My friends and I are sitting at the Bull & Bush pub (one of those English names you gotta love ... if you're full enough of the first, you'll get some of the second). I'm not expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen, but on comes a CD with a song so good it has the same effect you get when you walk into a flying Frisbee. Surprise. Disorientation. Slow recovery. Baby Bird is the band and the lyric is so concise and truthful it's nothing shy of Keatsian:
"Because you're gorgeous, I'd do anything for you."
Baby Bird cuts to the chase in just eight words. Beauty will get ya, because it is beautiful. After hearing something so on-the-money, I think it's pointless for people to write any more songs, except maybe for dance purposes.
I've thought about that lyric a lot since I heard it, but it's not on my mind now, two years later, as I stand in front of 20 N. Moore St. in the casually posh Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. The flowers in front of the door are deep enough to wade through. So are the news cameras. The atmosphere is a perverse cocktail of titillation and bewilderment over fate's cold caprice. A little boy, about 5 years old, asks his mother, "Where did John Kennedy live?" and when she says, "They had the whole top floor," everyone within earshot gawks skyward.
I begin chatting with a woman who, because of her knowledge and blue blazer, I take to be security. I note that there are a lot more people here than I saw on the news yesterday. She asks why that is. I say because they found the body this morning. No one wanted to believe it -- the handsome prince is never supposed to die at the end of the fairy tale. Now they know that it's true, and it's all beginning to hit them. She says that's an interesting perspective; she is Marcella Palmer from Channel 2 News, and would I mind being interviewed? Suddenly I am an expert on America's puppy love for the Kennedy family. I'm happy to be on TV. Just another parasite prospering vicariously off the Kennedy name.
Before all this happened there were only a couple of things I would have remembered about John F. Kennedy Jr. One was the series of tabloid photographs showing him and his wife having a fight in a park, which ended with her stalking off and him sitting on the curb in tears. That, I thought, was cool. That he could keep his composure when his last name demanded it but lose it over a lover's quarrel showed an endearing emotional depth. The only thing better than a good facade is being too well-balanced to need one.
The other thing I remember about JFK Jr. was the Seinfeld episode where Elaine loses the legendary "contest" after working out behind him in exercise class. "Butt ... butt ... John-John's butt ..." was all she could stammer. Oh, and there was his magazine, George, which I seldom read. For me it was too hip to be serious and too earnest to be funny, a thing that didn't quite know what it was or wanted to be. Then, when he published an arty nude shot of himself on the editorial page, some questioned the magazine's journalistic integrity. Others bought it only for the picture.
They're not tear-stained memories, but they're honest ones. His altruism, dignity and public-spiritedness aren't the things that linger for me. I recall a face so handsome I'd have voted for him for president just to see him on TV every day. In fact, I remember a friend making up a comic strip called "Model Citizens" in which supermodels fought crime with their good looks: One sensual pout, and a criminal would drop his gun and be reformed. John-John had this power. His eyebrows alone could have stopped wars.
OK, I've heard grumbles that John-John was beloved on looks alone and contributed nothing extraordinary to society. But a contribution doesn't necessarily require effort. If Bill Gates contributed a million dollars to charity, that too would be effortless. Besides, beauty is a contribution. Beautiful people are a fleeting respite from the annoyingly mundane, like art that walks. They make people shut up. I'm not talking "kinda cute," but epic beauty, the "serene highness" kind. Those who have it are a tranquilizer that enters through the eye. If appearance was unimportant, we wouldn't groom, landscape or pursue design degrees, and nobody would grow flowers.
As these beautiful, non-contributing things are piled higher on John-John's steps, the sadness becomes palpable. He contributed something or this crowd wouldn't be here. He was just himself, didn't fake being greater, and wore the crown as lightly as a mist of hairspray. Some men lead lives of quiet exultation. But not many. It seems that was contribution enough.