farmers, pirates, and Anthony Bourdain

I went to see Morgan Neville’s Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain this weekend. Twice.

Perhaps it’s the season of life in which I find myself, but Bourdain’s story resonated with me on a level that summoned a deep discomfort.

The film paints a portrait of Bourdain as a contradictory soul–a man in search of love and belonging, unable to accept these things in the moments he finds them. “It’s the bittersweet curse,” musician Josh Homme says to Bourdain. “Nothing feels better than going home. And nothing feels better than leaving home.” The film doesn’t shy away from portraying Bourdain as a wander, an adventurer, a pirate in search of something.

Such a portrait immediately reminded me of a recent blog post by Austin Kleon, who ponders Brian Eno’s observations about cowboys and farmers.

Kleon goes on to quote writer Dave Hickey, who substitutes cowboys for pirates and makes the claim that:

All human creatures are divided into two groups. There are pirates, and there are farmers. Farmers build fences and control territory. Pirates tear down fences and cross borders. There are good pirates and bad pirates, good farmers and bad farmers, but there are only pirates and farmers.

The farmer has his place in the world and stays there. The pirate roams, in search of someplace new, someplace to call his own.

As Kleon muses, the real question is–can we be both a pirate and a farmer?

This is what I think Anthony Bourdain was chasing. He was a pirate who wanted so desperately to be a farmer, to have a plot of land to call his own. He wanted a place to call home.

After all, isn’t that what all of us want?

See Also: Roadrunner ends on a note about how we glorify writers, artists, and musicians who commit suicide. Artist David Cho runs through the streets to deface a mural of Bourdain, an outright rebuke of the heroic status we grant those who succumb to their suicidal urges.

These final images reminded me of Twenty One Pilots’ “Neon Gravestones,” from their album, Trench. I’ve followed Twenty One Pilots since the start of their career and while my affinity for them has waned over the years, I’ve always admired how candid they are regarding mental health, self-harm, and suicide.

Tyler Joseph sings:

Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high.
Find your grandparents or someone of age,
Pay some respects for the path that they paved.
To life, they were dedicated.
Now, that should be celebrated

Sometimes being alive is the bravest thing to be.

And that should be celebrated.