There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,
If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt
refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.
Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.
Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:
I wanna be dead,
In bed please kill me
‘Cause that would thrill me
It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.
Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”
Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. It’s a narcissistic howl that we hope to get attention for, not to “get better” (that’s usually done in private with family, friends, and professionals), but for the attention itself.
It’s why a lot of art produced eschews beauty, grace, timelessness, and even things like plot, melody, form, or anything conventional, and acts instead as a shaken fist at existence itself.
An auteur wishes to explore his own neuroses. An entertainer–like Zappa, say, for he didn’t see himself as anything else–reserves the right to make fun of them while he gives his own audience way they want.
Of course, the sensitive artistes among us have devoted fan-followings. That’s because much of what they produce is quite good. I myself love the music of Pink Floyd, and yet recognize that much of their best work is little more than chief lyricist and composer Roger Waters’ anger at the music industry and the loss of his father in World War II when Waters was a mere toddler.
Say what you will about filmmakers like Darren Aronofaky or Christopher Nolan or David Lynch–they have their quirks, but we all have or quirks, and this can make art exciting and interesting. And they’re talented, which as always, helps immensely.
And yet, there has to be more than personal vendettas disguised as art, more than therapy sessions inflicted upon the public at large, more than political screeds that just so happen to track perfectly with the artist’s own politics. No debate. No exploration of deep, fundamental questions. Just garishly featured hurt, whether it makes for good art or not.
So we see that personal vendettas are not only featured in art, but in policy.
Why get better or improve if you can force the world to bend to your issue or neuroses?
Are you bad at this or lacking that? Just make that thing you don’t have undesirable or illegal.
And start with the kids. . . young minds are easily molded.
What about things like heroism? Objective truth? Beauty? Aspirations? The ineffable?
I guess they’re not as exciting as featuring your hurt.
I leave you with this, courtesy, once again of Mr. Zappa:
OUI: Do you ever worry that you might be too rational?
OUI: Does anybody ever say that about you?
ZAPPA: No. Most people don’t think I’m rational. They’re too busy featuring their hurt. They find it irrational not to feature your hurt. That’s how fucked up they are.