Friday, September 16, 2005

A Country's Admiration

My wife makes fun of me because I used to pray for Eddie Vedder when I was in high school. Sure, I didn’t know the guy and may have been a tad obsessed with his music (is it unusual to decorate a Pearl Jam Christmas tree in the school Christmas tree lane?), but I know the prayers were sincere, and who knows, they may have contributed to the goodness of both “No Code” and “Yeild.” I haven’t sent one up on his behalf since, and won’t go into the flatness of both “Binaural” and “Riot Act.” COINCIDENCE? Ha!

I would also wear a T-shirt, in those days, which had that classic picture of Jim Morrison with arms outstretched. On the front a caption read “An American Poet 1943-1971.” I went several months there where all I listed to was the Doors and Led Zeppelin. One of those musical phases that I just had to go through. I believed my shirt, and would later laugh at myself after reading Phillip Levine, Anne Sexton, John Ashbury, Larry Levis…real American Poets. This isn’t meant to discount what Morrison created, because no doubt it means a lot to some people—just not to me anymore. But the music did certainly contribute to the stirring of certain sensibilities, even if it is now obsolete for me.

Not long ago the Discovery Channel aired a program called “The 100 Greatest Americans” in which the results were chosen by Americans themselves via an online polling process through their website. There are obvious inaccuracies in the sampling of such a pole, because you can immediately exclude the opinions of everyone 60 years and older because of the overwhelmingly large percentage that just aren’t online yet. Nevertheless here are some names that made the list: Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. Surprised? How about: Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Brett Favre, Madonna, Hugh Heffner. Yup, all made the list. Mark Twain made the list, but no other authors (Steinbeck? Faulkner? Dickinson? Hemmingway?) In the end the list turned out to be the 100 Most Popular Americans.

The only reason I bring all these things up is because I watched a movie last night that got me thinking about who we esteem, why, and how that effects us. The movie was “Hud” starring the hunky Paul Newman, wherein he plays a reckless, unprincipled, womanizer who “doesn’t give a damn” about anything except himself. Part of the conflict in the movie is the influence Hud has on his nephew, Lonnie, and the audience wonders whether Lonnie will be sucked into his uncle’s loose-cannon lifestyle. At one point Hud’s dad approaches Lonnie with gravity and a strong caveat, “Little by little the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.”

This struck me as something entirely true. Oft times we think we only effect ourselves, but that’s a lie. I know, “No man is an island” blah, blah, blah….but really. It took a lot of guts for me to eventually throw out my Doors CD’s because I knew it was all just a bunch of bunk, and really didn’t inspire me poetically or otherwise. At the risk of judgement it also takes guts for me to keep the R rated “Stevie” and “Good Will Hunting” in my collection because they do inspire me. I just hope that I admire the people I do for good reasons, and that those reasons are causing the country to change little by little.

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edwardprehiem9810 said...
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