisse and learning Japanese and singing Nessun Dorma and dating a model and cutting their own hair. I’m glad some people are so productive before 10:00 a.m., but I don’t want to hear about it.
- I do not want to hear about anybody who does anything in their 20s. If you are a 19-year-old who has already accomplished the things I’ve only been vaguely talking about maybe taking the first steps toward trying to do for the past seven years, then fan-freaking-tastic. Good for you, and now shut the hell up. In fact, I would only like to hear about the accomplishments of people who did things at five years older than whatever my current age is on an ongoing basis. I am 26 now, so I do not currently want to hear from anybody who did anything before the age of 31. Next year, that will rise to 32. And so forth.
- I do not want to hear about people who audaciously pushed their way to the top, who subverted the system, shoved their foot in the door, knew they had a gift and made their own platform for it. If you have a story of how you were told you would have to wait three years to study with a certain Master In Your Field, but you waited outside his door every day for two weeks, and barraged him with samples of your brilliant work, until he finally agreed to take you on as his personal project, and so you walked away from it as the youngest whatever in the field of whatever…if this is your story, keep it to yourself! If, however, you have a story about how you were told you would have to wait three years to study with a certain Master In Your Field, but you waited outside his door every day for two weeks, and barraged him with samples of your brilliant (at least according to you) work, until he finally called the cops, shamed you, and blackballed you from the whatever community and now you will never work again. . .in that case, yes, I would love to hear your story, thank you.
- I do not want to hear about complete unknowns who manage to become successful without knowing anyone or having any built-up reputation or buzz, who suddenly show up at an audition, or mail something in somewhere, or do an off-off-off performance in a loft space, and are immediately selected for fame and fortune based sheerly off their undeniable talent, vision, originality and insight. People, in short, who manage to pull off the impossible with no effort and little angst. I would, however, like to hear about people marketed as unknowns who were suddenly recognized by the public at large, but who, it turns out, were actually secretly Coppolas all along.
- I do not want to hear about anyone who sleeps less than five hours a night and consumes less that 500 calories a day and runs over three miles every afternoon. If you read upwards of 30 books per week, please keep it to yourself. If you speak more than two languages fluently (and taught them to yourself), don’t ever mention it. I do not want to hear about anyone in any field who, rather than aggressively fighting for work, is fought over by numerous backers and/or employers.
- I do not want to hear about people who, despite being eternally sober and well-behaved in all respects, were still more than welcome on the Super Cool Fun Rock Star Tour Bus Of the Moment, because they’re just naturally such a giant freaking blast to be around. And come to that, I don’t really want to hear about any person or group of persons that have a whole lot of fun all the time: if you’re blindingly attractive and spend all your time having high times all up and down the country with a ton of other blindingly attractive tattooed young kids – all shagging each other under palm trees, and leaping off of mountain crags while half-naked and covered in glitter – well, I don’t really need to hear from you, or see glossy photo spreads of you and your friends, which other people actually pay money to view hanging in galleries just so that they can vicariously gawk at all the toned, tanned young fun you’re continually having. To hell with you and yours, and I hope the good times kill you.
- I do not want to hear about people who left home at the age of 2 and raised themselves in a dumpster, and stripped for a living before being picked up by a traveling circus, and saw the world, and scrapped and grifted and amateur boxed, and that is how they acquired the skills that make them such a successful 24-year-old CEO today. Likewise, I do not want to hear about the day you, as a three-year-old, toddled into your parents’ bedroom gripping a dog-eared copy of A Brief History of Time and announced that you believed you’d come up with a plausible universal theory. If you did anything in your babyhood other than spit up on yourself, or anything in your childhood other than sit around, bored and disaffected, in your upstairs bedroom that smelled of feet, I’m not interested in hearing about it, and anyway, I don’t believe you, you stupid liar.
In short, I do not want to hear from anyone who is successful, charismatic, easy-going, good-looking, charming, accomplished, brilliant, creative, ingenious, multi-tasking, prolific, groundbreaking, subversive, impassioned, irreverent, hilarious, young and/or visionary.
I only want to hear about unattractive, unpopular, cynical old people, who have achieved somewhat remarkable things by plugging away furiously over years and years, with no reward, and in spite of crippling self-doubt; who are damn near impossible to be around, and are thus utterly alone; who are impoverished, angry, diseased and misanthropic, but who are now, finally, at the end of their long, hideous lives, starting to be somewhat recognized for possibly having something insightful to say about the rest of us; although they will very likely die in obscurity anyway. These are the only people that I ever want to hear about, and they are also the only people that I ever want to be around. Less Nico Muhlys and more Harvey Pekars. Capiche, Believer Mag?
[Incidentally, and this is a total side-note, but if you are some stranger I have just met and you ask me about what I plan to do with my life (which is annoying in and of itself) and I give you some sort of answer, do NOT under any circumstances tell me all about your daughter, or son, or niece, or employee, or God-sister-in-law, who has had wild success doing exactly what I would like to do, and has worked with all the best people in all the best places, and who I will surely hear of soon if I haven’t already. Honestly, why on Earth does everyone do this? Why would anyone think this would endear me (or anybody else) to them? Do you think that I will suddenly jump up and down, applauding, and ask you if your daughter has some sort of fan-wagon I can hitch my life to? No! I don’t want to hear about how your daughter is famous, and anyway, she can’t be that famous if I’m not already aware of who she’s sleeping with. Probably by ‘Mom, I’m starring in a major motion picture,’ what your daughter really means is, ‘Mom, I’m addicted to heroin and sleeping on a cot in the storeroom of a bar in Dubuque.’ Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Maybe one day I’ll have my own daughter, in which case, I might be able to get interested in her life; until that day, I am only interested in myself – and here’s a tip from me to you for your future social interactions: the same is true of every person that you will ever talk to. You’re welcome.]