There is a part of me that wants to open up to you, reader, and spew out what Anthony Bourdain, as his public persona as a writer, chef and CNN show shaker, meant to me. That story form has been regurgitated by various authors, fans, and friends since his death by suicide in 2019, so I don’t have to add to that kind of memorialization. Even if I wanted to tally up my respect for Bourdain, I couldn’t even count the amount of times I watched Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on my then tiny-screened iPhone propped up on the elliptical only for me get so lost into the show, subsequently yeeting the device across the gym floor. This isn’t PSA about how you should wipe down your phone when you get home from being out in public, and I’m not sure if this story is even about Bourdain.
My first movie back in theaters since the start of COVID was Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, a documentary directed by Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be my Neighbor) The film has a lingering feeling from frame to frame, as Neville tries to communicate the complexity of Bourdain through interviews with those who were once in the late chef’s circle of closest friends and peers.
Roadrunner stuck with me nearly four months after I initially sat down in the theater. That feeling had little to do with the documentary in its entirety, as it is not my particularly preferred piece of Bourdain-related content. Breathing in once again the familiar air of stale popcorn while watching a screen in a dark room with strangers would come to play little into why this film made me feel some type of way. Yet, a scene about Bourdain’s favorite song and its revealing nature of human vulnerability that has left me feeling wounded and unsettled.
The scene itself is birthed from an interview with David Chang, neo-famous restauranter and podcaster who was close with Bourdain. Chang describes Bourdain as being “dark as fuck.” To give an example, Chang goes into how Bourdain gave everyone “bullshit answers” to what his favorite songs were, like music from garage rockers Question Mark and the Mysterians. But, according to Chang, Bourdain gave him a different answer. The camera pans down to Chang’s phone where he proceeds to play Anemone by Brian Jonestown Massacre. The track is, well, I’ll let Chang describe it: “Great song, but it’s heroin music.”
The song plays over snippets of Bourdain talking publicly about his past drug, specifically, heroin use. While Bourdain ended up getting sober, Chang claimed in the documentary that Bourdain never dealt with the underlying issues, and furthermore, artist David Choe asserted that, “People forget that Anthony Bourdain was a junkie.”
The whole scene stung like a new piercing. I was initially shaken by how subtly Bourdain’s favorite song gives a ghastly insight into the late chef. I mean, Bourdain existed as an open pessimist and spoke candidly about his heroin use, but this left me with a new unending, throbbing to this day: a piercing I didn’t think would heal.
I have so many ethical and journalistic questions: What was the context in which Bourdain made this admission to Chang? Was it right for Chang to admit this posthumously for everyone to further understand Bourdain? Why would Neville keep this part of the interview in the film if the bleakness was already communicated by Bourdain’s character? Why did this scene feel so exploitative? Was its inclusion just for shock value? Should I have known this much about Bourdain? Besides Neville being an effective storyteller, my most important question is introspective: Why did learning what Bourdain’s favorite song was through one of his confiante’s mess me up so badly?
The concept of favorite songs and how we decide to disclose those songs to others have been on my mind recently. Nearly every day since the pandemic started, I’ve shared on Instagram a song from my Spotify that I listened to that same day. Like most habits, it started unconsciously then I became blinded by my awareness of it. Sharing music is my love language and very much still is, but the frequency I added songs to my IG stories began to slow. I couldn’t stomach doing it every single day anymore.
Because I don’t know how to bullshit, sharing music on IG became a too accurate picture of how I’m feeling at that moment. I started to realize I didn’t necessarily want over fifteen hundred people knowing the status of my headspace at any given moment. I have a history of being very selective with whom I get vulnerable with, and now, I started to feel myself opening up wider than I could stretch.
Bourdain, despite the machismo, was the King of Vulnerability. On his shows, he got people to set aside their armor in a way that didn’t feel forced or deceitful – which is why I suspect he became so beloved. The frank conversations Bourdain would have with strangers over meals felt so intentional in understanding the land where they ate and the people who live on said land.
I can’t help but think there was a purpose behind why Bourdain shared “Anemone” with Chang and why Chang would go on to share it with the world. One’s favorite music provides a deeper understanding of an individual in most cases. It wasn’t until this scene did I realize how exposing it can be to let in a friend’s on to a song you can’t stop listening to. The meaning of one’s beloved music is also completely contextual and time sensitive; liking My Chemical Romance in 2005 doesn’t mean the same thing as liking My Chemical Romance in 2021 (trust me, I know.)
The scene reminded me of how tender the act of sharing music is for me. I’ve had to tap into the purposefulness behind Bourdain’s vulnerability that he exhibited in his public moves, and ask myself, Will sharing this serve me or a greater purpose? Because being vulnerable is exhausting. Maybe that’s a symptom of age, social media, and the pandemic. I turn 27-years-old this week, and after over a year and a half of public discourse surrounding who and what is essential, it feels like the right time to be more critical of what moments and relationships where my vulnerability is essential, too.
It’s not like I’m going to go cold turkey and stop talking about how much I love the new James Vincent McMorrow album or opening up about my mental health history. Our tastes and stories when shared serve others. But these pieces of ourselves when shared are like passing shards of glass; it can be done, but someone will bleed out if careful attention is not there. There’s an individual choice to share or not to share, and everything else is out of our control. The information we put out may shape how people view us when we’re living and memorialize us when we’re dead, but it doesn’t run the narrative people have for us. All we can do is be intentional in who we expose ourselves to and create playlists for and hope that’s good enough.
You can find this week’s playlist nowhere. But you can find me on Twitter.
Author’s note – – – Thanks for reading after a long hiatus. This feels like it’s marking my return to posting more frequently on TOS. I started this little blog not knowing how it would resonate, and the support I have received makes me stupid grateful. Thanks y’all.