The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.

What We Need vs. What We Want

Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual.

A key part of adulthood is being able to know the differences between knowing ‘what we want’ vs. knowing ‘what we need.’ Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual. As children, we are taught to temper our desires to manageable levels and to remember to not be selfish especially when it conflicts with the needs of others.

We are flawed as humans in that we often let our wants overtake our immediate needs and that we cannot distinguish the two in terms of actual importance. I may want a new suit but if I only have so much money, do I really need it? Am I being selfish by buying a suit when I already have a perfectly good one at you? These questions are especially important to pose when you have limited money or time to contribute towards either your needs or wants. What we focus on each day shows us if we care more about ‘needs’ or ‘wants.’

It has to be non-negotiable in your own life how your needs come first and will always come first. Your wants have to be considered in terms of whether you actually need them and how much they will actually add that much to your life. When it comes to your wants, you should not only be thinking about their utility in the short-term but also in the long-term. Will you be that much better off not just a day later, a week later, or a year later when you satisfy those wants? A short-term want will be fleeting and may end up not even be worth it whereas a long-term want like starting a business, getting your degree, or moving overseas are often worthwhile investments and satisfactory wants that will put you ahead in your life. If you do want to fulfill your wants, they should be in the interest of you moving forward, learning new things, and developing your interests.

Short-term wants are good every now and then like a new bicycle, a nice meal out with friends, or a trip to a day spa, but the gratification will be short-term, and you can’t rely on those wants to fulfill you in the long-term. Long-term wants are harder to achieve but they often have higher levels of satisfaction. These wants aren’t automatically given to you and you have to work for them but it’s often worth the effort more so than just things being handed to you automatically. Your wants have to be kept in moderation too because if you let your wants overwhelm your needs, you may be left with less than you had before. An adult keeps their wants in check and prioritizes their needs first to make sure that their life is headed in the right direction. Long-term gains have to always take priority over short-term gratification, which may give you happiness but won’t give you fulfillment in the long run.

Your needs in daily life should always come first in terms of securing them. Whether it is water to drink, clean air to breathe, food to eat, and a roof over your head; they are all part of the equation to keep you in good spirits and in good health. Do not let your wants take away from your immediate needs because when it comes down to it, your wants may come and go but your needs are your needs and that never really changes. Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ was pretty much on the money in terms of distinguishing what are most urgent needs are and beyond that, what could be considered wants. We have the physical needs of eating, drinking, sleeping, maintaining homeostasis (not too warm or too cold) but beyond that, we start to go into the wants territory of seeking out self-actualization as well as having a steady purpose in life.

We all need human connection along with friends and family who care about us but that is not given to everybody and that kind of need is something that you have to work for and what you have to ‘want’ in a way. We all need safety and security to carry out our lives but that is something that we have to work towards to and that is not guaranteed when we are born. What we need may not been given to us like friends and family or the security of a place we live in and we may have to take action to turn those needs into a reality by wanting them badly enough.

In Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, our basic needs must be taken care of first as the pyramid shows us but then you have our psychological needs such as love, relationships, friendships, and feelings of accomplishment and goal-setting. As you go up the pyramid, you get into the ‘self-fulfillment’ needs category of achieving our potential, reaching our set goals, and becoming the best version of ourselves through self-actualization. This category is tricky, but we may feel that we need to be fulfilled that way; how hard are you willing to work to achieve that and how much do you really want to achieve it?

I would argue that our basic needs of food, drink, shelter, warmth, etc. are real needs but our psychological or self-fulfillment needs are different in that while each of us need them in our life, they are really ‘wants’ that you have to earn and to work for. Our basic needs are not given to us either, but they are of such urgency that we will do almost anything to have them guaranteed and it often subsumes our other ‘needs’ like love, friendship, or career goals.

What we need to live is our number one priority. Everything after that is supplementary in life. What we want Is important but it’s clear that our wants are endless at times and we need to prioritize with our limited time and/or money what matters to us most to achieve or to have. Being able to prioritize while understanding this internal battle is key to being a fully formed individual capable of holding our wants at bay while getting our needs taken care of.

Lastly, it is important to distinguish between short-term needs and long-term needs. Short-term needs should always take priority over long-term needs, but you can work towards both at the same time. You can hunt for food and still have companionship with a loved one at the same time. You can watch your vegetables grow while you’re studying for your next course exam or replying to emails. However, if your immediate needs are unmet or neglected, your long-term needs will have to take a backseat because they are just not as critical as what short-term needs are in terms of daily occurrence. You need to eat and drink water a lot more than you need to see your family and friends as an adult. I’m sure you would love to see them every day but it’s more likely you would see them once a week or a month or maybe less if you’re really busy.

Your immediate needs can be balanced with long-term needs, however, if you can’t cook for yourself, make money to support yourself, or be able to clean and take care of yourself physically, not many or very few of your long-term needs can be met after. As an adult, you need to take care of the daily details before you can reach your lifelong dreams and goals. What we need vs. what we want is a constant battle taking place in our mind. If we don’t pay attention to how to win this battle by trusting in our innate knowledge of what we are capable of doing to achieve them one by one and what are healthy priorities to focus on, you won’t be able to get very far in life with either your needs or your wants.

‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (A Video Retrospective)

It’s hard to really love most music videos today which tend to be shallow and lacking in any original thought. During past decades leading up to the 2000’s, it seems like actual effort and work was put into music videos of songs in order to get on MTV but also to highlight the themes of the song as well as the entire album. There are a number of my favorite artists who produce great music videos including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

However, MTV and official music videos are not what they used to be. In an age of instant gratification and live concerts being streamed of the songs you love, it’s hard to appreciate music videos as being part of an increasingly crowded creative marketplace. While official music videos may be dying, creative videos and covers of songs from our favorite artists seem to be on the rise. Considering that music videos are usually for hit singles of certain songs and not for entire albums, there has started to be a movement towards producing independent music videos for songs that never received the official ‘music video’ song treatment.

The rise of YouTube and other video platforms has allowed creative people who are fans of good music to produce their own music videos. While they started out as being kind of cliché or very amateur, they are now becoming very professional and also very related to the lyrics of the song in question. I saw a particular music video of a favorite song of mine featured on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The song is ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ by Radiohead and it is an excellent song by my favorite band but the one thing that this song never had was its own brilliant music video to go with it.

Because of YouTube, the creative skills of a fan named ‘Capitao Ahab’, which is a pretty fun name in its own right, although I believe the original video creator’s name is Joschka Laukeninks who created it and titled it ‘BACKSTORY.’ It is a now an unofficial music video on the popular video platform that is really well done and professionally shot that has received almost two million views. A video like this would not have existed ten years ago but luckily it does. Part of the reason why this music video is so impactful is that it works so well with the content of this particular Radiohead song.

‘Everything in Its Right Place’ like many of Radiohead’s songs are open to interpretation but it is soothing with its use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated voices, and haunting electronic sounds that sound comforting when you have your headphones on at full blast. The lyric itself of ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ focuses on how to maintain your composure and your levelheadedness as you go through life. The fan music video’s storyline of a baby becoming a boy, a man, and then an elderly man highlights the ups and downs of life and how there are ‘two colors in my head.’

The ‘two colors’ could be interpreted as the good and the bad that you will go through as you go through life’s uncertain and mysterious waters. In particular, the song begins with the oft-repeated lyric of ‘Kid A’, the title of Radiohead’s 2000 album and expresses the experiences of a ‘boy’ as he is born, grows up, matures, and eventually dies. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking on a lemon.” Is also a lyric up to the fan’s interpretation but it implies that life can be sour as well as sweet and that you will have to taste and swallow the bitterness of life if you want to enjoy the sweet part of the fruit.

The music video begins on a hopeful note as a baby boy gains his first steps as he walks through his parents’ house. The sweetness of his childhood is referenced with meeting animals for the first time, having his 6th birthday, going to the beach, and experiencing pure joy at that age. Childhood innocence does not last forever so the boy ends up experiencing his first pains in life including the accidental burning down of his house, fights between his mother and his father, the divorce and exit of his mother from his life, pressures from his father to succeed as he ages into being a teenager.

Learning in school, riding his bicycle, summer days at the swimming pool are some of the joys of teenage life including his first experiences with girls as well with drugs and late nights with friends. Still though, the joys of discovery and youth are balanced out by his struggles with partying too much, getting into rights, being angry at the world and dealing with bad breakups. In one part of the video, the teenager emerges from the pool as a young man ready to take on the world in his 20’s. He thinks his partying days and life as a Bachelor will last forever until he stares at the woman of his dreams on New Year’s Eve and she stares back signaling a new relationship that will change his life.

They date, travel, live together, and the young man eventually proposes to the woman of his dreams. As the video speeds up, so does the aging and life of the man as he gets married, celebrates the birth of his child, and gets ready for middle-aged challenges and prospects. Moving into a house as newlyweds, getting a better job, moving up the corporate ladder, using his new car, traveling for work, going to important meetings, and shuffling along while growing a beard signifies how fast life speeds up the older you become. Sometimes, you’re running so fast that you can’t keep track of who or what you are. In the video, the man still remembers the little blissful moments of carrying his child with his beloved wife, family dinners, and trying to balance work and family until tragedy suddenly strikes.

The hardest part of life is unforeseen tragedies and we hope and pray to never experience any to happen, but this man has the tragic occurrence of seeing his wife and child running towards him across the street only to be hit by a bus and to be taken off life support. The song’s crescendo builds up as the man struggles through grief, longing, and how to move on when he knows he can’t but has to anyway. After the tragedy, what once was promising is now dull and at once he was fast to move through the world, he staggers slowly through it wondering what it is all worth and why keep going? How can one fill the void in their own heart when it was taken out of them and cannot be put back?

We see the man continue with his work, entertaining clients, meeting a new woman and getting married again but there is the lingering sense that it is not what he envisioned his life to be. He can have a child with her, but it won’t be the same as his first true love or bring back his first child. Trying to fill the void with an extramarital affair, fighting with his new wife, jogging and running to keep moving forward to futilely escape from one’s own pre-destined aging are all ways of coping both unhealthily and healthily as you go through middle age to becoming elderly in your later life.

Maybe if he stops running or walking or jogging, he will have to face his own eventual demise and departure from this world or face his memories of losing loved ones or losing his mother. The aged man with gray hairs continues to work, to exercise, to keep up his health by going to the doctor and trying to save his marriage. Some of these battles he will win, and some he will lose although we will never know from such a short video. Eventually, the man is elderly and looking back on his life from his bed and looks to be alone in the world.

However, he does not remember the tragedies that befell him as we all must endure in life sometimes. Instead, he remembers the first time he went to dance at a club, the way he looked at his firstborn child, hugging his beloved first wife, and how she stared at him lovingly on New Year’s Eve and how she stared at him at their wedding and when she gave birth to their child. He remembers the tragedy too but remembers those special moments that made his life truly worth living. You are left wondering after watching this four-minute video of a complicated, yet powerful life filled with tragedy and joy whether it was all worth it for the man. Would he do it again if he knew what was to happen in the future?

If we all knew what was to happen in the future until the end of our days, would we all do it again from the beginning? Would it be worth it even if there is pain, tragedy, and death? Would it be worth the love, joy, and pleasure that we experience as human beings as well? It really is out of our control, but this music video does an excellent job of pondering life’s deepest questions in only four minutes and only with the wistful yet dreamy lyrics of Thom Yorke from Radiohead creating a powerful combination of a great song and a great video. It may not be an original music video from Radiohead but whoever created it did a great job of getting a powerful message across to this 2-million strong audience on life, love, and loss.

If you would like to watch the music video on ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, you can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnfPaaMR6Qc

‘BACKSTORY’ Full Video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/245687147