A lot of us don't measure up to our idols. Like the little league ballplayers who dream of being Derek Jeter but grow up to be high school gym teachers. Or the young mall-rat divas aspiring to be Christina Aguilera who end up performing on Carnival cruise lines. But what about people who are distinct successes, but still want to be some wholly other thing? In the early '80s, Eddie Murphy apparently wasn't content being the world's most popular comedian and movie star, so he decided to become Rick James for awhile.
Far more damning than that story about him and the transsexual.
Or how about Billy Bob Thornton, who must have been so unfulfilled as a mere respected actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter that he tried to become some latter day, country rock Warren Zevon. Thornton yearned for that identity so badly he freaked out at the mere mention of his former self.
I guess I can understand this conflict. Even though I've achieved no success of any kind that could be mistaken for anything vaguely resembling the people listed above, I've always felt a disconnect between the kind of man I wanted to be and the kind of man I was destined to be. And I don't think that makes me unique. So many of us fit into neat pre-existing categories, but so few of us are content being that obvious. It doesn't even matter if we're destined to be good things. We have an attraction to the foreign and strange. Somehow, being what comes naturally feels like a cop out, and we flail hopelessly at everything we are not.
Here are three of my biggest conflicts in the categories of music, monsters and comedy.
Music: The Flashy Cosmic Rocker vs. The Earnest Singer-Songwriter
Rock comes in many flavors, but two of its biggest archetypes are flashy, visually significant, performance-based showmen like David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie, who convey a deliberately artificial image to supplement their music; and earnest, heartfelt songwriters like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, who sing for the common man in a voice he recognizes.
The Dream: David Bowie
In 1982, my big brother (who is 10 years older) brought home Ziggy Stardust from college. I was instantly transfixed by the music and the album cover, which revealed a rock star unlike any I'd seen before. I still remember exactly what I said when I first laid eyes on the back cover.
"Oh my God! He's SUCH a gaylord!"
Yep. I was shocked. Why was he standing like that? Didn't he know that looks gay? But Ziggy Stardust was so good that even an 8-year-old, sheltered, homophobic suburbanite got past appearances. And then, months later, a totally new Bowie emerged.
The early '80s Bowie was still unique and stylish, but less likely to get chased by guys with baseball bats after a concert in Boston.
David Bowie was everything I wanted to be: eloquent, daring, multifaceted, stylish and impossibly cool. So yeah, I dressed up like Bowie, and played in bands, and always aspired for diversity, but in every single musical thing I ever did, I felt something pulling me back down to a more familiar place. A place called ...
The Reality: Billy Joel
Long Island has the oldest prefabricated suburbs in America, the most heavily visited beach on the East Coast and more Billy Joel fans per capita than any other place on earth. And why not? Billy Joel was one of us.
He went to Hicksville High School. He had brown kinky hair, and everyone I knew thought he was at least part Jewish, Irish or Italian, just like we all were. He seemed to like baseball, and he wrote that song about that pizza place that may or may not have been next to the train tracks in our hometown. Also, it's not like he didn't have a bunch of Top 40 hits, too, so why not love him?
But loving people and wanting to be like them are totally different things. Billy Joel might as well have been my uncle, and where's the appeal in that? Not even in the '80s, when most rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty were selling the earnest appeal of the rock star next door did I aspire to be something familiar, earthbound or identifiable.
I wanted to be the Thin White Duke, an impossibly cool alien badass who could go from platform shoes to neo-fascist chic to pastel suit prowess in the blink of an eye. And I couldn't, because up on stage I was this:
Not fair to blame Billy for the mullet.
In fact, my first time performing on stage, I sang Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" while wearing a T-shirt and a sports jacket at my high school Battle of the Bands. (An outfit I'm apparently still rocking.) Not exactly something that would have made Bowie proud. And not something that made me particularly proud, even though we won Battle of the Bands. (Yeah, suck it, Strike Force!)
Monsters: Vampire vs. Werewolf
The competing vampire and werewolf archetypes existed well before Twilight brought forth two sexually unintimidating actors to embody them. That competition is as old as the stories themselves. (I guess? After all, the majority of my vampire vs. werewolf knowledge comes from a book-and-record set I got at 5.)
Maybe not as respected as Interview With the Vampire, but easier to finish.
The Dream: The Vampire
I started compiling a list of things that attract me to vampires, and a funny thing happened: It was somewhat similar to my list of David Bowie attributes. Indeed, Bowie even played a vampire in 1982's The Hunger. Solid casting, as I enjoy the notion of the vampire as an elegant man about England, well-dressed, sophisticated, eloquent and impossibly seductive to women.
Yes, I know Bram Stoker's Dracula looked a lot more like the one in Nosferatu, but I'm not talking about his kind of vampire.
Just for clarity, I didn't aspire to be this kind of vampire, who looks like the spawn of gremlins and sea monkeys.
I'm talking about these vampires:
Yes, I know none of these vampires are English. Stop correcting me. You know what I mean. Nitpicking won't make your fangs grow in any quicker. [UPDATE: PLEASE STOP COMMENTING THAT GARY OLDMAN IS BRITISH. I KNOW. DRACULA, HOWEVER, IS FROM TRANSYLVANIA.] I'm just saying, the classy vampire is the horror archetype that I most aspired to be. But I'm not. If monsters were real, I'm pretty sure I'd be ...
The Reality: The Werewolf
No, I don't transform at the sight of a full moon or tear people's throats out, but I'm a helluva lot more like a werewolf than a vampire. First of all, my hair isn't pin straight and I'm not lanky or gaunt. I'm built like someone intent on winning a center of gravity contest. I was the short but broad kid the gym teachers bugged to join wrestling, believing I'd do well in my weight class. And of course, there's something else more obvious pushing me into the werewolf camp:
Yep, you guessed it. Werewolves are fastidious with their personal hygiene.
Yeah, the body hair. Perfect for a wolf, but not so great for a vampire.
Apparently, the thirst for blood is borne from inadequate testosterone levels.
And whereas popular movies like The Hunger and Interview With the Vampire cast the likes of David Bowie and Brad Pitt as ice-cool vampires, An American Werewolf in London features David Naughton as a sarcastic suburbanite Jew with an English nurse fetish. If this character were any more like me, he'd spend the whole movie trying to figure out how to work David Bowie into Cracked articles.
My hands don't look like that, but when I was 13 I heard they might start to unless I stopped doing a certain thing.