Friday, December 12, 2008

Why I don't put celebrities on a pedestal...

...Or join fan clubs:

Now, if you're reading this it's probably because you know me, and therefore you also probably know that the highlight of 2008 for me was getting to see Bon Jovi, a band I've loved since I first heard "Livin' on a Prayer" sometime back in the early '90s, perform at Central Park. Matter of fact, that show was exactly five months ago today. Loved every second of it, and the same can be said for most of the songs from their albums. I know they haven't exactly been embraced by the critics over the years, but listening to their songs closely (which critics almost never do, instead basing their reviews on at most a few times through an album) reveals very technically superior musicians who, in my opinion, have managed to produce some of the best popular music of the past quarter century.

But why do so many people seem to think that good music (or movies, paintings, books, athletic performance, etc.) translates to a "nice" personality? I've never understood that. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're decent human beings until proven otherwise, but even the most well-intentioned celeb is as flawed as the rest of us. And of course, quite a few of them are not nearly as nice or decent as we might wish. Why do a lot of people continually find this surprising? And why does our enjoyment of their work so often hinge on our need to believe that their artistic or athletic talents carry over into other aspects of their personalities? In order to enjoy, say, a good meal at a fine restaurant, not many people need to believe that the chef is a wonderful human being, only a wonderful chef. Why do people expect more out of musicians and athletes, and why are they disappointed when the object of their admiration doesn't deliver?

I would never argue that disrespect for fans is okay. When people who have considerably less money than you are willing to spend their hard-earned income on your albums and your sky-high ticket prices, they're entitled to be appreciated and respected. Quite frankly, not having had the opportunity to see Bon Jovi live on any occasion save for last July and never having considered joining their fan club (which, in any case, is much more about just their lead singer, and not the whole band), I don't have any personal experiences on which to judge their relationship to their fans. I've obviously never met any of them, so I don't know what kinds of people they are. I just know I find their music very appealing. Would I love the opportunity to meet any of them someday? Sure, especially if doing so was able to give me any new insight into their songs. But do I expect that being very talented songwriters and performers somehow puts them onto a higher plane than the rest of us? Why should it? And why do any of us allow ourselves to be continually disappointed by any public figure who doesn't live up to the hype?

My own response to the article linked above is #161, so if you're interested in reading it (but don't feel like scrolling all that way down!), here is what I wrote:

I'm struck reading through your comments (yes, I read ALL of them!) that not a single person has chimed in to defend the club. And I agree with everybody else who find it hard to believe none of the bandmembers are aware of what's going on. You can pretend to be a nice guy in interviews even if you're really a douche when the press goes away, but you can't fake smart. Jon is clearly a very intelligent person, so if he truly has no awareness of what's going on he's being very irresponsible. I think it's much more likely that he knows exactly how things are being run and simply doesn't respect the fans enough to address it. I hope that's not the case, and of course I have no idea what gets said between the bandmembers and others they work with. But it strikes me as extremely unlikely that all of this has happened without his knowing consent.

As long as they keep making good albums (and for the record, I LOVED Lost Highway), I'll purchase them, because that decision is about the quality of the songs and not the personalities involved. But I would never consider joining a fan club under such circumstances.

Thanks for an excellent, well-written and thoughtful piece.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Boston and Jeopardy!

Early in October, there was an online test for the annual Jeopardy college tournament. Having returned to school this fall, I decided to take it. I felt like I didn't do very well, but a week later I got an email saying that I had passed the test and had been invited to an in-person audition! When I registered for the test I had to pick an interview city, of which there were several around the country. New York was not one of them, and the nearest were Washington and Boston. I chose Boston because I hadn't been there before and have always really wanted to visit. So a week after that I was completely surprised by this invite, and of course I said yes! Now, I should say right now that the odds of me actually making it onto the show are still very slim. Several hundred people were interviewed, and only 16 will be chosen for the show. But the fact that they had whittled down the applicants to a few hundred meant that I had to have done pretty well on that first test, so I'm pleased I got as far as I did.

The interview was the morning of November 8, which was a Saturday, so I headed up Friday morning. I went by bus (NOT Greyhound), and the trip took about four hours. I had driven through western Massachusetts before, but had never been to Boston. I've always really wanted to go there, so the chance to do so was what really excited me about being picked for the audition. It always seemed strange that I hadn't been there yet, seeing as I've lived just a few hours away for six years now, but given my financial situation I could never justify spending the money to go up there just for a vacation.

I stayed at a Sheraton near the hotel where the interview was held. My hotel was in a neighborhood called Back Bay, which is an old, upscale part of the city. I was on the 18th floor and had a beautiful view out my window of the surrounding neighborhoods and the Charles River in the distance. I was only in town for a couple of days so I knew I wouldn't be able to do much sightseeing, and rather than trying to run around and see as much as possible I decided to just explore the area where I was staying and see what there was to see. Which worked out great, because it turned out that a lot of the city's famous sites were right in that same part of town. Beacon Hill, the most well-known neighborhood, is right next to Back Bay, and I stumbled upon it while I was out exploring. You know the old sitcom “Cheers”? Well, it was inspired by a real bar in Beacon Hill, and I walked past it while I was out exploring. I also passed by the famous Trinity Church and several other old buildings; I just love the way Boston has found a way to preserve its history by integrating it into the modern city.

The audition, which after all was the purpose of the trip, lasted for about two hours. First we all took another test, and after that three of us at a time played a mock version of the game. (This was very low-tech; instead of actual buzzers, we used pens ;)).After our turn at the game, we were each asked a few questions, I guess to make sure we were interesting enough to not bore the show's audience ;) Everybody else was from a four-year school; one guy went to Yale, a few went to Harvard, and then there was me, from LaGuardia Community College! But I did okay, I didn't embarrass myself—at least, I don't think I did! Like I said, I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to call—though I wouldn't be completely surprised if they did. It was just fun to make it to the next round and see how the whole contestant search thing works.

After the audition I went down to Providence for a few hours. I had never been to Rhode Island before, so I took advantage of the chance to check one more state off my list. RI now makes thirty-one. There is a commuter rail that runs between Boston and Providence; the trip is about 70 minutes each way and is less than $8 one-way.

The most famous landmark in Providence is the Rhode Island State House, which is one of the largest in the country and has the world's 2nd-largest marble dome (after St. Peter's Basilica). During the week there are tours of the building, but since I was there on a Saturday I could only see it from the outside. It is quite impressive, and it struck me as kind of ironic that this was the center of government for a state most famous for its puny size. The City Hall is also worth seeing. Downtown Providence is pretty small—it's not a huge city—but across the river there's a historic district where a lot of city and state offices are held. I didn't explore it in too much depth, but I walked along the river for a while, and again, I really enjoyed how well the city had managed to preserve its history. The riverwalk itself is very nice, and in the summer they have something called “WaterFire,” where they light bonfires on the river and accompany it with music, often live performances. So, that's about all I did in RI, but I'm glad I got to see a little of another important city and got to add another state to my list! 19 more to go.

And that's about it. I wish I could have stayed in MA a bit longer, but I had missed one class already and had to get back. Boston is a beautiful city, and I hope I get the chance to go back and see more of it in the near future! At the start of last summer I hadn't been to either Boston or Baltimore, and now I've been to all five major cities along the Northeast Corridor, as well as every New England state except Vermont. So, I feel like I've actually done something this year, which is nice.