I knew this guy. When he found out his best friend’s father had a sweet video camera, he immediately got permission to borrow it. Then, with the help of two friends, he made his first horror movie, using this borrowed camera, borrowed editing system, and zero budget. They had no script, and improvised the entire thing based on what this guy had in his head. In fairness, the film was not exactly well-made; I mean, how could it be? But to be fair even further, during its premiere — at his school — one girl did legitimately scream during a jump-scare, so in that sense it was kind of a success.
Also: he was thirteen at the time.
Then I knew this guy who wanted to get into a summer acting program that would have put him on the fast-track to a B.A. in theatre and likely some good acting opportunities around town. Maybe even . . . get paid. But when he and one of his best friends auditioned and the best friend didn’t get in but he did, he didn’t bother signing up for the program. He wasn’t about to waste a summer with a bunch of profs who couldn’t see the talent his friend had, nevermind spending the summer away from his buddies. He was eighteen at the time. Three years later, he and that best friend, along with two other best friends, wrote and staged a one-man show. They got a standing ovation opening night.
(Of course, that was only after he and a totally different best friend grabbed a camera and started shooting a television show in their spare time. He was nineteen at the time. He had a lot of best friends, that guy.)
It’s the same guy who, after seven years of being pretty universally disliked by his classmates, turned to face the kid who’d just insulted his clothes and calmly replied, “Fuck you.” And how the teasing stopped after that. He was thirteen at that time, too.
At fourteen, the seniors in his high school speech and theater department were going nuts because he’d qualified for the State speech tournament his first year, and went on to break to the semifinals that year. One of the “top twelve in the state!” he’d say. But it’s not the breaking to State that I admire; it was his entire attitude, which was — without a single shred of guile — “Does this mean I get to perform again? Oh, okay, cool.”
These are the highlights, of course. The lowlights are far too low for public consumption. But when this guy died (which I think was sometime around early 1994, though spots of his spirit resurfaced from time to time), I couldn’t help but miss that entire Fuck It attitude of his. He wasn’t cruel about it, to the best of my knowledge. He just set his sights on something, and when he did, he generally got it. Whatever he went after, he tended to get. And when he didn’t get it, he’d shrug it off and move on to the next thing. When he and one of his teams got an outrageously positive review of a play they did, they had a party. When they got outrageously negative reviews about another, he shrugged and dismissed the critic as a prick, and moved on.
I really miss that about him. His ability to not give a shit, in the best possible way.
Now, having said all that, the thing that always nags me is that on the one hand, he rarely took no for an answer. He’d get some weird, usually performance-related idea in his head (“Hey, let’s produce a play! Hey, let’s make a movie! Hey, let’s make a movie about a play!”) and then he’d go gather up a crew, most of whom would follow him wherever he led, even if that was to total financial ruin or artistic obliteration. I have no idea how he talked so many otherwise intelligent, rational people into following his craziness, but they did.
I miss that about him as well. I miss that about all of them.
But then on the other hand . . . was what he did really any good? I mean, demonstrably, quantifiably good? By any measure? And what measures can we even use, really? Plenty of mediocre people with mediocre personalities or talents have tasted far greater success, and surely a hundredfold better people with better talent have gone unnoticed. So what does it say about him if he was just sort of middle-of-the-road, relying on the good graces and patience of people in some way beholden to him . . . family, say, or other students who have no choice but to sit through that absurd horror movie.
The thing is, they didn’t make a movie; he did. But if it wasn’t all that good by any measure, then what was the point? And if that trend continued into his professional life . . .
I know this: He took his arts very seriously, but not necessarily himself. The times he got all brow-furrowed and tried to REALLY CREATE SOMETHING, it never worked. The stuff he just threw together on a whim always seemed to be received better. I’ll never understand that. Or maybe I’ll never want to.
In some ways, I’m kind of glad he’s not here to see what I’ve become. Parts of my life would make him scream with pride and envy. Other parts would make him wince and say, “Dude, what the fuck are you doing? You don’t got to take that shit.” Yet I keep on taking it.
Maybe he was mediocre. Maybe he was middle-of-the-road. Mid-list. But he didn’t care, and he had no regrets. He didn’t compare himself other people, mainly because he tended to be too busy on his Next Big Thing.
I think I miss that about him more than anything.