Saturday, February 23, 2013
Growing Up is Hard: Byron Crawford releases Infinite Crab Meats
Byron Crawford (aka Bol) was maybe the best thing on the entire internet at the time. He was funny, he was crazily honest about himself and his life, and he covered the main thing I was interested in then, rap music (actually Bol covered indie rock at least as much as he covered rap, but I was still not quite comfortable enough with my whiteness to listen to that much indie rock. I had only just cut off my dreadlocks, of which thankfully no photographic evidence exists). I read his blog obsessively, to the point where when I made my own rap record (in retrospect, good enough that I wish I'd had more know-how about promoting it) he was one of only two or three people I sent a copy.
I started to lose track of Bol when I quit that job about two years later to go to grad school. I would check back in on him every once in a while, but it seemed like more and more of his blog posts were just pictures of large-breasted (almost exclusively white) girls in bikinis. Not that I object to that per se, but it didn't really hold my interest as much as his profanity-laced, self-loathing work from the early oughts had.
I guess I have continued to check on him less and less, because I completely missed the fact that a year ago he published a book, Mindset of a Champion. I sat down and read it today (took me about three hours) and it was incredibly enjoyable. Partly, that's because I still feel like I have a semi-personal relationship with the guy - we're both in our early thirties, both came of age with the same music, come from semi-similar backgrounds and very similar mindsets. But much more partly (?) it's because it's a great read. In many moments, Bol is just as hilarious as he ever was, and more than that, the book is full of fascinating/disturbing information on the inside workings of the hip hop journalism world that Bol was at the outskirts of for half a decade, all while speaking truth about it in a way that, as the book reveals, was ultimately self-destructive.
That self-destructive streak is the bothersome part of both the book and Bol's identity and story, and also where, as things tend to, this becomes about me. Because while I'm sure his writing appealed to me because we have similar backgrounds (middle class, good college), Byron has had a much different path than me since then. I had some trouble getting going after college, but before too long I'd done what I thought was the 'right' thing, or at least a 'right' thing - gone to grad school and started pursuing a profession, mostly with a manic workaholism that was self-destructive in its own way. Bol, on the other hand, on his blog and in Mindset, tells us about his time working at White Castle, bouncing around many minimum wage jobs, and finally settling in to working something that rounds up to a decade at K-Mart. For anyone who's read his blog, there's an uncomfortable disconnect here - that this incredibly smart guy could have spent most of his twenties making his main nut working the lowest of low-end retail is just befuddling.
Bol is unsparing in explaining why this happened - his depiction of himself is pretty consistently as a day-drinking, terminally unambitious laziest-man-alive. And on the other hand, he did spend five or so years as a professional blogger - he drops numbers in the book, and I'd say that from blogging for XXL alone he was making about 2/3 of what I was making for much of my time as a grad student. So it's certainly a question of optics, with Byron all too willing to downplay his own very real accomplishments.
Of course there's one more thing - Byron's black, and I'm white. I know he'd be the last to blame that for much, so I'll take care of it: if Bol were white, even if he were still the same lazy shit, he probably would have semi-magically fallen into something that would have supported him in a lifestyle that didn't involve quite so much White Castle, and that definitely wouldn't have involved him getting his eye put out in a workplace accident.
But I'm not here to cry a river for Byron Crawford. Whatever the nature of his journey, what fascinates me the most is that we've ended up so close to the same place after a decade. He's a better writer than me by a mile (though we both enjoy unmasking bullshit), and I have a couple extra letters after my name, but we both released our first books at about the same time, and we're both trying to generally step up our game as we get dissatisfied with what the world has so far offered us for our efforts as cultural arbiters/interpreters of various sorts. Byron just told me via twitter that he bought my book, which is incredibly flattering, and though his internet persona would definitely find it full of hot air, I harbor a secret hope that the real Byron Crawford - clearly a sensitive type - appreciates it. I had a fun lazy afternoon reading his first one, and I'm excited to take a crack at the second. It's blowing the fuck up on Amazon right now, so hopefully he won't have to work at K-mart ever again.