Thursday, August 9, 2012

Morbid curiosity

When I think about my generation, I don't have the same feeling of solidarity that The Who did with theirs. I don't feel the enthusiasm for my years of teenagehood like a lot of others do - and it sets me apart in a kind of silent, but ever-present way. Though I am so fond of the 1990's (and still partake in the cultural norms of that era quite frequently), I evolved into the 2000's a step behind the rest of the people my age.

I don't know what happened during that period of time. As we transitioned out of childhood entertainment and frilly pop music, to a more electronic age masquerading as unsuperficial. Like hipsters of the early '00s, we listened to our new age rock and hip-hop and pretended like we were somehow ahead of the curve. Our taste was superior because it didn't make sense. Nothing was melodic or pleasant anymore. It was all about shock value.

So as someone who prefers the "expected," I retreated into history for my entertainment, even when the future was on everyone else's agenda. I watched TV Land and musicals on tape, I learned most of The Beatles repertoire and tried to pick up classic books rather than Young Adult novels.

And aside from alienating me from the common taste, it also alienated me from that which I admired. Because something always stands in the way of liking something that is antiquated - mortality.

I love to read poetry. There's something really amazing about getting into someone's head through their rhymes. It's not like reading a diary or a blog or an autobiography. There's something more organic about poetry. It gets forced out of your fingers rather than you forcing it.

So reading poetry can feel like getting into someone's mind. Like feeling their presence next to you while you read, telling you how to understand each word, each cadence, each syntactic choice. And if they happen to be gone from this world, then it feels like you're bringing them back to life just by reading them.

This is how I always felt in language arts classes reading Shakespeare. If people asked me to make sense of a line for them, it was almost like as I was sitting in the classroom I was spiritually channeling Will's ghost. Figuratively, anyway. That's how I made sense of his poetry. Logic didn't come into it as much as the spirit.

Yet that doesn't replace this sadness at being born in a generation that doesn't have the luck of interacting with so many great minds. The more years we tack onto our cultural history, the more that gets lost and jumbled. The more we forget.

Just the other day, Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music to the Broadway musical A Chorus Line. It made me so sad to think that for the last 19 years of my life, I hadn't given a second thought to who composed that musical. Even in the short history of Broadway theater, so many of its greatest creators have already passed on.

Among them are some of my favorites, including Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein and Jonathan Larson.

In their years working for the stage, they made some of the best music in recorded history. Their songs have touched millions and on a personal level, are some of my most played on iTunes.

Not long before Marvin Hamlisch's death, the incredibly prolific author Gore Vidal also passed away. Hearing of his death was especially shocking for me, since just a few years ago I'd seen him participate in a Q&A at the Los Angeles Festival of Books at UCLA. I knew nothing of the author, and admit that I still only recognize him by a few book titles and his name, and it disappoints me that I didn't take the initiative to read any of his novels during his lifetime.

It can be a rewarding feeling to know that someone you admire is still alive with the possibility of creating more art. I felt this way about Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and J.D. Salinger, two of my favorite authors, until they passed away fairly recently.

It can also be incredibly sad to think that someone you could have admired if you'd only taken the time to experience their work, has passed away before you could give them your fullest appreciation.

It's kind of a silly concern, since even if you had been a fan of theirs while they were alive, they probably would never have known or cared about your interest. But this is the kind of concern that sets me apart again from the masses of my age group. Or maybe from the masses in general. I tend to be overly emotional and want to feel a personal connection with the art I consume.

I'd probably be better off not feeling so strongly about so many dead people. But if I didn't, then I'd also have lost a lot of great experiences of my life. Like going to John Keats' house in London and feeling the love I have for the poet rush over me with every visit. Or like seeing Mickey Rooney at the airport in London and realizing that this man sitting less than 20 feet away from me knew and worked with Judy Garland. Judy Garland, as in one of my foremost idols from as early as two years old.

These are the things I think about. So while you're all off gallivanting with your copies of Fifty Shades of Grey while listening to Florence and the Machine or who/whatever the heck is popular right now - please don't laugh at me, but I really don't know or care about popular music - I'll start planning my trip to Highgate Cemetery in London. Those are the people I'd most like to see.

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