#112 Generational anthems
I’m old enough for my youth to be historical entertainment. It began with Beckham.
This is how Beckham shaped my youth: hardly. Sure, I knew who David Beckham was, but having little interest in soccer, what I most cared about was his hair. He also married my least favorite Spice Girl. Good for him.
The documentary is wonderfully made and a pleasant watch. I never knew how big Beckham was, and I’m glad he’s doing as well as he’s doing in the documentary. I’m happy to edit him into my personal history retrospectively, as if he’d always been there. But it’s easy to like a millionaire living in apparent perfect harmony with his family, especially with such a wardrobe.
Moving from coincidence to striking, another recent documentary about an icon from my youth is quite another story.
Robbie Williams is about Robbie Williams, and Robbie Williams I did know who he was. His music and his being shaped a significant part of my early twenties. I think about Robbie Williams more often than I think about the Roman Empire.
I remember one night when we were sailing in a small boat on the Amsterdam Rhine Canal. I must have brought or someone must have left the Live at Knebworth album on the boat. Dark outside, light in the boat, music playing loud, we completely missed the inland vessel on a collision course until it blew its horn and burst the magic of feeling all alone in the world. I run past the spot where this happened weekly now and remember it fondly.
I’ve modeled many of my dreams on Mr. Williams. There have been few instances before I went on stage that I didn’t think of him at Glastonbury or during the Close Encounters tour. I wish I could entertain you the way he could. But then I only do business presentations, and one thousand has been my biggest crowd. One percent Robbie. Not even. I loved the way he dressed, the way he moved, his piercing glance, the fireworks, the ease with which he made conversation, his humor.
The documentary about Robbie Williams doesn’t come close to Beckham. We’re confronted with a terrible-looking Williams in bed in his underwear. Depressed, destroyed by the tabloid press, disillusioned. It’s no fun to see your heroes this way, but that’s probably part of your childhood becoming history. It’s relatable. I wouldn’t say I feel closer to my adolescent hero now, but I certainly find him as much entertaining.
To paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy adolescent heroes are alike; each unhappy hero is unhappy in its way. And that own way merits a thick book, it being endlessly entertaining.
The best scene, to me, by far, is when Robbie Williams leaves on another tour but now he’s the Robbie Williams of today. His daughter cries wholeheartedly upon his goodbye. My kids have cried that way. Age has brought us closer together. We know we’ll always be blessed with love.
Then, turning the striking into a pattern, the NYT labeled Mr. Brightside a generational anthem.
The Killers (authors of the song) picked up the baton where Williams dropped it. Stadium rock mixed with glam and indie, accessible and acceptable. A perfect song for a time we’d put songs on other people’s iPods as little mementos of time well spent.
Apparently, people love playing it at weddings nowadays.
“For brides and grooms in their 30s, “Mr. Brightside” would have been a bop of their formative years — a time when late nights were spent chugging Four Loko, sweating through skintight American Apparel disco pants, and making out with the wrong person (or knowing that, actually, you were the wrong person).”
It’s a bit odd to play Mr. Brightside at weddings, given the topic of the song and all. But we had a Klezmer band, so what do I know. We’d been doing just fine.
While I listened to Robbie Williams on a sailboat, I most vividly remember listening to The Killers in a tiny park in or near the Miraflores neighborhood in Lima. High summer in a deserted park. Gotta gotta be down, because I wanted it all.
Finally, to cement the pattern, my parents brought a box full of memories over the weekend. It had a photo of the time when I listened to Robbie Williams, sailing the Dutch canals. I look so young. And do we know, the places where we go, when we’re grey and old?
Have a great week, we’ll be in touch soon!