As you have of course noticed (my assumption is that, because I’m endlessly fascinated by me, you are too), I very often pretend to have taken those clickbait quizzes on Facebook that propose to identify which province in Luxembourg one should be living in on based on his or her responses to questions like, “Would you rather have been the young Brigitte Bardot’s lover, or Claudia Cardinale’s?”
I invariably assert, to the limitless amusement of all, that the quiz revealed that I should be living in Joe Strummer, Joe having been one of the possible answers to the quiz question Which punk rock star are you? Ever since resisting the temptation to take that test (and join in the fun!), I have amused myself by using poor Joe — may he rest in peace! — as my all-purpose answer, even though I must admit that on the two occasions I met the great man, I didn’t much care for him.
The first time was in Manchester, Lancashire, UK. I had been hired to be the compere (host, if you prefer) of a music documentary being made for Australian television. I and The Clash confronted each other in the foyer of the Manchester Apollo, where they would perform later that evening. We all shook hands, they limply. There was a lot of sneering, all of it theirs. I was to understand that they disdained me because I was American, and had long hair (though not much longer than the lovely and talented Mick Jones’s), and was probably a fan of Fleetwood Mac, the living embodiment of uncool. As the cameras began a-rolling, I posed an inoffensive question to break the proverbial ice. Paul, the bass player, snorted, “Boring!” and stormed away. Take that, longhaired American Fleetwood Mac fan! My intuition was that it was a ritual our heroes, fervent disdainers of all show-biz artifice, had enacted many times before. But I suppose I could have taken some small solace in the knowledge that phony Beatlemania had bitten the dust.
I later chatted with Mr. Strummer after the Jones-less 1984 clash performed in Santa Barbara, California. On his own, he was slightly less obnoxious, albeit still pompous and self-inflated. In my view, his group at both shows was a musical trainwreck, and one I derived no pleasure whatever from witnessing.
But back, as ever, to me, glorious me! I have realized, with the help of the clickbait quizzes, that I’m not at all sure who I really am, as there are and have been so many versions of me. Am I the kind, generous old guy who until a few weeks ago delighted in tutoring for no pay persons hoping to improve their English, or the one who, when a hungry homeless person on the street asks for money, either pretends he doesn’t hear or mumbles, “Sorry, no cash,” and keeps right on walking? Am I the person of vast, vast love who raised Brigitte Mendelssohn (on weekends and holidays after her mother and I divorced) to the age of 17, or the hateful, entitled little bastard who treated his parents so awfully in their last years in retaliation for their having been something other than perfect during his own childhood? Am I the friend who wishes the very best for all those who love (or can abide) him, or the one who, behind closed doors, absolutely can’t bear seeing a peer do much better than he? I don't know if we hate it when our friends become successful. I know I do.
Can you see the real me, doctor? Damned if I can. And there haven’t been 30 seconds in my life when I could have been described accurately as a fan of Fleetwood Mac.