Tag Archives: GQ

This Week’s Best Profile – Pavement

I’ve tried to get into Pavement multiple times  – and wrote about the experience here – but something just hasn’t clicked. I did however thoroughly enjoy this GQ profile of the band’s maestro, Stephen Malkmus, by the ever-hit-or-miss Chuck Klosterman. He’s in hit mode here:

There’s an inherent problem with writing about Pavement: People tend to know nothing or everything about them…Over the span of five albums and nine EPs, Pavement became a decade-defining band, widely regarded as essential and game changing (at least among those who cared). Malkmus is completely aware of this. This being the case, I return to our discussion about Jay McInerney: Since just about everyone now concedes that McInerney’s self-perception as a writer was adversely impacted by the avalanche of criticism he received in the years following Bright Lights, Big City, I ask Malkmus if he’s had the opposite experience: Does being endlessly told you’re a genius make you feel like one? Did having so many people insist that Slanted and Enchanted was brilliant change the way he now thinks about those songs?

“Of course it does, in a way. But no matter how much positive feedback you get, it’s never enough.”

The whole, relatively short-ish profile, is here.

Football is bad for you. Real bad.

About a month ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about football in The New Yorker. I haven’t commented on it here, but I choose to do so now for two reasons. First, the article changed the way I watched football. If you want to hate yourself for watching football, read this. If you have a boyfriend you want to stop watching football, have him read this. A sample:

That’s why, Cantu says, so many of the ex-players who have been given a diagnosis of C.T.E. were linemen: line play lends itself to lots of little hits. The HITS data suggest that, in an average football season, a lineman could get struck in the head a thousand times, which means that a ten-year N.F.L. veteran, when you bring in his college and high-school playing days, could well have been hit in the head eighteen thousand times: that’s thousands of jarring blows that shake the brain from front to back and side to side, stretching and weakening and tearing the connections among nerve cells, and making the brain increasingly vulnerable to long-term damage. People with C.T.E., Cantu says, “aren’t necessarily people with a high, recognized concussion history. But they are individuals who collided heads on every play—repetitively doing this, year after year, under levels that were tolerable for them to continue to play.”

It’s an incredibly damning portrait of a vicious game that, the article tells us, was once nearly banned by no less a manly-man than Teddy Roosevelt. The whole thing’s here.

But we’re not here to talk football, we’re here to talk story-telling. which brings us to a profile in GQ magazine on the same topic released at nearly the same time. It tells the story of one doctor, Bennet Omalu, and his struggle to have brain damage taken seriously by the NFL:

Nothing was welcoming, nothing was collegial, about the NFL’s reaction to Omalu’s article that appeared in the July 2005 edition of Neurosurgery. In a lengthy letter to the editor, three scientists, all of whom were on the NFL payroll, said they wanted Omalu’s article retracted.

“We disagree,” they said.

“Serious flaws.”

“Complete misunderstanding.”

The scientists, Ira Casson, Elliot Pellman, and David Viano, were all members of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee. In tone their letter to the editor struggled to remain calm, but everyone could read the subtext: We own this field. We are not going to bow to some no-name Nigerian with some bullshit theory.

The article, by Jeanne Marie Laskas, is a classic little-guy-fights-the-big-dogs story. She peppers it with detailed accounts of brain damaged football players committing suicide. A stressed out Omalu drinking Johnny Walker Red. Death threats. Classics of the narrative journalism form.

Yet Gladwell’s article has gotten gobs more attention, for a couple of reasons. First, it was written by Malcolm Gladwell. Second – and this shakes my faith in the already limited power of narrative journalism – Gladwell’s non-narrative is just more compelling than Laskas’ narrative. In Laskas’ piece, we get bogged down in the inside baseball of the NFL, the politics of the medical research world, the stories of individual athletes. Gladwell’s story is simply a blunt explanation of just how screwed up the very idea of football is. And for that, it’s impact is much greater.

Gladwell’s writing style, and his logic, often irk me. But in this case – and in many others, as this article points out – he’s found the secret formula for making a persuasive argument.

This Week’s Best Profile

If you and your autistic child were stuck floating in the middle of the ocean, what would you do? Walt Marino let go of his son, Christopher:

Christopher grabbed for him again, jumping out of the water to get away from the fish, splashing salt water into Walt’s eyes. Walt went under, gulping a throatful of ocean that made him vomit again. Crying, desperate to breathe, he yelled at Christopher, at the situation. Christopher was screaming again, too. What could Walt do? There was really only one thing he could do, for the both of them. He was forced to make a horrible decision: If they stayed together, if Christopher kept clutching his father, they would both drown. Their only chance was for Walt to separate himself from Christopher, to hope that his son could stay afloat on his own. It was the only choice that made any sense. He looked at his son again, then pushed him away into the ocean.

It seems thin to say that is the only option; then again, it’s presumptuous to assume you wouldn’t do the very same thing. I would have liked a bit more at the end, on any lingering sense of guilt or fear or whatever, but this narrative is un-put-downable.



GQ is hiding an article implicating Vladimir Putin in several Chechen bombings that helped lead to his rise to power. That’s about all I know about the piece, because you can’t find it online. This isn’t a stand by GQ against the freeloading internet masses, they’re just scared someone will actually read it.

NPR had the story about the story; Gawker has a Russian translation.

This Week’s Best Profile(s)

Two for one this week, an oldie and a newbie, both goodies. There’s a theme, too. First, the oldie – Charles Pierce on the 21-year old deity that was Tiger Woods, for GQ (reprinted here, for a rather unexplained reason, at Esquire):

There is no place in the gospel of the church of Tiger Woods for jokes like this one:

Why do two lesbians always get where they’re going faster than two gay guys?

Because the lesbians are always going sixty-nine.

Is that blasphemous?

Is it?

It is an interesting question, one that was made sharper when Tiger looked at me and said, “Hey, you can’t write this.”

“Too late,” I told him, and I was dead serious, but everybody laughed because everybody knows there’s no place in the gospel of Tiger for these sorts of jokes. And Tiger gave the photographer his hour, and we were back in the car with Vincent and heading back toward Tiger’s mother’s house. “Well, what did you think of the shoot?” Tiger asks, yawning, because being ferried by a limousine and being handled by beautiful women and being photographed for a magazine cover that will get him laid 296 times in the next year, if he so chooses, can be very exhaustive work. “The key to it,” he says, “is to give them a time and to stick to it. If I say I’m there for an hour, I’m there, on time, for an hour. If they ask for more, I say, ‘Hell, fuck no.’ And I’m out of there.”

Hell, fuck no?

Is that blasphemous?

Is it?

And from last week, Kelefa Sanneh on the pretty racist, mostly fascist, sort of hatemongering, definitely crazy-sounding Michael Savage in The New Yorker (subscription required…just go buy it):

Savage abhors animal cruelty (though not as much as he abhors the animal-rights movement), and, as many listeners know, his interest in the natural world predates his identity as a firebrand: he is a scientist by training, and before he became a talk-show host he was the author of more than a dozen books on alternative medicine. Somehow, the years of research made him not a chipper health nut but a melancholy fatalist, all too aware that every day brings with it a new dose of poison fore his beleaguered body. “Theoretically when I get off the air I should go run, I should walk, I should bicycle, I should do a treadmill,” he told his listeners, while lamenting that he never followed his own advice. He offered a synopsis of the night before: “The worst thing you could do is go to dinner. I went to dinner. The second-worst thing you could do is have two drinks. I had two beers. The third-worst thing you could do is come right home and watch television. I came right home and watched television. I didn’t sleep another minute last night. One nightmare after another.” He sighed. “I’ll do the same thing again tonight.”

What do they both have in common? Neither was particularly well-received by certain groups: Tiger-lovers (i.e. everyone) were miffed by Pierce’s construction of the theretofore untouchable Woods as a regular 21-year old frat brother with an ungodly smooth backswing; liberals can’t much stand thinking that a conservative talking head of undeniably vulgar quality (Sanneh notes as much) could possibly have a, well, human side. He does. Tiger did too. That’s what makes these profiles so illuminating and engaging and enlightening.

It’s one thing to just go write contrarian profiles for the hell of it (Esquire, for all its wondrous experimentation, is a prime offender). It’s quite another to write a story that actually tells us something about a people and the truth and life.