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The Royal Nonesuch: Or, What Will I Do When I Grow Up?by Glasgow Phillips
Synopses & Reviews
Glasgow Phillips published his debut novel Tuscaloosa at the tender age of twenty-four. The results were disastrous: encouraging reviews, translations, a paperback sale, a film option, and a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford. But over the next two years, as Phillips's second novel unraveled and freelance journalism assignments ended in humiliation, a horrible, secret thought took hold in him: perhaps, just possibly, whatever talent he had was of the kind that would never be more than promise.
Washed up as a "real" writer before he was thirty, Phillips went to Los Angeles and formed a company with his best childhood friend Jason McHugh, independent producer of Cannibal! The Musical and Orgazmo. The Royal Nonesuch is the story of Phillips's rollercoaster ride through the twisted world of underground Hollywood and the funhouse of the Internet during the boom. Phillips builds a hilarious and poignant memoir, in the tradition of Augusten Burroughs and Sean Wilsey, from tales of promise and failure, family and madness, friendship and redemption, fame and infamy, and good old-fashioned hustling. It is a remarkable book; a brilliant portrait of a generation in all its foolish glory.
"The hipster cultural economy of the dot-com boom is skewered in this hilarious coming-of-age memoir. As a struggling 20-something novelist (Tuscaloosa), Phillips headed to Los Angeles in the late 1990s, where he started two iconic ventures at the intersection of art, commerce and pretentiousness. The first was a 'naming company' in which he made scads of money for brainstorming resonantly vacuous brand names for image-obsessed companies. The second was a content company that produced gonzo film and video pieces (signature opus: The Sound of One Hand Clapping, starring Phillips as a Shaolin monk who defeats ninjas with his genitals) for Internet dissemination and, hopefully, cable pickup. Loosely orbiting South Park auteurs Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the author embraces their aesthetic of scabrous, juvenile shock effect as a kind of anti-mainstream media insurgency — and then starts to question it after concocting a vile fake snuff film aimed at starting a Blair Witch — style Web frenzy. Phillips embeds his off-kilter moral journey in an unsparing comic portrait of underground Hollywood, with its schizophrenic hustlers, desperate pitching, deluded financial projections, lascivious Sundance parties, bad indie films and more-alternative-than-thou poseurs who denounce corporate co-optation while angling to be co-opted. He surveys this freak show with a mordant, cutting wit that delivers insight and pathos along with the laughs." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Thirteen years ago, when Glasgow Phillips was in his mid-20s, he published an engaging first novel, 'Tuscaloosa.' It was very much a coming-of-age novel, about a young man who returns home to the Alabama city that provides the book's title, and it got deservedly respectful attention. Still, it steered Phillips into a classic case of writer's block. Over and over again he tried to get into a second... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) novel, over and over again he failed. Finally he just gave up. 'No more,' he decided, 'of what I thought of as `real' writing — no more of this literary fiction ... with which I had been making myself miserable for the entirety of my middle twenties.' Instead he 'would write some screenplays or something.' Books, he decided, were toast: 'Film and television were the only types of authorship that mattered. ... Books can matter in the big, cultural way — if they're on television. Or are made into movies, which is pretty much the same thing. You, reader, know who Don DeLillo is, but that dude across from you, on the bus, would probably guess that he was that fat sidekick guy in Burt Reynolds movies. Hey, I don't like it, either, but QED.' As Phillips readily admits, this may sound a little odd coming from someone who's now publishing a book about no longer writing books, but, hey, that's just how certain people instinctively believe the message must be gotten across, and Phillips obviously is one of them. He's also, as it happens, a very good writer who has written, in 'The Royal Nonesuch,' a very good book: funny (at times laugh-out-loud funny), smart, self-mocking, very much of the moment. After an absolutely hilarious 50 or so opening pages, it settles into a somewhat more sober, and certainly sobering, account of the author's experiences during the dot-com bubble and in the media-consulting business. There's a bit of Ken Kesey to it as Phillips and his own merry pranksters roam through golden California and frantic Utah (where Sundance holds its annual self-congratulatory rites) in search of ... Well, it depends on whom you ask. Though Phillips himself had sworn off drugs in high school after an especially unfortunate binge, others were still looking for weed and other pleasures and finding plenty of them. Phillips' preternaturally gifted best friend, Jason McHugh, 'with his utilitarian attitude toward fun, endlessly plotting how the most could be had by the largest number of people,' was game for just about anything, though 'at full bore he was good for only about five days of nonstop no-sleep networking, weed smoking, beer drinking, coke snorting, and psychedelic eating.' As for Phillips himself, he knew exactly what he wanted: 'One thing I am afraid I am glossing over here is the overwhelming sense of belief we had in ourselves and in what we were doing. We didn't just believe what we were doing was right or fun, but that it would work. The raconteur's false modesty I have adopted in order to tell this story belies a very real confidence I had in myself — confidence that I would be not just a player, but a singular, distinctive force in American media. I had spent my twenties toiling in the wrong medium — an irrelevant one in which harder work paid smaller dividends. Now we would make the world ours.' However foolishly, Phillips imagined himself not just the 'famous writer' he had once hoped to be but 'something far grander, far mightier, the new breed of enfant terrible: the brash young Chief Executive Officer of a New Media Empire.' So he teamed up with McHugh: 'We were friends who wanted to do something together. In other times or other circumstances we might have started a magazine, a social club, a religion, or a gang. It was the late 1990s, so we started an Internet company.' One idea was to 'sell merchandise derived from ... intellectual properties' McHugh had created, such as movies called 'Cannibal! The Musical' and 'Orgazmo,' but 'what we really wanted to do was make new movie and television properties of our own,' to 'tap into, and provide a platform for, the media underclass that had thronged uninvited' to Sundance. Like many smart, ambitious, hip young people, Phillips, McHugh and their friends felt 'alienated from most of what could be seen on TV or in theaters. ... What was available on television and in theaters simply did not say what we felt. ... What was more distressing was that it was also true of purportedly alternative and independent media, where we might hope to find our values echoed and amplified.' Now, at a time when 'the cost of production was becoming absurdly low,' was the moment for pushing envelopes. A couple of their closest friends had provided 'the perfect example of how something small and weird, provided it had a genuinely unique voice, could break big overnight.' It was called 'South Park.' So Phillips, McHugh and company went to Sundance, which 'had been completely co-opted by mainstream entertainment companies that were using `independence' as a marketing angle,' not as participants but as merry pranksters. They set up their own alternative festival, in 'a mining museum called the Park City Silver Mine Adventure,' and called it Lapdance. In the spirit of the media underclass, they named their company Certified Renegade American Product (CRAP), and the spirit behind it was that 'you should ... make your dissent into a commodity,' a notion at once calculatedly irreverent and entirely all-American. Lapdance was a smash, not merely because Phillips and McHugh supplied plenty of booze but because they hooked up with some pornographic-film operations and had porn stars on hand to prove it. Robert Redford, founder and presiding guru of Sundance, 'called Lapdance `the lowest of the low' in an interview afterward, which delighted us despite our having no gripe with Robert Redford himself.' Indeed, Lapdance was such a hit that they repeated it a couple more times, until so many imitators showed up that there no longer was any point to it. Meantime, in cahoots with another like-minded friend, Phillips set up 'a brand strategy firm specializing in naming,' which they called Quiddity. Phillips wondered: 'Could there truly be a living to be made in telling other people what to call their products? It seemed so goofy a scam that I could hardly believe it was working. But clearly it was.' In time, as he came to comprehend the system in which Quiddity managed to turn a few dollars, he developed a 'chortling cynicism' about it, because 'coming up with good names turned out not to be what our work was really about.' The lesson he learned applies to many other contemporary American businesses and economic phenomena: 'Coming up with the names was just one tiny point on the curve between starting an engagement and finishing it. The work was first about getting the work, then about making the clients feel good about the process, and finally about ratifying whatever decisions the clients reached. Those were decisions over which we ultimately had no control. At the end of the day, they were going to call their company whatever they wanted. If we couldn't talk sense into them, it was much better to make them feel good about a poor decision than to argue against it. They didn't want the right answer or even necessarily a good answer. They wanted to feel good about an answer.' Eventually, Phillips walked away from both Quiddity and CRAP. In nearly four years, he 'had produced only work so bankrupt that no one could ever say I had tried my best and failed: corporate branding, porn and snuff, bad comedy,' yet what he felt was not disappointment but relief: 'Fame, wealth, success in whatever form — it was hard now even to remember what I had imagined, but whatever it had been, an image of myself as prodigy, wunderkind, l'enfant terrible — it simply was no longer possible. I was, at least by any reasonable measure of age, all grown up. ... This release from the tyranny of my own expectations was a sweeter relief than I can describe.' But he still has to make a living. Maybe, if we get lucky, he'll keep on writing books. The pay is lousy, but they last. Jonathan Yardley's e-mail address is yardleyj(at symbol)washpost.com." Reviewed by Bing WestKai BirdJennifer HowardTony HorwitzEdwin M. Yoder Jr.Christopher ByrdAnne GluskerJonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Through brief success and persistent failure, Phillips struggles to reconcile himself with the notion that great potential and great expectations guarantee us exactly nothing. Funny, insightful, disturbing, and diverting." Booklist
"Glasgow Phillips is no genius...but he's a very likable fellow, and you'll end up rooting for him even though you know his harebrained ideas will come to nothing." Wall Street Journal
"A darkly comic, self-attacking anti-memoir that in its better moments offers an acid critique of contemporary American culture and its twin obsessions: fame and riches....
"This is the best book I've read about being in your twenties and trying to figure out what to do with your life, and that's not just because I'm in it. Something this funny shouldn't also be this profound; after laughing, crying, and cheering the cast, all I wanted was a bigger part." Matt Stone
"The Royal Nonesuch is very funny, far too real for comfort, and even, finally, life-affirming. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Phillips, reading this book is like getting kicked in the clams with a clown shoe. You double over, not sure whether you're laughing or crying, and then you want to kick the clown back, in the clams. That course of action won't be available to all readers, but I have Mr. Phillips's address, and I'm on my way now to the clown she store." Dave Eggers
"Glasgow Phillips has harnessed vast observational and comedic talents for the purpose of waste, waste, and thrice waste — till now! The Royal Nonesuch is both a self-reckoning and a generational one, and Phillips fills this ridiculous, entertaining, crazy-ass morality tale with proof that he's a fancy pants literary type after all. Hooray!" Sean Wilsey
"A mundane account of a pampered kid trying to find himself that offers nothing particularly illuminating, artful or self-reflective." Kirkus Reviews
The Royal Nonesuch is the story of Phillips's rollercoaster ride through the twisted world of underground Hollywood and the funhouse of the Internet during the boom.
About the Author
Glasgow Phillips is a film and television writer in Los Angeles whose credits include South Park and Father of the Pride, as well as catastrophic pilots for Comedy Central and MTV. He is the author of Tuscaloosa: A Novel.
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