Whether or not you think astrology is nonsense, Elon Musk isn't beating the allegation that Cancers are a bunch of crybabies with whiplash-inducing mood swings.
At least, that's the impression you get from quite a few anecdotes in Walter Isaacson's bombastic new biography of the mercurial business titan. Though Musk himself often demands extreme emotional resilience in his workers, it turns out that the man himself is prone to a surprising number of emotional breakdowns.
Take, for example, a story from a tense Christmas Eve in 2008. Musk was in the midst of securing money to save Tesla when the venture capital firm VantagePoint, an early investor, began "balking" at his strategic plan to move forward.
After spending the day on the phone while his then-wife Talulah Riley wrapped presents for their kids, a Christmas "miracle" came through — VantagePoint's funding was secured.
"Musk broke down in tears," Isaacson wrote.
Crying due to relief is, of course, understandable. Everybody has to let their emotions out sometime. But there's something striking about the macho Musk, who as the same book documents, often fires employees over small perceived slights or mistakes, sobbing to 60 Minutes over perceived sleights against SpaceX.
Isaacson has a dark interpretation of Musk's nonstop emotional rollercoaster, which he documented as manifesting in "catatonic" periods when Musk seemed dead to the world even when his executives needed him at business meetings: not only is Musk clearly traumatized by his tough-love father, but he's taken on his penchant for mood swings and conspiratorial thinking.
Describing the elder Musk, family cousin Peter Rive suggested to Isaaconson that the infamous patriarch's moods, which could turn on a dime, seemed to rub off on his celebrity son.
"You never knew what you were in for," Peter Rive says. "Sometimes Errol would be like, 'I just got us some new motorbikes so let’s jump on them.' At other times he would be angry and threatening and, oh fuck, make you clean the toilets with a toothbrush." When Peter tells me this, he pauses for a moment and then, a bit hesitantly, notes that Elon sometimes has similar mood swings.
"When Elon’s in a good mood, it’s like the coolest, funnest thing in the world," Rive continued. "And when he’s in a bad mood, he goes really dark, and you’re just walking on eggshells."
Indeed, Errol, who also happened to be born on the same day as his most famous son, appears to be the root of much of Musk's damage, as yet another Riley exchange exemplifies.
Early on in their relationship, [Musk] would stay up late at night and tell Riley about his father. "I remember one of those nights, he began crying, and it was really horrendous for him," she says.
During those conversations, Musk would sometimes lapse into a trancelike state and recount things that his father used to say. "He was almost not conscious, not in the room with me, when he told me these things," she recalls. Hearing the phrases that Errol had used in berating Elon shocked her, not only because they were brutal but because she had heard Elon use some of the same phrases when he was angry.
Crying about his father seems to be something of a trend for Musk, who, after he learned that his father had impregnated his step-sister Jana Bezuidenhout, ended up unloading about him to a Rolling Stone reporter — though he couldn't, it seems, bring himself to say the words.
"He was such a terrible human being," a teary-eyed Musk told RS's Neil Strauss back in 2017. "My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil."
As Strauss remarked in his story, Musk then turned to his then-chief of staff, Sam Teller, and claimed that he couldn't remember the last time he'd cried.
"You’ve never seen me cry," he told his employee.
"No," Teller responded. "I’ve never seen you cry."
We'll let readers decide whether that was the truth or yet anther example of Musk's employees brown-nosing their unpredictable boss.
On the one hand, Musk's histrionics humanize him — but on the other, they make his narrative of calculated, logical decisionmaking at his companies seem thinner than ever.
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