Anderson Cooper spoke at Hard Rock Live last night, not representing CNN or his new daytime talk show in particular but just him as a guy, telling stories, making perfectly timed self-deprecating jokes, and winning over everybody. But at some point, it went deeper than that. I realized: I want Anderson Cooper to be my friend.
He's the perfect example for our times. Raised in relative privilege, given lots of opportunities, told from an early age that he could do anything. "Follow your bliss" was Gloria Vanderbilt's sole career advice to her son, and she cribbed the line from a TV show. He graduated with a liberal-arts major from the Ivy League. He didn't know what to do with himself. The world was his oyster. Sound familiar, Gen-WTF pals?
But somehow he found the perfect thing to do, because standing in front of people and talking -- not as an anchor or host or -caster but as a pal, the Vanderbilt kid next door -- is something he does like no one else.
"You do realize I'm not Julio Iglesias?" he said when he stepped onto the stage. "He's tomorrow night
." The arena was half-full of Democrats and Republicans, women and men, 100 percent entirely normal people. They applauded and laughed. Outside, it was a normal night in Hollywood. Red lights at the Asian Massage. Drive-up liquors at Happy Pappy's. People talking about luck in elevators. But in here, we were rapt. Anderson had something to show us.
"The smell of cooking food fills the air and taunts the hungry." It's a video clip of a brown-haired Yale-grad Anderson crouching among corpses in Somalia. "You don't realize they're bodies at first." He sounds almost impossibly sincere. It's the first broadcast story he ever did, from 1992.
"I wanted to be places where pain was palpable," he told us about that trip. His brother had just committed suicide. "I wanted to learn from people how to survive."
His travels have taken him to more than 60 countries, and this is where the other part of my longing for friendship comes in: I found myself, rather embarrassingly, being inspired by his speech. Sure, it was peppered with lines like "We're all capable of anything," but Anderson Cooper really meant them: We could all, under some circumstances, be the cokehead socialite or the child soldier wielding a machete, watching his family get raped. We're all hanging by a thread. This is what you see when you're a Vanderbilt who travels to every corner of the globe to find whatever raw stuff is under our comfort and privilege. In his words, "the truths that are revealed in the dwindling light of day." Tell me he didn't write that one in advance.
"It's about not turning away from a combat zone," he said, speaking to veterans in the room. "You're running towards what everyone else is running from."
Shit, I think. My friend Anderson could teach me some things about doing my job.