Dennis Rodman with Michael Silver
Walk on the Wild Side
by Nicole Frantz
Brooklyn, New York
Dennis Rodman first gained my attention when I happened to catch a glimpse of the then-green haired athlete in a locker room interview. Not so much the choice of hair color that intrigued me, but his shirt definitely caught my eye: "Legalize It. Same Sex Marriage." My, oh my, what had I been missing in the wild world of sports . . .
Well, that was a few years ago, and since then we have had a lot of Dennis Rodman. More hair, more piercings, more antics, and more exposure. Then we had the book, Bad As I Wanna Be, which was a trip into the mind of the man himself, and was, admittedly, the first memoir I had read in some time. It provided me with a little personal information, a little about Madonna's sex life, and a lot more basketball information than I would ever have an interest in. I skimmed over the sports stuff. In another candid admission, it wasn't why I read the book.
As if Rodman was addressing my criticism, he then co-authored a new memoir, Walk on the Wild Side. It basically reads like a rewrite of Bad . . ., with a lot less basketball and a lot more sex and personal stuff. Now that's all I really wanted in the first place. Really, when we one day look back at Rodman, we will not remember him as the greatest basketball rebounder to ever grace the court; we will remember him as a larger-than-life personality, a veritable comic book/tabloid superhero. His book our means to keep up with his adventures, especially if we are not having any ourselves.
When I observe him, I must admit I am intrigued, or I should say, curious. He has created a superstar persona well beyond the basketball court. Basketball was his vehicle for gaining attention, and he has parlayed that attention into a million-dollar industry based only on his style and outspokenness. And he gets two books to attempt to put that style into words. The words he chooses? Dick, sex, and the like. What makes it so appealing? Dennis Rodman is the American Dream.
Here is a scrawny, unattractive, and unremarkable kid with an unpromising future who suddenly has a growth spurt two years after high school. Beyond just a few inches, Rodman grew an additional nine, putting him well over six-and -a-half feet. He starts playing basketball and signs with the NBA. He becomes a professional athlete, which already makes him something special in the eyes of Americans. Then, he has a bout of depression, contemplates suicide and realizes that he just needs to follow his heart--dyeing his hair, piercing himself, tattoos--like some rebellious teenager and America goes crazy for him. Suddenly, he has everything he could ever want--money, women, fame, attention. The American Dream. From janitor to superstar in a few short years.
The remarkable thing about it is that parents that would disown their own teens for emulating Rodman are celebrating his every choice of hair color. America has finally found the bad boy teenager that they can love in Dennis Rodman. We are accustomed to the bad, adolescent behavior as seen in rock stars and actors. We find that banal and cliché now. But a professional athlete? It is something entirely new to us, and we will listen. It is as if Rodman is a rock star mistakenly endowed with athletic ability rather than musical talent. Any musician or actor or activist can champion gay rights, open-mindedness, and personal freedoms, but have it come from a professional athlete and we are so stunned that maybe we actually listen, which is what Rodman hopes for.
The book itself is full of clichés, the kind of adolescent ranting and raving that most of us have put well behind us. I think it must have something to do with Rodman's late bloom into manhood. His development is lagging in a few areas. Like the journals of many a sixteen-year-old, the memoir reads like a diary of fantasy, sexual exploit, and lots of fuck yous to the man, whoever the man may be--the main difference being that Rodman has the money to act out a lot of the things that we sixteen year olds only dreamed of (oh, yeah, and he's no teenager). Tales of wild parties, wild sex, and wild boozing all feature Rodman as the center of the world. And he does name some names, which makes for an entertaining read. And yet, for all of the entertainment value (just the use of varying fonts is entertaining at times and further testifies to the adolescent raving--sort of like a ransom note, or emphatic underlining in a note passed under the teacher's nose, or furious scribbling in a diary) there is something both poignant and frustrating about the book.
Poignant are the moments when Rodman actually tries to open the minds of some people (people that would never pick up the book in the first place if there weren't the Penthouse Forum-esque sex details, but that is beside the point). He writes, "I hope that I can help to break down the walls of hatred, ignorance, and bigotry. It's a big joke to a lot of people right now, but maybe as time passes the laughter will grow quieter and quieter." Now, that's eloquence from a man that also writes, "I like my music loud, I like my alcohol hard, I like my women hot, I like my food spicy, and I like my sex nasty."
It is the mixture of good intentions and youthful bragging that is the most frustrating. Like trying to listen to a back-talking, know-it-all teen, there are moments when the urge to shake Rodman is overwhelming. His message is admirable--be true to yourself--but it is obscured by the raving delivery. The majority of the book contains Pearl Jam lyrics, details about Rodman's sexual prowess, and testament to his obsession with the spotlight (that, he says, he would give up tomorrow). It reads a lot like graffiti on the top of my desk in algebra class in tenth grade.
The cynic that I have become is waiting until Rodman matures and cringes at the very sight of Walk on the Wild Side, at every bold-faced, italicized occurrence of the word "dick." But, whatever is left of the sixteen-year-old in me celebrates the very presence of Dennis Rodman, and hopes he can hang onto his youth forever.