Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Dan Ruth - Among the Collectors

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fish Stick is Alive and Well and Living in America


When culture looks in the mirror and is bored with what it sees, it looks to vintage formulas and images that once captivated and exchanges masques. Pop culture preys on little gems from the past – things that didn’t quite catch on – and the big guns run with it. They give the gem a second chance and pretend the original never existed in the first place. Ultimately, pop culture fears its own lack of relevancy. One needs only to look to Broadway, Music and Film for proof of our own laziness and fear of capability. The Broadway “revival” at least has an excuse. To revive a play or musical simply because it “worked the first time,” isn’t reason enough to take the gamble. The fact that theatre maintains its relevance as a live phenomenon, and that it often needs to be seen again, is the missing link there. I think Shakespeare would agree. When I recently saw “A Little Night Music” on Broadway, I never really knew the show or the music and most certainly had never been 15 feet from Bernadette Peters as her live, fragile performance washed over me. It was amazing. No performance, live or not however, will get me to go see “Rain,” the newest Beatles show, even though, like Beatlemania, it's apparently “an incredible simulation.” I saw Paul McCartney live last year and count it among one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen.

Pop music and Film are different animals in a different zoo, because they can truly be captured. Music, and it’s phenomenon of “cover songs” shows pop culture at its cheapest. Sure, music will always be rife with originals – acts that can never be denied their relevance. Time freezes music and film’s antiquities to be reflected within their own history. No matter what happens in the world, there with never be another Janis Joplin. There will never be another Janis Joplin because there will never be another Vietnam or another American women’s liberation movement. There will never be another Jimi Hendricks, Joni Mitchell, Kiss, Prince, Beatles or Bruce Springsteen. It’s been done. It will never be able to be redone or at least to reflect itself as pure as the original. When the hits just aren’t rolling however, the big guns do their homework, and start to “rehash.” They start counting the money and hope that a song can hit the charts before the masses figure out that it’s already been done. Sometimes a cover is better or different, therein the industry can at least pretend that the artist was paying homage to the original. So yes, now Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie can finally be fast friends – but as I danced to Bananarama’s “Venus” in 1986, it wasn’t until years later that I knew about the fabulous Shocking Blue original and as I roller-skated to Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” in 1978, I had no idea that the original was recorded by some band named Hello three years earlier. So the industry and artists gamble and win big many times over.



Unfortunately, the Film industry, now more than ever, is being plagued with the same attempt at formula – remember, safety first. Built on the basis that it can capture exactly what happened and how it happened, makes Film the truest form of perpetual human relevancy. It’s the answer to the age-long question, “If a tree falls in the woods. . .” If there’s a camera in the so-called woods when the tree falls, you have your proof (provided that the boom was recording). The problem with film re-do’s, is that with a film’s history already frozen, an imposter masquerading as the original, is sure to be doomed to failure from the start. The seed has already been planted and the masses expect the clone to be just as appealing, or even worse, better than the original. Rarely is that the case. Truly, if Walt Disney was thawed out and Weird Al stepped out of the cryogenic tomb in his place, we would not only baffled, but down right pissed off. We would have been tricked. Even with the birth of new so-called “stars” and CGI, re-makes like “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Halloween” or even “The Women,” are down right wrong. The originals already have their own set of chromosomes, per-se. They have Shelly Winters, they have John Carpenter and damn it, they have Joan Crawford.



I often wonder why I’ve become so enveloped with antiques, antiquities, collectibles and things from the past and not focusing my energy on trying to “get myself out there” in the world of modern-day entertainment. Maybe I don't wanna! Or maybe my response should be that before Lady GaGa and her “new” music, there were the drag queens, costumes and outrageousness of Wigstock in the East Village. Before Rob Zombie, there was Alice Cooper and John Carpenter and before Madonna there was Joan Crawford. So perhaps right now, I really don't have anything new to write about - perhaps soon I will. Many might suspect a curious lack of relevance in regards to anyone who loves to live in the past. I assure you that there is a difference. My love for the past, as clearly as I can tell, is fueled by age, history and an unquenchable desire to find out how we, as a society, got to where we are today. We live in a culture where things are often never new – society as a whole and not just me, seem to revel in the past. What separates us – we, the “wacko lovers of antiques, collectibles and old movies, etc” from the rest of those that settle for the myriad of modern imitations, is that we prefer the real McCoy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Madonna but before she came along, others were already sleeping their way to the top. She’s about as new as Syphilis.



So modern society keeps “getting better” with its gadgets and its technology, but it keeps loosing shreds of human ingenuity & historical significance day by day. So I say down with so much cloning. Enjoy something authentic and old if you can’t find something new. Absolute trust and acceptance of new ideas, new music, new writing and new imaginations are the keys to what is necessary for making culture grow and I wish luck to all things completely new – if it’s original, society should welcome it. In the mean time however, I’ll continue to love old stuff. I prefer a bottle that’s been dug up in the yard to a bottle of salad dressing from the supermarket - the dug bottle has been touched by history and it has a story. I prefer the local Mom & Pop restaurant to Olive Garden. I would rather listen to Etta James than Christina Aguilera. Further, I believe that economic downturns, besides sucking horribly, make people use their imagination and creativity and pushes society as a whole to find its own solutions to the problems that it faces. So if our problem is boredom in a 21st Century world, then robbing from the past doesn’t seem to be the solution. Love the past for what it is – history. Oh, and Walt Disney was never frozen. That white supremacist was burned & cremated long ago and should not be likened to a fish stick – then again, perhaps he should be. I think I’ll write now.

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