Dave Bidini: Insufferable for your art
Last week Robert DeNiro addressed the student body at NYU Tisch School of the Arts He said: You made it. And you’re f–ked.” The brilliant, esteemed New York actor failed to elaborate, exactly, the nature of the students’ f–kedness. He went on to talk about choices, and the (artistic) passion that clouds the common sense needed to make practical ones. But his first sentiment — which inelegantly expressed the sense of doom that surrounds an artist’s life — was typical of the kind of thing that older generations say to younger generations so that younger generations will feel incapable of experiencing the kind of life that people like DeNiro have lived. He could have told them other things. He could have told them not to make the same mistakes as him, and to learn from the dubious career path by which he has succumbed.
Robert DeNiro could have told the kids not to make awful movies after establishing himself as one of our great living actors. He could have told them not to trust Hollywood, because Hollywood has suckered him into Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers and Meet the Parents and Grudge Match and The Score. He could have told them that just because you are good and legendary and you can write your own ticket, you shouldn’t settle for anything less. He could have told them to push and push and push to create great art even when money calls you forward. He could have told them to resist fame and the lure of being in the public eye. He could have told them that making a great film will last beyond any absurd commercial box office smash. He could have told them to remember what made you — fearlessness, devotion to craft, the love of art — and to never betray that, no matter how big the director or how powerful the studio. He could have told them to observe these mistakes, and feed off of them. He could have told them anything other than, “You’re f–ked.”
Robert De Niro could have told the kids not to make awful movies after establishing himself as one of our great living actors
Before Bill Cosby was outed as a predator, he told director Melvin Van Peebles an instructive and important thing: “In order to achieve your dream, you have to wake up from your dream.” Great artists have to know what to find before they can ever find it. Neil Young might have seemed like a wandering hippie, but he dreamed up “Rust Never Sleeps” in a single moment, and, months later, was staging a trans-continental tour. Bob Dylan was the same — the regenesis of Woody Guthrie in modern times — and so are Rush. The idea for their new tour was conceived in a flash, and awhile later, it hit the road. Great artists know that the pursuit will hurt, and some won’t ever recover; we lose art, and artists, every day. Some become lawyers and some become accountants, and this is something DeNiro also mentioned in his speech. But my dad was an accountant and he raised two artists as kids. I was probably less f–ked because he had a job and a life and a career. Maybe that’s something DeNiro could have told the kids: Your parents. Their support. Don’t be ashamed and don’t mortgage their goodwill to pretend to be someone you aren’t.
I wish DeNiro had said: Don’t make bad movies if you can help it. Aspire to be a new creation every time. Try to claw against the shell that hardens around you as you age and point the way forward even as you grow grey and bearded and infirm, telling the kids: “Follow me.” The older generation has a duty to show the younger generation what it’s like to be an aging artist — aging artists are successful artists because it means they’re still doing it — and to show them how the world looks from here. DeNiro could have evoked the words of musician Nick Lowe, who said: “I want kids to come to my show and say, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get old.’ A life in art isn’t about being f–ked. It’s about continuing to be f–ked and f–ked and f–ked while riding into the great and beautiful evermore.