There are a lot of people who think they grew up with Bill Cosby. They saw him with his bee pen. They saw him on The Cosby Show. They remember him acting all weird for those Jell-O Pudding Pop commercials – a series of commercials I’m sure Jell-O is working overtime to remove from every corner of the Internet.
For me, it’s been a couple of decades since I last listened to a Bill Cosby record. But I’m quite certain I can recite a routine of your request on the spot from memory. This is the level of dedication my 8 year old self gave to learning the Ways of the Coz. Like many other comedians, he taught me lessons about the English language no high school teacher ever did or could.
Noah? Please, don’t insult me. The Chicken Heart? That’s more like it. I have heard just about everything from his early days. Wonderfulness, Why is There Air?, I Started as a Child, To My Brother, With Whom I Slept, Revenge. Even a live album called 7:15-8:15, 10:15-11:15 – his supposedly “dirty” album, at least by his buttoned down standards.
In short, I idolized the man for most of my childhood.
Many of us did. So much so, in fact, that when allegations of sexual abuse surfaced a few years back, most of us just seemed to laugh it off. The allegations barely registered in mainstream media circles. Why wouldn’t they disappear? This was the Coz we were talking about!
Our Idol Reappears
In the last few decades, my interest in Bill Cosby has been on the back burner. I’ve had a life to lead and new lessons to learn. At first, I learned those lessons at my jobs; I learned those lessons being a musician. I learned later by being a father and a husband. And rightly or wrongly, I learned a lot of lessons in the bars and clubs that I hung out in, the ones I visited and the ones I got kicked out of. One lesson in particular stands out to me, now that my idol reappears.
If you’ve ever bothered to hang out in public spaces, you know the guy I mean. If you hung out in bars and clubs filled with 20-somethings, you definitely know the guy I mean. You didn’t know what he did outside the club, you didn’t know where he worked, you didn’t know where he lived. You had no evidence to support any claims made against him; any claims you had heard were slim and not altogether credible. Let’s face it: most of us were never really good witnesses in the first place.
But if you hang out in public spaces, you know there’s always that one guy next to whom you do not want to be found standing when the lights go on.
If we know nothing else based on accusations, depositions and the rest, it is that Bill Cosby was definitely that guy for a certain clique somewhere in this world. Bill was the guy around whom you recommend your female friends keep their drinks covered. He’s the guy that, if the cops raided the place, there was no telling what manner of drugs might be on his person, but you’re sure as shit you didn’t feel like answering for any of them.
No, he wasn’t the guy you demanded leave the club. You couldn’t really do that, anyway. You had no evidence, no specific crimes, just a world-weary feeling about this smiling guy with the easy appearance. When he arrived, you found yourself clinking glasses with him and then quietly moving to the opposite side of the room. He was everybody’s friend, and all the girls seemed to love him. You couldn’t make him leave, but he was the guy that you made sure none of your friends left with.
Bill Cosby: That Guy.
This is my idol. And yours, as well. Whether or not Bill Cosby is guilty of any specific crime in any specific allegation, it now appears we’ll never truly know. The statute of limitations is up for all civil cases against him. But you weren’t wrong about that guy, and you aren’t wrong about Bill Cosby.
I’m not even sure that defining his behavior as “rape” helps, though certainly, it fits the legal definition. Bill makes it clear in depositions that, not only does he not seem to take responsibility for what happened, he actively believes himself to be a Don Juan to whom women are naturally attracted. That he needed drugs to seal the deal doesn’t appear to connect for him.
Why would a person so famous and so beloved need to dope up women to sleep with them? If you’re asking that, you’re already starting on the wrong foot. Nobody needs to. He wanted to. And on some level, I guess we let him.
Sooner rather than later, all of us grow up and find out our heroes weren’t quite what we’d hoped they would be. Sooner rather than later, the lessons we learned in our lives come back to reassert themselves and we’re forced to reinterpret our childhood fascinations. But in the Coz’s case, his lack of culpability makes him seem all the more monstrous. Out of our sight, our favourite funny man has already fought and won a battle on the wrong side of ethics. And the guy got away with the whole thing. I’m struggling to understand what it means, but it seems like this is somehow the last lesson Bill Cosby taught me.