Heroes And The Rabbit Hole

It almost seems like an afterthought. The idea that one day, you’ll come face to face with your heroes, those magical figures you hold well above the stratosphere of reason. Of worth even — a celebrity, musician, writer, scientist. You ogle at them on the silver screen and magazine covers, watch them perform your favorite songs on stage, maybe one you listened to the first time you had sex, attempted suicide or did coke in the parking lot of a Toys “R” Us. These moments stay with you for the rest of your lives. They clutch your heart with steel talons and cut you with dull knives. They’re not trying to hurt you. They just do. And if you’re lucky, change you.

I turned 44 on September 23rd. I’ve come to terms with aging. Having kids does that, as you practically gain three years for every one your children turn. Parent Years, I guess. To celebrate the day, my wife Josephine purchased tickets for us to see Gaz Coombes perform at The Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, the once frontman of the British band Supergrass who I have followed for over twenty years. Following the band’s split in 2010, Coombes went on to launch a solo career. He was in the middle of a world tour supporting his latest release, World’s Strongest Man. As my wife and I talked over drinks about life, kids and the disintegration of time, the feeling of having to piss quickly came over me, a common occurrence when I drink at any kind of event.

I left to use the bathroom as she waited in a small room across the bar. I swung the door open and was greeted by none other than Gaz Coombes himself, strangely cheerful and operating as if no moment in life is ever an accident. In the blink of an eye, I saw every experience flash before me to which his music created the soundtrack. The fact that this was happening in the doorway of a men’s restroom made it all the more bizarre. I stood there mute as I tried to register the moment. It never occurred to me that something like this could actually happen. In a glorious display of inelegance, I finally blurted out “oh man, you’re awesome!” He smiled and thanked me for the compliment at which point I realized I was basically holding him hostage in the doorway of the bathroom.

“I thought I would know what to say to you if I ever met you” I mumbled, expelling further mouth farts into the air, moving aside to give him room to pass. “It’s okay, mate” he quipped. “The bathroom is where exciting stuff happens, doesn’t it?” He tipped the brim of his hat (the coolest thing ever) and vanished. I turned to face Josephine where we cordially exchanged “what the fucks?” while laughing hysterically. It was not a moment I was expecting, but one I’m glad we experienced together. We returned to the bar and tossed another round back to commemorate the moment.

As I look back, I know that this was a moment that could have landed on either foot, with my walking away from a total fucking asshole or the porkpie hat-wearing angel of a man with whom I had just met. I was reminded of an episode of Growing Pains when Jason Seaver takes his son Ben to see his favorite singer in concert (played by a very young Brad Pitt) and learns after the show, while eavesdropping on his dressing room door, that he’s just a dick. With Coombes, I like to think it was the latter. However, some people, myself included, have had to accept some hard truths recently about people with whom we once held in such high esteem.

One person that comes to mind is Bill Cosby. I watched The Cosby Show with my parents when I was a kid and have fond memories from that time. His stand up aside, which admittedly I’m only partially familiar, his show had a way of addressing certain issues while steadily anchoring you, bringing things to the forefront that you may have thought about but never verbalized. Or knew how to. For someone young and impressionable, those moments are crucial. Family Ties and Growing Pains were among other shows that had a similar, if not more profound impact on me.

Watching the shit storm that unfolded in the wake of the multitude of brave women who came forward with stories of sexual assault at the hands of Mr. Cosby was appalling. We have a tendency to erect these figures above all else and when stories like this come crashing down, it’s ourselves we can find caught in the wave, if only from the confines of our homes. But what happens when the values you felt you shared with someone, hero or not, turn out to be complete and utter bullshit? Or the way in which their lives and verve may have encouraged you to embark on a path of your own? Can we still be inspired by terrible people? Can we still find color in black hearts?

For his always insightful Creative Minds podcast, my friend Chad Hall recently interviewed poet and humorist Mike McGee, where this topic was discussed. For McGee, being a huge Cosby fan and identifying him as an early influence, learning of Cosby’s decades worth of abuse against women was a hard truth for him to stomach. It’s a gripping conversation which asks the question: Does an idol’s behavior impact the value of the art said idol creates? And if so, to what degree? And following the discovery of such horrors, can we still be influenced by their work? Although I was a fan of Cosby’s show, there are other artists for whom over the years I have developed a far deeper admiration — Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey, Charlie Kaufman and Martin Scorsese to name a few.

Would a terrible act committed by these people deter me from ever again finding beauty in their work? The truth is, I really don’t know. I guess it would depend on the act itself. This makes me a hypocrite, I suppose. Make no mistake, there is no defending Cosby’s actions, or Harvey Weinstein’s for that matter. These men are beyond redemption. This type of behavior should never be tolerated or hidden from the public and with the recent surge of growth and support for the #metoo movement, hopefully never will. The crimes committed by these men have left an ever illuminating trail of shit over their careers and personal lives, not to mention the emotional and physical agony their actions have caused.

But does my admiration for films that Weinstein’s company produced or for others, proved vital to their release, make me an enabler in some fucked up way? Does that, in itself, make me a bad person? By supporting the art, am I supporting the behavior? Sure, Harvey Weinstein didn’t write or direct Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting (distributed by) or create any of the characters whose lines I’ve memorized and during drunken conversations about film, recited for my equally drunk friends. But should Weinstein’s involvement in the films themselves lessen their influence? It’s movies like these that made me want to become a screenwriter to begin with.

Comedian Sarah Silverman recently commented on the accusations against her longtime friend Louis CK, of whom I am also a fan, and found herself in a boiling pan of criticism as a result. Here I am talking about a performer who’s made me laugh from time to time while she’s dueling internally with the knowledge of someone she’s loved for years having behaved in this way. Poor timing aside, I don’t feel she was trying to justify her friend’s behavior. It just serves to prove that this is conduct that affects so many people. I feel a burning sense of sorrow for anyone who has had to endure this kind of abuse but like everyone else, celebrities accused of these heinous acts deserve to be held accountable. But where does it lead?

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee surrounding now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault of her was a turning point I feel. And despite the ever dividing misogynistic views and hate-fueled rhetoric of our President, my hope is that progress remains, even in light of Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation. There’s no doubt to be had, we are raising our children in a dark time, in a nation splintered by a leader who cautions young men of accusatory red flags as opposed to simply encouraging those very men to act fucking appropriately.

But it doesn’t end here. We can move past this. Incite change. Yes, people along the way will disappoint us. Sicken us even. Some of them may be people we’ve idolized. Or still do. Some may be family and friends. And if and when that happens, priorities will demand our attention.

This is not a blog that achieves resolution. Or even an answer to the question raised earlier.  Would my admiration of someone be averted by a shitty act of villainy by their hand? Be it physical or not. Or would their influence simply become more difficult to recognize? I heard someone say once that it’s not necessary to agree with the whole of a person in order to find worth in a part of them. Although I can’t say that I fully agree, I can certainly understand where this point of view is coming from. And as I stated earlier, I suppose it depends on the act itself. I’m not a perfect human being. I just know that I can be better. Victims deserve justice. And abusers deserve to befall it.

RAINN and the Joyful Heart Foundation are just a few of the many organizations out there dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault. Come forward. You are not alone.