Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 1, 2009

Piven, Cusack, Young & the Art of Bleeding

I saw a photo and headline earlier this week featuring Jeremy Piven of the cable tv hit Entourage, and all I could think was to try and remember what other Chicago theater contact of mine once told me what an a–hole Piven is.

Jeremy’s pulling down big bucks playing an a–hole now — playing himself, basically. Same part he’s always played, even when he was a reg’lar on Ellen Degeneres’ original sitcom. So yeah, he really is that prick of a manager on Entourage. A mercenary, semi-talented elitist jerk, a hanger-on, a mere shadow of his immensely talented and generous father, drama teacher and actor Byrne Piven.  Not half as people-smart or self-aware as his Method-acting (?) Piven School cronies John Cusack, Tim Robbins, or even Aidan Quinn (another “where are they now?” question-mark). About half as much range as fellow Piven-Schoolers Joan Cusack and Lili Taylor.

Then I stepped back, wondering why I suddenly had a need to angrily tear down this guy I don’t even know? This person who I maybe have one degree of Kevin Bacon worth of distance from, but have never actually met. It’s all hearsay, your honor, growls my inner Jeremy.

I suppose I’m just jealous, especially during yet another “rebuilding year” in my life. Piven and a few others represent for me the “cool kids”: the suburban Chicago creative elite of my own generation who have some talent, but also had so much privelege and so many head-starts that they may or may not have deserved.

After all, I was a suburban Chicago kid, too. When fellow suburbanite Billy Corgan was tearing up the radio airwaves as leader of Smashing Pumpkins, and John Cusack was acting alongside the likes of Paul Newman, I was reduced to teaching the spoiled kids of the suburban middle class, most of whom were woefully disinterested in anything I or Dickens or David Mamet might have to say.

I just want a level playing field, y’know? All I ever wanted. Not looking to break the bank, just to break through, on my own merits.

Or maybe I’m just wallowing in self-pity. I can admit that. I’m still reading that Neil Young biography, the authorized one, Shakey  –where one of my heroes literally spends entire years wallowing in self-pity and self-indulgence, stepping on people’s feelings left and right. Self-righteousness and anger and pure, raw envy have their place, perhaps. There’s a little bit of Jeremy and Neil in all of us. Or at least in the mercurial, warped, driven-to-create among us.

After considering Piven, I drifted naturally toward wondering what his boyhood pal John Cusack has been up to. Couldn’t name the last new movie I remembered him being in. When I ran the IMDB check, I saw why: he’s been in a run of about a half-dozen odd specialty picks. The moderately well-reviewed horror flick 1408 (maybe a hit, but I don’t keep track of horror much). The wounded-kid character drama Martian Child. The underrated black comedy Ice Harvest in 2005. Perhaps this guy hasn’t had a legitimate hit since working with cinematic-love-of-my-life Diane Lane on Must Love Dogs (a disappointing, mediocre romcom) earlier in 2005.

Maybe he doesn’t feel the need for a hit, I told myself. Maybe he’s a true arteest.

Then I wondered why the heck it even matters to me what makes guys like Cusack, Piven or even Neil Young tick? Why must I live my life vicariously through all these other schmoes, whether or not they deserve the opportunities they’ve been given, or wrestled away from some other less-driven individual?

In other words, what kind of wanna-be arteest is Mark Nielsen?  Taking potshots from the shadows, licking my wounds instead of ripping the scab off  like Neil to make some legitimate art of my own.

So that’s why I write all this down. As a confession. As penance. To work at cleaning out the pipes of all this gunk, so I can write a script or a story or a poem or a song that’s worthy of the talent and opportunities that *I* have been given. TO OWN IT.  To stop making excuses, stop the self-indulgent whining, and start making art that matters, putting it out there, putting myself on the line like they do, whether or not it’s gonna hit or flop.

There. That’s more like it. Scab removed.

Hit-or-miss, here goes nothin’.

Whoops. But then I saw it. That hack of a blockbuster director Roland Emmerich is working with Cusack on 2012.

They’re gonna do it, dammit. They’re gonna capitalize on all that international “end of the world” hysteria brewing just under the surface these days. They’re gonna make a mint off of our collective discomfort.  They’re gonna exploit our worst instincts, go really dark, tack on a happy heroic Hollywood ending to keep us from panicking, and then go buy themselves a new Hummer before the vehicles become collector’s items, remnants of the automotive dinosaur days.

Make hay before 2012, kiddies. It’s gettin’ weird out there.



  1. The book I got about halfway through–The Artist’s Way–discusses jealousy as very common for people not being as creative as they want to be. I know earlier this summer I was struggling with a lot of jealousy toward someone I worked with–a 31 year old Harvard grad who thinks nothing of walking away from a major project halfway to completion because she wants to pursue a creative dream. I realized I was angry and jealous because I never allow myself to be more responsible to my art than to my work life. Anyway, I think jealousy is a lot like anger. It’s not really bad in itself. It’s just a marker, a signpost of something we want to change.

    So don’t waste any energy beating up on yourself for being angry or jealous. The jealousy can be your friend. Just think of one small but concrete thing you can do each day toward your goals. And the jealousy will eventually take care of itself.

    • Thanks Ruth. I’ve been digging in on the subject of envy and unneeded hero-worship lately anyway.

      So, why did you stall out on Artist’s Way?

  2. I stalled out on the Artist’s Way because I started drawing, and there’s only so much time in a day.

    I hope to get back to it eventually.

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