It would be easy to be disappointed in this book, and I am sure there are people who are. There will be those who pick it up looking for the sort of fan-fiction autobiography that kept Trekkies alive during the lean years. People who will find a thin volume filled with some of Roger’s more outrageous outbursts presented as aphoristic koans pulled from the show’s dialogue something less than the Confessions of an Advertising Man-like memoir we thought Roger was penning.
And if that’s what you’re looking for, then by all means, give this a miss. But that would be to miss the point. Or rather, to miss a great opportunity.
Because we love Roger Sterling for the same reason we love that thin slice of Sinatra in the Nelson Riddle-Gordon Jenkins years. We love him for his ineluctable confidence. That confidence born out of young men who came of age during the Depression and then won a war while the world destroyed itself. Who looked around in 1945 and saw themselves the last men standing. Who saw among the rubble of Tokyo and Berlin and London and Rome, starving foreigners fighting over the right to consume American movies and American music and, perhaps most importantly of all, American soft drinks and soap. A confidence that built Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe and cars with big fins. A confidence that transforms “Luck be a Lady” from the desperate sewer plea of a two-bit Depression-era gambler into a demand, into the claiming of a birthright. Into something that says “Listen. I’ve seen the way you’ve treated other guys you’ve been with, and if you think you’re going to pull that shit with me, you are out of your fucking mind.” A new kind of confidence, crass perhaps, but uniquely and distinctly American. A rat pack confidence, perhaps, a Bogart and Hemingway confidence that didn’t look over its shoulder or cough nervously in the presence of European royalty.
A confidence grounded in accomplishment that frankly is rare these days. A confidence that is as different from the kind of self-absorbed, narrow-minded, pompous egotism we are exposed to today as Jim Brown is from Chad Ochocinco. And while I am not here to sing the praises of any kind of greatest generation, I am smart enough to realize the difference between the legitimacy of the boasting of a generation that hit a triple, and of a generation that was born on third base.
Sterling’s Gold brims with that difference. It positively swings with it. (“I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to start saying a lot of words you don’t like, sweetheart.”) And that is precisely what makes it ultimately useful, even to people who aren’t fans of “Mad Men”. Love him or hate him – or find him morally reprehensible – Mr. Sterling never met a problem he couldn’t solve, sweet-talk or steamroller, and “Sterling’s Gold” is positively dripping with that kind of abiding faith in oneself. Dip into it at any page and your step will become lighter, your chin will rise higher. No problem will seem insurmountable. No person will seem unconvinceable.
Is there bravado? (“I don’t know if anyone ever told you that half the time this business comes down to ‘I don’t like that guy.’”) Certainly. Is there presumption? (“I love how they sit there like a couple of choir boys but you know one of them’s leaving New York with VD.”) Absolutely. Is there the kind of wrongheadedness that is inexcusable in this age and probably indefensible in any? (“Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.”) Without question. Does Mr. Sterling often tip over into a sort of self-congratulatory braggadocio that borders on bullying and bigotry. (“Let me put it in account terms. Are you aware of the number of hand jobs I’m going to have to give?”) Yes, yes, he does.
But he also has balls. And though it may be impolitic to admit it, his confidence, his belief in himself actually helped his clients trust his decisions and helped his agency endure through the bad times. People rely on confidence. When they lose faith in themselves, they look for it anywhere. They draw strength from it because they know that with it they can create great things. Things that change the world.
With Sterling’s Gold you can too. And good God, do we ever need it now.