My first live concert was Deep Purple at the New Haven Coliseum in 1972. My first 45rpm single record was Paperback Writer by the Beatles and the ‘flip’ side was Rain, both penned officially by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. My first LP was a 12 inch disc, also by the Beatles, Yesterday and Today. My first and still favorite movie and actress/female vocalist of all time is the Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland. There is probably a tie for the two best songs ever written, “A Day in the Life” by Lennon/McCartney and “Working Class Hero” by Lennon without McCartney. Best Album, Sgt. Pepper, with second going to its concept sister The Wall by Pink Floyd.
I’m a fan of folk music and I believe most popular music is poetry set to music so it will be listened to more widely, a la Bob Dylan. Some of the best lyrics and poetry ever written have come from the folk genre. I think of people such as Woody and his son Arlo Guthrie. Dylan and Woody and Arlo’s friend Pete Seeger, now a nonagenarian. Carole King, Carly Simon, Phoebe Snow, James Taylor, Joan Baez are all poets with an acoustic guitar. I can’t listen to or view Melanie Safka without falling in mad schoolboy *crush* all over again.
I developed a reluctant appreciation for classical by living in Boston and hearing the Boston Pops and the BSO at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Patriotism is irrelevant when you hear the Pops doing the 1812 overture with cannons and fireworks over the Charles River for an intimate crowd of a quarter million. Hartford’s awesome symphony I fell in love with. Beethoven’s 5th is absolutely my favorite piece.
Rap gets a bad rap. There’s lots of good rap out there that’s non-violent and constructive and it’s brought music to many kids and young hip-hop fans who wouldn’t otherwise be interested. Country is a genre that has its writers and performers who are not ‘Second Amendment Remedy’ ignoramuses and who have the capacity to think and write deeply as well as produce some melodious and beautiful sounds. I think of people such as John Prine, Johnny Cash, and Iris Dement.
Live theater is beautiful and valuable and needs to be maintained and regrown. The best productions are high school productions. I saw one version of West Side Story this year at Queensbury, NY High School that was awesome in its enthusiasm and in the talent of the female lead. I think of the off-Broadway theater here in New Haven, Long Wharf and its storied history. One of the best plays I ever saw in its drama was a commentary on South Africa while Apartheid was still happening entitled “Sizwe Banze is Dead.” Wow. Wow. The artistic director of the Old Vic Theater in London is an actor named Kevin Spacey who sacrifices time and money by spending most of his professional time in London on maintaining and developing this theater and some awesome productions there.
Cinema is cinema, and unfortunately is big business and smaller ventures don’t get seen as they should, more later. Visual arts such as paintings, drawings, sketches and the like are underappreciated in American culture but not elsewhere, I do believe. I’m a fan of Van Gogh and of M.C. Escher in particular. I’m a big fan of 19thcentury Russian literature, and I firmly believe that the finest piece of fine art ever produced was Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment and that it is the Magnum Opus of human accomplishment. I believe that not only the political, but the literary value of Solzhenitsyn’s works, especially the 3 volume Gulag Archipelago, rivals that of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and their contemporaries from the previous century. My favorite U.S. author was Kurt Vonnegut, and I had the pleasure of meeting him in Boston at a presentation he gave. I’m also a Steinbeck fan, Hemingway, and the Bronte sisters also rock my boat.
All of this however, is popular culture, and pop culture has its place. There is a commonality that it provides to human experience. Western Civilization, and the USA in particular is ethnocentric, and I recognize my own ethnocentricity. I haven’t had exposure to much Asian, Latin American, or African culture whatever. I hope to change that for this project.
I have views. My view is that American culture; especially TV stinks in general and has been in a long decline. I despise the sheer quantity of violent movies. I don’t find violence to be entertaining. I didn’t like Clint Eastwood movies or John Wayne idiocy growing up and still don’t like violence in film or entertainment unless it serves some useful purpose. I believe that there is rampant sexism in our culture. I believe that nudity, or people embracing or making love need not be ‘dirty’ and that if presented differently does not need to be ‘porn.’ I believe graphic violence and violence marketed as entertainment with no redeeming social value IS pornographic in the extreme. I believe this type of porn contributes to the actual violence in our social lives from street violence to domestic violence. I believe that the so-called Moslem ‘extremists’ and those of other cultures who see American culture as anarchic have a very real and serious point to make in this area. I believe that our cultural demands are being met by greedy money grabbers and that this is one primary reason for our intimidation of the rest of the world militarily since we dropped two nuclear weapons on specifically chosen civilian targets at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. There are other reasons, but many boil down to financial and material greed.
Even dining as presented to the world by America is obscene. The world’s most successful restaurant has a ridiculously limited menu (try ordering a hot dog, for example), poor quality food (the burgers stink, they just do—and try asking for a slice of tomato or grilled onion on your quarter pounder), food that’s not even real (the cheese is cheese ‘product’ and the ‘shakes’ the FDA will not allow to be called Milk Shakes because they haven’t seen enough milk) and it’s obscenely unhealthy: World–America Gives You MCDONALDS!!! Even our version of retail for the world stinks, Wal-Mart strives not for mediocrity, but poor quality products at as high a price as they can muster once their CEO Rob Walton crushed the competitors and farmed out manufacturing to 3rd world countries clamoring for consumerism.
So popular culture in America is in decline, as is our political culture and our military dominance of the world is likely in its death throes in the longer scheme of things, thank God. And I do, for transparency’s sake, since I am a Christian. I also believe the redemption of our culture does reside in part in local and lesser-known artists and cultural institutions being heard, viewed and felt. So I hope to do some of that. Commentary, interviews and presentation of original art. These are aims of mine here. So stay tuned, it’s been an interesting start for me, I’ve already posted on blues guitarist Johnny Winter, will post an interview with comic Paula Poundstone and was followed on Twitter tonight by another comic, Stephanie Miller. I’m enjoying this project immensely and believe cultural change begets many other beneficial changes. Thanks for your support with my other projects and give feedback please.