By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When his accusers popped up on the Internet, compassion, morbid fascination and interest in the man got all tangled up. Call me an old marshmallow, but I’m always a softy for an underdog. Even if he is a born-rich, pretend desperado whose greatest gaffe may have been knocking over the dean’s hors d’oeuvres table? Who among us has never conflated deeds with dreams? Even if it never made us millions.
Seeing the author show up on Larry King to face the music with his mom by his side — well, it was one of those television moments you feel privileged to witness. After all the hardcore PR, you half expected to see Bob Mitchum roll onto the set with a five-day beer fur and take a bite out of the microphone. Instead, we’re treated to a well-behaved young prepster in a button-down shirt, the Richie Rich who gets his mom to spring him from detention. Short of finding out Frey was the third member of Milli Vanilli, it couldn’t have been more exciting.
He was doing what he had to do. Even if, at the expense of his tough-guy image, it meant sitting with clenched butt and troubled puppy eyes by his mother’s side. Perhaps, after a dozen years off the hard stuff, his body has begun producing Depo-Provera, keeping him as docile as a Brooks Brothers castrato. Been there, buddy! Personally, I liked the way he handled himself on air. Not afraid to go meek when necessary. This, after all, is a man who had FTBSITTTD (FUCK THE BULLSHIT IT’S TIME TO THROW DOWN) tattooed on himself. But is it throwing down if your mom’s involved? I don’t pretend to know.
(And yes, fan-clubbers, the scuttlebutt is that after the Larry King appearance, James has made one key addendum to the author’s statement for future editions: His sobriety mantra is no longer just HOLD ON. It’s . . . HOLD ON AND CALL YOUR MOM!)
Let the legions of self-righteous pundits like Tucker Carlson bloviate. Let concerned professionals like Dr. Drew remind us that Frey’s John Wayne–style road to clean and soberdom might steer busloads of desperate juiceheads, tweakers, crack-dogs and junkies clear of the twelve-step arena that might well save their sorry asses. Inspired by Frey, these lost souls may believe that they, like their lavishly mutilated hero — the macho bastard who caught an open container of beer in Granville, Ohio, and went down hard — can muster the same testosterone-fueled willpower to beat the demon that drives weaker souls to stay strung and drunk.
To these nervous Nellies, I say wake up and smell the Zeitgeist. The Truth is so 20th Century. Which is why, for my money, the Dark Star of Denison College stands out as nothing less than the voice of a Generation: Generation W — after George Bush’s middle name, Wannabe. Which — if you could unwrap your mind from outdated binary concepts like authenticity or fraud, fiction or life — you would understand is not meant as a pejorative. Au contraire!
This is what the picky-picky crowd don’t get, folks. No. 1 seller Frey has transcended literature. He’s embraced the “non-reality based media” concept with as much vigor as the president’s own reality managers. Like the commander in chief, he has freed himself from the bondage of fact. Indeed, the parallels with George W. Bush are somehow heartening. Because no other author seems willing to step up and sign on with the truth that hunkers like the proverbial elephant in America’s living room: The truth that there is no truth.
And no, I am not saying that if Karl Rove could have created a literary phenom that served his purpose, he would not have done better. The president, after all, has long had a wavering relationship with the truth. He doesn’t need some puffed-up pill jockey — be he Frey or Limbaugh — to find parallels to his own proclivities.
It’s not about honesty, anyway. It’s about maintaining one’s own mythology. Which is why neither Frey’s embellishment nor W’s masquerade is malicious. Or not necessarily so. Or not, you know, intentionally so. Or maybe they are, but what the hell . . . Who wouldn’t want to repaint the rearview mirror, if the colors didn’t run?
Calling Million Little a memoir functions as a sort of semantic enhancement, padding Frey’s literary basket with violence and excess, the same way George Bush stuffed his flight-suit jock with what appeared to be either sweat socks or a mute Chihuahua. So he could look even more studly while pretending to land a jet and declaring, Mission Accomplished.
There’s more than shared epistemological leanings between the Bush and Frey sons. Bush’s dad bought him a baseball team, enabling the president to spin a tale of business acumen and experience that paved the way to the White House. In this case, it’s about proving a fuckup was functional and working. The Freys, by contrast, bought their boy a stint in rehab. And that, as much as George Bush’s Texas Ranger time, engendered some kind of core myth from which sprung a stirring saga of redemption, inspiration and personal triumph over bad habits. Like George, Mr. Frey rejects the promises of Bill W.–based recovery. He does it on his own.
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