By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Dave and Mandy had their breakthrough during their last session, so as we finally hear Mandy’s charmingly ridiculous songs, Dave’s emphasis is less on emotional trajectory than on timing and final pointers for the introduction. “That’s when you want to establish Mandy’s personality,” he says, “her weaknesses, and her goal.”
Mandy takes careful notes. She says she’s nervous.
“What kind of nervous?”
“The typical kind when you’re going to sing songs with lyrics like, ‘After World War I, what did we do? We went ahead and fought in World War II.’?”
“Well, whatever you do, don’t —”
“Crap my pants and run off the stage?”
“That too. Although that might be kinda funny. But not in the Mortified way. No, I was going to say, whatever you do, don’t doubt yourself. Take these words as seriously as the little girl who wrote them. But also have distance from them. There are two Mandys up there. The cool Mandy of today will lay the groundwork for the awkward, songwriting Mandy of yesterday.”
“I can’t believe you think I’m cool.”
“That’s the thing, we do think you’re cool. We think everyone is cool. That’s how Mortified redeems us all.”
Mortified is part of what Dave calls “urban archaeology,” where meaning is pieced together from genuine personal artifacts. He feels a special kinship with the Web site Overheard in New York, and with Found Magazine, which also does extensive live tours. As theater has become mostly irrelevant for the post-boomer demographic, Found and Mortified and comedy-essay shows like Sit ’n Spin have brought people back into seats for a more personal, direct kind of storytelling.
This is all a natural outgrowth of the times. In our post-postmodern confessional reality, rituals of public intimacy are part of the culture. Third person is dated. After the Me Generation, expression shifted to the constant, solipsistic but tangible “I.” MFA programs are bursting with memoirs. Everyone under 30 diarizes online. And half of prime time is people talking directly to the camera.
But what appears on Mortified was never meant to be revealed, which means it’s more genuine than the “revelations” on Top Chef or hotchick.blogspot.com, all of which have become burnished, media-savvy performances for projecting an intended image rather than truthful portraits. Mortified stories retreat to a time when self-exploration was not public. This is most clear in the Mortified book, which reads like a collective memoir from what will surely be the last generation of honest Americans.
And a great read it is. Where Mortified trumps cutesy projects like Post Secret is in the panoply of juvenile voices, which are impossible to fake. The sole flaw is the intrusion of “Adult Me” — comments from the contributors about themselves with an occasional few too many winks. Still, nearly all of the 52 entries in the Mortified book are laugh-out-loud funny. Like Lori Fowler’s record of not fitting in at her California Central Valley high school and joining the Future Farmers of America’s cotton-judging team (“I mean, after all, it is the fabric of our lives”); or Maria Victoria Suozzo’s spiritual communications on crushes (“Oh God, I know that I’m not really cheating on John Taylor by wanting Axl Rose so badly . . .”); or Abby Gross’ third-grade musings on various topics:
I wish Dr. Martin Luther King was here at this time. If Dr. King was here at this time, I wouldn’t be afraid of thunder. (Gosh! Am I a scardie cat!!)
I think George Washington is very good.
I really really wish my stuffed animals would come alive.
The best Mortified moments are played for laughs and poignancy, such as those in Kirsten Gronfield’s letter to her future self, a school assignment in which she elicits chuckles with questions like “Do you remember the time you went to see Les Miserables?” and “Are you still a Christian?” but eventually lands on the crusher: “Are you still me?”
There’s also suicide and sex and troubled youth, as with Sascha Rothchild’s transfer from a private junior high school in Miami Beach to the public school system, where she recorded her embrace of the spirit of Miami in the ’80s:
I am readingThe Diary of Anne Frank. It really means a lot to me.The Diary of Anne Frank has really inspired me. Anyway, Friday after school Carlos and I finally made out. Nicole is being a real bitch. After I was with Carlos I spent some time with Tyrone, Trayon, and Tyrel. I love them . . . I have been getting drunk and stoned everyday. Also, Diego and I broke up. I didn’t mind that he was a drug dealer but it just wasn’t working out anyway. Nicole and I aren’t friends anymore. Squirrel and I are good friends and Sharron got a nose job . . . Oh, and I tried cocaine! It’s the coolest fucking thing on earth! I think I’m addicted. Oh well.
Sascha’s diary is not just a valuable cultural relic from Crockett-and-Tubbs days, says Dave. “The stories can’t function just as, ‘Hi, I was 14 and I was a dork or a fuckup.’ You have to figure out what that story says about all of us.” We may not all have been high on flake as 13-year-olds, but we can all surely identify with the underlying teenage tone of trivial obsession, and the accompanying dangers in the utterly sincere belief that the fleeting relationships and small events surrounding the acre of land where your junior high or high school sits are the most important things that have ever happened in the history of the world.