I’ve always been wary of those who seem too smart to laugh or too cool to dance.
And I spend far too much time in my own head to appreciate those who act as if their bodies were little more than a way to walk their heads around.
I believe I posted not too long ago about finding myself at a dinner party during which the very highly educated, cultured and artistically refined people in attendance insisted that I must surely be mistaken in my appreciation for Lady Gaga.
“You think she produces these outfits? Crafts the sound of her songs? Stages those performances? Oh, she’s a good marketer,” one of them said, betraying perhaps a wee bit of envy, “but she’s merely an average singer with an entire entourage around her producing spectacles to promote the illusion of originality and talent.”
They seemed to pity me that I’d fallen for this razzmatazz. But actually, I pity them.
I’ve been a middlebrow kind of guy all my life, raised on TV (and why the songs from Captain Kangaroo, like “The Ill-Assorted Guard” and the show’s theme song keep bubbling up into my brain lately I can’t say) until I stopped cold turkey for about ten years starting in the mid sixties. I got into folk (middle brow) and rock (low and middle), and rode along with many others the arc of the brow from Presley to Paul Simon, from Janis Joplin to Janis Ian.
I groked those who straddled brow and class, like John Lennon and Richard Pryor, whose outrage and brilliance introduced street freaks to primal therapy while making college professors and culture critics finally realize that the wisdom of the gutter could be illuminating.
For me, if art’s not fun, it’s probably only interesting, and I’m not interested. Like with music — if you can’t move to it, what the hell good is it?
Take opera for instance – please! There’s never been an art form I’ve more loved to loath! I feel the same about madrigals, acid jazz, chamber music, Thelonius Monk, and any music that lacks both melody and rhythm. As far as I’m concerned, appreciating music intellectually is akin to visiting a restaurant to eat the menu. It’s like people at the museum who yap it up in front of a masterpiece, demonstrating how well they merely understand it. It’s like being alive only less so.
So now you see my secret: I’m actually a reverse snob, aren’t I? Can’t help it, it’s contagious you know. I guess in part this is a reaction to the knee-jerk feeling of embarrassment or even shame I feel when someone tells me why, e.g., I may think I enjoy the humor of Two and A Half Men, but that I must somehow be mistaken, and then proceeds to patiently explain why. Or at least that’s how I take it. So to react against feeling shamed, I turn the tables and judge the critic.
Actually I envy those who can be spellbound at MOMA or The Met when mostly I’ve no idea what I’m looking at. But I believe some high brows should perhaps envy us Philistines as well. My sensibilities may not be refined enough to appreciate Strindberg or Stravinsky or a Stradivarius, or a de Kooning or classical ballet (yechh!) or most poetry. Which may be a pity for all I’m missing out on, especially in this town. But likewise I believe others have tastes that are not coarse enough to appreciate the pedestrian pleasures of life. Like bacon, and a Bud Light (or a lit bud for that matter); burlesque and Ballys and other vulgar indulgences.
As I’ve noted here, I’m probably biased because I started shacking up over a decade ago with a woman who systematically proceeded to corrupt my taste by introducing me to the joys of straight laced middle class American guilty pleasures, like cruises, Disney World, and Vegas, that this old hippie thought beneath him and would otherwise have neither tasted nor thoroughly enjoyed. These days she turns me onto great television shows I’d never (ever) have watched like, yeah, Two and A Half Men, and Two Broke Girls (which New Yorkers shouldn’t miss) and Modern Family, and full length 3D cartoons where animals talk…right over the heads of all the kids in the theater.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve gone through life as a Devout Eclectic and I suggest you do too. And this applies culturally as well. There’s so much to take pleasure in and learn and grow from across the entire spectrum of high brow and low, left and right, sober and snockered, hip and straight, East and West, wholesome and profane. Don’t get stuck on one end, because you never know when you might die and thereafter lose out on the other.
And when you die, whacha gonna do if God doesn’t ask why you weren’t more virtuous, but instead asks why, after He spread out the world before you like a banquet, you spent your entire life over on one end of the table?