As I die, "Ease on Down the Road," please
What can’t I stop thinking about? I’m glad you asked, because it’s not the hopelessly navel-gazing and entitled brouhaha about Dawn and Sonya. Nope, it’s this: The other day (week? month?) I read this article about a guy in his 40s dying of cancer who just found his biological father and who spent his last eleven days alive trying to make up for all that lost time with his new-found father. A moving story for sure, but that’s not what’s stuck with me. It’s that the guy died watching “Ted Lasso,” one of his favorite TV shows.
Can you imagine making something that means so much to someone, they want to DIE watching it? Sweet bejeezus.
I have been thinking about the producers and writers of that show and what they’d think and feel if they read that article. I have a friend who’s in a well-known band who tells me that when people used say things like, “I got married to your song” or “I had my first kiss to that song,” it’d just creep her out. I can see why. There’s a real burden associated with changing someone's life or just bearing witness to the intimate stuff of that life.
George Saunders always likes to talk about art being a kind of black box that people go into one way and come out another, and he talks about that box like it’s a good thing and a way of sidestepping the business about art having to be good or to do good, and because George Saunders believes this, I have chosen—for years—to believe this, too.
But…do I believe this? Do I want to write a show someone wants to watch while they die?
It’s not like anyone has ever come up to me and said my book changed their life, and so who knows what I’d feel if they did. But I’m guessing it’d be something like: Honored, humbled, embarrassed, afraid.
My father died listening to Tony Bennett. He loved Tony Bennett. But to me, that’s kind of like dying while watching the rain come down or the wind blow. Bennett stands in for all kinds of nostalgia and the feelings that go with it. He’s part of the backdrop to an entire generation, of men in particular. The same cannot be said of “Ted Lasso” or most any contemporary art, for that matter. Not yet, anyway. My point being—what is my point? The artist is burdened—gag. The artist has a responsibility—blah. The artist has no relationship to the work once it leaves her hands—trite. Maybe my point is just that the artist should be careful. Be careful what you put out in the world. And be careful what you wish for.