Saturday, October 25, 2008

Top 6 People Whose Work I Greatly Respect but Do Not Love

I can be a pretty big dick about stuff I don't like, I'll be honest.  And I can be pretty quick to call hackery on something that is critically adored but I think is crap--Quentin Tarantino, for existence, or Sam Kinison, or the TV show Weeds would never be on here; I think critics are all just plain wrong about their quality.  It takes a rather interesting type for me to feel this way about, but on occasion, I do:

6. Charles Dickens

Formally, he's a great writer.  He's strong with word choice, and he has about as good of a conception of character as any writer I know.  He just doesn't tell stories that I'm interested in.  At all.  "A Christmas Carol" is probably the best example of what I simultaneously admire and don't like about his work: it's a smart, moral tale, but one that doesn't in any way hit me as interesting, neither in character, nor message, nor (and especially on this one) structure.  I find it boring.  Well-told, but mundane.

5. Lenny Bruce

Lenny Bruce is someone whom I'd firmly place in the category of "satirist," and perhaps the last person to really be truly satirical about how we use language.  I distantly respect his work as "smart," but I don't think I've ever laughed at his stuff, even though I've laughed pretty hard at contemporaries of his like Bob Newhart.  It's not that his comedy feels "old" to me, it's just that it doesn't really hit me.  Perhaps the taboos he's breaking, which would have been funny then, just aren't funny becuase they no longer exist (because he broke them?).  In any case, whenever I listen to Bruce, I don't feel like it's because he's that funny, but just because he's "important."  Which, no doubt, he is.

4. Steve Martin

Steve Martin is probably named as an influence by more comedians that I like than any other comedian.  I just don't think he's that funny.  I get that he's doing really "out-there," self-consciously performative, often non-sequitur stuff before anyone else does, but it just doesn't really make me laugh.  I also think that he's a mediocre writer, and that Shopgirl was truly atrocious.  But mostly: his stand-up.  Interesting, and I get that comedians I like liked it, but it just doesn't do anything for me.

3. Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is a group that clearly made a certain type of arena rock music with more skill and proficiency than anyone else has ever done.  I don't think they're untalented, neither do I think that they're hacks without any sense of melody or structure.  They're just...not a band that I'm interested in at all.  I can listen to the riff of "Ocean" and respect it as bitchin', or to the chorus of "Whole Lotta Love" and think that it is both catchy and truly rawk.  It's just music that is too guitar-y, too tied to a certain ethos that I don't identify with, and too...not making me ever want to come back to it...for me to really love.

2. Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman was probably the last person in current history--and may go down as the last person ever--to have a genuinely new concept of comedy from what came before.  He had a really firm conviction that comedy was never "in your head," and he only wanted to get the gut, uncontrollable laughs that came from genuine surprise.  Which is a pretty cool concept: anyone who really sticks to their guns on what they seriously believe is funny and doesn't cave into "cheap laughs," whatever they think those are, is pretty respectable to me.  Problem: I don't find Kaufman that funny.  His stand-up mostly strikes me as reaching, and while I think he's funnier on Taxi, he supposedly thought that was the biggest sell-out move of his career.  Still, it's almost impossible for me not to have respect for someone who has this strong a commitment to their comedic art (to the point of living his life as a massive joke), even if that isn't one that really resonates with me.

1. James Joyce

I'm currently reading Ulysses for a class (just to brag a little), and it's not like I actively dislike it.  I think some of the stuff he's doing is pretty cool, and I have great respect for the massive amount of work that goes into something like this.  He obviously has a clear picture of almost everything minute about the lives of his characters, and he's doing extremely innovative stuff to examine them.  I not really interested in intensely oblique storytelling.  Or rather: I'm not very interested in stories that don't exist at all on the surface level.  What I'm trying to say is that chapters of Ulysses are pretty cool--once you've read them three times and then had them explained to you.  Contrast this with Gravity's Rainbow, which is immensely entertaining even if you just understand the surface level, then gets better the more you look at and consider it.  Ulysses doesn't have a surface level.  It's not that it's not brilliant--from a formal perspective, it clearly is--but I wish it was a lot more basically accessible and enjoyable.

Oh, and also: supposedly Joyce used to always ask people if they thought his books were funny.  Ulysses isn't funny.  Sorry, but burying a dumb scatalogical joke in several layers of complexity doesn't make it any better than a dumb scatological joke.  Again, my comparison: Pynchon is hilarious.  Joyce is extremely well put-together, but really not funny.  Oh, another thing: man, I really did fucking love that bird girl passage from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I just can't bring myself to love Joyce as a whole.

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