THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE US PEOPLE
They go by many names. They are teachers, enemies, and strangers— a composite of qualities and characters. They come into our story for moments, years, and lifetimes. Like water, they are often hard to hold on to or keep track of. For this essay, however, I will refer to them as one thing and one thing only: IDOLS.
Idols make us who we are. Minor and major, they build up the person who we will later claim ourselves to be. Piece by piece, the fill in who we hope to be remembered as. With guidance and example, they show us how to be a better version of ourselves. Their stories keep us going in times of fatigue. Their image, something to look up to.
To steal from one’s idol as anything beyond a means to a greater end is impractical and naive. Idols, by definition, are individual and special. We are inspired by them because they didn’t take the path of least resistance, but instead set out to carve their own way through the thorny woods. To remain blind to this common characteristic can be disastrous. Coincidentally, it’s also how all amateurs get started. Myself included.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve made it a point to pick my idols not for their entire being, but what they have to offer on a set of subjects or fields. Parsing through each idol, I steal from them what I need and throw the rest out. My idols are varied just as they are my own — Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Todd Sautner, Anthony Bourdain, Aaron Fields, Dori Semone, Steve Rinella, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Roosevelt, Marlon Brando, Warren Buffett, Abbie Hoffman, James Baldwin, Dan Rather; you get the idea. These idols, and many more, have made me who I am today — piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit, forgotten and lasting all the same.
It doesn’t take a particular quality or set of qualities to get into the club. Just a bit of originality, new way of looking at the world, and excellent personal timing. They must also live an authentic existence. Through trial, error and redirection, I am drawn to those who know the feeling of being lost. The same ones who at one time in their life, like me, were seeking something greater than the now. I’ve got no use for followers, flakes, and copycats. 9–5ers need not apply.
Let’s get to just a few.
Charles Bukowski: Bukowski taught me how to be a poor king, how to own my perversions and addictions, and make the best of a bad complexion. Bukowski taught me that it doesn’t take a tweed coat to write a good poem. He taught me how to fuck like the end of the world was knocking at your window. He taught me that quantity may not assure quality, but it sure as hell makes you undeniable. And sometimes that’s just as important to being a writer as being actually good.
Bob Dylan: Dylan taught me to stop making sense. He taught me to question criticism and “play it louder!” He taught me Judas had just as good of a story as Jesus, and that only a part-time executioner would turn his blade on either. Most of all, though, Dylan taught me to let the spirit in — to go with the teenage muse in whatever direction it may be taking you, and to trust that god above has a plan for the artist, even if we aren’t able to hear it
Marlon Brando: Brando taught me to be sexy in a plain white t-shirt. He taught me the power of masculine confidence, and how if you know how to use it, you can turn picking your nose in a room full of studio executives into a lasting movie career. Brando taught me that the classiest Italians are sometimes midwestern farm boys of English/German lineage. He taught me not to get too fat, to be skeptical of trends, critics, and Truman Capote with a notepad. Brando taught me to respect your job simply for the fact that it affords you the right to be free. He once said that if he could find a job that was any easier than acting, he would have taken it. Lucky for us, he’s remembered as the greatest actor of his generation and not the owner of a slew of drive-through steakhouses bearing his sir name.
Parents are the original idols — The O.I.’s. They literally teach us how to be not be a puddle of drool. As such, they hold a special place in our identity whether we like it or not. My mother and father bestowed me a number of distinctly Pogue and Semone tendencies that I’ve tried for years to redefine on my own terms; often to no avail. With time, I’ve become more comfortable with my inability to redefine these qualities. Often going so far as to proclaim their superiority in matters of character comparison with drunken compatriots. (Story for another time). Let’s start with my mom though.
My mom taught me how to stand up for my own emotions. She taught me to express my thoughts and feelings, no matter how large and uncomfortable. She taught me to respect people, not because of their identity, but because of their character. She taught me the importance of tradition and family, and above all else, a well-stocked refrigerator. “We may not be rich in gold,” she would often say, “But we are rich in food.” I would always roll my eyes when she said this. I now find myself repeating it verbatim without pause in my own home.
I often joke with my sisters about how our mother is the actual voice of my conscience. Whenever I’m about to do something I know isn’t right, I hear her, “You can lie, you can cheat, you can steal. Even if you don’t get caught, it defines your character.” This is but one of my mothers trademarked sayings — as fit for a bumper sticker as the soundbite pulpit.
My dad taught me the significance of an old car. It’s often said classic cars just have that special something new ones lack. I think this has to do with the fact that you can work on an old car. An old car belongs to you. You know it’s quirks and moods, and it requires a vested interest on the part of the owner in its wellbeing, safety, and success. I often say that everyone wishes they drove an old car, but no one wants to own one. This is the difference between my dad and other men. He owns 10 cars as of this writing. He knows each car’s story, kinks, and preferences. This gives him, and other classic owners an appreciation for the convenience of new cars that modern drivers simply take for granted. How else would you know how lucky you are to have power steering until you’ve tried to parallel park a ’49 truck with just 2 feet of clearance in front and behind you. You can’t.
“Everyone wishes they drove an old car, but no one wants to own one.”
Old cars come with the added bonus of hands-on therapy. There isn’t a day that goes by where my dad doesn’t attend some serious car therapy. Whether rebuilding from scratch an old desert dune buggy or changing the brakes on his new mini cooper, he keeps busy and sane thanks to his time under the hood of his collection.
With time, I’ve become more comfortable with the fact that I am my father and mother’s son. For all my parents’ faults, they continue to teach me not only about myself, but what it means to be of their blood. As for the other’s, they come and go like the rain — never too far away to remind me of their lasting and often contradicting impact.
This isn’t an extensive list of my idols by any means. Hell, it isn’t even complete. But I thought it was important to put it at least some of these ideas down on paper in hopes of ordering my mind.
Do check out the Anxiety Club facebook page to hear all current and past episodes as well as photos and updates on Karl and me.
Here’s a link to the Idol Episode as well.
Until Next Time,