Jason Hartley, foreword by Chuck Klosterman. Scribner, $15 paper (288p) ISBN 9781439102367This reviewer understands me.
Fans of any art form or entertainment—especially music—have seen at least one beloved favorite's youthful brilliance, with time, turn to embarrassing self-parody. What pop culture writer Hartley proposes is that their genius hasn't faded—it's just outstripped the public's ability to appreciate. Though it can feel a bit tongue-in-cheek, Hartley gently advances his "Advanced Genius Theory" with rigor, enthusiasm, and a game sense of (re-)discovery. Eschewing the snide critical distance that many fans take for granted, Hartley gives the artist in question the benefit of the doubt: if we accept that Lou Reed, for example, was a musical genius in his youth, are we even qualified to say he's lost his brilliance as he's gotten older? (Regarding George Lucas, Hartley submits: "The fact is, Jar Jar Binks is no better or worse than Chewbacca. Just ask your dad.") Defining his terms clearly ("Advanced" geniuses must have alienated their original fans and lost much of their popularity), he proceeds through key aspects and examples of his theory, including the ideas of "Overt" achievement and "Irritants," the "most advanced musicians of all time" (Bob Dylan and Lou Reed), and the Advanced success story of Steve Martin. Though it should ignite many debates over whether your current favorite is Overt or Advanced, it also shows that, in either case, there's more pleasure to be found when one keeps an open mind.
Saturday, May 29, 2010