Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
Which art have you changed your mind on over the years? E.g. I loved Lost In Translation as a portrayal of loneliness, weightlessness, transience, etc. at the time; now it seems the work of self-pitying moneyed snobs. —David Willoughby
Has there ever been something in pop culture you’ve fallen hard out of love with? Example: I used to actually look forward to A Prairie Home Companion if it happened to be on the radio, and now I can’t fucking stand one second of it. I know this happens a lot with bands as tastes change and mature growing up (I did my time listening to ska), but there are other things besides music that I, for whatever no good reason, became a major anti-fanboy about: certain movies, directors, authors… —Chris Ward
The first thing that leaps to mind for me is The Cure. I discovered them in college, which was maybe already a little too far past my mopey, lovesick, self-absorbed-pain phase of life for them to really hit the emotional sweet spot of a band that says what you’re thinking. At the same time, they were something new for me: I’d never been into punk, I’d never heard of goth, and I’d never heard music that touched on so many genres at once. It was like finding a Rosetta Stone that let me translate between the pop I was used to and all the music I’d never been exposed to and was just then discovering. I listened to The Cure a lot for a couple of years. And then… I moved on. Fairly recently, I saw some cheap Cure CDs and picked them up and re-exposed myself, and lo and behold, what once seemed innovative and deep and emotional now just sounded like a bunch of samey whining. The music hasn’t changed, but I have; that’s just how it goes.
Boy did I feel differently about Donnie Darko the last time I watched it, compared to the first time I saw it. Upon first viewing, I was captivated by the mix of themes of suburban darkness, mental illness, teen angst, and science fiction. I loved how unpredictable the plot was, and the second time through, I enjoyed looking for hidden meanings I had missed. I also thought it was incredibly witty casting to have Patrick Swayze as the self-righteous pedophile. And I was partially hypnotized by Jake Gyllenhaal and James Duval’s cuteness, and the soporific splendor of Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World.” It only took a few more viewings to completely change my mind. The novelty of the genre-mixing wore off, and suddenly what seemed so meaningful reminded me of my attempts to be “deep” in high school. Plus, once I knew what was coming plotwise, I realized that the plot itself wasn’t really that strong a story on its own (just try summarizing it to someone who hasn’t seen it), which also left me free to realize that some of the acting in the movie, specifically Drew Barrymore’s, is kind of crappy. And while I’m at it, I’ll argue that the Tears For Fears version of “Mad World” is better in the end anyway.
A few years ago, I purchased—from a retail store at full price—a CD edition of Styx’s Kilroy Was Here. I did this because I had formulated the belief that, unlike a lot of other stuff I listened to in 1983, it was actually a very good album that had been underestimated by critics for many years.
Boy, was I wrong about that.
I’m not going to join the growing chorus of U2 haters, because I can’t hate that band. But I will single out a performance that I used to treasure, and now dread. On Rattle And Hum, there’s an live version of “Bullet The Blue Sky” that once struck me as the most intense, passionate, politically right-on five and a half minutes ever recorded. I still don’t think it’s a bad song in its original form, and U2 deserves points for simply addressing the intrusion of U.S. politics into Central America. But listening to it now, with its on-the-nose use of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and especially Bono’s breathless I-don’t-mean-to-bug-ya spoken-word interlude, it just seems so over the top, and so at odds with my current tastes that I feel like a stranger from the kid who used to love it.
In high school, I loved pretty much everything “Madchester” related, maybe blindly. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to love about Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans UK, but those aren’t records I reach for anymore—though I still have them all. (And don’t even get me started on Northside or Flowered Up.) I also used to really like Heroes, but unlike with Tasha’s response about The Cure, it’s pretty clear that the show has changed, not me.
Maybe it’s because when I was a teenager I bore a glancing resemblance to Matthew Broderick, but I don’t think I could stomach watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off again. For one thing, it’s one of those movies that functioned as a constant television rerun—always on, either via cable or the VCR. But I find its mix of suburban cuteness and anti-authoritarianism pretty coy in recollection. I remember not liking The Breakfast Club much, even while understanding why other people did; Ferris Bueller, I really enjoyed, so its diminishing in my memory is a little sadder.
Proving that you need to love something before you can truly hate it, my strong feelings for the Red Hot Chili Peppers switched sides about 10 years ago. While Nirvana inadvertently built a bridge in 1991 that brought a large chunk of headbangers over to the alternative nation, two years earlier, the Red Hot Chili Peppers did that for me, a pop-metal fan who was growing tired of the steady diet of empty calories offered by Poison, Skid Row, White Lion, and the like. (Actually, Nirvana opened for the Chili Peppers the first time I ever saw them.) The first song that grabbed me was “Knock Me Down,” an energetic slap-bass special whose subject matter, the heroin overdose of former guitarist Hillel Slovak, was just deep enough for my 14-year-old tastes. Back then, we had to wait a little while between the première of a video on 120 Minutes and actually hearing the album, and I can still remember how every day dragged until the release date of Mother’s Milk. But then sometime around Californication, whose hits I can’t name but I know them when I hear them, my ears turned cold toward the band, and I’m pretty sure it’s more me than them—these new shitty songs remind me a lot of the old awesome songs, which, if I actually went back and listened to them, would presumably sound pretty shitty to me now. It’s gotten so bad that friends who are well aware of my defection still get the same obscenity-laden spiel from me every time the A’s play a Chili Peppers song at the Coliseum, and I even recently found myself unable to make it through Stevie Wonder’s version of “Higher Ground.” I’m not much of a Neil Hamburger fan, but I do love it when he rattles off like 20 Red Hot Chili Peppers jokes in a row. My favorite: “Who has the most alternative-rock Grammys? The guy who runs the pawn shop across the street from Anthony Keidis’ dealer.”
When I was a freshman in college, I took the girl I was newly dating to American Beauty, a film that was purported to be the be-all and end-all of stories of America in the ’90s. And I loved it. I thought it was deeply insightful, true about the world in ways that no one else was expressing at the time. That scene with the plastic bag? I really believed it, that you could see the beauty if you just looked hard enough. And the ending, with Kevin Spacey talking about all of the stuff he remembered as he died? I thought that was absolute genius. Now, I can’t say that I absolutely hate American Beauty now, but I’d no longer rank it anywhere among my favorite movies of all time, or even anywhere close to a list like that. Hell, there are days when I actively dislike it. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that American Beauty is specifically designed to flatter those who see themselves as a precious, tortured Ricky or a snide, above-it-all Lester, and the less I like it. It’s still a damned good-looking movie, and it still has a lot of fun performances, but it thinks it’s smarter than it actually is, just like I did at 18. But I grew up (though I still think I’m smarter than I am), and American Beauty stayed the same damn age.
I used to like Living Colour. I mean, I really, really loved them. And it wasn’t just the hit album, Vivid, from 1988, the one that catapulted them to fame on the back of “Cult Of Personality.” I listened to that album a bazillion times when it came out, and I truly thought it was the revolutionary next phase of rock ’n’ roll. I was in high school, and while I’d grown up on meat-and-potatoes hard rock, I’d started to rebel against it in a big way by seeking out the sissiest and/or weirdest music I could find. Living Colour, to me, bridged the gap. It was still hard rock, but it was, you know, smart. I even went so far as to buy (and adore) the group’s 1990 album Time’s Up—not to mention a couple albums by the band’s buddies and copycats, the funky metal outfit 24-7 Spyz. But by the time I saw Living Colour play the first Lollapalooza in 1991, I was a full-on grunge kid, and I was way more into Butthole Surfers’ set. Living Colour was mildly innovative, but they still wore neon Spandex and made their guitars squeal. It all just seemed so old, done with, over. By the mid-’90s, I was one of many jaded assholes laughing (not without a deep sense of shame, I might add) at Anal Cunt’s gleefully offensive “Living Colour Is My Favorite Black Metal Band.” And now? I wish I could say I at least feel a little nostalgia whenever I hear “Cult Of Personality,” but mostly I just cringe.
The relationship between artists and an eager consumer is like any other; it has its ups and downs, its magical moments and the ones that are best left forgotten. But sometimes, it hurts too much to keep caring. Twice in my career, I’ve felt compelled to “break up” in print with directors I once admired, essentially divorcing myself from any hope they might again produce something worthwhile. One was Woody Allen, whose post-Soon Yi body of work, particularly in the 1990s, combined a desperate desire to be liked with an overwhelming hatred of women, and the other is Tim Burton, who has managed to rid his work of anything vaguely inventive or personal while still keeping up the facade of being the goth kid who sits alone at lunch. Sleepy Hollow did it for me, a lifeless piece of hackwork so uninspired that it led me to question not only whether Burton had any good films left in him, but whether I’d been wrong to like the ones I did in the first place. I’m genuinely afraid that if I rewatched Ed Wood, I’d see it not as an affectionate paean to an eccentric visionary, but as a condescending portrait of a Hollywood failure who lacked Burton’s skill at mainstreaming his fantasies. Even leaving aside the stillborn Planet Of The Apes and Mars Attacks!, Burton’s last two decades mark an almost unbroken progression toward self-parody, a collection of spiky-haired heroes with Daddy issues and kohl-rimmed eyes. If I were a stronger man, I’d skip over Burton’s imminent desecration of Alice In Wonderland altogether, but a combination of stubborn hope and morbid curiosity compels me in spite of myself.
My group of high-school friends and I became obsessed with Reservoir Dogs the summer before our senior year: We’d watch it at least once a week, listen to the soundtrack in our cars, get in fights over what happened to Mr. Pink at the end. We even mounted a successful write-in campaign to have “Little Green Bag” nominated for our “senior song,” although the faculty struck it from the ballots once they decided it was code for marijuana. One day, my friend Mike made us all Reservoir Dogs T-shirts; we each chose a character (I was Mr. Pink), and using iron-on letters, he put their name on the front and a quote on the back (“I don’t tip”). We wore them on Fridays when everyone else was wearing their football jerseys, because we were just that fucking cool. I even have a photo, which I refuse to scan in for you, of all six of us doing the “Reservoir Dogs walk” in the parking lot, a scene we attempted at least five times until we got it right. Just before we graduated, Pulp Fiction was released, and it convinced 16-year-old me that Tarantino was second only to Martin Scorsese in the Valhalla of bad-ass directors. (That summer, I wrote my first screenplay—a terrible, completely derivative story in which three hitmen who don’t even know each other’s names slowly bond while on the run from a botched job. Remind me to burn that.) But after a couple years of film school, and a lot of growing out of that posturing that comes with being an adolescent male, Tarantino’s work just didn’t seem that special to me anymore. In fact, his films started to feel sort of manufactured and hollow—not to mention incredibly self-indulgent. Now, I still believe Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are both good, possibly even great films (and I’ve definitely underrated Jackie Brown)—and Inglourious Basterds recently reminded me what a vibrant filmmaker Tarantino can be, when he’s not caught up with yammering at you about his record collection through some impossibly cool, pot-smoking female alter ego. But because they were so crucial to my own formative sense of being “cool,” they now come off as affected in a way that makes me wince a little inside whenever I watch them, the same way I do whenever I look back at photos of me in my grunge-era haircut (“Give me the Eddie Vedder!”), earrings, and gas-station shirts, and wonder, “Who was I trying so hard to impress?”
I can’t remember leaving a movie theater with a greater sense of exhilaration then the two times I saw Garden State during the summer of 2004. (Though as an easily excited 4-year-old, I did dance out of Ghostbusters II. Such is the power of Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own.”) My Garden State experience has just as much to do with age—my first extended period of time in my hometown since leaving for college was coming to an end, and I couldn’t believe that a movie could capture the way my familiar corner of Michigan suburbia suddenly felt so alien. When the film became a hit, however, it came to my attention that it managed this because—like the ability to enjoy the easy, breezy indie-pop of the film’s soundtrack—that feeling is universal. If I were to watch the DVD copy of the film that has sat, unwatched, on various shelves since mid-2005, I’d no longer see a film celebrating uniqueness and discovering your own path in life. Instead, my wizened, somewhat jaded eyes would see a calculated measure to make moviegoers think “Hey, I’m that person! I’ve scrunched up my face and made weird noises just to stop feeling unoriginal! The Shins could change my life, too! I’m quirky, Universe—acknowledge me!” Thus I grew from an eager Zach Braff acolyte to the guy who visibly cringed when presented with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Wall Of Bands You And Only You Love And Will Ever Love” at the beginning of (500) Days Of Summer. Shelagh Delaney is looking out from the cover of Louder Than Bombs right at you, you special little snowflake! (Nonetheless, if I was at a dance party and the DJ busted out “On Our Own,” I would be on the floor before Brown could start that tacked-on verse about proton packs and Vigo The Carpathian.)
I remember watching Ten Foot Pole open for Face To Face and NOFX at Liberty Lunch in Austin when I was 18, thinking “Man, my next band is totally gonna sound like this.” At the time (1994), the bands on Fat Wreck Chords—the labeled owned by NOFX frontman Fat Mike—all more or less sounded like NOFX: light-speed tempos & big, melodic punk guitars. I basically wanted to play fast, poppy songs and jump around. But I’d lose my taste for that style within a year or two. Fat Wreck since has diversified its roster, but that style of breakneck SoCal punk hasn’t really changed—witness, oh, every NOFX record of the past 10 to 15 years. I’ll always have a soft spot for songs like NOFX’s “The Moron Brothers” and Strung Out’s “Firecracker,” but that style does nothing for me these days. (I still stand by Face To Face, though.)
I have covered this elsewhere, but I very much enjoyed a television program called Entourage at one point. I consumed the entire first season in a two-and-a-half-hour span. For a brief moment, it was perfect television junk food, lifestyle porn with a refreshingly non-moralistic take on Hollywood excess and a distinct affection for the glitzy world it chronicled with a light touch. Then I watched the second and third season, and realized the show was, for the most part, awful, a pandering, substance-free, adolescent Maxim fantasy of a world where money is never an issue, beautiful women throw themselves at you, and you’ve got all your bestest bros around to make the whole non-stop party even groovier. I continued watching the show through its fourth season—watching it somehow required less of an investment of time and energy than not watching it—but I bailed out last year. Even I have my limits.