Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ricardo Montalban will beat you up

Two weeks ago, I was given a DVD to watch at the behest of my writer's group. I say it that way because it was less of an assignment, and more of a social obligation in that it was put into my hands along with the burden of their expectation that I would watch it then we could discuss it. So of course I didn't. When it came back around, an up and coming screen writer in the group somewhat excitedly said "I think one of us had a movie to watch," and I was given the terrible duty of disappointing all of them. However, that sick feeling in my stomach was just enough to get me to pop it into the player and view Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

There was only the one down side, where something like a scratch made the DVD slow, stop, and skip, forcing me to work my techno-craft and fix the problem. With only a ten-minute break in activities, I managed to watch the entire film. I say film because it was good. Shatner didn't sound (to me) like the Priceline guy; he sounded like someone who had become so famous in his earlier career that he could be the Priceline guy, be ridiculous, and it would work. Because he earned it. I came to understand why Spock is Spock and Scotty is Scotty and all the rest of them were as such. And I came away liking it more than the franchise's newest renovation. A friend I was talking about all this with pointed out the necessity that existed back then in regards to strong story and writing. Everything else had better be spot on. I even got a little weepy when Spock died.

I took a similar trip back in time musically (I've yet to get that CD player for my car). I found a box in the garage filled with tapes from my youth (rather, tapes adults played in my presence when I was much younger) and carried several of them, almost reverently, to my car and took a drive. I shuddered at the musical tools they had during the era a decade before the 90s and several years after people stopped using real instruments (you know the little black machine that spit it out robot noises and weird distortions). Then I listened, and I hit the button labeled FF and held it down (because you have to). Every tape I listened to was about 10-12 songs. On each, one or two tracks were religious in nature, one was a remixed version of a radio hit, and the rest were romantic. Either the girl had left, or come back, or died, or cheated on the singer(s), or they hadn't met yet and he was trying to get her number (or get her to dance, go home with him, stay the night, etc.).

And undoubtedly, these singers' predecessors are considered among the greats, classics even, your elemental Earth, Wind, and Fire, your heart-tugging Temptations, your Spinners (one of my favorites so it makes the list). But these were also the crooners, the love singers, that sweat behind lights and made women scream.

So why do romantic books get slammed so hard? I reference a comment a co-worker made about my writing during one of my depressed times: "You write really well. You're thoughtful and elegant. Who cares if it doesn't really seem to fit anywhere? What I'm saying is, you're not writing romance." And I understood what she meant. There is a stigma associated with romantic books that they're a waste of time, uselessly derivative, and a misuse of printing resources. The obvious argument reminds me of what went down during the Harlem Renaissance, the schism that occurred between people who thought art was just art and the people who thought that art should be used as a political vehicle. And to the former arguers' point, if art is just art, if writing is just writing, then to what extent can one work of fiction be toted higher than another?

But that's not really the quandary I was putting forth (there are still things such as craft). The question I wanted to ask is a little simpler, and a little more complex: what's the difference between music and literature? Are not they both instruments to make a receiver feel? Can not they both be used to implore a mind to think? Searching my memories, I want to say that they have different standards, but no, there's a lot of smut produced in both mediums (for every profession or hobby, there are people who are proficient and people who aren't). So I come away a little stumped.

Sometimes, I wish I was a genetically engineered super genius.


  1. "I even got a little weepy when Spock died."

    Spoilers! Jeez.

    When it comes to your question concerning music (a good one I think!*) what I've arrived at as an opinion is, first, music often has the advantage of not being as specific as writing, and second, that there are other things going on in music (catchy beats and what have you) that can endear a song to a person regardless of the lyrical content.

    *In fact, you've stirred up my thought processes on this issue to the point that I wrote a much longer comment than what I've posted, but I pared it down and will post it on my own blog later rather than crowd up yours with my words.

  2. I think that artistic mediums are even more different from one another than are apples and oranges. The only thing they have in common is that people like using and consuming them (but even those activities are so preposterously different between, say, sculpture and music, that using the same words for them is contentless).

    I agree with your nameless co-worker that you've got the writing part working pretty well. So the skill you really need to build up is Connecting With Fans.