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Pop Culture Connoisseur

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pop Culture Connoisseur

"Think of it this way: Between work, sleep, meal preparation, writing checks, walking the dog, cleaning the litter box, talking on the phone to somebody you don't even want to talk to, and checking e-mail for good news that never comes, how much time do you actually have for fun?"

Except I don't empty the litter box anymore because our cats were eaten by mountain lions.  But you can substitute "exercising relentlessly to keep the effects of traumatic arthritis at bay" and not miss a beat.

I've probably read close to 5,000 books.  This includes many classics, including, but not limited to, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Slaughterhouse Five, Catcher in the Rye, Wuthering Heights, and 120 Days of Sodom.  OK, that last one isn't so much a classic as one day disturbing wasted in rehab that I'll never get back. Point is, I've read a lot of fucking books, and having spent about half my life in college (well, maybe a quarter is more accurate), I have had more than ample exposure to the greats.  Yet, that passage above may be the single greatest I have ever read.  Where's it from?  That's Mick LaSalle from last week's San Francisco Chronicle and an article on the worst movies of the year.  What can I say?  I'm a pop culture guy.

Some would call if lowbrow.  Others uneducated, except I've got a couple degrees, which count for something (yeah, 100K in student loan debt for a degree I can't use).  But ain't nothing I want from highbrow.  I've said it before.  I'd rather read Bukowski than Bishop, Lou Reed than Slyvia Plath, and I find David Foster Wallace incoherent, dull, and full of inaccessible bluster, no matter how many bandanas the guy wore.

                                 "Look at me.  I'm a regular guy just like you.  I don't shave either."

There are writers I went to grad school with whose head would probably explode reading that (especially the part about Bishop, whom every poet seemingly wishes they could blow but who gives me a terrific pain in the ass).  I'd endure these writers, trotted out and extolled, who bored me shitless, every semester, biting my tongue.  (Because though I may be an angry big man, I do not like confrontation or rocking boats.)  As my buddy P. Scott once said, after I bitched at length in private of my contempt, "Well, of course you don't like so and so.  He/she is not in your millieu."  He's right.  And my milieu is me.

There's a scene in Seinfeld where George is trying to land a job in publishing, and his prospective boss asks him who his favorite author is.  George says Mike Lupica. I had a friend in rehab who said every man, if you could strip away the facade and airs, is secretly George Costanza.  It's a joke in a sitcom, of course, but I wonder if you hooked some of these people up to a lie detector, or just caught them in a moment of naked candor, if anyone actually A.) read Finnegan's Wake and B.) knows the what the fucking thing is even about.  (I guess we could add C., if they actually liked it, but I don't think we would get past A. or B.)

I am a pop culture guy.  I make no apologies for that.  It wasn't always that way. When I first got to San Francisco, I hung around with a pretty hip set, and so I used to pretend not to like pop.  I denied my love of Springsteen and the Yankees, Catcher in the Rye and big blockbuster movies.  Instead I pretended to like obscure foreign pictures and Fugazi, even though the former lulled me to sleep and the latter gave me a headache.  I don't act like commercial is a dirty word anymore.

Don't get me wrong.  I've never watched American Idol, Glee, or any other reality TV program.  Though I am aware they exist.

I knew this guy, Brian, who refused to go see Pulp Fiction.  Why?  Because in 1994, everyone went to see the movie and loved it.  So Brian wouldn't.  For him popular equalled stupid, and so he listened to a lot of Fugazi and missed out seeing one of the best films ever made.  (He also ended up being a male prostitute, but I don't think those things are [necessarily] related.)

I, however, am not above admitting I love The Rock.

I need my art to speak to me, in a very very personal way (and who can't relate to a biochemical engineer fending off a terrorist attack from Alcatraz Island?).  As much as I love Pulp Fiction and True Romance, Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds do nothing for me.  Don't directly apply to my life, which is the main criterion for my art, don't care about it.  How many times did I watch (and read) High Fidelity after my divorce?  Hornby's book (and Cusack's movie) spoke so much to me during that very difficult time that I took a page from Rob Gordon and called every ex to see "where it all went wrong."  (And would you believe in every case the answer was definitely not me?


Not sure where I draw the line, why the Boss is cool but Billy Joel is lame; why Seinfeld is awesome but  Friends sucks; why Mick LaSalle's article made me laugh but Peter King is the most unoriginal sports writer around (and yet I still read his milk-and-cookie "Monday Morning QB," religiously, every week). Perhaps it's as simple as the lyrics to Gluehead's song, "U100."  I don't know art but I know what I like.*

(*Glue doesn't actually remember if this is the title or not.  To be fair, we were doing a lot of drugs at the time.)

I am not a hipster.  I openly embrace LOL Cats.

Or whatever the version is for adorable puppies.

You can have the penthouse; I'll take the gutter (though not literally, of course; it stinks down there).

My lawyers used to call me a conundrum.  Which I always took as a compliment. Who wants to be uniform and predictable?  Actually, I suppose I do (  But if like Mike "Soupy" Supinski says being a Christian in Berkeley is the new punk rock, maybe being such a mainstream conformist cliché is the new original?

Maybe that's not the question.  And as long as I don't have to pretend to find value in Ted Roethke, or try, once again, to get through Moby Dick, what do I care?

I think part of the problem I had reading in high school, and ultimately why I was such a bad student and started to fall by the wayside, was the unchallenged canon trotted out every year.  You didn't get exposed to Kerouac or Celine, except by the cool chicks in the Art Dept., and back then, cool chicks didn't want anything to do with me.

It's like the Butch Walker song.  Nobody knew Bryan Adams wasn't cool.  The TV just told me he was.

At 41, like Gluehead I know what I like.  Mick LaSalle got it right.  I don't get a lot of time these days to spend on fun (i.e., art).  So why waste any of it pretending I give a damn about a villanelle?     

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