I had an essay on psychogeology planned to drop this week (yeah, it’s a thing!), but two new biographies of Anthony Bourdain have provoked me to the point of making a last-minute swap. Extracts from the biographies are making the rounds, their authors giving interviews.
Bourdain had a large fan base to which I subscribed. Kitchen Confidential was an irreverent exposé of restaurant kitchen culture; a raucous reveal behind the twin swing doors. He reveled in shining a light on the soiled underbelly of something carefully manicured and disneyfied. Bourdain was the essence of punk insolence and I was punk rocker at the time. I ate it up.
Bourdain’s own brand was manicured as well: culinary rapscallion; acute observer of the absurd; globetrotting seeker of the strange and spicy; unapologetic provocateur; cool older dude with hot younger girlfriend. I can imagine that this fun stamp could be exhausting to maintain. We all evolve, sometimes to our friends’ and fans’ resistance. Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilder begat terminator begat governator. The Beatles graduated from Can’t Buy Me Love to A Day in the Life. Fans were unhappy, but the Fab Four were done with holding hands and love me do. Happiness is a warm gun. Transformation is essential for staying fascinated by ourselves.
Bourdain was reportedly excited about a new project that would be decidedly un-Bourdainian. Even pirates pull down the black flag at some point. One can imagine how liberating it would be, and befitting of his style, to shock the devotees with something unexpected and completely out of character. I spent 20 years cultivating X and now I’m Y. Trust me. Join me!
In an earlier incarnation I had a privileged life in San Francisco. It was the greed-is-good Gecko era and cred was built around possessions and title. My wife kept me grounded but every peacock loves to spread the feathers from time to time.I found my wings when I severed the strings (a lyrical couplet from the 2021 MASSIVE HIT To Say Goodbye) and moved to slow-and-sunny Provence from fast-and-foggy San Francisco. I knew that my professional repute and financial surety were about to become irreparably unwound, and was elated. For I was moving towards a more natural, authentic version of myself; correcting course towards a north star I had always seen brightly to the side and too long denied. At a certain age denial is a very unhealthy choice.
My sense is that Bourdain was a mostly authentic guy but yearning to evolve. He was an undeniable creative and creative types don’t like being boxed in. The slightest tinge of I’m starting to feel fake elicits the hives x10. Maybe he was finding it difficult to shape the shift, given the heavy momentum of his much-loved brand. Certainly his open history of substance issues and depression wouldn’t have helped, and his relationship was reportedly on the rocks. He loved her deeply (according to the new bios) and must have felt it slipping. That can push one into embarrassing behavior. I can relate more than I want to admit, and perhaps is why I felt compelled to pen this rumination.
We all need to be aware of the gravity of our brand and the effort required to escape said pull, if indeed that’s what is needed to grow and thrive. It’s a very healthy thing, mandatory I’d suggest, to question our identity regularly and tweak where needed; destroy when required. If surrounded by people who love you in a place that nurtures you then you’ll be fine. Actually, much better than fine, you’ll be alive.
Ch ch ch changes…..
Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence