Tuesday 17 July 2018

Johnny and the cult of cool: Most men grow out of this hellraiser phase but Depp feels inexplicable pressure to live up to the legend

Last man standing: Johnny Depp at Glastonbury festival. Photo: PA
Last man standing: Johnny Depp at Glastonbury festival. Photo: PA
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

The brutal Johnny Depp interview in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine has divided opinion. Some think the journalist took advantage of Depp's delicate mental state; others think the actor was simply the victim of his own ego.

I'm somewhere in the middle. Like everyone else, I baulked at some of the tone-deaf revelations that were relayed to the journalist over a 72-hour period in Depp's rented mansion in London's Highgate. But I also pitied the actor whose demise is almost poignant in its predictability.

Depp is portrayed as grotesquely extravagant, casually bigoted and, at times, completely deluded in the 10,000 word profile (if you haven't read it, put the kettle on…).

But he also comes across as lonely, confused and conflicted. He wears a "scared, hunted look", according to the journalist, and his closest friend seems to be his lawyer. He's like the last guy awake at a party when everyone else has gone to sleep.

The party can't go on forever, but at some point Depp decided that he was going to burn the candle at both ends until the flame went out.

In his early 20s, he bought the infamous Viper Room nightclub in LA, dated Kate Moss and trashed hotel rooms, just for effect. In later years, he befriended committed hellraisers Keith Richards and Hunter S Thompson.

He became the poster boy for decadence and debauchery and it feels like this would-be rock star has been living up to the legend ever since.

During the Rolling Stone interview, Depp clears up the claim that he spent $30,000 a month on wine. "It's insulting to say that I spent $30,000 on wine," he said. "Because it was far more."

Later, he corrects the story about him spending $3m to fire Hunter S Thompson's ashes from a cannon.

"By the way, it was not $3m to shoot Hunter into the f***ing sky," he says. "It was $5m."

Narcotics are also mentioned with tedious regularity. He thinks the American government should have used an alternative form of chemical warfare to capture Osama bin Laden.

"You get a bunch of f***ing planes, big f***ing planes that spray shit, and you drop LSD 25," he says. "You saturate the f***ing place. Every single thing will walk out of their cave smiling, happy."

Depp says he agreed to do the interview because he wanted to set the record straight on his financial woes. However, he seems more concerned about perpetuating the 'wild man' myth that surrounds him.

Of course, this is what happens when people - men especially - derive their identities from rock 'n' roll lifestyles. They feel like they have to prove themselves, even if only to themselves.

We all know a Johnny. He's the guy who has only read three books in his entire life: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Mr Nice and American Psycho.

He's the guy who self-mythologises with fabricated stories about herculean doses of psychedelics.

He's the guy who looks up to anti-heroes who live life on the edge. Who cares that they died from drug addiction or ended up stuttering and shuffling like Ozzy Osbourne? It's rock 'n' roll, man!

Most men grow out of this phase but others, like Depp and his ilk, feel this inexplicable pressure to live up to the legend.

They might want to go to bed with a hot water bottle and some warm milk, but they have this misplaced sense of duty around being the last man standing.

Their closest friends don't help matters. In the male dominance hierarchy, the role of 'LEG-eee-end' is perhaps the hardest one to overcome. There's one of these performing monkeys in every group of male friends and there is often little concern for their mental state, or the fact they might not be waving but drowning.

The sad truth is that we respect hellraisers like Depp when they are young and good-looking and relevant. It's only when they're old, ugly and broke - when they have become caricatures of themselves - that we start to ask if everything is okay.

Irish Independent

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