Friday, May 24, 2013

Poor Son-of-A ...

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.
This quote is one of my favorites about drinking. Which is why when I went to see The Great Gatsby yesterday, I made sure I did it at the special grown-up theater where they serve alcohol.

I was pretty excited to see the flick. I remember the novel electrifying me when I studied it in high school. The champagne. The sex. The clothes. The cars. The parties. The houses. Wow.

All mixed together with F. Scott Fitzgerald's timeless prose?


It was a book dedicated to partying by a writer who dedicated his life to partying. Fitzgerald was dead of a heart attack at only 44 years old. Years of alcohol abuse are said to have contributed to his early demise.

I actually saw the house where Fitzgerald grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. Minneapolis was the first stop on the book tour for my first novel. The author escort (that's an actual job, chauffeuring authors around town when they come for book signings - fun gig!) took me on a tour of all the local sights - including the corner where Mary Tyler Moore tossed up her hat in the opening credits for her show. There's even a bronze statue there to commemorate the spot.

Next on the agenda was a trip across the bridge to St. Paul to see Fitzgerald's old haunt. I knew quite a bit about Fitzgerald because I had loved Gatsby so much. I had heard he grew up in a relatively wealthy midwest family, but that he was a 'poor relation' compared to some of the relatives back east. It's what had fueled his interest in class stories.

When we started driving down the simple street lined with old houses, I was a little surprised to see the brown brick townhouse where Fitzgerald lived. I had expected some Gatsby type spread. It was fairly large - but somehow modest, too. Even with its illustrious history. The photos I've been able to find on the web make it seem quite spectacular, but there was a sense of sadness about it, too. It seemed to have a heavy heart.

The escort also took me past the bar where Fitzgerald got his drinking career started. That too seemed to 'savor of anti-climax.'' (That's a quote from the book that I've never forgotten - not since the first time I read it.) Put it this way, there was not a bronze statue in sight.

Fitzgerald died in relative obscurity as a failed screenwriter. His glory days all seemed behind him. I often wonder what he would think of the fuss we've continued to make over his workNot just studying it in school, but creating orgiastic 3D spectacles like the one I saw yesterday.

I'm not going to review the flick too harshly. But here's a word to the wise, if you want to enjoy Leo DiCaprio in the lead role, do not watch Robert Redford in the 1974 version the night before. Which I did. I loves my Leo but next to Robert, he comes off as squeaky and weak.

It's not just the jaw lines that have changed in the forty years between flicks, either. It's interesting to see what's happened to partying. There's a lot of champagne in the '74 version, but it could never compare to the 3D meta-club vibe of the Baz Luhrmann interpretation. The whole movie begins with several references to how much everyone drank that summer. Prohibition had seriously failed in the 20s and the world was afloat in booze. The new flick captures that - then gives it some tequila shots and a hit of ecstasy.

I don't think either of the films do justice to the original novel, though.  I'm not sure a movie ever could. There's something so 'complete' about the book itself. Makes me wonder what Fitzgerald would've thought of the flicks ...

Bet you one thing.  He would've wanted a shot at the scripts. ;)

Here's more info on Fitzgerald's fatal relationship with alcohol from It includes a review of the book On Booze, a 2011 collection of Fitzgerald's writings devoted to his favorite subject. Drinking.