Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Davy & My "Mister Rogers Day"

I'm so excited.

I just got off the phone with Davy Rothbart. I'm going to Chicago this weekend to cover Lollapalooza for MTV News, and wanted to see if -- by some long-shot -- he'd be there too. See, Davy lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To guys like me (read: Easter-oriented corporate types sitting at a desk twenty-nine stories above Times Square), Ann Arbor and Chicago are close. They're actually 240 miles apart.

That Davy would be at Lollapalooza, though, isn't such a stretch. He started Found Magazine, a cool, boutique collection of, well, found objects: photographs, love notes, doodles. Somehow, the aesthetic of the magazine seems to fit with Lollapalooza.

Moreover, though, Davy is a contributor to "This American Life," which -- as you know -- is hands-down the best radio out there. In fact, the show is how I came about Davy. "This American Life" is produced by Chicago Public Radio. So -- yeah, you got it! -- I thought maybe Davy'd be in town.

Short answer: no, he won't be in Chicago this weekend.

Still, we had a great conversation. I really relate to this guy. In fact, I'd kinda' like to be in his shoes: author, magazine publisher, documentary filmmaker...

First, though, allow me to explain Davy's connection to Mister Rogers. It's a classic, one he recounts in his New York Times' remembrance shortly after Mister Rogers' death).

    When I was 3 years old and my older brother was 6, he wrote a letter to Mr. Rogers. Thrillingly, Mr. Rogers wrote back. They began a little correspondence, and the next summer, when my brother told Mr. Rogers that our family was headed to Massachusetts for a week's vacation, Mr. Rogers invited all of us to chill with him for a day at his summer home on Nantucket.

    We had a glorious time. Mr. Rogers sang songs to us, played with us in the sand and told us stories about our friends from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. It was a day I have never stopped glowing about.

Sounds kinda' familiar, right? I especially like how he says that he's "never stopped glowing." I totally feel the same way. This city beats me up almost every day. All I have to do, though, is pause a moment and listen for Mister Rogers voice. He always has the perfect advise. And I always end up glowing.

Pretty lucky.

So Davy's not going to in Chicago, but -- as it ends up -- my timing was (as is often the case when Bigger Things are at play) impecabble.

"Wow," he said. "It's so funny you call. I just emailed Mr. McFeely!"

Here's where the plot thickens.

Davy was emailing Mr. McFeely -- whose real name is David Newell, and who functions as Family Communications Director of Public Relations -- on behalf of his friend Lizzie Gottlieb. Lizzie is a documentary filmmaker whose 2006 film, Today's Man, chronicles her brother Nicky's diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. In the film, Nicky speaks of his life-long ambition to meet Mister Rogers. Cut back to Davy Rothbart, and David Newell's email.

Are you beginning to see why I'm excited!?!

So Davy's going to be in New York in September. And he's invited Chris and I along to Pittsburgh in November.

Now, I'm obviously excited for the film's sake, and our mission of "spreading the message." But I'm also excited that Davy and I spent twenty minutes on the phone talking about growing up, growing old, depth and simplicity, art and commerce, how we each suffer from what Bono calls "the tyranny of ideas" (Davy's in the middle of booking at 65-city book tour, while wrapping production on his documentary, "My Heart Is An Idiot"), and all of the things with which we both wrestle with and aspire to. It was, in short, inspiring, and energizing.

As we hung up, I was reminded of when Tim Madigan told me, "Fred loved bringing people together."

And I was reminded of Chuck Close. He's the artist who paints huge portraits comprised of tiny rectangles and squares. If "Mister Rogers & Me" is anything, it's an attempt to sew together a few portraits -- Davy's, Nikki's, Tim's, Chris', mine -- that, taken together, begin to take the shape of The Man himself.

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