Profiles in Modern Bitterness

Bitterness is generally linked to a life that is frustrating or unsatisfying in some way. It can grow and spread over years, like some kind of hate cancer, and once it sets in is tough to shake. I should know. I’m 36 and am as bitter as most men twice my age. On the surface of things, I have no real cause to be this bitter, and I can readily acknowledge this, but there’s no denying that it’s there in me and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Neither gender is immune from bitterness, although it seems to be more prominent in males. I’d have to assume that it’s very closely associated with the fragility of the male ego.

Bitterness is generally attributed to a succession of failure or failures, and I can tell you from personal experience that it is not a redeeming quality in anyone. No one becomes more attractive as a result of bitterness. Quite the opposite, in fact.

What is more alarming, however, is the successful bitter person.

The following is a study into two of the most prolific, high-profile men – nay, icons – in their chosen professions. And yet, if you strip away all the praise, adulation and accolades, you are left with a pair of broken men, withering husks of bitterness and resentment.

What can be said about Michael Jordan that hasn’t been said already, ad nauseam? Air Jordan, His Airness, MJ, Number 23 – whatever you want to call him, he’s bigger than the game and larger than life. His list of accomplishments on the basketball court are too numerous to mention, so I’ll include the highlights:

  • 6 NBA Championships
  • 6 Finals MVP Awards
  • 5 Regular Season MVP Awards
  • 2 Olympic Gold Medals
  • 32,292 points in his NBA career (good for 3rd on the all-time scoring list, though Kobe Bryant is nipping at his heels)

I could go on, but you get the point. Jordan was beyond great: he is the G.O.A.T., or Greatest Of All Time. This is not open to debate. His legacy is secure.

Never mind what he’s done away from the game, turning the Jordan brand into a sporting apparel juggernaut that, along with several other investments and sponsorships, earned Jordan an estimated $80 Million in 2012 alone. It is reported that he is worth around $650 Million all told.

Yet to watch his acceptance speech into the basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a man who, for all his other-worldly talent and achievements, is unceasingly bitter about his life and experiences within the game. Check out this cringeworthy excuse for a speech:

Apparently, MJ just doesn’t do the humble acceptance speech. Yowzers. This is a man who has done it all: raised banners to the rafters, inspired an entire generation the world over to pick up a basketball, captured the worlds awe and adulation for decades and yet he still can’t let go of a supposed “freeze-out” in a meaningless All-Star game from almost 30 (!) years ago? Check out the awkward looks in the crowd as Mike takes his basketball contemporaries to task over something that – even if accurate – took place 3 decades ago!

He’s adored for what he did for the game, from the fans, to players both current and former, to NBA Commish David Stern, yet it feels like it’s not enough for him. The Miami Heat – a team that Jordan didn’t even play for – retired his jersey! A statue bearing his image adorns the front of the United Center in Chicago.

It wasn’t so much as an acceptance speech as a valuable lesson in humility, or lack thereof: apparently, there is such a thing as a sore winner. I revisit this clip anytime I want to be reminded that even the most accomplished people can be consumed with anger and regret. I even draw comfort from it somehow. Comfort in the knowledge that, in spite of a lifetime of achievements and the spoils that follow from them, deep down Jordan is just an insecure, bitter old man. Maybe it’s not even down that deep. The speech showed that it’s bubbling pretty close to the surface, seemingly ready to strike when cornered with praise.

John Lennon is my favorite Beatle and always has been. I can appreciate the others – even poor Ringo – but there’s something about Lennon that I really connect with. Maybe it’s his tendency towards darkness that draws me to him. Maybe it’s his amazing songwriting ability.

Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine, interviewed Lennon in 1971. The Beatles had recently split, and he was angry about it. Angry might not even be the word for it. He was positively bitter over the experience. The Beatles are the greatest band of all-time. This is not open to debate. Unlike with Michael Jordan, I have no statistical data to reinforce this claim, no raw numbers to back me up. Oh, I could talk about number 1 singles or sheer record sales, but that’s commerce, and The Beatles were artists. In terms of influence and their music standing the test of time, the Fab Four are in a league of their own. Don’t try to sell me on the Stones or Led Zeppelin, I’m not buying.

Quite literally, their music changed the world. John Lennon was 30 years old when The Beatles disbanded. Thirty fucking years old! At 30, I’d just mastered parallel parking my car. Hardly the fucking White Album now, is it?

If I wrote Happiness is a Warm Gun, for example, and that’s all I ever did, I would consider myself a genius of epic proportions. I’d employ people just to admire me all day, to bask in my undisputed mastery in the hope of some of it rubbing off on them. Lennon did this, only he did it again maybe 300 more times too.

At one point in the interview, Wenner asks Lennon about his experience as a Beatle, to which John replies:

 If I could be a fuckin’ fisherman I would.

Earlier in the interview, Lennon talks about leaving Britain to make in the States, and comes off as decidedly bitter about the experience:

You know Brian put us in suits and all that, and we made it very, very big. But we sold out, you know. The music was dead before we even went on the theater tour of Britain. We were feeling shit already, because we had to reduce an hour or two hours’ playing, which we were glad about in one way, to 20 minutes, and we would go on and repeat the same 20 minutes every night.

The Beatles music died then, as musicians.

Following the death of Brian Epstein, Lennon describes a shake-up in the hierarchy of the group:

After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.

Yoko Ono, Lennon’s wife until his death in 1980, was long considered the catalyst for the dissolving of The Beatles. It would seem that it was one of many reasons for the split. Regardless, Lennon felt that the three others, and particularly Paul McCartney and George Harrison, despised Yoko and were not shy about expressing their distaste:

Yes, they insulted her and they still do. They don’t even know I can see it, and even when it’s written down, it will look like I’m just paranoiac or she’s paranoiac. I know, just by the way the publicity on us was handled in Apple, all of the two years we were together, and the attitude of people to us and the bits we hear from office girls. We know, so they can go stuff themselves.

One man penned (or at least co-penned, as the case may be) some of the most amazing and influential songs of his generation, songs that are as adored today as they were back when they were committed to tape. The other earned just about every individual and team-oriented accomplishment you could possibly imagine in the sport of basketball. Both are/were bitter despite being unadulterated successes in their respective fields.

Perhaps bitterness is best spread out over many years, or even decades, which is the way I release it to the world. Jordan and Lennon seemingly let it bottle up over a lifetime of amassing notoriety and a vast fortune, and it showed in the most ugly way imaginable. Bitterness is like flatulence: best released in increments rather than holding it in. You do that, you’re liable to shit yourself.