There’s cruel perfection that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died at age 46 Sunday in New York, once played Lester Bangs, a rock music critic who died in April 1982, on the big screen.
There’s a sliver of pain that comes with the appropriateness of their similarities – both men who enjoyed Van Morrison and were so passionate about their work that they intimidated and earned deep respect of their peers.
Even in the manner of death – accidental overdose – it appears Hoffman and Bangs will unite.
It’s fitting that Hoffman played Bangs, a firecracker with a Hunter S. Thompson wild man streak after deadline, in a manner that captured his essence. He peeled back the veneer of Bangs’ hard-partying ways to find him alone, human and frail, making him a relatable mentor to the protagonist of “Almost Famous,” teenage up-and-coming writer William Miller. Bangs guides Miller through the experience of writing a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine.
When Miller needs to write his story, he has trouble being honest because he’s made friends with the band he’s covering and doesn’t want to upset them. Hoffman, who had a cold during shooting, croaks into the receiver that Miller must keep his objectivity and remember he’s not one of them.
“I met you. You are not cool,” Hoffman chides as Bangs. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
It was one of many flawless soliloquies Hoffman delivered during his 20-plus-year career. He’s perhaps best remembered for 2005’s “Capote,” a role that earned him an Oscar for best actor.
During his acceptance speech, an overwhelmed Hoffman thanked the director and writer of “Capote,” who he said, “I love, I love, I love.”
“You know the Van Morrison song, ‘I love, I love, I love,’ and he keeps repeating it like that?” Hoffman said off the cuff.
Hoffman was referencing the song “Madame George,” a track from Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.”
Bangs, too, loved “Astral Weeks.” He wrote an immense, arresting piece on it for “Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island,” a collection of critics picks for such a scenario, even singling out the same passage from “Madame George.”
“He sings the word ‘dry’ and then ‘your eye’ 20 times in a twirling melodic arc so beautiful it steals your own breath and then this occurs: ‘And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves,’ ” Bangs wrote.
More than his work as Bangs, Capote, Caden Cotard, Brandt, Father Brendan Flynn, Plutarch Heavensbee, Art Howe or any other of a number of memorable appearances, however, is the body of work Hoffman leaves. It’s a résumé impressive and expansive enough to make many actors and actresses jealous. Even the few roles I mentioned are far from a comprehensive list.
The death of Hoffman brings the hurt of loss, but also, as a movie lover, the pain of knowing how phenomenal he was and that we’ll never see new work from him after the “Hunger Games” sequels.
Hoffman was awesome, not in the overused sense of the word to mean that something was great, but in the truest sense of the word – he inspired awe.
His death leaves the sting of a greedy, unsatiated audience weeping for more about what could’ve been.
It’s similar to Bangs, who was critical of rock and begged relentlessly for it to maintain a vitality that kept playing after the needle lifted. He was committed and devoted to his craft and died at a time when readers would’ve loved more from such a luminary force of criticism.
There’s a profound sadness that, even in death, Hoffman parallels Bangs. It cements them together in a way that will color all of the work they left behind differently.
But to read Bangs’ writing or to watch Hoffman’s work? Oh, to love. To love the love that loves to love.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.