Jealous by Starlight (revisited)

[Originally posted on my previous blog. Pogoer.org — I still like it, so I’m putting it out there yet again.]

If I were asked to name something I’ve written that I’m proud of, the following column, originally published in Boston Rock magazine in March 1986, is among the items that would most readily spring to mind. My modus operandi – or at least the ideal to which I aspire – as a writer has long been to say out loud the things that everyone knows, but no one ever really talks about. You can judge for yourself as to whether or not I succeeded with this column. Aside from correcting the odd typo or punctuation mark, it’s exactly as originally published. I was 26 years old when I wrote this, and I don’t write like this anymore,  and many things have changed for me, but I still believe in the point I was trying to make way back then.

For those not there the first time around, explanatory footnotes to obscure/insider references are supplied below.

Cave 76

Jealous by Starlight

In case you haven’t been keeping track, this issue marks the first anniversary of “Cave 76.” One whole year typing in this musty old cave; wow. Although the growing pains continue, the novelty’s worn off; certain things are taken for granted. Number 76 is in middle life. No more congratulations are offered to its author by his nine faithful readers upon each brilliant new installment; certainly no “Wes, you are the Doug Flutie of freelance writing.” (Just as well – they could be saying I’d get slaughtered in the pros.) We’ve long since settled into the grind. Naught remains but APATHY. Inertia city. Yeah, tell me about it.

Beginnings and endings are the easy parts. They’re ceremonial, with guidelines to get you through. It’s the middles that screw us up. Excuse me if I sound like Ellen Goodman, but there aren’t any ceremonies for Just Getting By. As a concept, middles aren’t that exciting, but they’re life’s lunchmeat; devils and angels left alone on the ground to slug it out. Which, if you look at it in a Zen context, is both the problem and the solution. That is, the thrill is in the challenge. And so be it.

We come, finally, then, to the long-awaited results of my Insanely Jealous Poll. I received exactly one letter – from Karen Martakos, age 15, of Wakefield,Massachusetts – but it was a lovely one:

I’m insanely jealous of Wes Eichenwald.
I’m insanely jealous of Wes Eichenwald because he can probably go to good clubs and see good bands. I can’t.
…because he probably has the opportunity to meet a sum of nice people and then go out drinking with them. I don’t.
…because he can probably look however he wants to without the authorities giving him a load of bullshit for it.
…because he can probably pick up whatever college radio stations he wants to on his stereo system.
…because he has a job…
I’m insanely jealous of Wes Eichenwald because he’s Wes Eichenwald. And I’m not.

Thanks for writing, Karen. I’m insanely jealous of this guy myself. Have fun annoying your parents with that copy of Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard, and call me in six years and I’ll buy you a drink at the Rat.

The response shouldn’t have surprised me. Discussing one’s private jealousies in the pages of Boston Rock is rather like dropping one’s pants in the Ritz dining room. A free record won’t cut it as a bribe. No wonder nobody wrote in except a teenage girl holding up a mirror to my face. Jealousy, a major plank in the base of human relations, is something you don’t talk about. It’s one of the last taboos.

The myriad forms of jealousy available to the careful shopper are too numerous to really get into here – read Nancy Friday’s book, or something, if you’re interested (I’m waiting for the paperback). However, a few of the more incandescent include:

Consuming Jealousy: You’re so sick of congratulating your stupid friends on their stupid accomplishments, whether deserved or undeserved. Every day you swallow your pride, force a smile and say, “Congratulations, I’m so happy for you!” when what you really want to say is, “Fuck off and die, scumbag, I hate you, I hate you! It should have been me instead of you!” You want to boast, to do things none of your pathetic friends (that you hate) have done and say SO THERE. But you’re locked out and seethe about it. Lately you feel like you can’t even breathe anymore.

Jealousy as a Flip Side of Insecurity About Your Own Accomplishments: What do you do after you get what you want? Want more, of course. Ever greater accomplishments, though delivering ever greater kicks. So what else is new? You may have gotten 85 per cent of everything you ever wanted, but the 15 percent you didn’t keeps you from enjoying it. If that wasn’t bad enough, every time you reach a goal you disqualify it in your mind – it doesn’t count because, to yourself, you stay exactly the same, and that’s no good…

Selective Denial: An advanced stage. One way to handle others’ intolerable successes is to pretend they haven’t happened. After a while, you go numb.

Short Takes: Jealousy of people one step up the ladder from you as opposed to three or four (safely out of your view). People younger than you who got it together sooner. Close relatives, for any reason. Former peers who suddenly ascend beyond your reach (truly unforgivable; that’s where all the mocking covers of “Voices Carry” come from).

Enough of this. You get the point. There’s a lot of jealousy around, most of it sheer head-fucking nonsense. As long as some people are one maddening step ahead of others there is going to be jealousy, in the most ridiculous places.

For example, I suppose it’s possible that someone out there in Real Life Land might actually be jealous of me (yes, me) just for having this column. Yo, man, what’s your problem? Why aren’t you jealous of that writer of “Cellars By Starlight” in the Phoenix, like everybody else? But if you still envy my long-term lease on this fairly small-potatoes space, well, tough. Find your own mag to columnize in. This one’s taken for the foreseeable future. (Really, now…) And I got where I am on sheer luck, a winning smile, and heck, I’m too modest to continue.

At least I’m not jealous of Aimee Mann. Not now, not last year, not even when she was in the Young Snakes. I hope she has a nice life. It’s fine with me, really. I don’t care. But some people do. They could care less about Phoenix writers, but thinking about Aimee Mann rots their guts out. Ooh, that Aimee, I could just kill her for being so successful! She did it, she got out, and here I am still trapped in the bog, paddling like anything just to stay in the same place.

Jealousy is a toxic waste product of selfishness and ambition. Like cigarette smoking, it’s a seductive pleasure, if a hollow and cancerous one. It’s a hindrance to maturity. Jealous people are ultimately lonely, bitter people, dependent on others for their own identity, which is, I am what I want but can’t have.

Let’s talk turkey. I used to be jealous of almost everyone I knew. Then I realized – satori! – that their accomplishments had nothing to do with me; we were on parallel paths, not identical ones. By trying to appreciate everyone for who they are, it helps me to appreciate myself more, and incidentally, to feel more connected to my friends.

Sometimes I fail at this. I’m as imperfect as anyone. I have very few answers to anything. But I keep trying, because I have no choice. It’s all right. There comes a point where you have to say fuck it, let go, and live your life. After all, whoreally wants their friends to be jealous of them? The failure of people to accept things as they are, to instead wallow in delusions, is the greatest, self-inflicted obstacle to personal happiness there is. You have one life; don’t live it as an adjunct to anything, including other people. Now a resolution like that could be worth more than a cellarful – or a caveful – of columns.

************************************

Here are some explanatory footnotes for those readers not familiar with the (somewhat too) cozy littleBoston scene back then:

Cave 76 – the name of my column in Boston Rock (I think the above installment was actually the last one to run before the editors pulled it; mid-life turned out to be The End, but at least I didn’t end up too long at the fair). I named it after one of the jokes in Mel Brooks’s 2000 Year Old Man routine: the national anthem of his cave was, “Let ’em all go to hell, except Cave sev-en-ty-six!” Hey, I still think it’s kind of cute…

Jealous by Starlight – the column’s title is a takeoff on “Cellars by Starlight,” the local-music column in the Boston Phoenix, the city’s leading weekly alternative paper; that column’s title, of course, itself being a takeoff on the song title “Stella by Starlight.” (Years later I actually ended up writing one “Cellars” column myself, and got to be friends with the regular “Cellars” writer I referred to in the above text; just goes to show ya that everything comes around.)

Doug Flutie – local football-quarterback hero atBostonCollege, later in the pros (sort of)

Ellen Goodman – well-known boring syndicated columnist based at the Boston Globe newspaper

Insanely Jealous Poll – a poll of sorts, named in honor of the Soft Boys song “Insanely Jealous,” in which, a couple of issues back, I’d asked my readers to tell me which person they were most insanely jealous of. Most were, for some reason, reluctant to reply.

Karen Martakos – yes, I did make sure Boston Rock sent the album to her; she never called for that drink, but in January 2002, Karen (who is no longer extremely jealous) signed my guestbook and gave a delightful update on her life. In her words, “I think it’s good for everyone in their 30’s to get in touch with their inner surly teen every now and then.” I still have the original letter, framed…

Wakefield – suburb ofBoston

Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard – local-band compilation album (Modern Method, 1985) put together by producer Steve “Mr. Beautiful” Barry.

The Rat – what everyone except Tiny Tim (who played there one memorable night) called the Rathskeller, a legendaryKenmore Square rock club, sadly demolished in autumn 2000 (there was no joy in Mudville).

Ritz dining room – Brahmin retreat in ritzyBack Bay hotel

Nancy Friday – author of the book Jealousy (yes, I eventually read the paperback)

“Voices Carry” – a hit for ’til tuesday on MTV and elsewhere; the worst thing to happen to lead singer Aimee Mann (who has since redeemed herself many times over).

Aimee Mann – American singer-songwriter formerly based in Boston, now in LA; see “Voices Carry.” I still wish her a nice life.

The Young Snakes – Aimee Mann’s first band (by all reports, an unremarkable art-pop combo; no, I never actually saw them perform. Hey, truth in journalism!)

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