The Glossy Is Half-Full: Businessmen as Celebs

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"Not bam bam bam bam bam bam, but bama bampa barama bam bammity bam bam bammity barampa"

Ah, it's the unmistakable sound of Tom Wolfe cranking up another sound-effects lead paragraph. This kind of thing was new and exciting back in 1965, when Wolfe first did it, starting his piece on Las Vegas like this: " Hernia, hernia, hernia, hernia" -- 30 consecutive hernias, to approximate the sound of a craps dealer at work. But now -- after countless Tom Wolfe imitators (myself included) have imitated his style countless times -- it's somewhat less exciting when Big Tom does it yet again to start "The Pirate Pose," his story on hedge fund billionaires in the premiere issue of Portfolio, the much-hyped new business magazine from the Conde Nast magazine empire.

The bama bampa barama noise that begins Wolfe's piece is the sound of a rich, obnoxious, egomaniacal hedge fund baron furiously banging on the door of an apartment in his fancy Manhattan building so he can complain about not being allowed to drill vent holes in the walls. The guy spouts off obnoxiously for a page and half, which was more than enough to convince me that he's an egomaniacal jerk. The only problem is: Wolfe never identifies the guy. And the rest of the article is packed with other delicious anecdotes of boorish behavior by egomaniacal hedge fund billionaires who aren't identified either. What's going on here?

Back in 1970, in his famous piece "Radical Chic," Wolfe didn't skewer some anonymous classical musician who made a fool of himself hosting a fundraiser for the Black Panthers -- he told us the guy was Leonard Bernstein. So why is Big Tom holding back on us now?

But I don't want to beat up on Wolfe. He's an Old Master and this piece, like all his stories, is a lot of fun. So let's talk about the rest of Portfolio. It's fat, slick and glossy and looks a lot like Vanity Fair, which is, of course, also published by Conde Nast.

Vanity Fair became enormously successful doing personality profiles of actors, musicians, pols and assorted Eurotrash miscreants. Portfolio seems to be attempting to do the same for businessmen. Thus, we learn that billionaire T. Boone Pickens doesn't get along with his kids, one of whom is a convicted crook. And we learn Bill Ford, of the automobile dynasty, sucks up a lot of espresso and likes to play rough games of hockey.

The stories are all well-crafted but . . . do we really care about this? I'm not sure I do, and I'm not sure there's enough room in my pathetic brain for info on the personal lives of billionaires, especially with so much cranial space already stuffed with endless inside info on Britney and Brangelina. The creation of a whole new class of celebrities could spark some kind of mass mental meltdown.

Here's what I want to know about businessmen: Is the product they're selling useful and safe? And are they doing any damage to their customers, employees, shareholders, the environment or society? That's it. I don't want to know about their caffeine addictions, hobbies, marital problems, rotten kids or sexual kinks. (Well, maybe the sexual kinks.)

But that's just me. Maybe you're eager to learn that Pickens once erected a bronze statue of himself playing racquetball outside his company headquarters or that his 78th birthday party featured a squad of cheerleaders with "Boone" emblazoned on their uniforms and Rod Stewart singing, "The Way You Look Tonight."

If that's the kind of stuff you want to know, Portfolio is the place to find it.

Rolling Stone Redux

So there I was, minding my own business, blissfully flipping though the new 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone, which features nostalgic interviews with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Wolfe, Bob Dylan and Jack Nicholson, all of them reminiscing about the good old days of 1967. I'm reading along, having a fine time, when suddenly a strange feeling came over my brain and I heard a voice whispering in my ear: You have experienced this already.

Well, at first I thought I was having some kind of Rolling Stone-induced acid flashback, because hey, man, I lived through 1967 myself. But the lampshades weren't breathing and the walls weren't pulsing, and I realized that this was no flashback, I was just remembering the 20th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone. Didn't it contain interviews with the very same people?

Only one way to find out: I got up off my chair and crawled deep into the bowels of the fabled Magazine Reader archives -- way back, past random issues of George and Rosie and Regardie's and , voila!, there it was, dated Nov 5-Dec 10 1987, Rolling Stone's 20th anniversary issue. My heart racing, I flipped to the table of contents. Yup! Interviews with Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Wolfe, Bob Dylan and Jack Nicholson. Also George McGovern, Jane Fonda, and Jackson Browne, who are interviewed in the 40th anniversary issue.

Well. Does this mean the Rolling Stone Rolodex needs some updating? Probably. There are a few folks in the 40th anniversary issue who weren't in the 20th -- Patti Smith, Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore -- but there isn't a single black face and only two women. My memory isn't what it used to be, but I'm pretty sure black people and women had already been invented back in 1967 and maybe some of them have some memories worth sharing.

But the interviews that do appear in the issue are kind of fun. There's a lot of hemming and hawing about the meaning of the '60s, which might drive non-baby boomers up the wall, but there are also a few good anecdotes and at least one bit of genuine wisdom. The wisdom comes from Keith Richards.

"Any life lessons you'd like to pass on to the younger generation?" the interviewer asks.

"First of all, don't do anything if there's not joy in it, a sense of exhilaration," Richards replies. "A day is a day, and each one is going bye-bye, and you've only got so many more in front of you. Friendship is probably one of the most important things in life. . . . It's about friends -- the ability to make friends, the ability to forgive friends. And their ability to forgive you. It's just the ability to enjoy other people's company, really. Then you've got it all, man. The rest is gravy."

Keith Richards, voice of wisdom. Who'd a thunk it?

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