Friday, September 25, 2015

Loving to Make Fun of Things We Love

A few years a go I turned 40. When it came time for me to decide what I wanted to do for my birthday, I thought about what my favorite activity is, what I really I enjoy doing that I could share with other people, was that I really enjoy sitting around with like-minded friends who have a similar sense of humor and experiencing media that we can make fun of. It could be movies, it could be music, or it could be TV. So that's what I did. My husband said, "I see you looking wistfully at those quinceanera dresses in the windows of those shops on Western Avenue. I will buy you a beautiful princessy cake-layered quinceanera dress for your birthday, and you can have a party." This, of course, because I have the fashion sensibility of a sixteen year old girl. Once we saw that those dresses are thousands of dollars, I told him not to buy me a dress. Instead, I said I would just wear my wedding dress, because it was pretty princess-y. I told everybody to come over and watch ridiculous found footage curated by a friend who collects this sort of thing while we ate snacks and I wore my wedding dress. So I turned 40 and all I did was sit around and eat snacks and make snarky comments with my friends because I think  that may be one of my favorite activities.

It is also true that I like making fun of things I like. Jerry Seinfeld (or maybe it was Jeff Garlin) said in an interview with Judd Apatow in his book Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy (don't ask me what page, when I finish reading it maybe I'll write about it), something to the effect that good comedians make fun of things that they like. I can understand this. I may love something but can also see the preposterousness in it, which is why I understand when people make fun of music I like. I definitely feel like we are capable of seeing multiple sides of something, both loving things and why somebody would make fun of it. One of my friends was recently wearing a Whitesnake t-shirt, and asked her "Are you wearing that shirt because you like them or you're being serious?" She answered the perfect answer (which is probably why we're friends): "Both. I am a fan, and I stole this t-shirt from my brother, but I mean, come on." Clearly this is someone who can both enjoy something but see it for it's preposterousness, which I can totally understand (especially in reference to Whitesnake; I have done Here I Go Again at karaoke multiple times).

I remember making a mix tape for a friend in college and she sent me a letter back itemizing hilarious comments about each of the songs. I loved each song on the tape (which is why I selected those songs) but her commentary making fun of each song was so hilarious -- I could simultaneously understand why she said those comments and enjoy the music at the same time. It also proved to me that she actually listened to the tape, so that made me appreciate her comments all the more.

I wrote the zine The Bad Lyrics Project that listing some of my favorite bad lyrics, but I will be the first to say that a lot of the lyrics I mentioned in the zine come from songs that I do actually like. In fact, the reason I stumbled on many of the lyrics was because of my familiarity with the songs because I listened to many of them with some amount of frequency.

This is all why I loved The Worst Rock n' Roll Records of All Time: A Fan's Guide to the Stuff You Love to Hate by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell (Citadel Press). This book appeals to the same part of my brain that generated the Bad Lyrics Project. And I feel like it would be an awesome college class to teach: Music to Make Fun of 101, and companion volumes for required reading in the class would include Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics or maybe Chunklet magazine issues #18 and #19, The Overrated Issues Parts I and II.

I chuckled aloud at parts of this book and marveled at how they articulated things that I always intuitively felt but never had words for. When my husband suggested I read this book, he said,"This book reaffirms how you feel about particular songs," which gave me a nice feeling of recognition and a kind of vindication. There were moments reading this book that I was like, "Holy shit. I could have written that. Not as articulately or as hilariously, but that sentiment, that is totally how I feel about that song and is EXACTLY my style of humor." It's kind of weird when I run into writing that strikes me that way, which doesn't happen very often but when it does it feels really special. When I read this book I thought There's a version of me out there as manifested by these two other music writers who are like, my energy or something, but with way better writing skills. Or something. Like me. But better.

Without getting into the specifics of what artists and songs they talk about in the book, suffice it say that I love that devote some space to some of the music I grew up with when MTV first went on the air when I was a kid (although the book isn't limited to that).

But I will however, list my favorite quote, on pg 116. It's actually in reference to a particular album, but it totally stands on its own point, in reference to performers in many different fields:

Why does nearly every rock and roller we trust let us down sooner or later?...Is it that we hold impossibly high expectations for performers to maintain over the long run, or is rock and roll truly the domain of the young and hungry? At the very least, there is a propensity for performers to start choking on their own fumes once the become rich and famous.

I particularly like that bit about propensity for performers to start choking on their own fumes. It's like a version of believing your own press, or becoming so successful in terms of making money that you are then unable to recognize when your music sounds good anymore because your idea of success has changed. I think intuitively we all know that the "fume choking" happens around the time you go from doing work about the universal struggles in life to struggles with fame. When the switch happens, nobody takes you seriously anymore -- the moment you start with the "why can't you people just leave me alone?" business the public is done with you.

Is rock and roll the domain of the young and hungry? Maybe. I'll have to think about it some more while I sit here eating Funyons in my wedding dress.

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