Arts & Culture

Primal Scream Therapy with Tortured Authors, Part 3: This be who I am… this be what I do

From: Marty Beckerman To: Matthue Roth Subject: This be who I am… this be what I do Matthue, I appreciate the comparison to Chris Rock, although he is infinitely funnier than I am, at least when he does standup instead … Read More

By / October 1, 2008

From: Marty Beckerman To: Matthue Roth Subject: This be who I am… this be what I do

Matthue,

I appreciate the comparison to Chris Rock, although he is infinitely funnier than I am, at least when he does standup instead of shitty movies. I don’t know if we’re compelled by the same impulse, or share the insecurity of "why am I the person who needs to say this?" because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become aware that I’m not saying anything new.

If I mock grotesque hedonistic excess like I did with Generation S.L.U.T., I’m only following in Petronius’s footsteps, never mind Bret Easton Ellis’s. If I criticize authoritarian notions of morality, I’m boldly going where Socrates has gone before, never mind George Carlin. So maybe I’m not "the right guy to say it," because plenty of people have said it already — and said it better — and the world would keep spinning if I weren’t around to identify its bullshit.

Plus it’s getting harder to write with conviction because I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. There was an excessively puritanical bent to my writing for a few years, which makes me cringe now because it was so over-strident, over-earnest and over-preachy, which is what happens when college students try to share their opinions. (They need a few more years to become embittered and disillusioned.)

Sometimes I’m paralyzed by the feeling, "Whatever I write, it’s going to embarrass me five years from now, because my perspective will be completely different." We’re all on a conveyer belt in the same factory, getting assembled at approximately the same speed, and I know my opinions and outlook will change over time because I already want to go back in time and kick my own ass for being a complete douche bag.

But the bitch is that I need to speak my mind. I’m a loudmouth, a blowhard, a guy who loves the sound of his own voice nearly as much as the sight of his own (rockin’) body. In some ways the WASP sensibility fascinates me — politeness and discretion, never discussing sex, politics or religion — and I wish I could be a debonair gentleman who epitomized tact and never offended anyone, but I wouldn’t feel human. You have to ask yourself one big question when it comes to interacting with society: do I want everyone to like me, or do I want to be the slightest bit interesting?

Even though Generation S.L.U.T. is melodramatic and emo and preposterously morose when I look back on it — now that I’m past adolescence, my hormones have cooled off, and I’m generally in a happy (or at least mellow) mood — that’s what the world is like when you’re nineteen years old, dealing with your first serious relationship/breakup, and half your friends have tried to kill themselves. If I were to rewrite the book today, it would be funnier and more lighthearted, but it wouldn’t be genuine because I can never feel those emotions again, at least never to the same degree. You build a wall to protect yourself, you become a man instead of a boy, and your memories suddenly seem hysterical and pathetic instead of tragic and devastating. You forget how much it hurts to grow up because scar tissue replaces the open wounds. You stop whining because you learn that happiness is your own responsibility. And if you don’t, the world will eat you alive.

But that book was the best one I could write at nineteen/twenty, just like Death to All Cheerleaders was the best I could write at sixteen/seventeen. Dumbocracy might embarrass me down the road, but it’s the best I can do at twenty-five, and the price of lifelong consistency is never expressing any opinions whatsoever. I’d love to extinguish any risk of future humiliation, and I’d love to erase some of my overzealous tirades from millions of people’s memories, but all I can do is trust that I’m getting better and smarter — and more entertaining — as I go. And hope that readers agree.

(Or at least be willing to say, "Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke," which is more difficult than you’d think.)

Marty Beckerman, author of Dumbocracy, and Matthue Roth, author of Losers, are blogging together on Jewcy, and they’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.