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Saturday, March 3, 2012
Current Affairs ... Society ...

People are always dying and it’s hard to keep up with that, even just the celebrities. But I’ll offer a quick comment or two on three recent celebrity deaths.

First, Christopher Hitchens, back in December. Hitchens was quite a phenomenon in “the world of letters”, but I mostly knew of him from his book reviews in The Atlantic. And to be honest, he was one of the most abstruse and incomprehensible authors to appear in that magazine. I couldn’t figure out why they kept him. Hitchens covered a wide variety of topics during his many years with The Atlantic, and had a way of muddying the waters even with relatively famous subjects like Gandhi and Stalin. But a majority of his reviews focused on British and European writers from the 1800’s thru the first half of the 20th Century. His finale is on G.K. Chesterton, and as usual, I hardly know what he’s getting at. Something about Chesterton’s conservative defense of Roman Catholicism in the context of British history, but it’s hard to make out; Hitchens always assumed that you were an expert on his latest field of interest. No time to get dilettantes up to speed.

So, I am not going to miss his writings. He was an interesting guy given his hard-core atheism, which he stuck with to right to the end, God bless him. A man of principle! I don’t respect his unflinching certainty that God isn’t real, just a hollow human fairy tale; but I do respect his guts. Although, he was also something of a show-boater, a guy always looking for attention. Some found him narcisstic. I myself was not impressed by his stunt of being waterboarded, nor by his incessant debunking shots at Mother Teresa. Not that these pursuits had no merit, but with Hitchens it was usually shrill, over-the-top, “lookie here, look at me” like some kindergardener. He might have gone to the grave holding back his real feelings on the God question, just to savor his last few minutes in the limelight as the noble atheist philosophe. He lived for public attention and perhaps he let his deepest inner feelings and human vulnerabilities die for it.

Next, Andrew Breitbart. To be honest, I can’t say much. I never paid any real attention to the guy, other than the ACORN video and the Shirley Sherrod smear. Not much to be proud of, so I won’t remember him.

From what little I know, Breitbart was a hard-core Fox News conservative, and like Hitchens was also an attention junkie (the James O’Keefe ACORN video he promoted turned out to be mainly a cheap shot). Unlike Hitchens, he wasn’t able to use his impending death to squeeze a few last hurrahs from his fans (and those who did take him seriously, for whatever reason). [ I did see evidence of his legacy recently when reviewing a federal grant award document, with its express restriction on filtering any funds to ACORN. ]

Finally, Davy Jones of the Monkees. He is probably remembered most for his cute British accent in the opening soliloquy from the Monkee’s 1967 pop-hit “Daydream Believer”. (I.e., Producer: “Seven.” Jones: “What number is this, Chip?” Producer and Group: “Seven !! A !!!” Jones: “Okay, know what I mean, like don’t get excited, man. It’s ’cause I’m short, I know.”) Also from the Monkees TV show back in 1966 and 67; that was required watching when I was a kid.

Yes, it was mostly cheese, but it was nice cheese. There was nothing challenging about the Monkees and their music, but nothing offensive either. Yes, the Monkees were a capitalist venture, purveying humor and good-enough musical talent for a Baby Boom generation reaching puberty. The Monkees had their moment in the sun, and graciously exited when their founders and backers made enough dough and wanted to move on to the next big thing. A lot of people bought their records and watched their show (including my brother and me), and felt their lives were a tiny bit better for the trade. Hey, that’s capitalism at its best. No one got hurt, no one got exploited.

And to be honest, I still like the Monkees’ version of “Daydream Believer”. I still like the general theme of a guy who is happy enough with a quotidian life with his girlfriend, despite frustrations like the early-morning alarm clock needed to keep a paying job, and ditto for the shaving razor that sometimes nicks you during your morning bleariness. I like the simple piano background and Jones’ innocent vocals. It says something to me about just enjoying the day. Not all that far from Zen practice, really!

The New York Times published a detailed story about Jones’s passing and the overall Monkees phenomenon. And of course, being a music writer for the haute NEW YORK Times, Margalit Fox had to be condescending. Ms. Fox noted that the Monkees rarely did the instrumentals in their recorded music, and that their one outdoor stadium concert in New York was accompanied by a discordant horn used in baseball games, which “didn’t seem to hurt the musical evening”. And then she attempted some irony at the end of the article, playing on Jones’ common British name. She said that the late Mr. Jones’ most significant legacy will be that his brief fame caused another aspiring singer of the time named David Jones to change his name. “So he called himself David Bowie”. (Fade to black).

Oh wow, Margalit, how witty (and a little narcissistic;a budding Christopher Hitchens, perhaps!). David Bowie – as if Bowie wasn’t ultimately all about pop himself. Yes, Bowie was certainly more complex and long-lasting then the Monkees, certainly less saccharine and arguably more musically innovative. But Bowie also had his sunset; after Let’s Dance from 1983, the local music stations haven’t given his new work any airtime. Sure, you still hear Major Tom and TVC15 and Young Americans on the radio quite frequently; but what did those songs have to say, really? Bowie’s music touched on young America’s fascination with drugs, sexual amorphism and faux-radical lifestyles. But in the end, Bowie challenged his “Young American” fans no more than did the other David Jones and his group, despite Bowie’s then-fashionable line about remembering “your President Nixon”. And the bills you have to pay, even yesterday . . . Yesterday’s bills, shaving razors that sting; what’s the difference, really?

I honestly get tired sometimes of the NY Times’ narcissistic elitism. That paper gives intelligence and open-mindedness a bad name. So the Monkees are just a footnote to the David Bowie story? No, I’m sorry; Scary Monsters and Ashes to Ashes were amusing, but Daydream Believer will always mean more to me than Major Tom, floating strung-out in his tin can, far from the moon . . .

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:12 pm      

  1. Jim, Sorry, but I really am unacquainted with any of these gentlemen so cannot comment on any of this; furthermore, I once subscribed to the NYTimes and quickly unsubscribed, as it had no interest for me.

    Of course, I was aware of Davy Jones–who could not keep that tune in one’s head–Day Dream Believer.

    If anything, we become aware of the fact that everyone must die.

    On a kind of tangential note: I wonder if Mr. Hutchens is still an atheist, that is, he would be in a position now to know whether or not he was right in his atheism.

    As to Mr. Breitbart and the conservatives (this is REALLY tangential, but I’ve just got to say it). Mentioning this gentleman set me to thinking about the conservatives, which then led me to thinking about the recent Rush Limbaugh dust up over calling Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitue and asking to see her in some home-made pornography. Mr. Limbaugh apologized, saying he used a poor choice of words.

    Again, this set me to wondering: Just what would be a BETTER choice of words when a man calls a woman a slut, prostitute, and asks to see her in home-made porn? I can’t think of a better choice of words to say such a thing.

    This whole dust up with Mr. Limbaugh makes me wonder about the conservatives: Do none of them think beyond the words that are currently coming out of their mouths? Do any of them EVER give tho’t to how they might say something so that it does not sound as if they really are not the best of thinkers? Seems to me, it’s enough to make a good Republican cry. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 4, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

  2. Jim, I see your update on Breitbart. I’m not sure what to think of ACORN as it’s possible there was some hanky panky going on there. But then again, the general attitude of conservatives recently that the poor should basically take care of themselves shows a serious lack of concern for the poor in society. Not a good attitude in general. One of the GOP candidates said to the members of the Occupy movement (when it was actually a movement or so it seems to me): Get a job. And the point they were making at the time was that there were no jobs. Showed a serious lack of understanding of what the whole situation was about.

    Somehow the GOP seems to be on another planet lately, worried about whether or not they will be able to keep their upscale lifestyle and let the rest of the world fare as they may. As I said before: It’s enuf to make good Republicans cry. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 5, 2012 @ 11:42 am

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