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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why A**Holes Like Cool Music

           " favorite: 'Fuck Everybody' by The D-Bags..."

In "Garden State", his 90 minute paean to the world sucking, Zach Braff calls upon Nick Drake, Paul Simon and a host of up-and-comers to punctuate that thesis.

" Listen to'll change your life" Sam (Natalie Portman) tells Braff's Andrew when they first meet, putting headphones on his head so to hear The Shins' "New Slang."

Sam doesn't mean it in the world-embracing- "I love you, Bedford Falls" way it once meant. She means it in the same way the Meth pusher does when they tell the stoner that his product "will change your life": I know you have the will to drop-out, now here's the way.

The soundtrack, Braff said, was the "score to his life" while he wrote the script. Imagine the luck of these hipsters?  Their inner lives and major independent label signings coincide? My life is scored by "The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round".

 From that scored life of Braff was excluded every person aiming to do an honest job: cops, gravediggers, hardware salesman appear in cartoonish starkness to natural sound. When they disappear, Andrew floats back to his lush world of Zero 7 and Colin Hay.

He and Portman's characters are so elevated above the rest us that they don't bathe naked. Anyone can appear as Nature made them, but it takes style to roll the sleeves of your flannel just-right.

This all said, I would love to lift their IPods from their sagging jeans and download their entire playlist.

How much easier my life would be if Braff, as well as being an asshole, had awful taste in music. That would make cosmic sense! But no, I'm afraid I don't get to pick the winners.


My wife and I took our nine month old daughter to one of our favorite places for Sunday brunch:

Cap'n'Cruch Encrusted French Toast, Breakfast Burger with Taso Ham and smoked Toma, Cheese Plate w/ Duck Prosciutto.

Pretty waitress in Chuck Taylors and side-burned bartender with tattooed forearms pouring bourbon.

Nick Lowe, Cocteau Twins, Shuggie Otis, Nina Simone.

What's not to love? And with the impending reality of hipsters gone and dining only where placemats double as connect-the-dot-Disney Characters, we grab the few opportunities we have left.

But don't you know...neither the waitresses nor the hostess or even the bartender (and he's probably buzzed) has ever given my daughter  the slightest smile or "What's her name?" Not even an "Awww..."

One might argue that these are young people without kids.

Well, they understand that we folk with these little people tend to put everything we have into making their life as good as it can be, right? And, you understand,  it's more than a little offensive for them to be dismissed. For all their worldly-coolness, their annoyance with kids is very mainstream America. A marked difference from every other civilized country and America is the unequivocal value of children that we seem too busy for.

I get the frustration with a table full of torn napkins, half-eaten grilled cheese and pickles, but a baby? Once a hostess dropped off a menu on our daughter who lay napping in her carseat.

I mean, if there be a singular behavior that qualifies someone as an asshole, wouldn't that be an intolerance and shortness with babies and little children?

And to the idea that when they have children they will gain a respect for them...

Remember those kids back in high school who would trash the houses of people good enough to host a keg party? They were defended as kids who didn't know the cost of the house...well, they knew a lot. They knew it cost more than sneakers and they wouldn't want anyone scuffing theirs, right?

Of course they'll value a house when they have one! That's what assholes do! They are nice when it suits them!

Which brings me to a point (finally): When you don't give a fuck about anybody else, it's amazing how focused you can be on the significant task of amassing a voluminous catalogue of music.


I got an Applebee's gift card from a work grab bag and we, with our household budget considerations altered, drove to a major mall off the highway and went on in.

"Oh, my Gahd! She is gor-gee-us!"
What's her name?"
" I know she can't eat, but, here, I bet she likes to tear napkins..." (she does and did). "Don't worry, I'll take care of that..." sweeping it away. " We are just so glad to have the little one here...I'm Maureen and I want you, Mom and Dad, to enjoy yourselves."

Sure the atmosphere was garish. You bet the food was crappy. And the last thing I want, believe me, is to hear Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" and the Top-40 playlist over and over.

But each time she passed the table, Maureen handed another napkin, brushed our daughter's cheek and gave her a smile.

She was what people, outside of hipster dens, call: A decent person.

I am sure that she would drive you crazy, playing the same four Michael Jackson songs on the Jukebox every time she came into the bar, but she was remarkably pleasant.

So pleasant, she was, that I can almost forgive her singing along to Nelly Furtado. Almost.


In "The House That George Built: With Help From Irving, Cole and About Fifty Others", Wilfrid Sheed  gives a focused recounting of the lyricists of the first half of the twentieth century.

Sheed, an expert on the Tin Pan Alley, could have easily pushed the book as the definitive chronicle of the period of Jazz, he declines, saying that, like the lyricists themselves, he wanted to just "contribute to the conversation."

Considering Sheed's trouble with defining a period of about thirty years, 1920-50, one can only imagine the challenge in my coming up with an adequate encapsulation of what an asshole is, a term which spans distant decades, lands and cultures.

Here's the best I can do, and yes, consider this only my contribution to the conversation:

An asshole enjoys an experience so much more knowing that someone is excluded from it and suffering, pining or jealous that they are not.

Just as animal-lovers need the after-the-movie disclaimer that no animals were hurt during filming, the asshole needs to know that someone somewhere out there is behind a velvet rope wishing they had what the asshole has.

"It's all good," assholes love to say at parties when someone takes the last shrimp, but they really mean: If that caterer isn't over here with another platter in like two minutes, I'll see he's fired...Whoa! And here it is!"

I was introduced to the biggest asshole I've known through my brother-in-law. Everything was about pulling a fast one on someone: "Yeah, my law school buddy was working the we got in and drank for free and we were raising our glasses in the window to the people we cut in line!"

Cool! I hope it was freezing out there, too! That'll teach them!

He created a website for his upcoming wedding and in it rather unnecessarily warned the readers of linking without permission: "something I have clearly violated with my website...but good luck suing a couple of copyright lawyers!"

Sure he loves his wife and wants his friends to share in their day of joy...but if he can remind everyone in  process that he can do shit they can't and has power they don't, all the better!

This quintessential asshole had left his previous live-in girlfriend after she had supported him through law school when she began suffering from Crohn's Disease, an illness affecting one million Americans.

I am firmly convinced that had his ex been afflicted with a rare disorder like Mastocytosis, they'd be together, boasting of their unique malady, raising what would surely be the most selfish and least empathic children the world has ever known.

(And yes, he has very good taste in music. First guy I knew who like Pearl Jam.)


With that definition in mind, we can begin to theorize...

What is hip is usually exclusive. Exclusivity lends itself to assholes being assholes.

When Sam puts the headphones on Andrew's head (an act symbolic of exclusion), she is responsible not just for him hearing it, but for adding context.

The hipster feels, maybe rightfully, that they are part of the song's production team.

The Sweetheart like good 'ol Mo takes Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way" at its long-standing face value. They are told its good by its virtue of being on the radio, and hearing it, want to share it with every one (not just those of their ilk).

I went to a John Cassavetes Film Fest several years ago. Talk about assholes...

You see what he was trying to comment on was...

At the time, the idea of shooting it the way he did was...

Look at those films and what you see today and it is...

Like Sam and Andrew's music, the jury is still out on exactly what JC's films mean, and so we, the viewer must contribute something, and part of what we offer is how it is totally not like the other stuff.

The other stuff could be seen at, well, the Chris Columbus Film Festival.

"Only the Lonely" and "Home Alone" won't inspire the deconstructon that "Husbands" will, but they are cleanly shot, well-written, they don't dilly-dally and the performances of Maureen and Catherine O'Hara, John Candy and Anthony Quinn are classically pro: enter, say it, and get the fuck off.

More, you will find that the atmosphere in the lobby of the Columbus festival will be filled with those stepping out to call home and check in with the babsysitter. Not too many assholes, or at least those by circumstance who are required to be a bit more pleasant.

Are there moments in "Only the Lonely" as meaningful as Gena Rowlands unraveling during dinner in "A Woman Under The Influence"?  Certainly not.

But just as Cassavetes films were a needed departure from the convention of storytelling, and I realize that I will have my cool card revoked for saying this: we need a system of checks and balances- "I just watch a movie for entertainment..." and, conversely,  "I don't want to see a movie that doesn't lift me..."-  to make sure that we don't all start collecting Serial Killer artworks (so cool) or that we turn the world into a strip mall.

Don't get me wrong, you bet it felt good to watch Cassavetes' films and feel like I had an edge over those still with the "Raging Bull" poster on the wall.

Yes, I can be a bit of an asshole myself.


David Lee Roth has said of his former band's music: "If you're gonna lift something heavy, put on some Van Halen."

This doesn't mean that there aren't some powerlifters out there slowing traffic as they daydream to Bread's "If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words," it merely suggests that even soft-pop listeners going for a max on their bench might be happier with their results going with a track off  "5150."

This by way of saying that assholes (maybe some of the biggest) can, yes, get their kicks off MIX 98.6, however, if their intention be to get their asshole on and make someone's world a little colder, the B-Side to a New Order song might be the quicker pill.

" Well, isn't this true about all things that are little...well...higher-brow? Low Brow is more tolerant, right?" You ask and I reply by daring you to ask the drive-thru if they can make your Big Mac medium-rare.

I can think of no better way to get lugies in your meal than that...and yet, somehow Morton's is so amenable to  it.


Cool things, and most especially cool music, has a way of making us a bit more sullen. It can do a number on the passion, too...

As Sid Vicious famously told the insatiable Nancy: "Sex is boring..." Right. And uncool.

If Portman's Sam ever hopes to get some Andrew on a regular basis, she better help him cut back on The Smiths ("no sense in sitting there hating everyone"), amp up Buster Poindexter's "Hot, Hot, Hot" and get the conga line going.

1 comment:

  1. Are these "a**holes" who are into their own esoteric music just like the pretty, popular girls in high school who many disliked because they were snobs and wouldn't talk to anyone unless they were part of the in-crowd? Are they like the jocks whom some resneted because they were thought of as being too cool for everyone else, and wouldn't allow "others" into their partys etc?

    So the rest of the "main stream" kids of the highschool population were like the waitress from applebees? Simple, happy but maybe a bit less exciting.

    Like the former two groups mentioned above, and the biltmore "a********" - Young and dumb. Time and real life catches up to everyone and they will not have the time or energy to be "a*******". (Don't get me wrong I know there are exceptions.)