Day By Day

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


A few years ago I read an article about a survey that found the most popular band in the history of British rock to be, not the Beatles or the Stones, but Queen. At the time I had never heard of Queen but curiosity drove me to YouTube and I soon learned that, although I had never heard of the group, I had heard their songs, particularly the one that fans do at every football game -- "We will, we will, rock you."

It dawned upon me that I had completely ignored decades of popular song and had not even realized that it was missing. That's how out of touch I am.

I am frequently reminded of my personal disconnect with American pop culture every time a superhero movie comes on. I just don't care for them that much and have no interest in the comic book culture that spawned them. Power fantasies about extravagantly muscled guys running around in spandex and hitting people might be fine for twelve-year-old kids, but there is something unseemly and more than a bit disturbing about adults who look forward to the next Iron Man or Hulk or Spider Man flick. I just don't understand the attraction.

Perhaps the most extreme example of this cultural disconnect came when John Lennon was killed. I had to be in Philadelphia that day and stopped by a friend's place for some now forgotten reason. When I entered his house he and several other guys were sitting around in the living room, faces stricken, listening to Beatles music.

"Have you heard?" my friend asked. "John Lennon is dead!"

"Yeah, it was on the radio."


Then I said, "What's the big deal? He was just a rock singer."

You know that scene in the second "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" when the pod people realize that there is a normal person in their midst, when they turn in unison, point at the human, and screech? It was like that. Everyone's head swiveled in my direction and they all stared in disbelief. Acutely uncomfortable, I made some excuse and left.

That was the first time I realized that Lennon was important to people. Today, even after long reflection, I still don't understand why anybody other than his friends and family thought John Lennon was important or ever invested any emotion in him. That is a mindset with which I will never be able to connect.

And that brings me to George Carlin. He was a moderately amusing standup comic and lousy actor who played the Riddler [I believe] in that gawdawful "Batman" TV show. Later he embraced the counterculture and built his standup routines around simplistic moral posturing and social commentary. Mostly he relied on shock tactics to get a response out of his audience. I never thought he was particularly funny, and his social observations were just plain infantile. He never got beyond a child's sniggering delight in uttering forbidden words to shock the adults. And apparently his fans never grew up either -- they just got old and crabby like he did.

Anyway, he's gone now and a lot of people are mourning his passing. For the life of me I will never understand why.