When last we saw Esquire writer Chris Jones , he had just issued his rules for proper profile-writing , to “remind myself what works” before setting out to do the magazine’s May cover story. Some of the advice—particularly his advice to write about obscure people rather than famous and accomplished ones—seemed possibly incorrect or disingenuous, coming from a big-time glossy writer. Jones did not agree with that assessment. Things got ugly on Twitter. Etc.
Jones and his admirers don’t take criticism very well. Not long after, he had a Twitter-and-blog meltdown because his well-regarded profile of (not so obscure or unheralded) film critic Roger Ebert was not chosen as a National Magazine Award finalist. More ugliness ensued. Writing about writing is contentious work .
But! He did still have time to produce that May cover story for Esquire. Because it is so distasteful to Chris Jones to have his writing discussed by a blogger or a lowly graduate student or some random anonymous person who is obviously an envy-wracked failure , it’s only fair to let Chris Jones set the standard for judging how Chris Jones did:
Chris Jones rule of profile writing: “[W]e too often make the mistake of profiling people because they’re famous or because they’ve done something amazing.”
May Esquire cover story: A profile of aspiring musician Jeff Bridges .
Rule of profile writing: “Access is everything….To write a really good, meaningful profile, you need to spend time with your subject, and lots of it.”
May Esquire: Describes a single morning, or possibly a full day, spent in the company of Jeff Bridges on his nineteen-acre mountaintop estate.
Rule of profile writing: “Don’t tell me what you think of someone. Let me decide for myself. There are certainly ways you might influence the reader, ways you might push the reader toward the conclusion you want him to reach. But it’s not a job for blunt instruments…. For instance, if you wrote that someone is a slacker—if you write that sentence: Dave is a slacker —I might or might not choose to believe you.”
May Esquire: “[P]eople sometimes think that Bridges is just a happy, blithe stoner type, easy come, easy go. He is in part those things, but he is also a meticulous preparer, a master of nuance.”
Rule of profile writing: “Great profiles shine a light on their subjects, but they also illuminate the rest of us in some way, too.”
May Esquire: “It feels as though Jeff Bridges really can do whatever the hell he wants—not because people will let him but because he can.”
Rule of profile writing: “Don’t overuse quotes…You’ll take your subject’s words and put them into your own. You’ll turn exposition into something meaningful.”
May Esquire: “’But I am taking advantage of the opportunity,’ he says… ‘Now’s the perfect time for me to do something like this.’” … "’We’re here for such a short period of time,’ he says. ‘Live like you’re already dead, man. Have a good time. Do your best. Let it all come ripping right through you.’” … "’I’m feeling pretty vulnerable, man,’ he says.” … "’Oh, yeah,’” Bridges says.
Rule of profile writing: “Words have meaning; sentences have power; paragraphs can change a life—a subject’s and a reader’s. Make sure that every last one of them—especially the last one of them—is absolutely, unequivocally, dead-to-nuts right.”
May Esquire: “[The guitar] is a perfect, hand-distressed modern replica of the Country Gentleman custom-made for the legendary Chet Atkins in 1959, with its distinctive telltale ‘single cutaway’ where the neck meets the body.”
Dead-to-nuts right?: A single cutaway is not “distinctive”—let alone “telltale distinctive”; it’s a feature of some of the world’s most popular mass-produced guitars .
May Esquire: “There is a terrible weight borne by actors who decide that they might also be musicians. Even Jeff Bridges knows this to be true. It’s as though a wall of voodoo separates the two professions, built over the course of a long and mostly torturous history of vanity projects and assaults against innocent and bleeding ears: William Shatner (The Transformed Man), Telly Savalas (Telly), Burt Reynolds (Ask Me What I Am), Tony Danza (The House I Live In), Don Johnson (The Essential). It blocks the opposite journey equally well — Mick Jagger, Sting, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini. It is the rare individual — Dwight Yoakam, Jennifer Hudson — who can jump over the wall at will.”
Dead-to-nuts right?: Setting aside the gratuitous flourish of ” wall of voodoo ,” which serves only to distract certain readers between the ages of 35 and 50, here are a few more rare musicians who’ve made that near-impossible “opposite journey” into the acting profession: Mark Wahlberg. Will Smith. Barbra Streisand. Justin Timberlake. Lyle Lovett. Ice Cube. Kris Kristofferson. Cher. Burl Ives. Faye Wong (actually, in the Chinese entertainment market, superstar singers and actors are interchangeable in both directions). Paul Robeson. Bing Crosby.
Oh, and, I dunno, Esquire magazine: Francis Albert Sinatra ? You might have heard of him .