Book Club: Wild Things ate my wig!


 

Max, a naughty little boy, came home one evening dressed in a wolf suit. “I’ll eat you up!” He yelled, jumping mischievously in front of his mother.

Angry over his misbehaviour, Max’s mother sends him to bed without supper. In his room, a world of seas and forrest grew out of Max’s imagination and Max decided to sail to the and of the wild things.

 

The great Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure once declared that meaning is eternally deferred. We know we exist, but what does that existence mean? Andre Agassi’s autobiography “Open” depicts a man’s search for the meaning of existence, a pursuit that took him out of the comforts of his bedroom, shoved into the tennis world, and ultimately into a land where the wild things frolicked and he was king. 

 

 

The son of a brutal Iranian immigrant, Agassi began hitting balls in preschool to satisfy his father’s ambitions of having a tennis player in the family. As the object of his father’s obsession, Agassi grew to hate tennis, yet see it as his responsibility. A responsibility that made everything else in life seem irrelevant – school, fun, rest, friends. At the core of a tennis obsession, winning is everything, so when Agassi won a sportsmanship trophy after losing in a tournament, his father smashed it to pieces. It was from this sort of background that Andre Agassi’s lifelong love-hate relationship with tennis began. 

 

 

Max journeys deep into his imagination, “to where the wild things are”. The Wild Things are yellow-eyed monsters. Max conquers them “by staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once, and he is made the King of all Wild Things, partying with his monster-mates in a wild rumpus. 

 

Cut to Andre, aged 13, living at the Bollettieri Academy, or “Lord of the Flies with forehands“, as Agassi himself describes. He was “the man”. A boy so special that he demanded the special attention of Nick Bollettieri himself. His tennis was growing in leaps and bounds, but his personal search for meaningful existence took a wayward turn: he drank hard liquor, smoked dope. He wore an earring and a Mohawk, played tennis in eyeliner and jeans.

And although he didn’t know it at the time, this would be the start of a long journey through the land of the wild things, where monsters came in all shapes and sizes – the media, Brook Shields, crystal meth, depression, and indeed, tennis itself. 

What the press called rebellion was simply a search for identity, a belief that a Self can be found in a mohawk, short jeans or a pink shirt … A ‘wild rumpus’ of sorts with the yellow-eyed monsters in life.

And in the land where the wild things are, Andre Agassi was king of all wild things.

 

And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.
Then all around from far away across the world
he smelled good things to eat
so he gave up being king of where the wild things are.

 

In many ways, we all search for the meaning of existence and that “gap” between what we feel and what we say we feel. Max, wisely, took his time, went away to party with the wild things, and when he was ready, he came home to find supper still hot, left in his room by his mother. 

But first, he must shed the wolf-suit. 

 

 

Andre Agassi, like Max, tried to find identity amongst the wild things. He faced monsters. For a while, he became one of them – gentle, wild, and ultimately lonely.

As Agassi admits, tennis is the closest thing sport has to solitary confinement. It’s a lonely sport made lonelier by a racket, a net, and a distance that separates the competitor from his opponent, both only too aware that there can only be one man left standing in the end. 

In such an existence, how can one stay true to himself? Or even know what the Self is? As the trajectory of the book shows, identity cannot be constructed through clothes, hair, or the number of grand slams a player wins. Image is everything. But Image is nothing. And “the Self” that Agassi spent most of his adolescent and adult life building cannot actually be built.

But the Self can be located. It can be reflected. It can look back on him in a compassionate, loving gaze. Cue “Team Agassi”, his eventual entourage featuring his body trainer and surrogate father Gil, brother Philly, best friends Perry and JP, coaches Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill, and of course, his eventual wife Steffi Graf, mother of his 2 children.

Each of them flawed but loving and loyal, Agassi eventually found himself reflected in them, the people who unconditionally love him, forgives his desires and flaws and stuck by him through thick and thin. As the official anthem of angst goes, be my mirror, my sword and shield.

With that reflection comes acceptance and closure – shedding the wolf-suit, saying goodbye to the wild things, and coming home to hot supper.

There is poetry then in the fact that the book ends with a chapter on Agassi’s school – his real inspiration in life and vision for the future. The scene shifts to a public court, with Agassi and Graf playing tennis, a sport they both so hated but were driven to play. Only this time in retirement, Agassi embraced it as a part of his identity and made a conscious choice, “I want to play just a little longer.” 

 

 

Ghost-written by JR Moehringer, a Pulitzer prize winner, “Open” is a beautifully structured book, full of subtle symmetries and humanity. By deliberately doing away with quotation marks for speech, the book exposes the readers to a voice unconstrained by verbatim, a stream of consciousness where the distinctions between utterance and thoughts, fact and recollection are rendered irrelevant. 

The result is that ‘Open’ is so much more than a tennis biography. Tennis provides merely for an undercurrent of chronology in the book.

Ultimately, it is a book about the search for an identity, and a reminder that no matter how deep we journey into the land of the wild things, there is a way back. Back into your bedroom, perhaps even with hot supper waiting.

But first, we must shed the wolf-suit.

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19 responses to “Book Club: Wild Things ate my wig!”

  1. LJ says :

    that was beautiful

    and even made better by the fact that I saw Where the Wild Things are last night…really really awesome film.

  2. Jack says :

    Wow, great review of his book!

    You know, the thing i found most shocking was the mullet wig! Surely, there were better wigs out there Andre! (Just kidding, mullets were big in the 90’s, right?)

    Actually, the thing i was most suprised to hear was him saying he hated tennis, because to me he always came across as a free-spirited sorta guy. But from hearing about his background, i’m actually not suprised now. His father was obviously a very domineering personality and a fairly negative person. I mean, smashing the sportsmanship trophy! No wonder Andre grew to hate the sport when he was constantly around negativity.

    Also its not suprising he turned to drugs and went into depression. His identity was being moulded by his father and it was probably a form of rebellion against him. Random side note: My mum thought Andre and Brooke Shields was an odd pairing!

    It is nice to know that from something he hated and despised, he found his true love Steffi. Do you think in a way they were drawn to each other by a common thread; their hate for the sport?

    It makes you wonder though, what would Andre Agassi have become had his father let him explore his true passion?

    Anyway, usually I don’t read celeb autobiographies because i think they’re less about the story and more about making money, but this actually seems quite a fascinating and insightful book to read.

    • dootsiez says :

      More odd than Brooke Shields was Barbra Streisand. Does Andre Agassi have nose fetish?😀

      I think Andre would’ve gone down a more academic path if he wasn’t forced into tennis. I really admired his passion for his school and the vision he has for it. This is just any other philanthropic project where the celeb throws money in and doesn’t care where that money goes. Andre knows what he wants to do and executes it very well by the looks of things.

      • Jack says :

        I think he does have a nose fetish!!!

        After all, in his book, he had something bad to say about every player except Roger.

        And we all know Roger has a unique nose🙂

  3. braggaditis says :

    I may or may not agree with some of these thoughts.
    But this is such a beauuutifully written review. Cheerios!

  4. TopSpin says :

    Fab review Dootsie!

    Like Jack, I’m not normally a great fan of ghost written celeb bios – they tend to make neither good reading nor do you come away feeling you’ve been granted any special insights.

    There are exceptions of course, and this sounds like it might just be one of them.

  5. xta says :

    great review — i wasn’t going to read the book since i thought the drug revelation was (a) done solely to boost sales, and (b) an absolutely unnecessary black eye for tennis (aka cheeky cheap shot)…but your review makes me reconsider…
    on another note — well, it’s still tennis — i live in california and am seriously considering coming to the AO…i know it’s a drag of a flight, but, hey, it’s the AO…would you have any tips for me like where to stay, and whether ground passes for the opening week would be a good choice, or would i kick myself for not getting some sort of stadium tickets ??? i’m a rafa fan, and check out the nadalnews site every day (and now i check your site every day as well) and just read that miri is headed off for a 13 hour flight to catch the davis cup, so i figure if she can handle 13 hours, i should be able to handle 14…

    • dootsiez says :

      Hi xta, oh-you-spoilt-Northern-hemisphere-people, think of us poor Aussies. Practically all our flights take 12-24 hours to get anywhere.

      In terms of AO, unlike most stadiums, Melbourne Park is right in the middle of the Melb CBD, so as long as you stay somewhere that’s centrally located or CBD-fringe, you’re all good. If you have a particular hotel or private house in mind, email me the location and I’ll tell you if it’s close to things. Otherwise, I recommend renting a holiday home, try: stayz.com.au

      As for tickets, if you’re serious about coming down, you should def start by getting some Rod Laver Arena tickets now, although which days or nights to get is pure guess work.

      “Usually” the defending champ’s half opens on the first day/night. This is not always the case, but your best bet if you want to see Rafa would be to get Rod Laver tickets on odd days in the first week.

      You won’t need ground passes if you have Rod Laver Arena day session tickets. But if you don’t, I highly recommend ground passes in the first week. You don’t need to get them in advance, just check the OOP the night before to see if there’s anything good on Margaret Court or the smaller show-courts, book on the internet and print out the tickets. Don’t buy outside the gates, the lines will kill you.

      Don’t bother buying Hisense Arena tickets early either. It’s not usually full and you can upgrade your ground pass on the day if you find out there’s anything good on Hisense while you’re there.

      Hope that helps, you (and anyone else really) are welcomed to ask if you have more qs.🙂

      • xta says :

        thank you SO much…one question: what is CBD ???

      • xta says :

        do you have any thoughts about the kingsgate hotel on king street ??? i’d especially like to know how far it is from the AO — i can’t tell from the little area map on the hotel website…
        thanks so much !!!

      • xta says :

        OR, the city centre budget hotel on little collins ??? it says it’s walking distance to rod laver…
        thank you !!!

        • dootsiez says :

          “Walking distance” is probably not right. But they’re both reasonably close and a tram-ride away. The one on Little Collins is probably closer, but not by a whole lot.

          There’ll be special trams during the AO to take people to Rod Laver Arena, so you should be right with either locations, go with whichever one is cheaper/looks better to you.🙂

      • xta says :

        thanks for all your help…i went with the one on little collins because it had a tv in the room and free wifi…and i already purchased a ticket for the opening day and the opening night and ground passes for the next couple of days (one of which is my birthday !!!)…i figure that should give me time to see how things work and take it from there…
        again, thanks for all your help…
        and thanks for the gorgeous pic you posted of rafa sitting behind the davis cup — i’m all for one of him and roger together in that laid back pose !!!
        just watching the doubles now, then off to the bookstore for a travel guide to melbourne !!!

        • dootsiez says :

          Awesome! I’m working as an usher at Rod Laver Arena this year, so while you’re here, watch out for me!

  6. FortuneCookie says :

    Okay this was written 10 months ago,but I’ve only just finished the book,and so I’ve finally read this post🙂
    Totally beautiful,and your analogies are spot on!

    As I said on Twitter,I absolutely loved Open.Although maybe it’s disappointing in a sense that it was ghostwritten,when the ghostwriter is this good,who really gives a fuck?!You could tell from the Van Gogh quote at the very beginning that this wasn’t going to be the average mundane sports star’s autobiography,and it was definitely consistent in that!

    It was also really interesting to see how his relationships with people evolved throughout the book and his life (Courier and Sampras seem to be the recurring people he cites),and little anecdotes about tennis players are always fun for us to read (although I’m not sure that I needed to know that Steffi stopped taking the Pill after their 3rd date!)!
    Also admired the way that he was so brutally honest,and beat himself up so much because it’s so rare for autobiographies,although it was often unfairly.Have to admit that when I saw the initial headlines of ‘ANDRE TOOK CRYSTAL METH!!’ ‘ANDRE DISSES PETE!!’ ‘ANDRE HATED TENNIS!!’,I had a bit of a kneejrk reaction,but changing the book has changed my original opinion on a lot of those things.Seriously,all tennis fans need to read it,and you’d hope,Pete Sampras would too,so he could understand more of what Andre really thought of him and not the media’s shitstirring of it…

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