“The culture of greed has to be exterminated. It wouldnʼt bother me to see a guillotine on Wall Street, I think these people deserve to be punished and white collar crime doesnʼt get punished.”
Introduction by Hooman Majd
Short-Film & Photograph by Zander Taketomo
There is little appreciation in America today for philosophers, intellectuals and polymaths—renaissance men (and women) who enrich us with ideas, encourage thinking, and challenge orthodoxy. It’s a shame, really, in these anti-intellectual days, that we give voice to “experts”: men and women who are deemed by the media to be so in one discipline or field and are, in my opinion, highly overrated, but we give less credence to those who have something smart and original to say about a number of important topics; these individuals are woefully underrated.
Glenn O’Brien is such a man, but also a gentleman in the true sense of the word. Chivalrous yes, but that’s not only what being a gentleman is about. He harkens—like some of his literary heroes—back to a day when being a gentleman was what one aspired to—to be someone who has confidence in his intellect, manners and style, someone who is brave in his opinions but who is also terribly curious about others’. Or, as a mutual friend of ours once put it, the kind of person who is the perfect dinner guest. That may sound flippant, but whom would one rather sit next to at dinner, an expert in a field that may or may not hold one’s interest, or an intellectual who might impart some wisdom, or at least give one something to think about on a subject that should, if it already isn’t, be of interest?
Glenn is one of the most well-read people I know, not for bragging rights on his part but because he genuinely loves reading and re-reading: novels, history, contemporary non-fiction, American and foreign authors—he absorbs books and can critique better—for his own writing is exemplary—than virtually any professional critic today. He knows the Gospels, but he can also quote from the Vedas, and can explain the difference between a gnostic and Gnostic. I think he’s the former. He is of a generation that venerated jazz, but unlike many jazz fans and many intellectuals, he really knows and appreciates pop—music and culture. He can discuss Lee Scratch Perry’s incomprehensible lyrics and can also tell you why the Babyshambles were important, or why Gavin Friday was a huge influence on Bono. He knows contemporary art better than almost any art expert, but perhaps more importantly, as an artist himself ,he knows what is art. And better, he can actually tell you why. There’s a reason why Madonna wanted him to work on her Sex book with her and why I wanted him to work at Island Records, when I was briefly running it in the nineties.
As a creative director of any enterprise, he is unusual because he’s actually creative: the creator of TV Party, a groundbreaking show that would be resurrected by one of the cable networks if they had anyone creative commissioning talk shows; he knows what it means to create something of intellectual and aesthetic value. He’s Don Draper with better suits, greater intelligence, and a better moral compass. He’s the only person I know who’s actually walked a mile for a Camel, but in one the shortest essays ever he also wrote that he’d walk twenty miles for a pack. (RJ Reynolds should’ve hired him on the spot.) He didn’t have to make a movie about his friend Jean Michel Basquiat because he made a movie, Downtown 81, with Basquiat, a film that says more about the artist than any biographical film could. I could go on and on about his accomplishments and his genius, but Glenn is simply one of the unique intellectuals—genuine and in no way faux—of our time, the kind of person better appreciated in France than at home. Let’s hope the French don’t steal him.