News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Equalizer: The Emperor’s New Clothes
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
One of the most popular novels of the last few years is “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a best-seller written in Swedish by Stieg Larsson. I don’t have facts to back this up, but I think it’s sold close to a zillion copies in more than 124 languages. My “sources” tell me the trilogy of Larsson’s “girl” books has inspired the fastest-growing religion in Uruguay. So, a smashing success.
The most hilarious thing about “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is that it is a horrible book. Not horrible in terms of its rape-y, mildly shocking, sexually titillating subject matter, but in the lazy, uncoordinated, illogical way the book is written. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” violates every rule of good writing, and not in a knowing, artistic way. It’s just bad. I’m not even sure there’s a beginning, middle and end, unless you count the physical dimensions of the book.
And yet here we are, a society that seems to love plodding expository writing, detailed nuances of Swedish politics and wanton anorexic dwarfs with Asperger’s syndrome. Huh. It sounds kind of awesome when you read it that way, but I assure you, it is the opposite of awesome. I am here to say that everyone who thinks “Dragon Tattoo” is a good book is wrong. I am saying that the emperor has no clothes.
Popular culture offers us daily opportunities to decry the emperor’s lack of clothing, and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is only one of the best, among many Kardashians.
But even if “Dragon Tattoo” is a disaster of naked-emperor proportions, it’s hard to argue with zillions of fans. Popularity equals success in our society, so the people have spoken, right?
I don’t have a problem with popular, per se. But I do question our collective taste when something so obviously ill-prepared as Stieg Larsson’s novels usurp a significant portion of the cultural conversation. It’s not that I don’t like broccoli and have trouble understanding those who do. I love broccoli and can’t fathom why anyone would want to boil it in whale urine and douse it with sand before they eat it.
All this “Dragon Tattoo” business got me thinking about music, and whether there is a musical equivalent to a legitimately bad novel. I’m not sure there is.
There are bad songs, and there are bad songs that are insanely popular, but most popular songs have something redeeming about them—a beat, a hook, a cameo by Snoop Dogg. At the very least, they hew to an accepted formula for success that might not be original, but is comfortable.
Legitimately bad music, say, my college guitar 101 recital, usually manages to avoid any sort of popularity.
And that’s as it should be. If something doesn’t resemble a song in any way, there is little hope that it will gain favor among the general population. But as long as it resembles a song, hey, there’s a chance.
Is “Cashin’ Out” by Ca$h Out a masterpiece? No, but it’s not bilious spew, either. It’s actually kind of catchy in a simple, rhythmic way. At the very least, it is a song. I can see why it’s more popular that my guitar recital.
I’ll grant you that there have been some awful top-10 recordings over the years, but at least they were songs. I’m not sold on “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” It’s a book, but it’s not a story.
JONAS’ IN-TOWN PICK: Saint Diablo at KC’s Music Alley. A veteran local hard-rock band celebrating the release of its new eponymous album on Eclipse Records. Friday at 7 p.m.
OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Bill Evans at Ashland Coffee and Tea in Ashland. Banjo master and musicologist Evans performs a historic repertoire on one of the world’s most interesting instruments. Tonight at 8.
LISTENING TO: “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem. Everybody loves the disco party vibe of this track, but it’s the overwhelming sense of impending heartbreak that makes the song.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036