There’s an interview with Bill Murray I just happened to see on Joy Behar’s CNN show (probably in a hotel room) a few years ago, and one of the things he said really stuck with me:
I’ll give you my whole wrap on fame, I think everyone becomes a jerk for about two years when they become famous. And you get to—I give you—so I give people two years to figure it out and pull it together.
This reminds me a bit of my experience with San Francisco, because I think part of the problem with the place is that there’s absolutely nothing in the culture that puts the brakes on people’s narcissism. It is, by its very nature, an infinitely gentle, endlessly indulgent place (see Virginia Postrel’s wonderful essay on Silicon Valley weather) that encourages people to believe at every turn that they are exceptional human beings for having been enlightened enough to make their home in God’s perfect paradise at the dawning of the Age of the Technological Aquarius.
I often tell the story of how, on a flight home from one of my visits to the Square offices in SF a few years ago, I sat next to a woman who told me the dramatic story of how she managed to escape a controlling, loveless marriage to an Italo-Nigerian oil magnate straight out of Swiss boarding school and ended up fleeing to SF because she couldn’t think of anywhere else appropriately safe and nurturing to go (I’m currently considering pitching this idea to Wes Anderson). Likewise, I’ve always loved the story of how Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, a sickly Glaswegian lad struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, found a welcoming and inspiring place to convalesce and pursue his nascent musical impulses in San Francisco. I myself owe lot, both personally and professionally, to my time in the Bay Area—I would in no respect be the person I am today with my time there, and in fact, I still think fondly of my first two years there as a magical, transformative time in my life. I miss the place. But over time, I realized that one of both the virtues and the problems with SF is that, basically since the Gold Rush times, it has always been a welcoming haven for people seeking to escape something, to reinvent themselves, to be their own person, to make a fortune on the frontier.