Feature Their Hurt

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. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

Everyone Has A 9/11 Story

Sixteen years after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, and the world is still as dangerous and violent as ever. So few problems have been solved. So many seem to pop up by the day.

It’s almost as if violence and bloodshed, hatred and division, are indelible parts of the human condition. Who knew?

I was going to write about some negative aspects of 9/11, things people have said to me, and so forth. But then I realized, why dwell on the negative? Today we commemorate one of the most negative days in American history. I’d rather not add to it.

That’s why these kinds of commemorations–even dumb blog posts–are important. A whole generation born after 9/11 or too young to remember is now entering adulthood. It’d be tragic if these stories were lost, the event downplayed, or worse, trivialized and forgotten.

Remember the fallen and the survivors, remember the heroes, and remember our enemies. Just remember.

And listen. Everyone has a 9/11 story the way our ancestors had Civil War stories and Jim Crow stories and Depression stories and Pearl Harbor stories and civil rights stories and Vietnam stories. We all need an ear to listen, not for our own vanity, but so we never forget.

It’s cathartic. The rituals and reverence ensure that we take certain things seriously, which in the world of snark and smirking detachment we’re all occupying is more vital than ever.

So what’s my 9/11 story? Continue reading “Everyone Has A 9/11 Story”

The Creation Disease

In times of strife and trouble, uncertainty and violence, people seek escape. This is not weird at all. Imagination is a key that unlocks the door separating what is from what could be. And the mind is the one place that is uniquely yours.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Think about the period of the Great Depression through to the end of the Second World War. America fondly remembers this era where Hollywood, using the power of talented storytellers and actors, produced films that not only bolstered America’s spirits during the war, but also its soul.

The times are reflected in art, and whole there’s a push-pull, with art often driving and normalizing certain things, very little art can be divorced from its milieu. And people create, no matter how dark things may be. Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war relate how the power to keep their imaginations from being broken by their oppressors.

And for those of us who like to create, it really is like a compulsion or a disease to do so. Whether it’s music, painting, fiction, poetry, machinery, or tinkering with cars, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. Tough circumstances only seem to drive us further into our crafts.

I suppose this makes sense. If you feel that your days are numbered, or that there is precious little sunlight poking through the gloom, then you’ll want to get as much out of you as you can before the end comes.

Of course, this is melodramatic. Things aren’t that dire yet. Or maybe they are. Some days I really do think that the world order as we know it is coming to a violent, ugly end in a matter of weeks. Maybe it is.

See, one curse about having the creation disease is that you think of weird things all the time. That’s why you want to get them out on paper, on canvas, or tell jokes about it. A part of thinking these weird things involves being curious and making connections, extrapolating what could happen, when it could happen, and why.

We’re not always the best at game-planning what to do about it, although I may only be speaking for myself. Still, seeing a lot speculation from prominent creators whose answers tend to be “Vote the way I do!” or “Agree with me about everything or you’re evil (and stupid)!” leads me to believe that this is a common failing among the majority of creative-types.

The creation disease is not only a disease of creators, but also a disease of creation. This dark strain is present in the mainstream nihilism that is still so fashionable in much of our culture: There is no hope. Everything sucks. The impulse to “burn it all down and start over” offers precious few hopeful scenarios as to what that starting over would be like, or why it would work.

Even worse is the impulse to take something beloved, cherished, and that works, and deliberately ruin it, like an angry teenager pissing on a Rembrandt. “Watch how I totally subvert and ruin the legacy of Tolkien/Lovecraft/Shakespeare/Austen/Star Trek!”

Such edge! Such insight! Such talent! Three cheers for destruction! Continue reading “The Creation Disease”

Write From the Heart

I hate lists. 

I hate bullet points. 

I hate how-to guides. 

This is not entirely accurate. I do enjoy reading them, but I sure hate writing them. 

Lots of great, high-quality bloggers wrote these things. I read them and enjoy them and learn from them. 

But I don’t like writing them, even though I’ve tried from time to time. 

It’s a pretty American thing, isn’t it? Lists and bullet points? “Here’s how you do it, bang bang bang.” No pretensions, no bullshit, no flowery language. Get to the point. 

But here’s the thing: I’m a bullshitter. I’m a dissembler. I like flowery language. 

I’m a storyteller, and a story-reader. I like stories. I like writing narratives.

Successful blogs, though, tend to have bullet points, lists, and “actionable items.”

These are great. 

But they’re not my style. 

I always feel disingenuous when I write like this. 

It’s funny, then: Why blog? What am I trying to do? Continue reading “Write From the Heart”

Nihilism and Its Discontents

Nihilism Calendar

Ah, nihilism. The belief that everything sucks and that nothing matters. Province of the cool kids as they dress in black, smoke cigarettes, and watch depressing movies and listen to depressing music. Lots of us outgrow these types of thoughts around the time we graduate high school. But for many, nihilism isn’t just the way that they live their lives. It’s something they want to push onto all of us, especially by targeting our children.

How do they do this? By changing the culture, of course.

If you want to change the world, go into entertainment.

I’ve said this countless times, and I mean it: More so than politics–which obviously has an effect on our lives through laws, rules, and regulations–entertainment, whether it be books, movies, or music, is far better at that all-important job of changing hearts and minds.

Politics is downstream from culture - Andrew Breitbart

This is not to say anything so outrageous as “Video games make you kill people!” But culture matters. Look at how television shows like Will & Grace, for example, helped change the culture to be more accepting of gay marriage, so its creators say. Or how the original Star Trek broke barriers of race and nationality by having people from all different parts of the world, and also aliens, just all treat each other as equals.

So art has an effect. And artists love to talk about how they are subversive, that is, undermining things about society they do not like.

Dissidence is well and good, and it can serve a vital purpose. But what if the things that the art is looking to subvert are actually good? Something like, say, all of Western civilization?

Drastic? Maybe. But let’s take a topic near to my heart: The way fathers, and men in general, are portrayed in movies and on TV, including many geared towards children.

Dad is always a bumbling schmuck, who can’t do anything right and gets no respect from his children or the women in his life. 

If you don’t think that has an effect on people, then maybe you’d like to come over here into my windowless van . . . I’ve got candy . . .

This goes to my broader point which is this: Nihilism, though trendy, is bad for the future.

The kinds of narrative that permeate a society matter. Let me explain. Continue reading “Nihilism and Its Discontents”