Evolution Isn’t Pretty

November 22, 2009

Paloma bought me an early birthday present yesterday, a copy of Andre Agassi’s new autobiography Open.

The book has caused a bit of an uproar in the sports world for some of its revelations and even rippled beyond as the man’s celebrity transcends the tennis court.

As a reformed jock, I played a fair amount of tennis growing up, but a lack of self-discipline – I smashed more than a couple rackets – hindered any natural ability I might have had. Ironically, the player I most admired was Bjorn Borg, the cool, unflappable Swedish great.

I was playing less tennis by the time Agassi began rising through the ranks. I was in college and other things were occupying my time. I wasn’t even following the sport as much.

In fact, I first really took note of Agassi when I was mistaken for him while traveling in Southeast Asia. It was 1989 and I had a mullet-like hair, a bit spiky on the top that was similar to his. In Singapore, some German tourists wanted an autograph. In Thailand, some local tried to dupe me into a common ruse to purchase worthless jewels – “You wealthy tennis player.”

I’ve read plenty about Agassi over the years inclduing an amazingly poignant piece in Sports Illustrated a few years back which I wish I could find. Driven from the time he was a small child to be a tennis machine by a father who had boxed for Iran in the Olympics, his tale reminded me of that of Michael Jackson.

I’ve also read excerpts from Open, including Agassi’s admission that he used crystal meth in an attempt to destroy/escape from a career that he, for the most part, never wanted.

I won’t discount that his career has afforded him a life that most of us would envy, though I imagine few of us would have had the fortitude to achieve. That said, I find the ballyhoo surrounding his tome to be missing the point.

The man wasn’t driven by blinding greed to pilfer and destroy the economy, placing the lives of millions in a precarious position. He didn’t manipulate facts in order to launch an illegal war to invade a sovereign nation, treating the lives and treasure of millions as his own toy chest.

The man hit tennis balls and did so well enough to become one of the best to ever do so. His mistakes were his own and though those mistakes likely caused those around him hardship and pain, they didn’t cause the average person watching him perform his athletic feats hardship or distress.

By all accounts, Agassi owns those failures in his book. There’s no, “Yeah, but…”

Since 1994, Agassi has been described as perhaps the most charitable athlete of his generation, founding a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children in Las Vegas as well as several other endeavors. And, as he played his final US Open match in 2006, he was arguably the most beloved US athlete.

In short, Agassi has travelled a star-crossed path from there to here, arriving a better person, an admirable person, flaws and all. If he’s to be held accountable for the hiccups along the way, he should also be applauded for rising above them.

It’s an interesting twist of fate that his book should arrive at the same time as another autobiography, that of someone who’s greatest attribute appears to be the ability to gut a moose, a woman who did quit when facing adversity, has no shortage of folks she blames for her failures, and apparently craves revenge more than redemption.

But, I suspect that Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in evolution.

Aimee Mann – Save Me
from Magnolia soundtrack

Sometimes it takes a while for the light bulb to go on. And, sometimes people need a hand. The closing scene of the movie Magnolia expressed those sentiments as powerfully as any film I think I’ve ever seen and Aimee Mann’s heartbreaking song Save Me was the perfect accompaniment.

Fiona Apple – Better Version Of Me
from Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple’s third album found the eccentric artist working with long-time Aimee Mann collaborator Jon Brion. The record had a troubled birth, rejected and held up by Apple’s label for a belief that it lacked commercial appeal.

It went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed releases of 2005.

Yoko Ono – Revelations
from Rising

Personally, I like Yoko’s music – not all of it, but there’s some compelling stuff in her catalog – and Revelations is simply lovely with lyrics that are words to live by.

Garbage – When I Grow Up
from Version 2.0

When I Grow Up is twisted fun from Shirley Manson and crew.