Words by Cameron Higgins
Were it not for the camera crews and leaky buzz preceding Anthony Bourdain’s appearance, I wouldn’t have known the tatted-up oldster swaggering alone across the parking lot of a Nashville brunch place was the man himself. I was at a boujie Nashville brunch spot called Pinewood Social, perched up on the bluffs above the Cumberland River, slamming bourbon and fried-chicken eggs benedict before a genteel wedding downtown. Allegedly, he was filming an episode of his show there, but nothing about this spot seemed in line with my idea of Anthony Bourdain.
I was no Bourdain fanboy, much less any kind of foodie, but from the general mystique around the dude, I understood Bourdain to be slightly demi-godly; a real version of Dos Equis’ brilliantly embodied tapestry of deodorant commercial cliche, The Most Interesting Man In The World. Only Bourdain was no beer douche: he was a kind of gentleman-hipster who travelled the world, adventuring and in some intangible way, seemed to be doing so in service of good.
Part of Bourdain’s mystique was the shade in his backstory: the kicked heroin addiction, the bouts of crippling depression. If avocado toast and Insta-addiction are the colorful sillinesses on the outside of millennialism, opiate addiction and mind-fucking depression are its far heavier interior. For a long time, Bourdain beat back the needle killing us, the black hole swallowing us up.
Up until last Friday, Bourdain was undefeated. Who knows how many inner battles he waged against his demons and won, made it to another day? In the face of the relentless political negativity coming in from all sides, Bourdain stayed aware of the plight of the suffering and used his position to advocate for those who couldn’t. His passing is an especially disheartening tragedy in an already tragic time.
Bourdain felt like a kind of anti-colonist: an envoy of commonality sent from a narrowing American culture, broadcasting a message of radical similarity rather than exotic difference. Bourdain’s on-screen cool suggested that pain could be beaten through excellence of vibe and accomplishment, through a kind of twenty-first century virtue decked in tat-sleeves and brimming with rebellious empathy. In retrospect, Bourdain seems to be a kind of woke masculine ideal for the twenty-first century. He’ll be sorely missed, but may he finally be at peace.
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