The case against anger (and Frank Zappa, too)♦
Our music critic Dan Coren recently exhorted me as well as all Broad Street Review readers to read three critical articles about Barack Obama and then listen to Frank Zappa’s ’60s anthem, “Trouble Comin’ Every Day.” (See “Frank Zappa, yesterday’s prophet.”) Given my prior commitments to writing books and magazine articles, editing Broad Street Review, covering Philadelphia’s cultural life and chasing women, not to mention my full-time job as a Houlihan’s busboy, this was quite an imposition on my time. But hey— I launched this website to educate myself, so the least I can do is follow my contributors’ recommendations.
Dan seems to assume that the synergy of three articles about Obama’s supposedly failed promise, together with Frank Zappa’s lyrics and music, will move me and everyone else more or less the way Susan Anspach was affected when Jack Nicholson “faked a little Chopin” in Five Easy Pieces. Unfortunately for Dan’s strategy, a true work of art will always be susceptible to multiple interpretations. And as I have occasionally observed in my previous musings about liberals and conservatives, it is entirely possible for two people of intelligence and good will to examine the same evidence and reach diametrically opposed conclusions.
Ryan Lizza’s “Making It, ,” in the July 21 New Yorker, has been cited by many liberals (presumably including Dan Coren) as dismaying evidence that Barack Obama is just another ambitious politician. But it struck me, to the contrary, as encouraging evidence that Obama is more than an empty orator— that he possesses the pragmatic ability to rise above partisanship and work with his adversaries to achieve his goals.
As for Frank Zappa— If you lived through the ‘60s, it’s hard not listen to “Trouble Comin’ Every Day” without feeling a lump in your throat as a long-buried and perhaps painful period of your youth resurfaces. But strip away the music, the video images and the pot you smoked while listening to it and you are left with lyrics like these:
Well I’m about to get UPSET
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean they say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friends,
Is anybody’s guess.
“Another rotten mess”? “Until my eyeballs fail to see”? We are not exactly talking about "La Marseillaise" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" here. “Trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;” “Loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword”— now, there is profundity for the ages, not to mention visual imagery capable of rousing hundreds of thousands to die for a principle.
“Zappa’s anger is as eloquent and germane today as it was more than 40 years ago,” Dan writes. Perhaps. But is anger germane to begin with? Four years in a therapy group taught me that anger has little to do with the situation at hand and everything to do with one’s early childhood. If it’s eloquence you seek, you might do better with some of the quotes that have hung on my office wall for many years. For example:
“There are very few things in the world which it is worthwhile to get angry about, and they are just the things that anger will not improve.” —Henry J. Raymond
“In any controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth and have begun striving for ourselves.” — Thomas Carlyle
“A man’s wisdom is lowest when his anger is highest.”
— Frank Tyger
If only someone would put those words to music.
To read Dan Coren’s response, click here.
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