Laying awake at 6.30 this morning listening to this on headphones, and thinking about Richard Pryor ... well, let's just say that I had difficulty with all the sentimental (as I saw it) macho bullshit that attended the recent passing of George Best; I mean, c'mon, the guy was a wife beater and serial drunk driver, and he drank away a donated liver. I thought all the talk on the news about "battled demons" was sheer mystification, projection, nonsense, whatever: he gave the impression of being a man who manifestly refused to battle anything in himself or life that involved more than an arsescratch of effort or self-knowledge (or, indeed, the smallest divergence from a certain narrow, patronising cliche of working-class-boy-made-good, which is the tattered remnant most of the post-match eulogies relied upon) ; and when his son (who, I think I'm right in saying, GB had no hand whatsoever in bringing up) says he was a "good man", well, I'm sorry, but - on what or whose terms? He was a superlatively good footballer (tho' a lazy sod, to boot). But good man? Really? Why lie? He had this one gift - which, if anything he seemed slightly bemused by or resentful of; the rest is waste, leftover time, squalor, repetition compulsion, and the ragged hinterlands of a certain sort of "celebrity" (in his latter years, Best's main source of "income" was selling stories about himself to the tabloids, which, if that isn't the very definition of a certain sort of post-modern purgatory I don't know what might be: in order to have a story to sell you have to fuck up... and on, ad an infinitum of nauseams) - a squalid, worthless, ethically dubious "celebrity", moreover, that his son seems to have followed him into, for want of any other taught skill or inherited or cultivated gift on his own part. (Let's just hope that Callum Best doesn't have a son who is famous for being the son of a son of someone who at least once did one thing well or beautifully.) All in all, it seems like a terrible allegory. (I actually find someone like Tony Adams far more moving, as someone who did genuinely "battle" his demons - and twice over, really, given that for working class men of a certain stripe or generation, it's not an easy thing to give up the defence of a certain saloon bar backslap 'Everything's fine, mate!' lifestyle, and take the lessons of therapy onboard.)
Still, yes, Richard Pryor: you think of Blazing Saddles and the early albums, and, most of all, that groundbreaking first concert movie. But, just like Best, there was then the long decline into pay-upfront marking-time work (all the shitty films with inferior talent where you can almost literally see Pryor reigning himself in, looking off-set for the accountant's or ex wife's encouragement/threats, or the crackpipe hidden in the bathroom) - harmless charmless movies the equivalent of Best playing for one more unlikely Divison Schlump club for one more perpetual-autumn season; the almost devoted, concerted pursuit of self-destruction, as if it were an alternative 9-5 job; (not the sort of 'self destruction' indulged in by jobbing pop/rock stars for a few lairy months before they Priory it and emerge saintly & sanitised to (re)sell their god damn belly button fluff "journey" or story "arc" which just coincidentally coincdes with their new Avid Merion charity 45 or come-back tour, but a literally suicidal course).
But I think about that concert movie - some kind of pinnacle, miracle, laughter like an apocalypse, a simultaneous remembering and forgetting (you remember: we're all thus so frail and forlornly and freakily human; you forget: your self, your heavy, earthbound, bleating self). And was all the pain and waste erased by those moments of supra-human sensitivity, blasphemy, joy, defiance? Sculpting sheer nervless sublimity from the chaos and darks of a life which he just wasn't meant to have? You feel like a child again watching some of it, and you think: how can one man contain so much rage and so much tenderness in one body? Are our leaky human shells meant to carry so much unbalanced freight? Doesn't shit like that fuck you up?
It sure does.
posted by Ian 12/12/2005 07:38:00 AM