By Scott Christian
Photos by Bjorn Iooss
Perched on a hillside deep in the brown scrub of Laurel Canyon, Erik Anders Lang’s home is almost unsettlingly quiet. No traffic, no sirens, no dreaded leaf blowers. It’s so quiet, in fact, that you can occasionally hear the gear changes of a car peeling through the canyon several hundred feet below. “There isn’t a nice blanket of noise to disguise things,” says Lang. “One day I had a cricket right outside my bedroom window. One cricket. It was so loud I thought I was going to lose my mind.”
It’s the sort of all-enveloping silence that Lang — a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and television host — equates with the meditative quality of his favorite pastime: golf. Though he only took up the sport six years ago while on a family trip to Florida, it has since become a major part of his life. Most notably through his web series Adventures in Golf, as well as through his recent documentary Be the Ball. In Be the Ball, Lang explores golf’s connection to the mystical, and its surprisingly close alignment to Eastern spiritual practices. “In my first year of learning about golf, I found this world that I didn’t think I would find,” says Lang. “This kind of spiritualist, meditative golfing community.”
Exploring books such as Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom — which tells the story of a man who, while on his way to an ashram in India, meets a mystical caddy during a layover in England — as well as Steven Pressfield’s The Legend of Bagger Vance, a story based on the Hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita, and even the tale of Carl Spackler’s Dalai Lama encounter in the movie Caddyshack, Lang found that golf stories often circle back to mystical encounters. All of which led him to wonder whether golf is actually a much more spiritual game than anyone wants to admit. After all, it was through golf — or more specifically through Dr. Joseph Parent’s book Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game — that Lang found his own way to Eastern meditation practices.
In person, Lang comes off as the sort of laid back jovial type who would be just as quick to accept golf’s mystic qualities as he would be to decry those sorts of high-minded pretensions. He loves serious subjects but is not a fan of anyone taking themselves too seriously. Which no doubt made for some odd bedfellows when he first left his native New Jersey to pursue a career as a photographer in New York’s notoriously pretentious art world. His first big break came when the world famous photographer David LaChapelle hired him as an assistant. Ultimately, his time with LaChapelle would be short-lived — it ended unceremoniously two years later. Before parting ways, LaChapelle suggested that filmmaking might be a more suitable career path. “I took it as an insult,” says Lang of the suggestion. “Because I wanted to be a photographer just like him.”
Rather than heed LaChapelle’s advice, Lang pressed on in pursuit of his ambitions, eventually landing a job as photographer Todd Eberle’s assistant. Unfortunately, that job would end ignominiously as well. “We were going to Europe to do a portrait of Jean-Paul Gaultier at his house, and I forgot to bring the film. I was an awful assistant.” Lang laughs at the memory now, but despite his failures, he was in fact a talented enough photographer to land his own gallery show in Los Angeles. “This company reached out to me and said they would like to print some of my photographs and sell them in their gallery.” So he came out to L.A. for the show and ended up meeting a girl at the opening. “I just never left,” he says. “I bought a 1969 Benz and stayed with her. I remember I picked the car because the tape that was in the tape deck was Aretha Franklin. It sounded so good, you know? So I sublet my place in New York.”
It was in L.A that Lang finally found his way into the filmmaking, despite his earlier reservations. And he did it through what could only be described as the unchecked confidence of youth. While taking a portrait of Takashi Murakami, the artist asked Lang if he knew anyone who could make a video documentary about his traveling exhibition. Lang said he would do it. “I told him, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing, but if you give me half the money now, I will buy the gear and make this film.’” Surprisingly, Murakami accepted the offer, and Lang ended up traveling the world to film the documentary. “And then from there I just never looked back.” Along with documentaries, Lang has since directed countless music videos, written a screenplay, and carved a niche for himself filming behind-the-scenes specials for big budget movies. And then, of course, there’s his web series Adventures in Golf.
Though nominally about the game itself, Lang says that the show is really about the people and places he encounters while playing. “I travel around the world and play golf with some weird and interesting people. And then we talk about life, about culture, about whatever.” It’s the game’s power as a framing device that he says he loves most about it. “For some people it’s a business thing, or maybe time away. For others it’s nature, or hanging out with friends. But I think underneath is this webbing that’s not really clear of what it is. I think golf is basically whatever you make it.”
Erik wears the M-Flex Flatiron Golf Polo in Heather Grey and the Highland Lightweight Golf Shorts in Light Grey Palm, Caddies wear the M-Flex Flatiron Golf Polo in White and the Highland Tour Golf Pants in Black
What really drove that point home for him was a round he played recently with his parents at Old Head Golf Links in County Cork, Ireland. “My parents are in their seventies now and, while we’re nearing the end of the round, the caddy, who was a pretty spiritual guy, looks at me and says, ‘You know, you don’t realize it, but you’ll remember this day 20 years from now.’ I was just done. There, on the rainy fairway, that will forever be tattooed in my memory.”