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? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question is from reader Max Montesino: I love David Bowie, but I can’t stand Hunky Dory even though it’s regarded as one of his classic records. I think it’s the combined cabaret/singer-songwriter quality of the album, qualities I’ve enjoyed separately but not, for some reason, together. Is there any work by an artist you love that is highly regarded and you know you should at least like, but you just can’t?
The National just isn’t for me, which was difficult to admit in the heady days of the mid-’00s when every website, blog, and music magazine I read insisted that The National was for me. I like my indie-rock big and sweeping; I like a lyrical point of view that’s a little bleary-eyed. And yet I was never able to get into the band’s breakthrough LP, 2007’s Boxer, beyond the opening one-two punch of “Fake Empire” and “Mistaken For Strangers.” (And I’ve always secretly wished the second track was an Interpol song.) For all of the romanticism in the band’s music, it’s always held me at an emotional remove—chalk it up to Matt Berninger’s deadpan baritone, a great rock voice that’s just great enough. Maybe that’s the thing: The National is defined by a sophistication and a consistency that falls short of exciting me. Give me something a little more unexpected—the weird, theatrical passages that make up side two of Bowie’s Hunky Dory, for instance.
Far be it from me to write off entire entertainment media, but I just can’t get into podcasts to the degree that the rest of the Internet thinks I should. I certainly have shows I’ve enjoyed over the years, and when I’ve sampled the big names, I’ve liked them as well. But people will rattle off these extensive lists of podcasts they listen to, and I mostly smile and nod politely, because whatever they’re talking about is something I have never heard of, or it’s something I’ve sampled and found just okay. There’s something about the “friends sit around and shoot the shit” format that I find too repetitive, but it’s also what almost all of the best podcasts inevitably skew toward. Maybe that makes me sound like an old curmudgeon (I know it does), but there’s this vast ocean of shows out there I’m just never going to listen to. Maybe if I had an office job…
I was just beating myself up about this. Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal has a season finale around the corner, and everyone is talking about how great that show is, but I cannot watch it. I’m willing to accept that it’s good, but I’ve seen a few episodes, and the horror is so complete that it makes my stomach turn. Everything I’ve heard since then has reassured me that I made the right decision. (Face-eating—that is what I heard.) Last year, I analyzed the visuals of a few episodes, and I am totally willing to admit that it is beautiful. I am super-excited to hear that the second season is incredible. I am convinced that Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy make for an electric on-screen duo. And I am never going to watch it.
I could probably apply this to a thousand popular and respected musical artists—my musical taste is astoundingly boring—but the biggest one is probably any Radiohead album post-OK Computer (actually any album post-The Bends, but I like OK Computer well enough). The more experimental and complex Radiohead got, the more my ears rebelled, so much so that I almost have a physical reaction of pain when I hear it. Music is the one bit of entertainment I don’t want to think about; I just want to let it wash over me and make me happy. Newer Radiohead is like listening to calculus translated into musical form, and calculus never made me happy. Just ask my poor, beleaguered high school math teacher.
It sounds like I’m in much the same position as Carrie, as whatever critical faculties I may have developed to talk about TV and movies just don’t carry over to music; that’s a medium where I know what I like, and that’s about it, for better or worse. As such, I take no great pleasure in saying that, though I consider myself a fairly big fan of Bob Dylan, I’ve just never been able to get into Blonde On Blonde, which is often put on the short list for best album ever, let alone best Dylan album. I’m more than happy to acknowledge the musical innovation and the brilliant lyrical complexity to be found on the album, but its purposefully chaotic sound just holds me at too much of a distance to be able to really engage with it. I love Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited from the same period, and Blood On The Tracks is one of my favorite albums ever, so I generally am into what Dylan is doing; I guess I just can’t handle his stuff when taken to its absolute logical endpoint. Maybe someday.
I like to think I’ve built up some goodwill here over the years, and I fear that I’m about to throw every last scrap of it away with this one admission: I just can’t get into Community. It seems like it should be right in my wheelhouse, as I love more or less every other smartly written, single-camera, always-on-the-verge-of-cancellation sitcom out there. But having seen a little of the show, and read a lot about it, its self- and pop-culture-referential nature is just a turnoff. My (mostly uninformed) opinion of the show is that it’s as if Arrested Development—already bordering on too self-referential—crawled too far up its own ass. I keep telling myself I’ll give the show a fair shot one of these days, but given my limited TV-watching time and the wealth of other good shows out there, I’ll probably just wait and go see that #AndAMovie I keep hearing about.
Ever since I was a little film geek trying to sneak as many illicit horror movies as I could (thank goodness for video clerks who just didn’t give a crap), I’ve always been looking for more. More style, more uniqueness, and, yes, more outré titillation. So the fertile, bloody ground of Italian horror should have been the Promised Land. Even then, however, my 13-year-old self thought there was something distinctly goofy and borderline inept about all the vaunted Italian horror “classics” Psychotronic Video Guide and Fangoria kept crowing about. Over the years, I’ve diligently worked my way through every Argento, Fulci, Lenzi, and Bava film, and have dipped into the fluorescent red waters of the rest, and, no matter how many horror enthusiasts wax rhapsodic about Suspiria, Zombie, or Twitch Of The Death Nerve, the very phrase “Italian master of horror” sends me in search of more competent scares.
Call me an intellectual pygmy, but, aside from the campy mindfuck that is Dune, I can’t get into David Lynch. I’ve now watched three or four of his other movies, and find them so incomprehensible that I’m just bored. I like surreal movies, and there are plenty of purposefully crazy works of art that I’d defend with my life, but I never feel like Lynch is actually saying anything with this flights of fancy. I watch, then think: “Well, what the hell am I supposed to do with that?” I love his public persona (his cameos on The Cleveland Show were perfect in their complete absurdity), and I respect his importance to film, but I just find his work a fruitless struggle. I’m told I’d enjoy Twin Peaks, and one day I may give it a go, but for now I’d rather just steer clear.
I don’t really love any of Aaron Sorkin’s work outside of The Social Network, but what I really can’t get into is Sports Night. Sorkin is too obnoxious for me. I hate his peacock banter, I hate his straight-faced actors, I hate his blue-blood values, I even hate his precious titles. When I think of “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” I start fuming like Mel Gibson. That’s not something people say! And it’s certainly not such a pearl that it needed to be reused on two other Sorkin shows. It’s just tortured, like pretty much every other element of his style. I get The West Wing to a certain extent, but Sports Night is the one I feel like I’m missing out on. Then I try to watch, and I’m a statue. That is, until someone inevitably assigns an SAT-point value to a vocabulary word like it’s Scrabble, and then I’m back to huffing and puffing.
As a gay guy, I should probably be offended by loud, queeny gay caricatures. But I’m not—I find those characters hilarious both in reality and on the screen. Considering my appreciation of all things noisy and gay, I feel like I should find Billy Eichner funny, but I don’t get the appeal at all. I’ve tried watching Billy On The Street and I can never make it past about five minutes in. People who share my sense of humor seem to like him, hence his being cast in Parks And Recreation to do the same thing he always does while being called a different name. But Eichner’s shtick doesn’t work for me, probably because his loud, queeny gay is also a rage monster, and that freaks me out. Loud, queeny and joyful? I’m into it. Loud, queeny, and furious? Save the drama for your mama, girlfriend!
I’ve mentioned my love of The Boss in this space before. While I don’t love all Springsteen albums/songs, those I hate tend to be the punching bags that every Bruce fan snickers at (hello, “Queen Of The Supermarket”). Still, there is nothing that fills me with more rage than “Meeting Across The River,” the penultimate song on Born To Run. It comes between the wonderfully buoyant “She’s The One” and the totally epic “Jungleland,” two of my favorite live staples. But “Meeting Across The River” is an awful song. It’s overly dramatic, has no live percussion, and is the worst use of sax man Clarence Clemons, sullying an otherwise perfect record. It’s straight-up terrible and I will never like it. I have actually booed it in concert because I am obnoxious.
I can’t help but zone out a little bit whenever someone brings up Adventure Time, and I’m not entirely sure why. I love cartoons, and I’m usually down with shows aimed at kids that are secretly not just aimed at kids. I adored Cartoon Network’s canceled-too-soon Marvelous Misadventures Of Flapjack, for example, and it was particularly good at sneaking in some pretty terrifying imagery. Adventure Time, though, just doesn’t click with me. I can’t get over the feeling that it’s weird for the sake of being weird, and when I hear people talk about how it all actually takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth, it makes me wish the creators would pretend a little harder that it really is for kids. It seems like it’d be fun to get into the show and unwrap its weirdo mythology, but I simply can’t stomach it.
I’ve been an XTC fan since the first time I spun Skylarking, and I’ve gone on to buy nearly everything in the band’s catalog, including the Dukes Of Stratosphear material and as many volumes of Andy Partridge’s Fuzzy Warbles compilations as I’ve been able to afford. But as much as I enjoy the majority of the music Mr. Partridge has put out over the years, I still myself incapable of finishing a full listen to Monstrance, the self-titled debut of the trio featuring Partridge, his former XTC mate Barry Andrews, and Andrews’ fellow Shriekback member Martyn Barker. It’s 12 tracks of free-form, purely improvisational music spread over two discs, and as much as I want to find something I like about it, it just doesn’t appeal to any of my musical sensibilities for any significant length of time. I always feel like I’m just one more spin away from finding my appreciation of it, because not only do I love XTC, but I dig Shriekback as well, and I know that I should applaud the trio for being able to put together an album like this, something that completely defies their fans’ musical expectations. Unfortunately, I ended my first attempt at listening to the album being frustrated this is effectively the only new music we’ve managed to get out of Partridge since XTC disintegrated, and as that situation remains unchanged seven years after Monstrance’s release, I have to admit, it still kind of pisses me off.
I like big meaty books. I like postmodern literature. I like sprawling novels that capture an era while exploring many characters and their relationships in depth. I sucked down Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom like a smoothie on a roasting day in July. So why can’t I get into Don DeLillo? Is it just that I’ve been told too many times that he’s the second coming of Christ, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner all rolled into one? Do his most celebrated books just start in such a distanced, recondite manner that they tried my patience and I never pushed further? Am I just too anxious to relax and go with the flow of his books because I’m afraid of being seen as a philistine for not liking them? I don’t know, but I’ve sampled White Noise and Underworld more than once, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care. It’s particularly odd because I like all the authors and filmmakers he cites as influences, and he’s constantly being recommended to me by people whose tastes I respect and share, but I’ve still never made the leap. I imagine if I was on a desert island with nothing but DeLillo books and time, I’d grow to love him, but with so many other things to read, I just can’t lock myself down to an 800-page book where every page feels like an arty, obfuscatory trudge.
I’m such a big Joss Whedon fan that when I met him I literally forgot my own name, but I cannot get into Dollhouse for the life of me. There are interesting moments, and Enver Gjokaj is a treasure who should be working always, but no matter how hard I tried, it took me months to get through the first season. (This from the woman who watched the entire second season of Buffy in maybe a week.) Before you say it, I know the second season steps up its game, and the finale makes its cancellation a crime, but the thought of diving back into Dollhouse’s world of corporate creeps and the bodies they hijacked just sounds exhausting. Besides, I’ve got Orphan Black for that now.
I have complicated feelings about Mad Men—it’s a show that I often find difficult to love, but when it gets its hooks into me, I’m able to think of little else. I’m still behind on the current season (only watched one episode so far, in fact), but I loved season six more than a lot of people did, because I appreciated its slow, painful undermining of the Don Draper mystique. But I had conflicted feelings about the much-loved fifth season, with its boundary pushing and structural intricacies; it sometimes seemed like a show working doubly hard to distract the audience from the fact that it was stalling before the things that really mattered got started. Worst of all was “The Other Woman,” my least favorite episode to date, and the one which almost put me off the series entirely. Intellectually, I realize what Matthew Weiner and his writers were aiming for, and I would never argue that Christina Hendricks (and the rest of the cast) didn’t sell the hell out of it. But to me, the episode marked the biggest danger of Mad Men’s low-key, rambling approaching to plotting: Whenever anything “big” needs to happen, it’s so out of keeping of the regular vibe that it can feel forced and unnatural. That can work (“Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency”), but the convolutions required to get Joan to agree to something that really only works on the symbolic level (as it requires us to forget everything we know about most of the regular characters involved) didn’t sit well with me. Still doesn’t.