A Midwinter’s Musical Tale, compiled by Tymon Smith

The JRB presents tunes and accompanying editorial from our EAP member Tymon Smith.

Natalie Portman and I are exactly the same age, born on the same day in the same year. She in Jerusalem and I in Johannesburg. 

Other than that we have little in common—I’ve never won an Oscar although I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few people who have; I eat meat, am unmarried and have only cats, no children and have given up believing in my ability to save all the animals and ensure the survival of the planet, although I do try and recycle. 

We share a birthday—Nat and I—with Johnny Depp, which used to be a good thing but now is a dodgy one; and Michael J Fox, which is still a good thing. Nat, Johnny and Mike have all been in Tim Burton films. I have written to Mr Burton pointing this out and indicating that because I share their birthday, I should automatically be up for consideration for his next project but I’m still waiting to hear back. 

Natalie P has 7.2 million Instagram followers, I have 502. She’s pretty much been famous since we were in our early teens; I have been sort of known to a small group of people in the greater Johannesburg municipality and perhaps a few people in Cape Town since I was in my early twenties. 

She was also born in Jerusalem as Natalie Hershlag and, after years of being a supporter of her homeland, she’s recently started to question and criticise it and move towards being on the righter side of history. As a Jew who has nothing but problems with Israel and its blood-boiling fascist bullshit, I welcome her to the brotherhood-sisterhood of the self-loathing Jews, although I would, to crib from Larry David, point out that I may hate myself but that has nothing to do with being Jewish. 

So you see, we have very little in common, Natalie Portman and me, except for the fact that last week we both woke up—she in France, where she lives with her husband Benjamin Millepied and their two children Aleph and Amalia; and I in a not as efficiently-functioning-as-it-is-supposed-to-be middle-class suburb of Johannesburg, where I live with my girlfriend and our three cats—to realise that we are forty now and apparently this should mean something. 

I can’t speak for Natalie, but I can tell you that many things in my life are better than expected and many are not nearly as good as I thought they would. Mine are only the blues of just another white bourgeoise man. God only knows what they must be for an Academy Award winner with 7.2 million Instagram followers who cares about animals and saving the planet and has a child named Aleph.

The thing is though, it helps sometimes to have something or someone so very far beyond and above you to compare yourself with—it’s humbling, depressing, down-to-earth-slamming. So even though she doesn’t know it, I want to thank Natalie Portman for being out there, living her best life and keeping me grounded. Her global success makes my low-expectation Joburg existence possible.

Finally and completely beside the point, here is some music that has nothing to do with the famous actress Natalie Portman. It makes me happy and sad and happy again and reminds me that when it’s cold outside—and inside because of loadshedding and water shortages and eternal holes in the pocket—there’s still so much to hear and find in the record shelves to be pleasantly or horribly surprised by even in the midst of the dreaded Third Wave. 

Whenever times are tough, days are dark and friends are few—I offer you this sage advice from an unwise forty-year-old man-child: just thank God you’re not Natalie Portman. 

Listen here:

  • Tymon Smith is a member of The JRB Editorial Advisory Panel, and a freelance journalist who writes about the arts and South African history. Previously the literary editor of the Sunday Times, he is the recipient of a silver Standard Banks Arts Journalist of the Year Award for feature writing. He was the head researcher for the interactive DVD Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square, and is working on a book about the Johannesburg police station.

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