On Phillip Roth’s death, Howard Jacobson spoke about having met his idol. He described the experience as less than good with Roth affecting not to have read his work and providing him with a well cultured cold shoulder. Jacobson learnt upon that meeting that loving the business of the man was a very different proposition to loving the business of his art. Having met Jeanette Wintersen and hating her in her hey day I loved this line. However, our two compare and contrast David’s here only really write about themselves making the business of the men inseparable from the business of the art. Do you like them or not? Here’s my take:
DLR is always dressed up and goes everywhere to be seen. I’m sure wearing spandex and mesh shirts for over 30 years has to have some kind of negative health effect. David Lee Roth tells us in Crazy From the Heart, it’s all he wore for over a decade in Van Halen’s hey day. DLR. Mate. I have to wonder, how’s your nuts these days? On the other hand, David Sedaris in Naked talks candidly about his innate fear of being of his belly shame and aversion to his own back hair, hiding his light under his hairy bushells. His remedy for this self flagellating affliction? Go to a nudist camp where he’s the youngest by at least 20 years. Commonality between the two? The only stretch I can make is that neither would appear to enjoy a button down collar, chinos and deck shoes.
There’s a little more meat on the bone here. Sedaris commits to serial hitchhiking, once being picked up by drug soaked guys clling themselves “Starsky and Hutch” – coked up robbers on the run with guns. Eventually he lands in San Francisco, which he describes as less of a literary beat town and more of a beat off town. Things get dangerously funny or funnily more dangerous from there. Unlike DLR, however, Sedaris always returns home both literally and figuratively to his favourite subject matter – his off beat family. I don’t even know if I have to explain DLR’s rebel side. well it’s obvious ain’t it? He’s the lead singer of Van Halen in 1985. He’s on a non stop booze, babes and drug based party train. I think we’re at opposite ends of the spectrum here. Repressed rebel VS self branded rebel.
DLR: A modern rarity. No traces of irony nor understanding of the concept. Does unintentional irony count? I mean, the dude is renowned for ‘sing talking’ his way through conversations. You know when dudes are talking about their weekend then break into tuneless singing their way through talking about their last grocery run or uber eats meal? Yeah … he’s that guy.
David Sedaris: Wrapped in it like bacon wraps a fillet mignon.
David Lee Roth wants to protect his penis. Whilst in Van Halen he went as far as to take out a million dollar paternity insurance contract in fear of fathering a child to one of the many groupie sex based encounters he had. Sedaris doesn’t really focus in on his own sex life. The closest we see to sexy times is when his sister Lisa brings home a middle aged woman whose voice is ‘made of gravel’. This friend with whom she works with is named by the family “Dinah the christmas whore”. Rather than presents that year, David’s mother and siblings crowd around the part time older hooker, plying her with booze, listening to her tales and quietly thanking a higher power Lisa didn’t bring home “one of those damned carolers” for christmas cheer, The family coddles Dinah, gleefully taking the phrase “ho, ho, ho” to a whole other level. DLR screws em and David Sedaris listens to them, hands cupping a hot chocolate in a suburban kitchen. They share a fingernail of shared experience with this one. Maybe a hang nail.
With unmitigated glee DLR talks about this one time when Van Halen played with Black Sabbath and onstage was a blizzard of cocaine and like most of the 80’s hair bands of the time (NB: if you haven’t read Motley Crue’s the Dirt – it’s an hilarious exposition on 80’s bands in general). Anyways, DLR’s tour manager talking about the star living daily with a river of penicillin up his ass whilst simultaneously cultivating his buzz. I’m sure there’s something in common here between the two, but Sedaris, other than passing references to taking lots of drugs at various points in his life, doesn’t let us into his experience, skatig lightly over what sounds like it was a pretty chronic addiction. Whilst DLR wears his mirror gazing, cocaine guzzling image with pride, Sedaris is wiley, every now and then admitting to his sales ability as limited to marijuana or his mother’s alcoholism as a general part of everyday life. With Sedaris, drugs seem to be neither scorned nor celebrated.
Rock n Roll
Van Halen are described as a DEA band. Drugs, Ego and Alcohol. This led to a brief boozed out moment in the fame sun before a belly paunched decline into breakups, reunions and the $2 cassette tape bin at your local record store. DLR’s life screams out midday movie biopic. David Sedaris seems to rejoice in living in opposition to living normally with incidents and vignettes that scream out “Make this into an indie Jenji Kohan directed HBO series”. Roth it seems lives in a manufactured, cliched and sculpted rebelliousness. Sedaris on the other hand is a dedicated lifelong eccentric.
Noel Monk, Van Halen’s “personal manager” which I think involved a lot of drug and sex procurement as well as frequent palm greasing, writes of DLR: ‘He is a car crash of pop culture iconography: part Borscht Belt standup comic, part Vegas troubadour, part heavy metal samurai,’. What he forgets to mention is that he definitely scores as all part 100% narcissistic wanker. In opposition to DLR, Sedaris’ recipe for living is essentially: Place oneself in a deliberately uncomfortable and untenuous, self flagellating position where tragedy will befall you. Eventually, using any means possible, return to your family. Rinse. Repeat.
Although, Hubris does rear it’s head in brief and blindingly funny flashes in Naked. In a hilariously described teen episode, Sedaris decides he wants to be an actor and bums around a theatre group for a bit. He describes the experience: “The word audience was defined as anyone forced to suffer your company. We young actors were a string of lightbulbs left burning twenty four hours a day, exhausting ourselves and others with our self proclaimed brilliance”.
DLR: See Irony
David Sedaris: Hardly a sentence passes by without some gentle self derision. It makes his fairly constant pillorying of others more palatable knowing he’s at least democratic about sacrificing himself to his biting wit as much as he throws those around him under the judgement bus.
So, this brings us to close the book on David Sedaris VS David Lee Roth. Somesurprising commonality but by enlarge – the answer is boolean. These guys have almost nothing incommon. For an unintended laugh Iwould commend the DLR bio. For carefully considered and beautifully written witticisms -go for Sedaris.