Thanks to my old friend Barrie Hardymon, (who isn’t reading this* because she’s busy being a new mom!) I have become mildly obsessed with a weekly podcast put out by some of the behind-the-scenes nerds at NPR. It’s called Pop Culture Happy Hour, and despite the various red flags that title sends up, it’s essentially a delightful 45 minutes or so of four friends sitting around a table talking about the great new books they’ve read (or haven’t read, in the case of the proudly print-averse Stephen Thompson,) the movies and TV shows they’ve loved or hated, and the music they’re currently obsessing over. There’s even a resident classical music/opera geek! (Oddly, he’s primarily a theater critic.)
The four regular panelists are obviously very different people, and they revel in poking at each other’s cultural blind spots, which is a large part of the attraction of the show. (I may – may - be developing an unhealthy voice crush on the sardonic and hilarious Glen Weldon, who thinks nothing of taking open shots at another panelist for bringing up his kids too much, and in the next breath reeling off all the new superheroes he’s created in the DC Universe game this week. Captain Tenille, anyone?) Their Facebook fan page pretty much sums up the PCHH ethos – its profile pic is a carefully hand-stitched sampler that reads, “This is beneath NPR’s dignity.”
Host Linda Holmes makes a point of regularly coming up with new segments and games to keep things fresh, and one I just got through listening to from this week’s episode struck a particular chord with me. The PCHH crew were split on whether to call it “On Second Thought…” or “How Wrong I Was.” I like the latter. The point of the game is to dredge up an old opinion from your past – preferably a strong opinion that you either committed to paper and showed to other people or spoke firmly in the presence of others – and reflect on how utterly indefensible that opinion now seems.
As anyone who has read this blog for even a short time knows, I tend to have opinions, and I tend to write them down, or at the very least, harangue my friends with them. I like to think that I’m pretty good about not assuming that my perspective is the only reasonable one, and a succession of great teachers in high school and college taught me the value of regularly playing devil’s advocate with yourself. But there’s no question that I’ve said a lot of things in my years in the music business that would make me cringe if they were played back to me today.
For instance, back in college, I took a music history class on Stravinsky because I hated Stravinsky. I know. I can’t explain it, but back then, I wasn’t the least bit shy about sharing this heretical opinion. The Rite of Spring left me completely baffled, not by the tricky compound meter or the earthy dissonances, but by the fact that anyone actually thought it sounded good. Symphony in C bored me to tears. Even The Firebird, one of Stravinsky’s most easily accessible works, didn’t really grab me the way Debussy or Bartok did. My overall reaction to the music of (arguably) the most influential composer of the 20th century ranged from “meh” to “bleah.”
I'm sorry, Igor. I was young and foolish.
I was hoping the Stravinsky course would teach me to appreciate Agon and Petrouchka, but instead, it just introduced me to the fact that Stravinsky thought an awful lot of himself and loved giving speeches and writing essays about what a genius he was. I knew he was a genius – that much was empirically clear from everything that had come after him – but I still didn’t like his music, so most of what I was learning was totally unhelpful to me. It wasn’t until years later that I woke up one day (that’s literally how I remember it – just an overnight epiphany) and realized that I loved Stravinsky, and felt utterly ashamed that it had taken me so long to hear what everyone else had always heard. I’m honestly hopeful that someday soon I will wake up and feel the same way about other undeniable geniuses whom everyone else in the world appreciates, like Wagner and Radiohead.
So what about you? What strongly held opinion on music or some other cultural touchstone would you be forced to sheepishly revise if you were confronted by your past self today?
*New moms apparently have more spare time than I had been led to believe. Hi, Barrie!