Hot Dead Guy: John Steinbeck (and How He Embarrassed Me for Life)

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My friend Noel Cordle, a gloriously personal (but not nearly prolific enough) blogger, has a series of posts called Hot Dead Guys. This morning, as I turned off my Kindle on the train and the random author screensaver image appeared, I thought about how John Steinbeck could totally be one of her guys.

It also brought to mind this story:

In 10th grade, my honors English class read The Grapes of Wrath, and although I can’t really remember my feelings toward the book at the time, I now look back at it with this haze of sentimentality. What I do remember was that while tooling around on the Internet one night while we were reading it, I found a Rage Against the Machine song called “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and printed out the lyrics to read to the class. I didn’t know at the time that it was a remake of a Bruce Springsteen song, and I can only imagine what my teacher was listening to at the time, so no one mentioned it.

When my teacher asked what sort of music Rage Against the Machine was, I said, “Heavy metal rap?”, and immediately and simultaneously, my two best friends, whose respect and acceptance I craved more than anyone’s in the world, both looked at me like I was an idiot and said, “NO.”

I still carry that with me. And still think I’m right, of course.


  1. Serial says:

    I can’t help but hate Rage Against the Machine. Probably because I think you’re right, too.

    Also can’t help but love Grapes O’Wrath, cos my dad’s family is the Okie > Bakersfield transplant story.Even though he’s from southern california, my dad has a southern accent when he gets ornery.

    • I think they fit into a very specific moment in my life when I was weirdly drawn to the goth kids in my school (but, like, never talked to them or anything, because that’s gross) and thought wallet chains were really cool. Now RATM seems like a joke. I have to point you to this video with lyrics transcribed by what must be a 12-year-old. I especially like the handwritten title screen.

      The fact that you just said ornery tells me all I need to know about your dad. I hope he says crick and warshcloth like my dad.

  2. Noel says:

    He is pretty hot, but not so much in this picture. That ‘stache kind of weirds me out. I had a great teacher for the Grapes of Wrath, so my experience was good overall, but what I will never forget is sitting in a room full of 11th graders when we had to read and discuss the quite memorable ending of the novel. Yeah, it’s really hard for kids to be mature.

    • Oh, man, your pointing out his mustache made me realize that living in Brooklyn has totally numbed me to them. I used to think they were gross, but now I basically don’t know anyone who doesn’t have one. HIPSTERS!

      I don’t remember how my class handled the end of the book, but considering how I myself can barely handle thinking of it now, I imagine it wasn’t good.

  3. Tracey says:

    Ha! I totally remember you bringing the song lyrics into class, but I do NOT remember the musical genre classification incident. I think that was a time in my life when the words “heavy metal” could only be associated with things that I loved deeply, while I hated RATM with the fire of a thousand suns. I’ve come to to have much more neutral feelings toward both of those things as the years have passed.

    Also, that mustache gives Steinbeck sort of a Joe Albaneeze feel. Am I right?

    • But you ARE going to a showing of that Ultimate 4 or whatever movie, right? With Metallica and Megadeth and Slayer and someone else who obviously isn’t important to me?

  4. No, dude, you’re right. And everybody knows it.

    I’m about to lose the one tiny morsel of street cred I might’ve had:

    I found out about RATM because of The Crow soundtrack.

    Let the throwing of rotten tomatoes commence.

  5. bybee says:

    There’s a picture of Steinbeck taken at about the same time in which he’s leaning on his elbow, looking into the camera and holding a cigarette in the hand with the leaning elbow. He’s got such an intense look…oh my!