This is my favorite time of year, and Halloween my favorite holiday, but such weather as I love isn’t really conducive to sustained thought, so… this.
Albums, singles, and the death of the artist. Reader Frip, below, mentions that the “units sold” metric for “best-selling bands” is, and always has been, based on LPs. Which might be important if one cares about these things, because Elvis — just to take the most obvious example — doesn’t have a “classic” album, since “albums” were very different in his day. Take a gander at Elvis’s official discography. By the end of 1958 — two years into his recording career — Elvis had released three studio albums, two soundtrack albums, one compilation album (Elvis’s Golden Records) and… holy guacamole… nineteen “extended play” albums, whatever those are. I don’t care enough to dig into the distinctions; the point is, though the official tally for “studio albums” (as Wiki counts them) ends up basically the same for Elvis and the Beatles (24 to 23, respectively), nobody’s going to be comparing Revolver (the Beatles’ 7th studio album) head-to-head with Elvis’s 7th, Pot Luck — much less Elvis’s roughly contemporary efforts (Elvis for Everyone! and How Great Thou Art).
There is also, of course, a vast difference between a solo act and a band, and that shades into the “artist vs. entertainer” distinction I’ve been trying to make. Elvis wrote some of his own songs, but Elvis was always an entertainer, not an artist. Indeed, if I had to guess, I’d venture that a big part of Elvis’s well-known drug problem stemmed from the fact that he knew himself to be a yesterday man, even as he was selling out giant concert halls and charting huge hits. Elvis had a single in the charts as late as 1977 (!!!), and a single-digit hit as late as 1972 (“Burning Love,” #2), but nobody would call Elvis a 70s act. He’s even less of a “Sixties” act, as that term is used in pop culture, though he had a #1 hit as late as 1969, the very year of Woodstock (“Suspicious Minds”).
The Beatles, though, were artists — at least in their own minds, and we indulged them, and look where that got us. I am not a musicologist, much less a psychologist, but I suspect a comparative study along these lines — artists vs. entertainers — would reveal a lot about the changing recent zeitgeist. Elvis is useful as a metric for straight numbers, but a much more fruitful comparison would be between the Beatles and the Beach Boys. Here again, I think some of Brian Wilson’s infamous drug issues stemmed from his desire to be taken seriously as an artist. Everyone acknowledges Wilson was a very innovative musician — he created an entire sound, which not even Lennon and McCartney can boast — but for all that he was still the boy wonder behind all those cars-surfing-and-girls tunes that seemed so silly even at the time. Throw in the group dynamic — you can argue about who the most talented Beatle was, but Mike Love was always the Beach Boys’ very distant second banana — and you’ve got… well, something way above my pay grade, but it’s fun to speculate. What would’ve happened if Brian Wilson had been mentioned in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney — which I think he always not-so-secretly wanted — instead of Jan and Dean?
Horror novels. Speaking of frustrated artistes sinking into pretentious self-parody, since it’s Halloween let’s talk about Stephen King. He’s a prominent example of Theodore Dalrymple’s assertion that most modern problems can be boiled down to people not knowing how to live. Here’s a man with enough money to do literally anything he wants. If he’s so hot and bothered about Donald Trump, for instance, he’s one of the few guys in America who can himself, personally, do what Trump did — bypass the whole political party schmear and run for President on his own resources. His obvious and well-documented personal shortcomings are in the same league as Trump’s — less infidelity, more drug use, but basically a wash — and, you know, since Trump is currently the President of the United States such things aren’t nearly the disqualifiers they once were. Nor is he any less “qualified,” since say what you will about the man, he’s obviously a savvy businessman.
And yet… when challenged to step into the arena back in 2018, he pussed out, like a typical Twitter jockey. Which, you know, is fine, you’d have to be a real manly man or a complete lunatic to run for President in this day and age, but the cognitive dissonance is rather striking. He does give away some cash, and let’s give him credit for that, but “sixth among Maine charities in terms of average annual giving” is kinda like being the sixth-drunkest guy at the local Oktoberfest — a nice distinction for what it is, I suppose, but not something you’d want on your business cards, let alone your tombstone.
But get a load of this: “In November 2011, the STK Foundation donated $70,000 in matched funding via his radio station to help pay the heating bills for families in need in his home town of Bangor, Maine, during the winter.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! If your ostentatious left-wing politics are good for what ails us as a nation, then back them up out of your own pocket (“matched funding,” eh? Again, credit where it’s due, he ponied up some cash, and I’m sure the recipients were grateful, but…).
I’m not (just) trying to needle the guy. For one thing, that’s pointless, since buddy, if you’re reading something on a blog with twenty readers and feel compelled to respond, you’ve got some major issues, and I’ll delete this immediately if you promise to go get yourself some help. The point is, you can’t read any of King’s later work without being hit with the man’s overwhelming, obsessive need for a legacy. The older he gets, and thus the further into Boomer narcissism he descends, the more obvious it becomes that he got a bad grade in one of his creative writing classes in college back in The Sixties ™ and never got over it. This man wanted to be the next John Cheever, and that’s fine, but still can’t accept, after all these years, that he’s gotten rich past the dreams of avarice being the next Edgar Allan Poe. He wants littérateur on his tombstone, and he ain’t gonna get it, so he takes it out on Republicans on Twitter.
See what I mean? If you want a legacy, buddy — if you want to be remembered as a Pillar of Your Community — you’ve got the money to do literally any goddamn thing you want. Peyton Manning has less money than you, and he was worried that he’d only be remembered as a Hall of Fame football player with a strong argument for being the greatest QB of all time, so he built a hospital. You could build a homeless shelter in every big city in America, Steve, to help out all the victims of Trump’s heartless whatever. You, personally, could build a factory and give away top of the line surgical masks to every person in the country if you’re so worried about Trump screwing the coronavirus pooch. Hell, you’re the creative one, homie, you figure out how best to put your vast riches to use. Do that, and watch how fast you go from “bitter old crank” to happy and fulfilled.
If you’re an entertainer, then entertain. Appreciate it for what it is — a rare gift that God only hands out to a selected few. I’d be thrilled to have “popular novelist” on my tombstone, and if the worst my fans could say about me was “he’s no great artist,” well, I’d die content. If I could use my talent to improve lives, either directly or via my shitloads of cash, then I’d die a happy man indeed. Appreciate what you have, buddy – it can all be taken away so fast.Loading Likes...