Monday, February 15, 2021

Being Comfortable With Shyness And The Public Gaze

Nirvana - Come As You Are (Live On MTV Unplugged, 1993 / Unedited)

Nice video on the YouTube, Howard Stern interviewing mostly Dave Grohl, but talking with all of the Foo Fighters. Nice long video. Howard is being more generous with his shared material.

I have always thought that Howard was a great interviewer. That part of the show has always interested me a lot more than the gross shenanigans. I've been way out of the loop in the satellite age, but it's good to see that Howch still has it after all of these years.

This Foo Fighters interview was very recent. Howard poked and pried, and lowered his voice conspiratorially, as though wishing to preserve the privacy of himself and the interviewees. In that small studio, with almost no crew, famous people do let their guards down. It's so quiet! Howard makes them forget that a vast audience of people are listening to every word.

Howard asked questions about Kurt, shamelessly and repeatedly. He approaches delicate topics like this so innocently that it seems normal. Finally, he asked Dave, “you know, Kurt was so shy in private, but he was always so out-there on stage, what's up with that?” Dave looked surprised.

My daughter asked me that same question just the other night!” he said. “I didn't know what to tell her. I really don't know. But you're right. He really was shy, but you wouldn't know it to watch him on stage.” Dave's daughter is eleven years old. They had never talked too much about it, and Dave said that he never plays Nirvana records. “Too sad,” he said, and I believe him. He and his daughter, at her request, were taking a ride in Dave's van around Hollywood, just to get out of COVID quarantine. “Come As You Are” came on the radio, and Dave's daughter sang the whole song, along with the radio. She knew every word. That's what got them talking about Kurt.

I related this dynamic to Howard, and also to myself. Howard is a very shy man who seems very comfortable exposing himself to who knows how many listeners on a very popular radio show. I've been very shy all of my life, but for the last thirty years public speaking has been a big part of my, let's say, my employment. As a lawyer in America, I spent a lot of time in courtrooms, mostly at law-and-motion hearings, but also trials, all kinds of legal free-for-alls. There might be a dozen people in the room, or there might be one hundred, but there you are, in public, speaking, and there's money riding on it. There are winners. It's more like debating than simply giving a speech.

I know lawyers who are so shy that they get cramps in the car while driving to these appearances. Starting out, I wondered if I'd be one of them, but it never bothered me. If there was one that I was worried about, I would just remind myself that it would all be over soon, and I'd be back in the car listening to a Beck CD on my way back to the office. How bad can that be? “If you got paid, it was a good day,” as my friend Maynard told me. What shall I have for lunch today?

I've been teaching classes at a Thai university for thirteen years now. Generally my classes are small, but I routinely teach graduate classes that number over one hundred, with lessons lasting four hours. Any of these classes may be videotaped, and I may or may not be told that taping is occurring. None of this bothers me. Before my current job, I taught English in grammar school and high school, and ran seminars for Thai English teachers. None of that bothered me either, although I am still very shy, privately. Shyness is my natural state.

How shy was he, Johnny? All my life, I have been afraid to walk out the front door. I still am. Who will I run into? Will they want to talk? Will there be trouble?

So Kurt, Howard, and I all learned somehow to put our shyness on hold when something needed doing. Unless, but it's too terrible to consider. Unless there was a cumulative effect to all of that exposure that finally got to Kurt. After all, he was probably more shy than Howard and I put together, and also more exposed than either of us.

Oh, my. Like the filmmaker Robert Bresson said, “wherever you are, dig three times. There are many levels to things.”

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