Look to your masters - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Many years ago, I found myself in one of those vintage music shops that are a rarity these days (if any still exist). I was killing time while a friend shopped for some real you’ve-probably-never-heard-of-them kind of music and I decided to buy a used vinyl copy of Face Value by Phil Collins.
Sure, it cost $2 at the time (apparently that’s about $2.50 in today’s economic marketplace), but to me it felt like it was worth it.
At that time in our lives, after having a drink or two, we were looking for guidance and it felt like Collins was the man for us, so that copy of Face Value made more than its fair share of appearances, spawning the WWPCD (What Would Phil Collins Do?) period of our lives. It didn’t last long, but it felt profound.
I didn’t even like his music that much (and I didn’t even have a record player), but we knew enough about Phil as one of the musicians Patrick Bateman rhapsodized in American Psycho and with his big black-and-white face staring back at us we let him - at least in spirit, anyway - guide our decisions.
We were young and silly, sure, but I was only a few years removed from having friends who went to the mall to ride the escalators for hours. The way I saw it, there were worse things in the world than canonizing Phil.
As I watched the Academy Awards late last month, I was reminded of that silly guidance mantra of mine. (No, Phil wasn’t there.) Chloé Zhao, who won the Best Director Oscar for Nomadland, spoke about directing and said, when she got stuck, she would ask herself “What would Werner Herzog do?” And when I heard that, I realized that I wasn’t alone.
Herzog is a minor hero of mine. The German film director is a bit of a folk hero, earning an almost Paul Bunyan-like reputation for his feats of film genius. Zhao specifically cited the making of Fitzcarraldo and the real-life work of hundreds to haul a 320-ton steamship over a hill in the Peruvian jungle.
He also has a robust résumé of other odd, yet triumphant feats in his day-to-day life, like the time he arrived on the scene of a motor vehicle collision in time to pull actor Joaquin Phoenix from the wreckage, saving his life, or the time he refused to stop an interview after realizing he was being shot at (with pellets, but still).
Herzog also reached legendary status with a short film entitled Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. This seems like a perfect time to bring in the old British saying, “it does what it says on the tin”, as the movie documents Herzog boiling and eating his shoe as the result of losing a bet, saying that if he did, he’d eat his shoe. He is nothing if not a man of his word.
I guess what I’m saying here - at the risk of incurring the wrath of my pastor friends and encouraging the idolatry of false prophets - is that finding your own unique guiding light isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And while Zhao may not have had a boat pulled over a steep jungle hill, she was the creative visionary behind this year’s Best Picture winner, and while I may not have written “In The Air Tonight” after a night at the bar, I’ve done... whatever it is I do on a weekly basis in these pages.
In the movie Adaptation, one character knows another is lying when she answers the question of her ideal dinner companion, living or dead, with Albert Einstein or Jesus Christ. Everyone says Jesus and Einstein, he said, so he knows she’s making everything up.
It doesn’t have to be Jesus and Einstein for us all. Collins and Herzog, for example, would be rather entertaining around the dinner table and who knows, you might learn something.