Friday, February 6, 2009

Eclectic Company

Whenever I am asked to describe my taste in music, books, movies, or television, my answer is always one word: eclectic.

Eclectic (from the Latin, meaning "type of eel") just means that my taste varies. 
If you were to look at my iPod, you will find everything from novelty country-western music ("Don't Go Near the Eskimos") to Norwegian acapella folk music (Trio Medieval, who I highly recommend).  I love Beyonce and Bartoli, Mozart and Muse.  I'm not highbrow; I lustily sing along with "The Scotsman" (Oh, lad I don't know where you've been, but I see you won first prize), but I also croon along softly to "Closer" by Joshua Radin, my new favorite slow song.  Generally speaking, eclectic tastes are awesome, leading one to experience far more than someone who labels himself as a fan of one genre.

My eclectic tastes have taken an unexpected turn this week, though, and it is in the field of literature that two of my favorites, all unknowing, are in disharmony.  Yes, I speak of my beloved Twilight, now under fire from the elder statesman of guilty pleasure reading: my man, Stephen King.

Steve (I call him Steve, he owes me that much) and I go way back.  I was in middle school (ca. 1988) when I first read a King book: Pet Sematary.  This book was terrifying to me, said terror enhanced by an adorable younger brother who looked just like the evil little boy in the book, and I should have stopped there.  I didn't, though, and went on to read (and purchase) my way through King's entire list.  It currently takes up about 1/4 of my available shelf space.

Although I am a fan, I am not blind to Steve's faults.  First, in my book, is his tendency to be just a tad wordy.  An example: Insomnia, his aptly named exploration into sleep disorders, elder abuse, domestic violence, and abortion rights, consisted of about 9 pages of actual plot and, by my calculation, 17,456 pages of Kingsian filler.  King fans know what I mean...the 17-page description of the supermarket bagger, whom we have never met, nor ever will see again, but we can finally move on with the story, having learned about this bagger's family history and personal background, including his struggle with bed-wetting and arson.  (King's peripheral characters are always disturbed criminals; I imagine small towns in New England as profoundly scary places.)

King's writing could be called gimmicky; his reliance on profanity could be called offensive, but I think of it more as unimaginative.  His plot points are sometimes unbelievable, sometimes predictable, but I (and millions of others) keep coming back for more.  Why?  The man can tell a story.  At the end of the day, that's why I read: for the story.

King's criticism of Stephenie Meyer?  She can't write, he says.  Oh, he grants that her story is an interesting one, but he compares her unfavorably to JK Rowling by saying this: "Jo can write.  Meyer can't."  Et tu, Steve?  I know the last few books haven't been as successful, and it's a struggle to stay relevant when one is plugging the latest compilation of previously-published short novels that have been made into movies, but casting one's self as the arbiter of literary taste, in a society that owes it's lack of literary taste at least in part to you, strikes me as a particularly pathetic way to do it.

Now, to anyone who is still with me: this isn't me defending Twilight, because I'm aware of its flaws.  It always bothers me to see someone who should know better jump on a bandwagon of criticizing something popular, because it is so transparently about jealousy.

Take Etta James.  She came out at a concert and made the following statements:  she referred to Obama as "the one with the big ears," then insisted he wasn't "her president."  She then went on to say that "I can't stand Beyonce" and "that's my own song that I've been singing forever.

Gee, I wonder why they didn't ask her to sing at the inaugural ball?  
Opinion aside, Ms. James has something wrong: it isn't "her" song.  It was written by someone else, originally recorded by someone else, and covered several times by several someones else before she got to it.  Her version has been iconic, there is no doubt of that, but that would be like Tina Turner claiming that no one else had ever performed "Proud Mary," or Whitney Houston insisting that "I Will Always Love You" is "her" song, though it was written and originally performed by Dolly Parton.  But I digest...

What Etta and Stephen need to remember is that there are many people out there, just like me, who love it all.  What we don't love is when what we love turns on itself.

That never would have happened in the old days, right?  I mean, did Jane Austen ever write this?
Jane Eyre, the new novel by Charlotte Bronte, stunk worse than Mr. Collins after a day on horseback.  I mean, am I right?

No, she didn't, because she died 30 years before Jane Eyre was published, but you get my point.  Why can't all of the people I love just love each other?  Why can't I exist in a utopian entertainment paradise, in which the characters from Twilight re-imagine Pride and Prejudice, the cast of Scrubs, The Office and Joel McHale dominate television, and Coldplay decides to perform "Viva la Vida" with Beyonce at the Debb awards?

Would that be so bad?