I sometimes confuse people, because they want to pigeonhole me (as we often try to pigeonhole people) but find the task daunting. Often, the confusion arises when they realize that I love Tori Amos, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Peter Gabriel, and Kate Bush, but also Kelly Clarkson, Rihanna, and Pink. That my favorite movies list features “American Beauty,” “Clue,” and “Mona Lisa Smile.” My favorite authors include Thomas Hardy, Toni Morrison, and Joyce Carol Oates, but also Agatha Christie and Marion Zimmer Bradley. That’s right: I walk the line between academia and pop culture, obscure and trendy, undiscovered and overly exposed. And I walk the line with pride.
I can remember a few times in my life when I met someone and hit it off immediately over our love for the divine Ms. Amos. Talk would turn to music in general, and we would discover that we liked a lot of the same bands and singers. However, when the person realized that Madonna is my other favorite performer, he or she would sometimes blink, perplexed: how could this be? How could I love Tori Amos and Madonna equally, when they were/are such different creatures?
In recent months, I bonded with a young man who some might refer to as a hipster, or indie dude, if you need labels. He and I both love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and I exposed him to Bat For Lashes, while he turned me on to Muse. When the time came for my annual Favorite Albums of the Year blog, he read it enthusiastically, but immediately sent me a text message: “DUDE, WTF? YOU LIKE KELLY CLARKSON?” He just couldn’t understand. This has happened numerous times in the past, and it’s never malicious. Usually, the person gets a good natured chuckle out of my varied interests, and more often than not, I’ve been able to turn people on to something that they might not have tried in the past. And vice verse … I love learning from my friends.
It’s true, though: I like a lot of stuff. I enjoy alternative music, pop, dance, rock, goth, punk, new wave, some country, even a little electronica. I don’t judge pop culture too harshly, and I truly feel that a lot of people are missing out on things that they would enjoy, simply because they feel the need to be “hip” or to live up to a certain image they think people have of them. On the other hand, I think some people who only listen to pop are too quick to judge music they might find “weird,” or to scorn people who really want to bring some artistic integrity to their work and not just make a quick buck.
Life is too short to listen to everything, to read every book you may want to read, and to watch every film that piques your interest. You have to make some decisions, some cuts, some judgments. However, I don’t think it’s right to dismiss something popular simply because it’s popular. Do you know how many people I have turned on to Desperate Housewives? People who judged the show, thought it sounded stupid, or were just annoyed at all the hype. And these people got sucked in, became huge fans, and realized that there can be beauty in an odd combination of satire, suburbia, and soapy plot-lines.
Some people are just so snobby when it comes to music and literature. I was an English major, and I think I know good writing. But I am not too stuck up to enjoy a mass market horror novel by John Saul once in a while, even if I might cringe at some of the short sentences. Stephen King is a good example of an author I find to be literary, even if he is one of the biggest sellers of all time. How can you deny the impact of his storytelling after all these years, and all of these accolades? And musically, let’s look at Rihanna’s recent ballad, “Russian Roulette.” The song is soaked in drama, raw emotion, and visceral, gut-wrenching lyrics. Why is it not a good piece of work just because it’s by the woman who brought us “Pon De Replay?” Pop music can be art, and that song is as solid as anything put out by a “real musician” last year.
Don’t get me wrong: I tend to like singer-songwriters, musicians, and authors who push the envelope, consistently hone their craft, and try to elevate their respective medium to a level of high art. However, I feel that there is a lot in pop culture that transcends the money-making machine and offers real substance and beauty.
This year, I plan to read the Dickens novels I have not yet read. But I also might try Christine Feehan, just because paranormal romance is hot right now, and I have two co-workers who are totally addicted to her. I can go from classics to mainstream without missing a beat.
It’s fun to have so much to choose from in life. I enjoy going from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Silversun Pickups to Kelly Clarkson.