What does it mean to be a creative male these days? How are we guys, in that antiquated, mythologically “binary” sense, supposed to act, feel and express ourselves?
Jim Harrison might be summed up as “an author,” but he will be remembered as much, if not more, for the depth and breadth of his passions as for his writing. He was a philosophy made into ample flesh, living, as near as we can tell, in ways most of us who consider ourselves male are more than a little jealous of.
Dude ate all he wanted, drank imprudently, was fond of high-caliber weaponry, and recited Kierkergaard. Harrison suffered from depression, but for the “right” reasons in the American male ethos: He was too smart to be happy all the time,”knew” he was the cause of all suffering, and spent his life unraveling just how terribly powerful he was.
You know, the American creative male dream.
I can only speak for a certain, perhaps exceedingly small, subset of American males for whom Harrison seemed to unravel and live. In our all-encompassing meekness, Harrison has been one of the metaphorical “rock stars” for those of us who, for some mysterious reason, never quite see ourselves as popular musicians, Hollywood actors or professional athletes. The figurative posters in our bedroom aren’t of Michael Jordan, KISS or Humphrey Bogart (and yes the age of these “acts” matter), but of David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jim Harrison. We, in our meekness, desperately want all the philosophical freedom and, yes, pseudo-intellectual adulation, embodied in their mythos. In other words, we’re fans.
There is frankly more than a little embarrassment in our fandom of these men. Part of that is the depth of feeling toward them, as, being “guys,” we’re not supposed to do the feeling thing. There’s also the seemingly incontrovertible fact that these guys were, at least at times, complete jerks. Of course, this fact only, also embarrassingly, makes us love them more. Why can’t we be complete jerks and still be adored? Why can’t we kill ourselves, alienate those around us and/or grow massively fat after a life of eating 19-course meals?
Oh, you mean there’s a literary talent aspect to this fame? It’s not just the creative male literary rock star life that we admire? That said, truth be told, which is the stronger attraction: The work or the life? The output or the mythology?
We’re not covering any new ground here. Remember the line in “Spinal Tap”? “As long as there’s, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.” Still, it’s a tiny bit different for those of us who idolize Jim Harrison, even over Robert Plant or Marvin Gaye (and yes, the age of these acts matter). The difference is that we guys, in this shrinking subset of American males, have an irrational love and ultimate ambition for the idea that someone, a guy, can do all that living and still somehow write stuff like this:
The sun’s warm against the slats of the granary,
a puddle of ice in the shadow of the steps;
my uncle’s hound
across the winter wheat,
fresh green cold green,
The windmill, long out of use, screeches
and twists in the wind.
Spring Day, too loud for talk,
when bones tires of their flesh
and want something better.
The math goes like this: the number of guys who can now do this is zero. Jim Harrison is dead. The rest of us will just keep trying.