Friday, January 20, 2006

Fried green whoppers

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As part of the latest in an ongoing series called "The Awful Truisms of Pop Culture," let's take a look at James Frey.

No, he is not the guy from the Eagles. That's Glenn Frey.

James Frey is a youngish author and recovering everything-addict who wrote the memoir "A Million Little Pieces." His book was picked by Oprah Winfrey's book club. To many authors, this is like winning Powerball but undergoing a painful, televised colonoscopy to find the money.

No, he did not sing "The Heat is On." Still Glenn Frey.

By now, everyone knows the story. Frey's memoir describes him battling addiction to any number of fun and/or illegal chemicals, and turning his life around after having too many gorily poignant and/or interesting-to-read experiences, like having his teeth yanked without anesthetic or getting on an airplane smothered in his own vomit with a hole in his face.

Investigative Web site The Smoking Gun does some digging and finds that some of those nightmarish events are made up or tweaked so he could sound cooler than he is. Frey at first denies it, then goes on "Larry King Live" to admit that, yeah, he did fudge some details of "A Million Little Pieces" -- but that memories are sometimes hard to remember. Also, Frey admits that there were really only about a few hundred thousand little pieces.

But it seems to be OK for Frey. Oprah herself forgave him. She said that even if he made stuff up, the overall message of kicking booze and drugs is still valid.

His publisher is 100 percent cool with Frey upping the stakes on his life, too. No crap. They made a fortune on it.

So here we have this week's Awful Truism of Pop Culture:

The truth is boring. Not only that, but few people care all that much.

All the same, I suppose it helps to have both versions of your life story circulating out there. That way, people can pick whichever one they prefer: the real but boring one or the fake but slam-bang one.

So this would probably be a good time to look back at my own career and correct some embellishments I've made in my own life history.


Two weeks ago, I wrote that I hate the British. That is an exaggeration. While it's true that many British people are insufferable twits, I don't hate any group of people as a general rule, no matter how unpleasant their personalities or repulsive their dentition.


In October 2004, I wrote that this very newspaper was in the midst of creating a special "scratch-'n'-sniff" version for people who like to smell their daily news. That was not entirely correct. That was, in fact, just plain silly. What I should have said was that this newspaper is looking into printing onto large flattened sheets of dried fruit, sort of like a giant Fruit Rollup, that can be unrolled, read and eaten.


In past phone and e-mail conversations, when I've been sure I would never actually meet someone, I've let it slip that I'm 7, 8 or even 12 feet tall. This was a slight exaggeration. Also, I once did run into someone whom I had told I was 11 feet 2 inches. I covered it up -- rather well, I thought -- by claiming that an exhaustive yoga regimen keeps my body so limber that I can stretch myself beyond the limits of mortal men, and could probably go to 15 or even 20 feet if I really concentrated, but that day I was feeling like a 5-foot-6. If you're reading this, ma'am, that was slightly false.


Did I once tell someone I was one of three guys to wrestle in the WWF as The Ultimate Warrior? Geez. OK, let's just make it clear, no, I wasn't. Wow. Sorry.


I've told this one so often it's embarrassing. This one time? I got a wicked bad craving for tandoori chicken? And I flew to India, and when I got there my native guide stranded me in the jungle, and somehow I found myself in hand-to-hand combat with a ferocious saber-toothed tiger, which I later grappled into submission, and tamed to the point where I rode it on its back to civilization but had to leave it in India because the customs laws prohibit saber-toothed tigers from being taken out of the country. Tried to smuggle it through, got caught, had to pay a big fine, blah blah blah. Except, I was taken out of context. I meant that it seemed like a saber-toothed tiger. They've been extinct for some time now. It was actually just a regular old tiger.


March 2005. I wrote a column about how much I love Nutella, the amazing chocolate spread. I wrote that I did "research" for the column with two jars of it. Honestly, it was four jars.


About the tiger story: That's partially false, too. I never actually rode the tiger.


Despite what I've bragged about in the past, if given five minutes alone with President Bush and immunity from prosecution, the truth is I'd probably just make embarrassed chit-chat for most of those five minutes, get his autograph, and at the most maybe just ask him sternly if he ever considered trying to be nicer to poor people once in a while. Then I'd come up with a fantastic zinger much later and not get to deliver it.


The beard and mustache in the photo are fakes. I use Magic Marker to draw them in.


Fine. OK. I never went to India for tandoori chicken. I never grappled with a tiger in hand-to-hand combat. I never tried to smuggle a large jungle cat through customs. You want the real story? I once ate some KFC and rolled around on the carpet with my cats. I just remembered it wrong. So there.

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