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Posts Tagged ‘identity’

Afterlife

April 16, 2013 | by

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Christopher Wallace is dead, murdered in the early hours of March 9, 1997, one block from my childhood home in Los Angeles. But exactly two weeks after his death, Wallace’s alter ego, the Notorious B.I.G., rose again with the album Life After Death. Geppetto was gone, but his Pinocchio lived on.

Like Wallace, “Biggie” grew up in Brooklyn, but in Bed-Stuy rather than Wallace’s more middle-class Clinton Hill. He dealt drugs, toted four-fours, and took falls, all of which Wallace did. But Biggie was a goddamned capo compared to his dramaturge’s small-time crook. Where Wallace was really gifted—almost preternaturally so, considering he died at twenty-four—was in the constructing and performing of a character, his character. Biggie was a fiction—not so farfetched as to court incredulity, but idealized, a romanticization of the writer. He was autobiographical to a point, but embellished into a Mitty-esque wish-fulfillment through whom his audience could vicariously fantasize about the good life: popping bottles and topping models.

In character, and within the strictures of the medium, Wallace could do and say things he’d never get away with as himself. With his heavy tongue he could probe the decay of poverty in a bouncy radio hit, or parody our nihilistic materialism with a club banger that made him millions, and never be in danger of hypocrisy.

Biggie was, his fans understood, the Flatbush Falstaff, dedicated to excess and frivolity, while Wallace was the mysterious magus who spawned him. Sadly, even magi are mortal. But, luckily for us, Big Poppa is forever.

Christopher Wallace is dead. Long live Biggie Smalls. Read More »

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The Dying Sea

November 28, 2012 | by

On the road from Jericho to the beaches of the Dead Sea, there is an architectural curiosity, a yellowish abandoned building. My grandmother would tell me its story every time we passed it on our way for a day at the beach. One should bear in mind that “a day at the beach” at the Dead Sea is not “a day at the beach.” It is its evil twin. The day is spent walking on jagged rocks, falling into pits of gooey black mud, and trying to pretend that such an unearthly density of salt sticking to your body is not as painful as it actually is. The adults would further complicate my love-hate relationship with those beach days by tell us terrifying stories about the ghoul who lived in the cliffs and would eat us up if we strayed too far.

This might explain why my favorite moment was the glimpse we got of that yellowish building. I can’t remember when this place used to be a hotel, or what its name was, but I remember the description. It was prewar—pre-1948, or pre-1967, it doesn’t really matter which; we have had as many golden ages as we’ve had catastrophes. Suitably enough, the hotel was a gem of gold and velvet. The people there were rich, they spoke five languages, they were beautiful, and they knew how to waltz. Read More »

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Housesitting, Ghostwriting, and Other Masks

October 17, 2012 | by

The other day I found myself inadvertently multitasking. Usually I like to concentrate all of my energy on a single pursuit. That way, when I inevitably become distracted and rush off to a Coinstar machine or a matinee, it’s easier to catalogue my neglected duties. But for a string of rainy afternoons last week I was simultaneously house-sitting and ghostwriting. Ghostwriting while house-sitting: it can be done. Of course, as soon as I became conscious of the unusual efficiency of my behavior, my brain was forced to resume its usual course of professional sabotage and I spent the next few minutes staring at a gourd.

These are some of the nightmares I have while house-sitting: electrical fires that spread through the walls; dead pets; plumbing disasters; missing mail; rain-soaked packages; a sudden infestation of massive rodents. These usually torment me for the first few nights while I am still getting accustomed to the particular way the wind plays your shutters, the hum of your kitchen, the rattle of your washing machine. This passes. By Wednesday I’m wearing your bathrobe, and by Friday I’m reading up on squatter’s rights.

These are some of the nightmares I have while ghostwriting: computer failure; client failure; crumbling word counts; inadvertently contributing a pound of flesh rather than the few skin flakes I’ve allotted the project. Real writing requires buckets of blood, but you can pretty much ghost an entire memoir with a shaving nick. Expend the interest, never the principal. It’s still damaging to long-term return,s but at least you haven’t shaken down your muse.

Good ghostwriting is a bit like microwaving soup. The bowl is hot but the broth stays cold. Resurrect killed darlings and let them run wild in the purple fields. Talk about the weather. Delve into the dog’s lineage and the history of the waterbed. List the contents of the cupboard.

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