Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, James Ramsay writes of the big year for comedian, musician, and suit enthusiast, Dave Hill.
The writer and performer Dave Hill owns about twenty suits for myriad moods and occasions. “I mean, I have some suits for the Explosion, for when I’m flopping around on stage and stuff,” he told me last week at QP & Monty Men’s Haberdashery in the West Village. A couple months ago when I first saw The Dave Hill Explosion, his comedy and music variety hour at the UCB Theatre, he came out in a velvet blazer but wound up topless and covered in silly string ten minutes into the show. You don’t go that route with a Paul Smith three-piece.
But the other day, he was looking for something a little more flop appropriate. The proprietor Ignacio insisted that every man needs a one-piece in his wardrobe. Dave wound up going with a multi-colored, striped 1970s jumpsuit with an easy access zipper at the fly. The best part, I figured, would be the ability to wear a sport coat over top of it, so you could walk into a restaurant and it’d just look like you had on colorful pants. “But then you take of the jacket,” Dave said, “and it’s like, next level.”
This is a man who knows a thing or two about shedding clothes. His new essay collection, Tasteful Nudes, which was robbed of a 2012 Thurber Prize, begins with a story from aboard a nudist cruise off Sheepshead Bay, wherein a group of aging swingers suckered him into getting naked on the upper deck under the guise of innocent naturalism (“’I’m also a member of a polyamory group,’ the earth mother cooed at me. ‘I’m shocked,’ I deadpanned.”).
The idea for the book sort of began over ten years ago with a story in Salon about a similarly odd sexual subculture—plushophiles, and one particular guy in Erie, Pennsylvania, who had a fondness for Meeko, the raccoon in Pocahontas. “It was the first time anyone had really written about that stuff,” Dave told me. Shortly thereafter, “Pleasures of the Fur” came out in Vanity Fair, giving plushie/furry culture the profile it now holds. But Dave’s piece caught the attention of a literary agent years later, leading, eventually, to Tasteful Nudes (which doesn’t contain the story). I asked what he thought of the trend of journalists following around porn stars and sadomasochists. He grimaced.
“I just don’t get when porn stars are like, ‘I’m not a prostitute.’ I mean—I have nothing against porn stars, I have nothing against prostitutes. But it’s the same thing. It’s like, you have sex for money.”
Besides the reported piece on the nudist boat, the book is made up of personal essays in the vein of Davids Rakoff and Sedaris, but with Hill’s faux-cocky rockstar voice that makes peeing in a sink at the Chelsea Hotel seem equal parts a noble right of passage and depressing red flag. He actually holds up the cliché of “I’m pretty big in Japan” after his band Valley Lodge got approached by a Japanese record label (“’Fuck yeah, motherfucker, you can release the fuck out of that album!’ I wanted to respond before instead writing, ‘Thank you.’”). The book contains perhaps the best title of any young love story ever told: “Loving You Is Easy Because You Live Pretty Close to My Parents’ House.” And his three day stint as a Pedicab driver made for the funniest failure at street working since Ignatius J. Reilly tried running a hot dog cart.
But the thread of Dave’s work, not only in his writing but also his music and comedy, is an underlying sense of sincerity and modesty that butts up against the incessant need for an artist to self-promote (at a Valley Lodge show in July, Dave remarked on stage: “That last song was in a hot dog commercial, and now we’re millionaires.”). And while there’s no actual posturing, he also doesn’t go the route of self-deprecation, which often seems to get conflated with niceness. In one essay, he chronicles his bout with depression as a twenty something and ends it with a noble refrain: “What the person suffering from depression doesn’t deserve…is pity. Not now, not ever. Unless, of course, that pity ends up leading to sex, in which case I’m all for it.”
After suit shopping, he insisted we stop in at Big Gay Ice Cream on Grove Street. They’re preparing to make ice cream cakes, and Dave was trying to convince the owner, Bryan Petroff, to make a cake mold of the head of Danish metal god King Diamond (I asked him later if he actually liked metal; he smirked and went, “oh yeah.”). Over a Salty Pimp, I told him about a friend of mine who’s looking to become an actor because “you can make a ton of money, dude.”
“Well, those are the people who actually do it,” Dave sighed. “The most important thing is confidence, far beyond talent or intelligence—two things you can’t control anyway. I’ve known some people who are, like, total idiots, but they’re so sure of themselves. And the whole idea of self-promotion is just…so fucking ridiculous. You can’t just say, ‘come to my show, it’s really funny.’ That doesn’t mean anything.”
When I think about the art and entertainment I’ve observed this past year, the concept of self-promotion is always the inevitable lackey. An old boss of mine at a literary agency bemoaned the fact that authors would sit back after their publication date and just expect the book to start selling. But Dave is right, you can’t just say, buy my book, come to my show, listen to my album. At this point, it’s going on everybody’s sister’s podcast and tweeting like a madman that’s part of the gig, and if you can make that part of your art, and actually have some wit about it, then it only helps the cause. So for my pick of the year, I’m saying read Dave’s book, so that for once he doesn’t have to tell you himself. And if you see that he’s performing somewhere, the least you could do is stop by. After all, the man didn’t buy a striped onesie so no one would see it.
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