New Yorkers are more familiar than anyone with Schadenfreude , that dark German torte of an emotion: feeling pleasure at the misfortune of others. (For a succinct and delicious summary, see British critic Clive James’ poem, “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered”).
But the news that The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger’s second novel has been optioned by Simon and Schuster for $1 million–plus suggests a more layered phenomenon, a veritable psychological strudel. Call it second-degree Schadenfreude, or the pleasure of knowing that, while Ms. Weisberger’s friends/enemies are doubtless freaking out, whipping themselves into positive froths of rationalization, self-loathing and Weisberger Weltschmerz (sadness over the evils and injustices of the world), you, not being in her immediate social circle, can analyze the information with crisp impartiality-grace, even.
A cartoon thought bubble of the sicko S.D.S. thought process might read: “Jeez, [insert name of known Weisberger 'friend' and nemesis] is probably feeling really bad today-thank God it’s not me.” It’s downright freeing, if not ennobling.
What sweet relief not to be receiving those odd “sympathy” calls from well-meaning intimates who have read the media gossip and want to “check in” (a.k.a. “hear you unravel”), and not to have to act congratulatory, feigning a jaunty “you go, girl” attitude, etc., all the while privately seething. For we all have our own personal Weisbergers who come and nip at our heels in the night, like small dogs.
But this is Schadenfreude at a cool, objective remove.
“Picture a seesaw where you’re in the middle and the two sides are shifting balance,” said a 35-year-old child-development expert who lives in the West Village (bugaboos: Katie Roiphe and Demi Moore). “Your position doesn’t change, but you can take pleasure in watching the two sides go up and down. And if you wait long enough, most people descend.”
A Steady-Rollin’ Man
“I was the white, blues Michael Jackson,” Joe Bonamassa, the 26-year-old guitarist, said as he talked about what it was like to open concerts for B.B. King at age 12. Mr. Bonamassa was sitting at a sidewalk café on Lexington Avenue on an early fall afternoon, the week before he would open for Peter Frampton at Town Hall on Sept. 25. He had Chanel-imitation sunglasses perched atop his shoulder-length dirty-blond hair and was wearing an ivory polyester shirt, dark brown pants and black New Balance vintage sneakers. He waved away the waiter’s offer of bread-twice. Not many Delta bluesmen are Atkins adherents and, indeed, Mr. Bonamassa lives in a Central Park West one-bedroom apartment with his corporate-lawyer girlfriend.
Mr. Bonamassa is a serious name-dropper. He casually talks about “B.B.” (King), “Joe” (Cocker), “John Lee” (Hooker) and “T-Bone” (Walker). Since the summer of 1989, when he played a national tour with Mr. King, Mr. Bonamassa has shared stages with Bad Company, Foreigner, the Doobie Brothers, George Thorogood and Joe Cocker, among others.
“It’s the lucky few guys who get to tour with their heroes,” he said, his voice carrying a Southern twang imported from years on the road playing dusty clubs. (He was born in Utica, N.Y.) “I get to know them and hang out with them.”
Mr. Bonamassa is a working musician. His songs don’t circulate on the play lists of WPLJ, Hot 97 or TRL, which, he said, “all play about the same four songs.” He’s built a fan base by touring relentlessly-about 40 weeks a year for the past three years. His 2002 blues-rock album So, It’s Like That , hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues Chart; guttural guitar solos are becoming one of his signatures, evident on his new CD, Blues Deluxe . And even though U.S. Congress declared 2003 the “Year of the Blues,” it’s still a good time to be playing this music. On Sept. 28, Martin Scorsese will premiere The Blues , the first installment of a seven-part PBS series, including segments directed by Clint Eastwood and Mike Figgis. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is one of the executive producers.
Mr. Bonamassa’s great-grandfather was a trumpet player in the Glenn Miller Orchestra during the 1940’s, and his grandfather played trumpet in a naval band during the Korean War. “My dad, being a product of the late 60’s, totally rebelled against jazz and took up guitar,” he said. “I followed in his footsteps.” He started playing at age 4.
In 1989, when NBC heard that a wee sprite was sharing the stage with B.B. King, they booked him on Real Life with Jane Pauley .
“America knew me as the pudgy little white kid that could play the guitar,” he said.
“The show aired on a Sunday in prime time, and within 20 minutes, Columbia Records was on the phone,” he said. “They must have looked up our number. I don’t know how they tracked me down.” Though Columbia didn’t sign him, Mr. Bonamassa penned a deal with EMI the following year. He had just turned 13.
“My whole goal when I did my first gig was to make enough money to buy a Super Nintendo and new pickups for my guitar. Oh, and I still had my Communion money to use,” he said.
He began to tour, fronting a band of middle-age musicians. At a tribute concert for Leo Fender, the founder of Fender Guitars, Mr. Bonamassa bumped into bassist Berry Oakley Jr., whose father had founded the Allman Brothers. The two got to talking, and together they formed the rock band Bloodline, with a lineup of music royalty that reads like the cast of a Fox reality show. Waylon Krieger, the son of Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger, played guitar, and Erin Davis, the son of Miles Davis, was on drums. Aaron Hagar, Sammy Hagar’s son, sang vocals. “But he never made the record, because he was a total freak,” Mr. Bonamassa said.
The band didn’t totally hit it off, and after two years of touring to promote their eponymously named 1994 debut album and a stalled attempt to record a second album in 1997, Bloodline split. Mr. Bonamassa was 19.
“That was my first problem,” he said. “I was like, ‘What do I do now?'”
He decided he didn’t want to spend the next few years in some regional band playing sweaty dives in Poughkeepsie and Columbus. He had to learn how to sing. After two years training with vocal coach Katie Agresta (she’s prepped Jon Bon Jovi, among others), he cut his first solo album, A New Day Yesterday , in 2000.
“When I was in Bloodline, I realized what a bubble I was in,” he said. “Then I put my own band together. Even under the flag of Sony music, you go out there and get your ass kicked. You’re the third act on a shit-club bill with two other no-names-you’re like, ‘What is this?’ I had to check my ego at the door.”
Still, each night he hoisted his ax with a purpose.
“When you think of the blues, you have a very specific thing in your mind about who’s playing it, what it’s about,” he said. “You probably think it’s in some smoky dive bar, probably an old black guy, or a drinker and a smoker that has no sense of what’s going on. I’m going to show I’m a younger dude playing this stuff.
“You ever watch Crossfire or Hannity and Colmes ?” he asked. “Blues is no different. Everybody has their own idea of what the blues really is. There’s people on the left and people on the right. There’s people who think that in order to sing the blues, you have to spend 40,000 miles riding some Greyhound bus through the Deep South.
“I pattern myself after B.B. so much,” he said. “And Clapton, too. He’s a blues guy. To me, Clapton is God. And when I’m 70, I want to be sitting here talking about how I’ve been playing 2,000-seat theaters all my life. If I can be the king of the 2,500-seat theater-the old-style classic theaters-I’ll be the happiest guy in the world.”
O.K., you lazy magazine and newspaper editors, we all know you enjoy using movie titles as headlines. And the more amorphous the title, the better. Eyes Wide Shut ? God, you used that for years. Sex, Lies, and Videotape ? Still using it, and that movie came out when George Bush I was President. And so on.
Now there’s a new movie title we just know you’re champing at the bit to use: Lost in Translation . With the perfect subhead, you can use it for practically anything. “LOST IN TRANSLATION: Kerry Tries to Focus Message to Voters.” “LOST IN TRANSLATION: Iraqi People Still Unsure about U.S. Presence.” “LOST IN TRANSLATION: Blown Bunt by Matsui Dooms Yanks.”
Since it’s pretty cheap and hacky to use movie titles as headlines, we’ve come up with an arrangement that will make everyone feel better. We’re going to institute a LOST IN TRANSLATION headline fee. If you decide to use LOST IN TRANSLATION as a headline, you must pay $5 to the New York World for usage rights. All proceeds will be sent to a charitable organization, maybe something that helps those poor J-students up at Columbia or something. Send the money to: LOST IN TRANSLATION Fee, c/o, New York World, The New York Observer , 54 East 64th Street, N.Y.C., N.Y. 10021.
All previous LOST IN TRANSLATION headline-writers will be billed.