April 2000
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Not Fade Away

hello... i am your personal columnist


You hate it when your heroes implode. Icons and figures that you've treasured and nurtured throughout the entirety of the life you can remember, perching at the abyss of fragmentation, dissolution, or obscurity, and all you can do is watch. Maybe, if you can still scrape up the emotion it takes to care, maybe you fire off a letter or an email to an agent or a fanzine. But in the end you realize just how futile that effort is and you understand why people buy Jimmy Buffet records.

You take a number of loyalty shots to the head, as it were. Your first rock concert would have been Men at Work at the New York State Fair had they not given up the ghost a few weeks before the show. You worship the Police and are left with the cruel, ironic joke that is Sting. You play all the Replacements old records when they break up (except All Shook Down, which you always secretly knew was a Paul record). You cry the day Kurt Cobain dies.

pop-cultural underdosing

You admit to yourself that this is the stuff of rock and roll. But there are other avenues down which you are led. Your personal favorite, the one you think might even make you who you are, is the guilty pleasure you get reading the work of the eighties writing brat pack. You are a kid when you first read Bright Lights, Big City, and you only pick up the book because Michael J. Fox is on the cover and maybe this new story is as cool as Back to the Future.

Turns out Bright Lights, Big City is nothing like Back to the Future. Turns out you wind up not caring about time travel anymore (a good thing too, what with Back to the Future 2 & 3 on the way to destroy yet another pleasant force in your life).

Jay McInerney lights your soul. The way he writes defines the way you want to live. You dream of someday moving to Manhattan and dating a model. You even ignore the movie version, which was the poorer of the two attempts by Fox to play a dramatic role ("This ain't my army, Sarge.")

The impact isn't quite complete though. You don't rush out and buy Ransom. For that matter, you don't read much of anything for a long time. Soon you turn sixteen and books become foreign. They signify something you are not, something you do not want to be.

It is not until years later that you find out you are Generation X. By the luck of birth, you manage to fall smack in the middle of a loosely defined and poorly understood demographic range. Douglas Coupland, an ambitious writer some years older than you, names his first novel Generation X before Generation X becomes what it will be. The book is given to you by a girlfriend whose name you will not remember. You read it and find it a little boring.

the smug periodic table

However, you remember Generation X when you see a copy of microserfs in the new-releases section at an airport bookstore. Now Generation X is officially Generation X, so you decide to give this guy another shot. You read the entire novel while stuck for three hours on the tarmac in Newark while you are racing home during a family emergency. The book is the only thing that keeps you from screaming.

This event changes your life.

You are neither wholly literary nor especially technical, but neither is Coupland and neither is the book. It awakens you, not in the way that Bright Lights, Big City did, but in some silly, sacred, don't-tell-anyone way. It affects you the same way Men at Work's second album did.

This time you do go back and read Generation X and Shampoo Planet. You see them differently. You begin to follow Coupland's work. You look forward to his next book. But he gets a little sketchy, releasing two books that are mostly short story collections and are more depressing than sad.

You are thrilled when his next novel, Girlfriend in a Coma, appears at the bookstore the day before you leave for Europe. You smile when you catch yourself aghast at the twenty-odd dollar price tag, having paid something more like fifteen for the hardcover of microserfs some years ago. You crack the spine as your plane begins to taxi.

You soon realize the title is neither metaphoric nor particularly ironic.

You have a hard time hating this book, but you do.

who joe would date

You pretty much give up on contemporary writing and contemporary writers. Just in time too, as the onslaught of Grishams and Clancys and Morrisons and Harry Potters takes the whole genre down with them. Leave the literary stuff for the intellectuals, you figure, and the trash for the trash. You read about as much as you did when you were sixteen.

But you pass by a bookstore window, and you see Miss Wyoming. You really can't help yourself. You plunk down nearly thirty bucks for Coupland's latest.

The first fifty or so pages destroy you. You find little difference between this and The Gavel, or The Federal Injunction against the Software Company, or whatever Grisham's latest is called. The novel starts to turn however, and fifty pages later you realize that this just might be Coupland at his most subtle, his most ironic, his most clever.

Maybe Coupland has his tongue in his cheek, you guess. Maybe those first fifty pages were written like that on purpose. Maybe it's a big fat inside joke, the kind you really love, unless, of course, you don't get it.

You realize you've been away too long to know for sure.

So you ask. You make a public statement. "Doug? Miss Wyoming," you offer, "What's the deal there?"

Maybe you'll get an answer. If not, you'll just forget about the whole thing and go home and put on some Van Halen, but only the David Lee Roth version.


in the junk drawer:

feature car
ac/dc gun
decomposing dice
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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