October 18, 2011

DAVID SWINDLE: When Boomer Culture Finishes Its Suicide, What Will Rise Next? “Cool, as it has been willed into existence in the post-World War II era, is an artistic expression of the self-destructive, suicidal temperament of a bipolar mind. . . . Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Cobain, Thompson, and Hendrix didn’t build anything. We writers and artists are an over-glorified, over-praised lot. We cast our little literary spells, throw up our paint, and dance across the stage. But in the scheme of the global village we’re only the tribe’s witch doctor.”

UPDATE: Rob “N.Z. Bear” Neppell comments:

My instant reaction: Steve Jobs was cool. Robert Heinlein and Issac Asimov were cool. Rush — a band of three guys who have families, kids, don’t (and never) got into drugs or being rock stars but just love their craft of making music — are cool. Mark Zuckerberg? Cool. My new friend +Mack Reed — cool. Not because he dresses way cooler than I, but because he builds cool stuff: http://www.xylovan.com.

Those that create are cool; those that pose are not. Creation may mean art, but today it can also mean technology; whether it is the raw science of discovery or the magic (in the most Clarke-ian sense of the word) of a Steve Jobs envisioning how to make silicon and software into tools that change the way we live in ways that we enjoy.

Happily, I see attitudes moving in that direction.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A musician-reader emails:

Normally I agree with most of the articles you link to, but I have to take exception with this one. Sorry, but this piece is a mess.

For one thing, the self-destructive artist archetype is as old as mankind. It is not an invention of the baby boomers. Before Kerouac there was Hemingway, before that Poe, before that Shelly, and so on. They were all drunks or drug addicts and all went to an early grave. They were also all lauded and idolized for their work and romanticized because of their faults. This has been a part of human cultures from the dawn of time. Don’t get me wrong: I blame the boomers for most of what I don’t like about our culture these days. But they aren’t more guilty of romanticizing self-destruction than any other generation is.

And I doubt that anybody actually thinks it’s all that cool that Jimi Hendrix died accidentally. Every single Hendrix fan I’ve ever met, including myself, wishes he were still around making music.

Entrepreneurs and inventors have always been with us and have never been “cool” culturally the way that artists have, and they never will be, because the arts are romantic while business is generally not. I would pull apart more things in the article which I found silly, but frankly the thing is so poorly written I don’t think I could get through it again.

And in response to NZ Bear: if our culture starts thinking Rush is cool, but Hendrix isn’t, then we really are in trouble. . . . To put it another way: either the art is good or it isn’t. Whether the artist is a drunk or not is irrelevant to the quality of the work. Hendrix is cool because he made great art. Rush is not cool because they did not make great art (this is subjective opinion, I know). To say that we should praise the work of non-self-destructive artists over self-destructive ones is a politicization of art – the same thing we always criticize the Left for.

One MORE thought (haha – I’m not fishing for re-posts, I swear – I’m just thinking out loud to you. This is a subject that naturally interests me). Lots of normal people are drug addicts and have self-destructive lifestyles. We don’t romanticize them and we don’t glorify them (rightfully so). But we do glorify artists with self-destructive lives in part because it is a miracle (and a mystery) that they were able to produce anything of worth at all, considering the personal shortcomings they had to overcome to do it. Anybody can be a drunk, but only one drunk could write A Farewell to Arms.

Ha. Love that last point.

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