This week’s question comes from reader Mathew Timms:
“I saw the pilot of 30 Rock when it first aired, and didn’t care for it. However, after loving Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt I went back and have become a fan of the show. What artist or piece of entertainment do you like that you didn’t like upon first encountering it?”
I was a real pretentious asshole of a teenager, especially when it came to music. I was so thick-headed that I somehow convinced myself that everything in The Beatles discography prior to Rubber Soul (you know, when they started to get, like, weird, dude) was just simplistic, poppy trash that wasn’t worth my time. But by 2009 when The Beatles’ discography went through that huge remaster and re-release, my tastes had changed and I had stopped being such a close-minded dickhead. I pored over every one of their songs, and of course, I started to realize the error of my ways. Yes, those early albums were simpler than the more cutting-edge stuff the band would move on to, but there’s no doubt they contain some of the best pure rock and pop songs of the era, if not ever. These days, I’ll take Please Please Me or A Hard Day’s Night over Sgt. Pepper’s every time. God, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and slap some sense into myself.
Will I be excoriated if I say the answer is both The Bends and OK Computer? I sorta liked Radiohead’s Pablo Honey when it first came out, but got so sick of “Creep” that I barely paid attention to The Bends when it came out. Even my first listen to OK Computer didn’t do it for me, because I think I was still carrying some baggage from the “Creep” video. But I actually recall the moment when OK Computer hit me, sitting in my car outside my apartment in Milwaukee, shortly after it came out. It’s one of the only times I can recall where I had a legitimate “What was I thinking?” moment. And then, of course, that album faded into obscurity and nobody listened to it ever again.
Some of my most profound musical loves have come through reassessments or acquired tastes like this. Take P.J. Harvey: My first-ever glimpse of P.J. was the too-close, side-eyed selfie on the cover of the self-produced Uh Huh Her, an album littering music-store shelves the summer I graduated high school. Knowing nothing of her, I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy, and though there were moments I connected with, mostly its aggressively ugly, bombed-out aesthetic fell on deaf ears. In hindsight, that strange first encounter via Uh Huh Her had more of an impact than I knew, but it was a slow and incremental absorption of Harvey’s catalog that eventually converted me, and now I’m the kind of fan who will follow her every experiment and drive hours for the rare chance to see her play.
I’ve been revisiting a ton of David Lynch lately, so maybe he’s just fresh on my mind, but Inland Empire has grown in stature to me from an unfocused mess to the logical endpoint of his filmic career. The movie is easy to dislike: Its digital cinematography can be garish, its dreamy scenes meander, no one has ever figured out what it’s about, and it’s three hours long, when I like my movies as close to 90 minutes as possible. In other words, I am an Eraserhead guy. But over time, I’ve come to love Inland Empire’s blurry, artifact-laden patina, and many of its scenes are burned in my mind like few others in his career. And there’s something appealing about its utterly intractable structure. While other Lynch films cohere after a few viewings—there are “correct” answers to the mysteries of Twin Peaks, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive—Inland Empire exists in a realm of pure abstraction, one metaphor fading into the next. Lynch is fond of comparing his search for inspiration through transcendental meditation as searching for “big fish,” but on Inland Empire, he charted the deep oceans without ever coming up for air.
My introduction to Bruce Springsteen was via “Dancing In The Dark,” near the top if not first place on The Boss’ most polarizing tracks. As a teenager of the ’90s who held firm views of matters cool and uncool, the 15-year-old me thought Springsteen was decidedly uncool. It wasn’t until after September 11 that Springsteen—reunited with his E Street Band—was everywhere, and through the lens of his album The Rising (in particular its standout track, “My City Of Ruins”) did I begin to find Springsteen’s music genuinely affecting. I decided to give The Boss a second try—someone recommended I start with Darkness On The Edge Of Town—and I’ve been yelling “Bruuuuuuce,” not “Boooooo,” ever since.
When Justin Bieber’s Purpose came out, my thoughts could be summed up with a simple “meh.” Sure, there were some catchy songs, and one that continuously asks the question, “What about the children?” for some reason. But when I first heard “Love Yourself,” I hated it. It’s just a seemingly self-obsessed twentysomething guy singing about a seemingly self-obsessed ex. I mocked it relentlessly, and would lovingly tease friends when I saw them listening to it on Spotify. But then I found myself listening to it over and over again to laugh, and something weird started happening. I started enjoying it. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I would hum it on the train, folding laundry, sitting at my desk. And goddammit, now I like it. You may disagree with me and try to rain on my parade, and if that’s the case… you can go and love yourself. (C’mon, you knew that was coming.)
To this day I can’t explain the shrug I initially gave Boogie Nights, but that’s exactly what happened. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I didn’t see it in the theater. It was probably on cable in 4:3, and I somehow sat through Paul Thomas Anderson’s incredible ensemble drama about people in the ’70s/’80s porn industry and thought, “Eh, that was okay I guess.” It didn’t last, because the next time I saw it, or maybe the time after, I was completely—and correctly—mesmerized. Now every time I happen across it, I’m sucked in until the very end. Younger me has routinely proven to be a jackass.
I’ll admit it: I was not immediately enamored of Game Of Thrones. I’ve long been ambivalent toward all forms of medieval fiction and fantasy; there’s just something about swords and sorcery, knights and kings, and endless talk of honor that’s always bored me. So, while I watched the first couple of seasons with my wife—who loves all that shit—I was never exactly anxious to catch the next episode, not in the way I was with other shows. Really, it took until the brutal, relentless third season (Theon’s torture, “The Rains Of Castamere”—look, I don’t have to tell you people) before I suddenly found myself enthralled, which I guess probably says a lot about my own damaged psyche. Today, I not only eagerly anticipate each new episode, I’ve actually gone back read all of George R.R. Martin’s sword-and-sorcery-filled books, something that would have been unthinkable to me just a few years ago. Maybe if they’d called it Game Of Sudden, Unexpected Murders And Mutilations, I’d have been hooked from the very beginning.
The first time I saw Terry Gilliam’s Brazil I had a viscerally negative reaction to it. I was young, and its decrepit world of bureaucratic dysfunction and consumer pursuits was more than my fragile little psyche could bear. But revisiting it a few years later I was absolutely floored by its brilliance. I guess I could just cope better with the anxieties its deeply uncomfortable world represents, and it took growing up a bit to understand satire. That appreciation has only increased as I entered my own bureaucratic and byzantine nightmare of taxes and insurance. Nowadays it’s a guiding cultural touchpoint, its pneumatic tubes and Ministry Of Information the perfect metaphor for all sorts of things: Our company’s expenditure reporting system is the internet of Brazil. Trying to find a good therapist who accepted my insurance was Brazil writ mental healthcare. It’s hard to come up with a movie I think of more often on a daily basis, and a case in point to give things you don’t like when you’re young another chance when you’ve aged up a bit.
My relationship with the first Dark Souls is a fairly standard one, I think. Lured in by critical praise, I took a running leap at it, slammed face-first into a wall of incomprehensible menus, hurky-jerky combat, and seemingly directionless world design, said “well, fuck this,” and vowed to never play it again. It took some gentle coaxing from friends—and a lingering sense of the vast weirdness I was missing out on—to lure me back in, and the second time, it took. (I know people who took three, or even four tries to fall into the game’s sync, though.) This probably sounds like digital Stockholm syndrome to anybody outside the cult, but in a way, the game’s aggressive obscurity is part of what brought me back. In a world where every game wants to give you a glowing line to your next direction and a checklist of stuff to do, the thought of that big, bizarre world, just daring me to go explore its every nook and cranny, is a major part of what ultimately got me to fall in love.
This is one I spent years getting disbelieving stares for, but: Arrested Development. The first time I watched it, my roommate and I got through maybe the first five or six episodes, looked at each other, and said, “Well, that was kind of a bust.” This was around the time of season two or three, when people were just starting to discover the series outside of the audience that barely kept it afloat at Fox, and we had been handed the DVD collection. But I just couldn’t get into it: I found the rhythms off-putting, the jokes a little too much the equivalent of someone nudging me in the ribs and going, “Eh? Eh?” It seemed like comedy for people who liked Monty Python a little too much. It took nearly a decade for me to revisit the show, and the second time around, it all clicked as to why people love it so much. Things that had irritated me previously now seemed like clever affectations, and I can appreciate the pacing without getting exhausted. I still don’t love it as much as many of my coworkers, but I’m more than happy to sit down and watch an episode, any time. After all, there’s always money in the banana stand.