Archive for April, 2004

April 29th, 2004 Comments off

Tillman — It’s Not That Simple

Since the news broke last week about the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, there have been a couple of occasions on which I’ve considered posting my thoughts about Tillman. In essence, they boil down to, “This guy gave up the chance to earn millions of dollars playing football in order to go get shot at (and ultimately killed)? What an idiot.” But it isn’t nearly as simple as that. And I haven’t really been able to get my head around the complexity of it. So I’ve decided to shut up about it.

Not so much, Rene Gonzalez, a grad student (I don’t know what discipline) at UMass, Amherst and a writer for the campus newspaper, the Daily Collegian. Gonzalez penned a piece for yesterday’s paper in which he painted Tillman as a Rambo type, calling him a “‘G.I. Joe’ guy who got what was coming to him.” He’s getting blasted for it, by readers and by university officials, includeing President Jack Wilson.

I have to say that I think Gonzalez goes too far. It’s cold-hearted and immature to suggest that someone who has been killed while performing his duty as a soldier “got what was coming to him.” No he didn’t, Rene. And you weaken your overall point by saying as much. You could argue that he got what he asked for. You could argue that he got what he should have expected. But to claim he got what he had coming to him is absurd. With the possible exception of terrorists, no one who has died in Afghanistan or Iraq got what they had coming to them. No one.

The piece is, of course, overly simplistic. It could only have been written by a college student. Tillman’s decision to quit football and join the army after September 11 was almost certainly capricious and probably foolhardy. (I’m sorry, but smart people don’t put themselves in the way of artillery unless they have to, either because of class/economic circumstances or because there’s an actual invasion on — and usually not even then.) But it doesn’t make sense to conclude that Tillman was looking for Rambo-style glory. Chances are, he really was doing what he thought was right. Chances are, he really believed there was a threat that needed to be confronted and felt an obligation to be part of the fight. I can’t begin to understand that instinct. I can’t begin to understand why he would give up what he gave up to go and fight at a time when our military was plenty full of people who weren’t making $3.6 million to play a game. But I’m sure the decision wasn’t driven by a lust for glory. There’s plenty of fake glory to be had with much less risk on the gridiron if that’s the kind of personality you have.

All that said, I think Gonzalez is mostly on the mark. It’s nonsensical to hold Pat Tillman up as a hero. He’s certainly not someone I’d want anyone I love to emulate. He’s no more a hero than anyone else who has died in this war, and they’re mostly not heroes either. They’re people who were doing their jobs. And theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die. (I’m not invoking Tennyson here because it’s fun, by the way. It seems to me “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and a bit of Crimean War history, is appropriate reading for anyone who wants to understand this little war of Mr. Bush’s.)

And let’s be realistic. Tillman’s getting the attention he’s getting because it’s good for the war effort to say, “Look. Look at this big, right, successful athlete and the sacrifices he made for you and your freedom.” Because almost no one’s gonna speak ill of a dead soldier. And no one’s gonna point out, at least not right away, that the truth is that Pat Tillman and all those other dead soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan died for exactly nothing. Not freedom (which the Bush administration knows and cares little about), not democracy (which is a just an insulting fucking joke given the way Bush came to power), and certainly not to make anyone safer (creating a breeding ground for terrorists is not the way to make the world safer). It’s just too hard to admit. So all most people (everyone except Rene Gonzalez so far) are every gonna do is say, “Wow. He gave up everything. I guess I’d better keep on supporting the troops [which shouldn’t mean supporting the war, but somehow does].” And that’s seven points, easy, for the hawks.

That’s part of the ugly truth, anyhow. And that’s my take on Pat Tillman. Mostly. It’s still way to simple, but it’s what I’ve got for the moment.

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April 19th, 2004 Comments off

Whatcha Waitin’ For?

This Pats Year, my book about a season in the life of New England Patriots fans, won’t be out until August (cleverly positioned to hit just before football season begins), but you can pre-order your copy now through Amazon. Just go here. Why should you do something like that? I don’t know. There is no reason, really. Unless you wanna make me feel good. And you do wanna make me feel good, don’t you? Oh, also, you save like eight bucks if you order the book now. Eight bucks. That’s almost a third of the cover price. So, you know, that’s pretty cool.

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April 14th, 2004 Comments off

Ah, Ca-RAP

So for quite some time (years, I guess), I’ve insisted on referring to myself as a journalist rather than a writer. Why? Well, mostly because I’ve run across too many hideously pretentious fucks who call themselves writers. In fact, pretty much all of the hideously pretentious fucks I’ve known who have endeavored to write professionally have insisted on calling themselves writers (ya gotta kinda put a little Euro-trill on the initial R sound there to get the effect) even while earning their livings by being surly behind the counter at video rental places or bagel shops. These are, you know, the MFAs who never quite manage to finish the big, important novels they’re forever working on, but who nonetheless look down their noses at us ink-stained types who actually lower ourselves and betray our art by, umm, you know, earning our living by, umm, you know writing. (And no, by the way, I’m not saying all MFAs are like this. Far from it. I know a lot of people who have MFAs — like a fucking lot of them — and most of them are good sorts, if burdened with loans they’ll never, ever be able to pay off. What I’m saying is that 80 percent of the people who are like that either have or are studying for an MFA. That’s all.)

Anyway, I’ve wandered pretty far off my point here, so let’s refocus. I don’t call myself a writer, even though as a pure descriptive term it would be dead on. What do I do for a living? I write. What type of person writes for a living? A writer. So what am I? A writer. But don’t call me that. It makes me feel dirty.

OK, so what does that leave me? Well, sometimes I’m a copywriter. That’s pretty easy. You put that word “copy” in front of the word “writer” and it strips all the potential pretense away. Copywriter = working stiff. (The pretentious types might say prostitute, which is fine by me, ’cause, you know, I’ve got a mortgage and everything that comes with it. And, just in case you missed it, I don’t much care for the pretentious types anyhow.) Writes neither to achieve personal satisfaction nor for the benefit of his readers, but simply for a paycheck. Good, good. I can live with that as long as the checks keep coming.

But sometimes I’m not a copywriter. Sometimes I’m a guy who writes features and trend stories for newspapers. And sometimes I’m a guy who writes books. (OK, that should be book. Singular. So far just one. But I’m working on the second one and it’s awkward to say book, so cut me a break.) I’m coming around on author, though it still doesn’t quite feel like it fits (sometimes I think it never will, even if I write 30 books). But what about the newspaper stuff? I’m not a reporter. Not often, anyhow. I used to be a reporter back in a previous life. I used to go out and gather news stories. But I don’t do that any more. I do some reporting when I write a trend piece, but, you know, that ain’t really reporting. It’s just, you know, chatting with more people than you chat with when you’re writing an artist feature or a book review or something. I’d be insulting actual reporters by calling myself a reporter. So I don’t.

As far as I can tell, that leaves me with journalist. It’s a bit much, a bit of a … whatever, but it’s what I’ve got. I think. Only now here comes Jimmy Breslin telling the New York Observer that he doesn’t want to be called a journalist, because he finds the word pretentious. (This is not what that story is about, by the way. It’s just a remark Breslin makes within it.) And I’m not like some Jimmy Breslin devotee or anything, but I do respect the guy enormously. He’s talented as all getup. (No shit, Sean. Any other brilliant observations today?)

What I’m trying to figure out is, is Breslin right? Is the word journalist pretentious? And even if it isn’t, do people think it is? ‘Cause the last thing I want is for my efforts to avoid a word I find pretentious to result in me using one that puts other people off. I’m not sure where to turn. Or what to call myself if I end up deciding Breslin is right. Any constructive ideas out there? Any at all?

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April 5th, 2004 Comments off

Pop Collectives

My piece on pop collectives (think Lambchop, Giant Sand, Calexico, Broken Social Scene …) ran as the arts lead in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe. Looked great in print. Nice big pix of BSS and Giant Sand. You don’t get those with the Web version, but there’s still the story, which is okay all by itself (if you ask me).

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