So long, Jan

I just got the sad news that a reader I had been corresponding with for many years passed away earlier this month. Jan first wrote to me in 2009 to correct me for using the term “Helsinki Syndrome” instead of “Stockholm Syndrome.” It was a genuine mistake and not an intentional DIE HARD reference. I’m glad I did it, or maybe I never would’ve heard from him. Or maybe I would’ve, because the next time was to correct an error about Sven-Ole Thorsen.

He introduced himself as an MD and “a Swede currently residing in Denmark.” Over the years the corrections turned into updates about movies he had seen, what he was planning to see, what he was not planning to see, things he had read about Seattle or the American political situation. He worried about the encroaching fascism he saw here. And he was full of movie and TV recommendations, tidbits from Q&As, links to interviews.

I got to know him as very cantankerous and opinionated, sometimes in a hilarious way. He had numerous actors he mysteriously hated and refused to see the films of. One of them was Charlize Theron(!), so I could not get him to watch FURY ROAD (!!), which I often teased him about.

I sometimes wondered why he liked me so much, because he seemed to disagree with me more often than not. He seemed more excited when I wrote about movies from the ’50s or ’60s, but he couldn’t have been a traditional snob – he knew me from Ain’t It Cool and Seagalogy. He was very generous, making surprisingly large donations to my Paypal account, sending me his Christmas mix CDs every year (he made covers for them and everything), sending me a copy of WILD BILL to force me to watch it. Which I then somehow lost. But I did watch it and let him know my thoughts.

I feel terrible that I hadn’t gotten back to him in a while. The last thing he wrote to me was that he had seen all of Michael Bay’s films theatrically except for THE ISLAND (because he hated Ewan McGregor), and he was not going to watch 6 UNDERGROUND (because he hated Ryan Reynolds). “But during the last two Transformers films I sat in the theater and asked myself: What the fuck am I doing here…”

Knowing now that he was going through some shit at that time I appreciate even more that he had a light moment to tell me that. At least once he said he would visit Seattle some day and give me a call. Wish that would’ve happened. I bet getting a drink with him would’ve been awkward and funny and great.

He was a good guy. I’m really gonna miss him. So long, buddy. The only way I know how to pay tribute is to point everyone to what I wrote about FORTY GUNS after Jan’s repeated pleading. It was a great recommendation and I’m so glad he liked the review (despite several corrections).


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11 Responses to “So long, Jan”

  1. Beautiful write-up. Rest in peace, Jan. Too bad he missed out on Charlize Theron!

  2. Wonderful piece, Vern. This year keeps getting shittier and shittier.

  3. Yes, this is beautiful. I am going somewhere with the below…

    Growing up on a diet of movies, MTV, Entertainment Weekly, HBO, etc., I developed some really pernicious and weird ideas about what life is all about. I really did think the American Dream was to become a famous person and have a great career in entertainment and a ton of money and a huge mansion and I suppose to not die but also never age past 35 or something.

    As I got further into my early teens that basic myth kind of evolved in ways, and so, I was prepared to settle for what I guess I would call the middle American suburban “our house is a very fine house” version of the American Dream, which in my mind’s eye is captured as an ~= mid-80s-to-early-90s Steve Martin / John Hughes film protagonist: conscientious, respected, tidy, comfortably affluent, white collar (probably a lawyer or architect or doctor or ad person), big but not obscene house with actual neighbors and stuff, has a good marriage and kids (like Clarence’s parents), and vaguely wholesome but without being religious. Typical white guy stuff, I guess.

    But my mom worked at a pizza hut and my dad was a machinist, and they both drank too much or were out at the bar a lot, and my dad’s job always seemed like it was going to get outsourced, and I was a super neurotic kid so worried from a young age about whether i’d be able to do college or if I would end up kind of barely getting by or if I’d escape the small town we lived in or what. There was some vague sense of needing to escape and become somebody, which was never well-defined but it was about overcoming and transcending and proving to myself that I wasn’t just another bum from the neighborhood or some shit. And then I actually did that, and it was nice, but it didn’t really end up sticking with me as a continuing source of great happiness, like, I don’t look at my degree or whatever and think, “I really did make something of myself” and really derive much from that. It’s just a thing that happened at some point that shaped my next normal. “that’s nice, I guess.”

    So, for me, the idealized realities of “the good life” that I got from either entertainment narratives themselves or from that ultimate entertainment meta-narrative of pop culture and celebrity itself — this offered a very rich fantasy world to escape to and dream about. But ultimately a kind of empty and diabolical one like that bitch from the tub in SHINING (only less awesome and more meh), because at a certain point you realize even celebrity is not all it’s probably cracked up to be and has it’s own surreal weirdness and pitfalls and stuff. You’re in love with an illusion.

    I mean, I had a super active walter mitty-like fantasy life even into high school, imagining myself becoming some celebrity and entertaining an entire fantasy reality about that — I knew it was fantasy and an embellishment, but I really did enjoy cultivating and escaping to that world and imagining what that might be like, and how I would respond in interviews and shit. To be honest, I still imagine what if I were some famous person being interviewed or something, not even with much conscious effort or pre-meditation– I don’t even really know why, it’s like why does someone decide to be a furry or do S&M or act our rocky horror or collect stamps or whatever. it’s just a place my mind goes.

    Anyway, then as time went on and I did school and started a career and started a family and bought a house and went through different experiences and phases (including various forms and degrees of religiosity) and organizing my political beliefs, and suffering some physical limitations, and my dad dying, and my mom dying, and some stuff in my family life blowing up, and making some good friends and reading outlaw vern and whatever …

    I finally came to the conclusion, probably a lot through movies (they got me into my mess of delusions and false narratives, and I guess they helped get me out) that a good life and a life well lived is just about being the best you that you know how and just keeping on leaning into that and figuring that out for as long as you have to keep at it, and trying to impart or bring some of that energy to others in some way, even if it’s just at the job or whatever. And I know that sounds like the biggest, most obvious, and most underwhelmingly banal “duh!” of an epiphany, but it really took me like til into my 30s to start getting all that, and it’s still sort of unfolding.

    It all really started to become clear when my dad died, and I realize, even though he had a lot of limitations and disappointed me in a ton of different ways, I still loved him, was glad he lived, and I felt like he brought good into the world and we shared some great experiences, and he didn’t have to be anything more than that. And it’s the same with Rocky, and Brad Pitt from TREE OF LIFE, and Jan, here. You don’t have to be exceptionally awesome in some hollywood biopic way to be exceptionally awesome just for being you living your one life with your cards you’re dealt and whatnot, and that’s really it.

    Jan touched people and left his mark, and that’s a good life, even if it wasn’t always pleasant (I assume) or logical on that outside, and even if it could have been more “productive” or whatever else you might say about it at annual performance review time or whatever. It took me a long time to see that this is really it, and it’s not much more complicated than that, and it’s enough for the most part, and your good life isn’t something that exists in the hypothetical future when hypothetical things will fall into place. it’s just who you decide to be today given where you’re positioned today. That was huge for me, but it hits me hard and real when I hear about real embodied lives and histories that have some finality to them.

    Also, I’m still self-quarantined so got too much time to be all reflective and splainy, you guys, sorry, this will end probably on Sunday, thanks for putting up with me.

  4. Thank you Skani. That was great.

  5. Was Jan a poster on the boards? Sorry to see a good guy leave us. Every once in a while we all ask ourselves: What the fuck am I doing here?

  6. This is going to sound weird but I sometimes envy people who have dealt with death in their life. I had a couple of grandparents pass away and it made me sad but it didn’t effect me. Now that I’m getting older (I’m only 42) I am starting to fear death because I haven’t really experienced anything that made process death. Anyway, sorry to hear we lost a member of our community.

  7. Damn, that’s awful news on top of a shitpile of awful news. RIP

  8. Thanks, Vern, for opening up the dialogue and being such a good mentor in life.

    Stern, I don’t think that’s weird at all. Experiencing all these crises of limitation and mortality is in my opinion a huge part of the hero’s journey that seasons a person, but it’s not like you can sign up for that and do it online or as an extension course, since it happens when it happens, which is in itself a lesson about the limits of knowledge and control. I relate to the envy of being on the other side of something hard or transformative vs. the uncertainty and angst of maybe sitting in life’s waiting room for that stuff waiting to see Dr. Grief.

    Ultimately, these things were good for me, which does not mean they were good in some absolute way (I suspect my dad would have taken an extra 10-20 years if given the chance), but it means that there are invitations to be transformed even in many hard circumstances, and it would be hard to ever experience the transformation without those, which feels like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, but when you think about it, is also every badass movie hero we ever loved, too. I don’t give a fuck if it’s hackneyed or whatever, because being snarky and too cool for school is overrated and kind of sad (is another thing I concluded in the wake of a lot of tough shit).

    I think that is why I relate so much to the Rocky shit and especially the BALBOA/part 6 shit so much, because the older I get, and the more tough shit that happens***, the more true it resonates. And it is a huge relief to find out that someone I trusted and looked to — even if he is a fictional character — knows what the fuck they are talking about and isn’t full of shit.

    That’s the line of cynicism, which is that because a lot of people, including the loudest and most flashy or morally posturing or whatever people are often full of it and are hypocrites living lies — because of there is so much hypocritical or upsetting or vaguely disappointing shit that happens at personal and Google News-feed levels of experience, you start to believe that life is a big con and it’s all shit and everyone is a phone and everything is a lie. That is a false dualism. A lot of it that is shoved most into your face *is* bullshit and a lie and deserving of your scorn, but there is also a lot of beautiful shit on the margins of that, shit that isn’t going out of its way to sell itself to you, so you have to look for it, but it’s there. And you realize all the negativism and snark is just a bad, semi-addictive habit you fell into because you bought into a lot of cultural lies and still haven’t fully awakened to the fact that they’re lies, not just in their false promises but in the ultimate false promises that you can’t be happy without the false promises being real.

    Anyway, for me, time and experience winnows out the dead ends, illusions, empty promises, and false gurus, and it becomes pretty clear that some very attractive visions of the ideal life (like the ones I described in the earlier post) are chimerical bullshit designed to keep you buying shit, design to keep you outraged, designed to keep you afraid, designed to keep you feeling insecure and dependent on some white knight experts or leaders or movie heroes or love interest (or collection thereof) who can, will, and must save you from life’s uncertainties and ambiguities and disappointments, when all of those demons and boogeyman are actually good friends who will help you if you let then. Like Zoolander with Billy Zane, it’s good to listen to them. And in the process, it becomes clear who knows what the fuck they’re talking about from a wisdom perspective.

    And it’s awesome to learn from Rocky that the hero’s journey does not end at Part IV when you have a talking robot and a mansion and some nice hair and duds, but that all that is actually fleeting and an illusion and maybe even a distraction from the spiritual work. The hero’s journey is an inner and relational one, not an out-there “object”-ive one that hangs on whether you’ve become a big deal in the eyes of the local or national newspaper. Rocky is the biggest deal in our hearts when most everyone (except Adonis, he gets it) has stopped giving a shit about him, because the kind of giving a shit that mass society does is worthless at best and sinister at worst. My problem growing up is that I thought the hero’s journey was about having money or a respectable job or plugging in nicely to our mostly sick society (getting to ROCKY IV) that is mostly feeding us illusions to civilize and placate us (I’m basically being a Bernie surrogate in what I’m implying here).

    So, it’s been really liberating to shake off a lot of my bullshit illusions about what a good or rich or meaningful life looks like and to realize it has nothing to do with having a ton of disposable income or being a thought leader or being able to exchange text messages with Hulk Hogan or whatever your version of that looks like that involves some object or person that is finite and limited. Not to say that being able to afford groceries or not deal with a debilitating illness or not be abused isn’t important. That shit is all real and obviously the pits and not something to be overlooked or romanticized away or whatever. I’m not trying to romanticize or splain away all that suffering and tell you that kids burning to death in sweatshops is actually awesome and all part of the circle of life, but I guess I am trying to un-romanticize being professionally indiscriminately pissed off and jaded, trawling around in the dirt of life for shit to despair of and being and agent of jadedness. Jadedness is recognizing real pain and then deciding to pile extra gratuitous suffering on top of that out of an unconscious spite — for yourself and anyone you intersect. It’s like paying shittiness forward.

    ***I know that sounds like something Rocky would say, I can’t help it…I’m not even consciously imitating Rocky, it’s just become a part of my outlook

  9. Thanks, Vern. I am sure we’ve all felt like that watching a Michael Bay movie.

    Respect to Jan, and to you. You get what you give.

    Oh, and if by any chance this has you thinking you might now want to review THE BIG RED ONE, then please do.

  10. Great tribute Vern.

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