Moon Hooch New Year’s Concert Review

A few weeks back I interviewed the band “Moon Hooch” prior to their New Year’s Eve concert (which I attended as their guest). Here are my impressions of the show:

Moon Hooch is a trio, two saxophonists and a drummer. The unusual combination only begins to hint at the uniqueness of their sound. In contrast to the opening groups that night, which were enjoyable but derivative revistations of sounds that were twenty to forty years old, Moon Hooch sounded utterly new and fresh.

As a child of the 80’s my dominant impression of the saxophone is the slow jammin’ solos that appeared on every recording of that saxophone-loving era –but this music didn’t sound anything at all like the 80’s! The best way to describe the sound is as electronica music played live on acoustic instruments. That, however, is perhaps too faint a way to praise the raw talent needed to translate sounds usually conjured up by studio wizardry into an actual live performance –and this is definitely a band that needs to be experienced live. The videos I saw online gave only a small hint of the ferocious power pouring out of their horns during their set.

Although Moon Hooch’s sound is really sui generis, if I had to compare them to anything, it would be BADBADNOTGOOD for a similarly youthful and iconoclastic approach to horns and drums, or maybe even Pentatonix for a acoustic/human-centered reinterpretation of electronic sources (although their raw, rockin’ sound is the opposite of Pentatonix’ glitzy pop). The best moment of the concert for me was when they pulled out a crazy horn I had never seen before and began to produce full-on dirty dubstep bass, with their drummer producing rhythms of a complexity that would have challenged the skills of a drum machine.

If I had a complaint about the concert it’s that either their set list was short enough that they needed to repeat themselves, or their songs were enough alike one another that I might have mistaken one for the other. Either way, it’s easily explained by the youth of the band and the virtuoso difficulty of their compositions. (They also missed out on at least one sales opportunity by shutting down their merchandizing table prior to the start of their set, thus catering only to pre-existing fans!)

Minor quibbles aside, I highly recommend this group. If you have a chance to see this group perform live –and you’d like to hear what the future sounds like –make sure you don’t miss it.

Independent’s Day and Columbus Invitational

I’m very excited to announce that the Columbus Invitational Arts Competition is joining forces with the Independent’s Day Festival to present our events together, September 17th and 18th, 2016. Our Visual Arts Exhibition will be hosted at the Vanderelli Room, and our Performing Arts Showcase is tentatively scheduled to appear at Strongwater.

After starting from humble beginnings less than a decade ago, Independent’s Day has increased exponentially to become of of Columbus’ largest and most successful street festivals, and a key part of the Franklinton arts renaissance. As part of our partnership, I’ll be joining the Independent’s Day leadership team as the Assistant Creative Director, with a special emphasis on diversity and outreach. More details as they become available.

Muppet Philosophy

We’re taking a break from Star Wars this week to link to a very different venerable popular culture franchise (also owned by Disney!), the Muppets.

Similar to an entry from the popular-culture-philosophy series by Blackwell and Open Court (but not apparently affiliated with either), Timothy Dale and Joseph Foy’s Jim Henson and Philosophy: Imagination and the Magic of Mayhem takes an academically serious, but general-audience friendly look at the philosophy and philosophical implications of a pop-culture figure, in this case, Muppets creator Jim Henson.

Listen to interviews with the writers on Muppetcast, below:

1. Interview begins around 24:00
2. Interview begins around 22:00

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Darth Vader vs Kylo Ren

SPOILER ALERT – Plot points of the original Star Wars Trilogy and The Force Awakens discussed below.

A key point of comparison and contrast between A New Hope and The Force Awakens is their respective villains. The similarities are clear and deliberate. Both A New Hope‘s Darth Vader and The Force Awakens‘ Kylo Ren are masked figures dressed all in black. Both movies feature a emotionally fraught relationship between a father and a son, on opposite sides of the conflict (although we don’t discover that relationship in the first trilogy until much later). Kylo Ren is even presented as having explicitly patterned himself after Darth Vader, his grandfather.

Despite all these echoes of the original, the differences are, if anything, even more striking and intentional. Perhaps the most consistent complaint I’ve heard about the new movie is how Ren suffers by comparison to Vader. Vader, according to this point of view, is strong, threatening and terrifying, while Ren is weak, whiny and angst-ridden. This, I think, misses the point of the differences. A New Hope is presented from the point of view of the son; and Darth Vader is the scary, abusive father figure, an evil demigod, with seemingly unlimited powers. The Force Awakens is from the viewpoint of the parent; and Kylo Ren is the prodigal son, harmful to others, tormented by his own inner darkness, under the sway of a false mentor, and squandering his talents and potential on misguided obsessions.

Maybe you have to be a parent to appreciate it, but it definitely spoke to me. When you look at your own child you see both dreams and nightmares of the future. Will he or she grow up to be the kind, loving, generous person you see in your brighter visions? Or will your child be one of the people who fails to outgrow the childhood vices of rage, selfishness and lack of empathy, and who indulges them with the full powers of adulthood? Han Solo, in this movie, is every horrified father on the evening news, unable to not still love the son who just committed some unimaginable, irreparable crime.

ADVANTAGE: Neither.

Don’t get me wrong, Darth is both cooler and deadlier, but conceptually, both movies are exploring interesting ground. In many ways Kylo Ren represents the delayed fulfillment of the failed promise of the prequels, to explore a believable “Portrait of the Villain as a Young Man.” He’s certainly a more interesting portrait of a person torn between the Dark and the Light sides of the Force than the young Anakin.

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Theme and Variations

J.J. Abrams’ new Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens, has been both praised and panned for how deeply it is reminiscent of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. The new movie reflects its predecessor in many of its plot points, characters, relationships and settings. At the same time, however, it also contains elements that are a radical departure from what came before. The similarities and differences are both so striking and plain that the movie cannot be best understood simply as an extension of the original, or even a tribute, but rather as a exemplar of the concept of theme and variation.

“Theme and variation” is a central and important artistic methodology across many different art forms and genres. In general, it begins with a basic artwork, the “theme.” For example, in the world of classical music, a composer might take as a theme a folk song, or a famous melody from another composer’s work. She would then create the “variations,” a series of versions of that same melody. One variation might be faster, another slower. One might keep only the chord progression, with a different melody, another might keep the melody, but with a different harmonization. A variation might be more ornate, or more plain, or transpose the melody to a different key or modality, from major to minor or vice versa. When done well, the composer finishes with a number of distinct artworks that all function together as a thematically unified whole. Ideally, the variations build on the strengths of the theme, while also holding their own individual pleasures.

There is an additional level of depth to the theme and variation methodology, however. By combining novelty with the familiar, the variation simultaneously highlights and contextualizes its innovations. In this way, the retained elements become the medium for a new message delineated by the departures. By starting from the raw material of the theme, the new artist calls into service a complex set of expectations, which then can be fulfilled, denied or exceeded. Each choice, therefore, takes on new meaning in comparison or contrast to the choices made in the theme.

We’ll be taking a closer look at “The Force Awakens” through the lens of theme and variation at irregular intervals in the near future. Some of the topics I plan to address are: “Darth Vader VS Kylo Ren,” “Death Star VS Starkiller”, “BB-8 VS R2D2,” “The Good Stormtrooper,” “Mos Eisley VS Maz Kamata,” “Rey VS Luke,” “Han, Leia, C3PO and Chewie Revisited,” “Using the Force.” Links will be added here as the posts are written.

Winning!

“Looks like you boys could use some water.”

I can’t resist ending 2015 with a little boasting. This week, I gained admittance to a very select club. According to legend, Zach Galifianakis, Brad Paisley, Maureen Dowd, Michael Bloomberg tried to get in and failed, Roger Ebert tried over 100 times before succeeding.

But today, I, Chris Sunami, am a winner of the New Yorker Caption Contest!

To be honest, I’m not even sure this is one of my better entries, or even (shh!) the best of the three finalists this week –but it’s the will of the people (and Bob Mankoff) that matters.

I believe I actually shattered Mr. Ebert’s record of 107 failed previous entries quite some time ago. I’ve been entering the contest since it started over a decade ago, and some years I’ve entered nearly every week. I was previously a finalist in July of 2014.

Thought versus Meditation: The Philosophy of Moon Hooch

This week brings something a little different for me, an original interview with a philosophically inclined band. Full disclosure: I will be attending their New Year’s Eve show in Columbus as their guest.

Q: I’ve heard that philosophy is an important topic to you. How would you describe your philosophy, and what impact does it have on your music?

A: Philosophy is the attempt to organize ideas into rational concepts, while meditation is experience without the organization of ideas. This might seem to contradict the idea that meditation requires discipline,but you can also use discipline to surrender. To be thoughtless you have to oppose control seeking mental habits, which takes discipline. Especially in today’s society.

We love the illusion of control and by thinking about the future and the past we think we can have control over our lives. Meditation is the attempt to break those habits, give up control and identify with pure awareness. On the other hand, when you think about philosophy you try to create theories and understand how things are. The thing is that how things are is inevitably different than the intellectual organization of ideas. Things are not rational, they just are and meditation is what allows you to experience that. You let go of your
thoughts and even stop considering yourself as a person.

Because the idea of a person is already an attempt to define the truth that can’t be defined. Being a person is something different than a person, because verbs are processes and nouns are ideas that imply certain characteristics. Reality is a process. Everything is constantly changing. There are no nouns in this world. They are all illusions. But you need illusions to think rationally.

For example you have the idea of a peach, and you need that idea to think about a peach, or tell your friend about a peach. But on the subatomic level there is no peach, you have particles that spring in and out of existence based on a probability distribution. This means
particles are nowhere specific, but are more likely to be found at certain places depending how they are measured or observed. If you keep drilling in that direction, time and space fall apart and you are really left with nothing but different patterns of energy – so you are
not actually holding a peach in your hand. You are holding a bunch of processes in your hand. Even on the cellular level the peach is not one entity, but a community of cells. A noun is the attempt to squeeze a bunch of processes into an illusion.

Processes constantly change and are never exactly the same. But how could you even make sense of anything if you were trying to think about things in that way? You can’t. You will loose your mind. To really understand it all you have to give up thinking. This is what meditation is all about. You go through your day not believing that you are a person but that you are what you experience. In this state of consciousness there is no separation between all the different process and you realize that everything is just energy organized into different patterns. If you think about it, it will be an intellectual realization. But in a meditative state this realization manifests itself as the feeling of love.

Of course all of this effects the way you play music. How could you look at anything in the same way after you wrestled with these ideas. When you play music you can get into a state beyond rational thought and share that state of consciousness with other people.

Moon Hooch will play, along with Electric Orange Peel and Devil’s Lettuce, this New Years’ Eve at Woodlands Tavern. Tickets include food and drink and are available by clicking here.

Philosophers Epic Rap Battle

It’s a visit to the lighter side of philosophy in popular culture this week with a look at the recent “Epic Rap Battle” production “Eastern Philosophers versus Western Philosophers.” The popular YouTube franchise ERB built its reputation on a collision between high and low culture. Although reliably silly and scatalogical, the long running series of videos is built on solid research, intellectually substantive jokes, and solid rhymecraft.

The basic conceit is that two historical (or fictional) characters meet head to head in a “rap battle,” a series of dire insults delivered over a hip-hop beat. To work, the lines delivered need to be shockingly outrageous, yet seem true to the character portrayed.

So how did they do with the greats of philosophy? While they don’t go particularly deep, there are some choice lines that suggest at least some understanding of what these different thinkers stand for. Perhaps the most apt point in the video, however, is when the putative teammates can’t even agree amongst themselves. As they say, put any two philosophers in a room together, and you’ll end up with a minimum of three incompatible opinions.

Socrates Talk Show – Justin Beaver

Please enjoy this repost of my modernization of Plato’s classic dialog “The Ion.” Please note, all dialogue is directly based on the original.

Ladies and Gentlemen,” proclaimed an unseen voice. “Welcome to the Socrates Talk Show! Please put your hands together for tonight’s first guest –Justin Beaver!”

The handsome young pop singer entered the stage from behind the blue curtain and waved to the adoring crowd. The cheers and applause were deafening. Even after he sat down opposite the show’s host, the noise kept up without pause. Seated on opposite sides of the desk, the contrast between the two was stark: Justin in the polished bloom of youth, and Socrates, looking every bit of his three thousand years. Finally, after several minutes, Socrates was able quiet the crowd and begin the interview.

“Justin! Always good to see you. Just fly in from LA?”

“Nah, Socrates, I was playing a festival outside London.”

“London? Where they have that big singing contest?”

“Yeah, singing, dancing, everything.”

“Were you in it? How did you do?”

Justin sneered. “You really gotta ask?” The crowd cheered again, almost drowning out the last part of the young star’s reply. “I won it.”

“Great, great. No more than what we expect. I want to hear the same story when you play New York, mind you.”

“No doubt, no doubt.”

More cheers.

“You know, Justin, I envy you pop singers. Look at you, you look great all the time –you really do! Wearing the hottest new clothes, staying fit, changing up the hairstyle, it’s all part of your job. But at the same time, you’re also working with the best producers and songwriters in the business –real artists.”

The young star acknowledged the praise with a nod and a smirk.

“In particular, you’ve worked for a long time with your mentor Homer, who in my humble opinion is the best lyricist there ever was –and the best there will ever be! And not only do you have to learn his songs, you also have to understand them. Now that’s something to really make a guy like me jealous… I mean it!”

Laughs, scattered applause.

“The way I see it, no one can be a good pop singer unless he understands the songs he’s singing. You’re the voice of the songwriter, but how can you be that voice unless you really get where the writer is coming from? That’s what I mean when I say I’m jealous. I’m jealous of that relationship you have with the songwriter –the immortal Homer.”

“Yeah, Socrates, that’s right. I’m pretty proud of that. It didn’t come overnight, I really had to work at it. But you know, I made it. No one sings Homer better than me. There’s a lot of other singers out there, like Jackson Timberboot, Gander or Frank Rivers but they just don’t get Homer the way I do.

“That’s just great Justin, and I’d love to hear you sing a bit of it for us.”

Justin perked up as the crowd cheered enthusiastically.

“Yeah, Socrates, let me break a little of that off for you. When you hear how well I sing Homer, you’ll be ready to give me the Grammy right here and now!”

More cheers, wild applause, screams.

“Like I said, Justin, I’d love to hear you. But let’s make it some other time. Right now, I’d like to ask you a question.”

Scattered booing.

“Are you great at singing songs by other songwriters too, or just Homer? For instance, how about the songs of Barb Dillon?”

The crowd fell silent.

“Just Homer,” said Justin, spitting out his words like a toddler who just tasted something nasty. “Isn’t that enough?”

“But don’t Homer and Dillon agree on a lot of things?”

“I guess.”

“And are you more in tune with Homer or Dillon about the things they agree about?”

“The same, I guess, when they agree.”

“But what about when they don’t agree? For instance, they both have strong opinions about religion, don’t they?”

“I guess.”

“So who would be the better judge of what they say about religion. You, or a preacher?”

Justin kicked his foot against the desk.

“A preacher.”

“But if you were a preacher, you’d be able to judge them whether they agreed or not, right?”

“Duh.”

Socrates leaned back in his chair, and tapped his fingers together.

“That’s very mysterious, isn’t it? How did you come to have this great skill to understand Homer’s songs, but not the songs of Dillon or any of the other great songwriters? Doesn’t Homer write on the same topics as the other songwriters? Love, and religion, and being lonely or afraid or happy or going to parties or all the other great topics of human life?”

“I guess.”

“And don’t all the other songwriters write about all the same things?”

Justin squirmed in his chair.

“Yeah, Socrates, I guess, but not in the same way as Homer.”

“What, in a worse way?”

“Yeah, much worse.”

“And Homer in a better way?”

Justin looked angry, and his voice when he spoke had become a growl.

“Yeah, much better.”

Socrates leaned forward.

“But surely, my dearest Justin, if we were talking about something else, say, math, and one person spoke about it better than all the others, there would be someone who would be able to tell the difference.”

Justin looked confused and a little defeated by the sudden change in topic.

“I guess.”

“And the person who knows who the good mathematician is would be the same person who knows who the bad one is?”

“Yeah.”

“It would be a math teacher?”

“Yeah.”

“And suppose there was a discussion about which foods are good to eat, and everyone has a different opinion. Who would be the person who knows which person is right and who would be the person who knows which one is wrong? Would it be the same person or a different person?”

“The same.”

“And who would that be?”

“I don’t know. A doctor?”

“And in general, in any discussion of any topic, the person who judges the good speaker will be the same person who judges the bad one, right? For if he can’t tell who is speaking badly, how can he tell who is speaking well?

“Right.”

“The same person who has the skill to judge the good has the skill to judge the bad.”

“Yeah.”

“But you said that Homer, and Barb Dillon, and Tim Weights, and all the other songwriters, they all write about the same topics, although in different ways, and one is better and the others are worse.”

Justin looked angry again.

“Yeah, Socrates, and I know I’m right about that.”

“And if you know who the best songwriter is, you also know that the others aren’t as good.”

“Hell yeah.”

“But then, my dearest friend, shouldn’t I say that Justin Beaver is equally an expert on Homer and all the other songwriters, since he himself has said that the same person will be a good judge of all those who speak on the same topics, and since he has also acknowledged that all songwriters speak on the same topics?”

In response, Justin stuttered and stammered.

“But Socrates, explain this! Why do I fall asleep and don’t have anything worthwhile to say whenever anyone is talking about those other songwriters, but if Homer is mentioned, I immediately wake up and can talk about him for hours?”

Socrates arched an eyebrow, and turned to the audience as if to poll their opinion, before turning back to his young guest with the air of someone revealing a great mystery.

“The reason is clear, Justin. No one could miss it. You see, you don’t speak about Homer from any training or study. If you were a student of music theory, on the other hand, you could talk about all songwriters, because there’s such a thing as the art of songwriting, as a whole.”

Justin shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“And for any subject that you can master, there’s some art of it, considered as a whole. Do you want me to explain what I mean?”

Justin mugged for the crowd.

“Yeah, you do that, Socrates. I like to hear you talk, all wise and whatnot.”

The crowd laughed as Socrates pretended to look shocked.

“What, me wise? I wish! It’s you pop stars and actors and songwriters who are wise. I’m just an average Joe, too dumb to know better than to tell the truth all the time. Even that question I just asked you, look how dull and easy it is. Anyone could understand it. I’m only asking if you don’t use the same knowledge all the way through when you master any pursuit?”

Justin looked confused again.

“For instance, making music videos, that’s a career, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“And there are many people who make videos, good and bad.”

“Yeah.”

“Have you ever known anyone who can show you what makes a good video when one person does it, but not when another person does? Someone who falls asleep when other people’s music videos are on, and has nothing to say, but when that one director’s work comes on, he’s suddenly wide awake and paying attention and telling you all about it, have you ever known anyone like that?

“No.”

“Or what about directing movies? Have you ever known someone who can tell you all about Martin Scoresdaily and can explain every little nuance of his movies, but whenever he sees a film by Cupula, or Wood E. Alan or Spike Yee, he just sleeps though the whole thing?”

“Nah, Socrates. That would be pretty silly.”

“And further,” Socrates continued mercilessly, “you’ve never known any music lover, who knows about guitar, or drums or saxophone, or singing, who can explain to you all about Bruno Mercury or Robin Thin, but doesn’t know how to say anything at all about Justin Beaver, the pop star from Vancouver, and can’t tell at all whether he’s singing well or badly. You don’t know anyone like that.”

“Okay, enough already, Socrates, you got me. All I can say is this: I know Homer’s songs, better than anyone else. I can sing them better than anyone else, and I understand them better too. But I don’t know anything about those other songwriters.”

“Exactly, Justin, and I’m going to tell you why that is. As I said before, understanding Homer isn’t a skill you learned. It’s a gift from God. You are drawn to Homer just like a metal ring is drawn to a magnet. And when the ring is touching the magnet, it also gets magnetized, so it can pull in other metal rings. You can create a whole long metal chain that way, but the attractive power in all of it comes from the magnet. In the same way, a truly inspired songwriter can create a long chain of people, including the singer and who knows how many fans.

“You must know that no songwriter, if she is really good, does it by following rules out of some book. Instead, she creates in a spirit of inspiration, a fit of madness! She sings like a person possessed, and that’s how she creates her most beautiful songs. The same goes for lyricists as well as for great musicians. Have you ever been to one of those old Pentecostal churches and seen one of the congregants catch the Holy Spirit? That’s exactly what happens to a songwriter, and they themselves will tell you. If you ever hear a songwriter tell you about his inspiration, he’ll tell you he plucks the notes and lyrics straight out of the heavens, and carries them safe back to the earth, just like a little old honey bee carrying nectar back to the hive. I tell you truly, a songwriter is an angelic being, and cannot write a note until he becomes inspired and loses his wits.

“That’s why, as long as a songwriter is in her right mind, she can’t write songs. Therefore since it’s not by skill that she writes, but only by a divine gift, each songwriter is able to write only the songs that God puts in her heart. One writes love songs, the other sings about the beauty of nature. One writes music that makes you want to get up and dance, the other writes songs that make you want to sit down and weep. Each one is worthless at writing the songs of the other. You see, it’s not skill that makes them able to write, it’s the power from above. You can see this very easily, since if they had the knowledge to write one type of song, they could write any type of song. That’s why God takes away their wits when he wants to speak through them, just as he does for a truly good preacher, so that we who hear them would know that it’s not them who give us the gift of these songs, it is God, and God alone that gives them voice.

“The best proof of what I’m saying is Little Jimmy, the famous one-hit-wonder. He never wrote a single song worth hearing, except for one, and that’s the one everyone is still singing today, the most beautiful song ever written, and he himself says it was a ‘gift from God.’ That’s God showing us in the most clear way possible that these immortal songs aren’t human at all, that they aren’t even from human beings, but are divine and from heaven, that songwriters are nothing more than God’s representatives on earth, taken over by the spirit from above. To show us that, God deliberately gave us the most beautiful song through the most worthless songwriter. Don’t you think so, Justin?”

Justin grinned and shrugged.

“Yeah Socrates, you got it right. It ain’t nothing but a gift from God.”

Cheers and applause.

“And you pop stars too, you interpret what the songwriters write.”

“No doubt.”

“So you’re like the representatives’ representative.”

“Truth.”

Socrates held up one hand.

“All right then, wait just a minute. Tell me true, just between you and me. When you’re performing on stage, and the fans are screaming and then you sing about lost love, or always being true, or rocking the party, or the pain in your heart, are you in your right mind or out of it? Don’t you forget you’re up on a stage, and think you’re actually walking along a beach, or singing to your lover or whatever else is going on in the song?”

“Man, Socrates, it’s like you know my life, man! I can’t tell you nothing! Look, when I sing a sad song, I got tears running down my cheeks. When I sing about something scary, I get frightened. It’s straight up like I’m living that.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about Justin. Can we really say a singer is in his right mind if he’s playing a festival or a concert, and he’s got a sharp suit on, or even some kind of fancy costume but he’s crying, or if he’s filled with fear even though he’s surrounded by his fans and no one is wishing him any kind of harm? Is that really what a sane man does?”

Justin laughed and the audience did too.

“Nah, Socrates, not when you put it like that.”

“And I’m sure you know, Justin, you have that same effect on your fans too, don’t you?”

“Yeah, Socrates, you know it! When they shine the lights out in the audience and I look at the crowd I see them crying right along with me. But you know Socrates, at times like that, I can’t get too carried away. If they start crying I’m laughing on the inside as I take their money, but if I get too carried away and they start laughing at me, I’ll have to cry for real –at all the money I’m going to lose!”

A few people in the audience laughed at Justin’s joke, but only in an offended-sounding way. Socrates quickly moved to fill up the dead air.

“And remember when we were talking about that chain of metal rings attached to the magnet? The fan, Justin, is the last ring. The middle ring is you, the pop star, and the magnet is the songwriter. But ultimately the power comes from God, who sends the power out through the songwriter in the first place. And just as if it hung from that magnet, there’s an enormous chain of backup dancers and dance teachers and vocal coaches and so forth attached onto the rings on the sides. One pop star is magnetized by one songwriter, another by another. One is attached to Dr Lukewarm, another to Bull Weathers, and a great many are magnetized by Homer himself. You are one of them, Justin, a ring attached to Homer. When anyone sings a song by another songwriter you fall asleep, you don’t know what to say, but all you have to do is hear one note by Homer and you’re awake and on fire.”

“It’s not what you know about Homer that allows you to speak about Homer, it’s because God gave you that gift. That’s how it is with all those dancers who look like poetry in motion when the right song comes on, but have two left feet when the music changes. You’re exactly like them. Give you a song to sing by Homer, and no one can do it better, but mention any other songwriter and you’re lost. It’s not a skill, it’s not something out of a book, it’s divine madness and nothing else.”

Justin scratched his head.

“Back up a moment, Socrates. What you said sounds good, but I don’t think it’s really like that. I mean, if I talk about Homer, I don’t think I sound crazy or out of my head. You should hear me and then you’d change your mind.”

“I do want to hear you, Justin.”

Cheers, applause.

“But first, another question:”

Boos.

“Which one of Homer’s themes do you speak well about? I can’t believe you have them all mastered.”

Justin puffed out his skinny chest.

“Yeah Socrates, all of them. Every single one.”

“What, even topics you don’t know anything about, even though Homer writes about them?”

Justin sounded insulted when he replied.

“Like what?”

“Well for instance, Homer has a famous song about a race car driver. Let me see if I can remember it. It goes a little something like…”

“Nah Socrates, step back, I got this. You know I remember it.”

“All right then. Do the part where Dale Lionheart Sr. tells Dale Lionheart Jr. how to win the race at Daytona.”

Justin reached behind the chair and came up with a microphone in his hand. The crowd went wild as the lights dimmed and a spotlight came up on him, and the music swelled in the background.

You got to drive boy, drive that car

Faster than nobody never drove it before

Over to the left pass the driver on the right

You got to let him know you came to win this fight!

But boy, watch yourself on that curve

Don’t be too reckless, but just don’t lose your nerve

Right to the edge like you might hit the rail

Then…

Just as Justin was about to hit the chorus, Socrates abruptly signaled the band to cut the music and turned the lights back on, thus sparking a near riot among the audience.

“Perfect, perfect, Justin, that’s exactly the part I was talking about. That’s enough for right now.”

Justin looked like he didn’t know what had just happened to him, as Socrates took away his microphone and guided him firmly back to his seat.

“So, back to my point. Who can judge whether Homer knows racing or not, a doctor, or a race car driver?”

Justin looked truly annoyed.

“Duh, Socrates, a race car driver.”

“Because he’s mastered his craft, or some other reason.”

“Because he’s mastered it.”

“So we might say that God has given each profession its own base of knowledge. The things you learn from a computer engineer, you won’t learn them from a pharmacist.”

“No.”

“And the things you learn from a doctor, you won’t learn from an architect.”

“No.”

“And so for every other profession too. What you learn by studying one career, you won’t learn from another. And most of these careers are very different from one another.”

“Yes.”

“And the difference lies in the fact that they have different bases of knowledge. That’s how we know they aren’t really the same career. Isn’t that how you tell the difference?”

“I guess.”

“For if two careers have the same knowledge base, in what way are they different? Knowing one means knowing the other. If you’re in computers, and I’m in IT, it’s really the same thing.

“Yeah.”

“Then answer me this. Isn’t it the same across the board? One career teaches you one set of knowledge, and a different one, if it really is different, must teach you things that are not the same.”

“Yeah, whatever, that’s right.”

Socrates made a great show of looking puzzled and scratching his head.

“But wait –then doesn’t that mean that a person who hasn’t mastered a certain career won’t be a good judge of the things specific to that career?”

Justin looked justifiably nervous.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“But in that case,” Socrates pressed on, “who will know better if Homer is writing correctly about driving race cars in that song you sang so beautifully? You, or a race car driver?”

“A race car driver.”

“Because you’re a singer, not a driver?”

“Yeah.”

“And the profession of a singer is different from that of a driver?”

“No doubt.”

“So then, the knowledge of a singer is also different from that of a driver.”

“Right.”

“But what about Homer’s other great song, the one about mixing cough syrup with alcohol. How does it go?”

Here Socrates warbled a few lines in a rough scratchy voice, while Justin grimaced in obvious pain.

She mixed that syrup with that drink

That syrup with that drink

That sizzurp with that drizzy

That syrup with that drink

“So who can tell us if that’s a good prescription or not? A pharmacist or a pop star?”

Through gritted teeth, Justin choked out the answer.

“A pharmacist.”

“Or what about that other hit number:

She dove down to the bottom of the sea

Down to the bottom of the sea

With a net in her hand, and a frying pan

To bring back a little fishie for me

“Who would know if that’s a good way of putting it? A fisherman or a pop star?”

“All right Socrates, I get it. The fisherman, obviously.”

“And what if you were interviewing me, instead of the other way around, and you asked me ‘Socrates, since you’re investigating different careers in the songs of Homer, can you please tell me which songs relate to the matters that a preacher ought to know best?’ Quick as a wink I would say, ‘Of course Justin, it’s those good old gospel numbers, and then I’d sing them for you like this:’

Here Socrates grabbed the microphone he had taken from Justin, and came out from behind the desk, as the lights dimmed and the music started up. The spotlight came up like before, but there was a notable lack of cheers or applause from the audience.

Don’t listen to the devil in the darkness

Don’t let the flames burn your feet

I can hear the ghosts way down in the depths of hell

Say “Repent! Repent! Repent!”

Here Socrates broke into a few ill-advised dance moves before launching into a whole other song.

My soul flies the sky like an eagle

My sin lies in the dust like a snake

Don’t let the snake kill the eagle

That’s the biggest damn mistake you could make

“I would claim those are songs for a preacher to listen to and judge,” Socrates said, as he returned, seemingly reluctantly to his desk. “He is the one who knows if they teach us well or badly.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re sure right, Socrates.”

That’s what Justin said with his lips, but his eyes were pleading “Whatever, just please don’t sing again!”

“Well, you know, you’re giving out some great answers too, buddy. And since you’re on a roll, go ahead and tell me –now that I’ve already done all the hard work for you of picking out the songs of Homer that relate to a race car driver, or a pharmacist or a fisherman or a preacher –tell me something very easy, tell me which of his songs relate to a pop star, the songs a pop star should be able to judge better than anyone else.

“That is easy, Socrates. My answer is ‘all of them.’”

“That can’t be your answer, Justin. Or have you forgotten what you just told me?”

“Why, what did I tell you?”

“Don’t you remember? You said a pop star’s career was not the same as a race car driver’s.”

“Yeah, I said that.”

“And you said people with different careers are masters of different knowledge.”

“Yeah.”

“So a pop star’s career can’t encompass all knowledge, and neither can a pop star himself.”

“That’s not what I meant, Socrates.”

“Good, then you agree that a pop star knows only some things, not all things?”

Justin nodded.

“In that case, what does a pop star know best?”

“He knows –he knows how to inspire people.”

“Great answer. So then, if you were playing on a cruise ship, and the ship started to sink, and they were looking for someone to inspire the people not to panic, they should look to you?”

“I’d hope the captain would be the one to…”

“And if you were visiting a hospital, you should be the one to talk to someone who just found out they had a terminal disease?”

“Well, maybe his doctor should…”

“And if you were on that reality show, ‘The Cow Whisperer’, you would know better than Caesar Salud how to calm down the cattle?”

“That’s not what I…”

“Or if you went on ‘America’s Next Hot Model,’ you’d know how best to inspire the girls to walk that catwalk?”

“Of course not, but…”

“Or if you were on the front lines of a battle, you’d know just what a general should say to inspire his troops?”

“Nuh— I mean yes! That’s exactly the kind of thing I do know. Not to boast, but I’ve sung about a hundred patriotic songs at army bases.”

“Really? So you mean that your job is just the same as being a general?”

“I didn’t say that, Socrates, I said I certainly know how a general ought to talk.”

“That’s amazing, Justin. But maybe that means you’re secretly a general and a pop star at the same time.”

Justin and Socrates both shrugged, as the audience laughed.

“It’s possible, Justin. Supposing you were a great horseman and a pretty good guitar player too, we wouldn’t be surprised if you knew the right horses to bet on at the Derby, right? But on the other hand, even if that were the case, which would it be that taught you all about horses? Would it be the riding that you did, or the guitar playing?”

“The riding.”

“And if you could tell a vintage Fender Stratocaster from a Telecaster, that would be because of playing guitar, not because of being a rider, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So in that case, given that you know how to do the job of a general, inspiring the troops and so forth, is it because you’re a general, or because you’re a pop star?”

“There’s no difference.”

Socrates pulled a pair thick, black-rimmed glasses out of his drawer. He made a great show of putting them on, examining Justin carefully, pushing them down his nose, and examining him again.

“Really, Justin? Are you sure about that? Is being a general the same career as being a pop star?”

“Yes,” said Justin, defiantly.

“So every great pop singer turns out to also be a great general?”

“Yeah, sounds about right.”

Socrates paused to look mischievously at the audience.

“And every great general, then, must also be a great pop star?”

“Nah, Socrates! Those fools can’t sing.”

“But it does work the other way around.”

“Yeah.”

“And aren’t you the best pop star in America, Justin?”

“Yeah, Socrates, I sure as hell am.”

“But you’re a general too? The best in America?”

“Sure thing, Socrates. I learned it all from the songs I sing.”

Socrates leaned his chair so far back, he was in danger of toppling over, before allowing it to fall back forward.

“Then why, Justin, in the name of all that’s holy, aren’t you commanding the Armed Forces? Unless I’m mistaken we’re still fighting a war somewhere over in the Middle East. You think America needs you as a pop star more than it needs you as a general?”

Justin looked at the audience as if to say “hey, get a load of this guy.”

“I’m Canadian, Socrates, you guys don’t want me.”

Laughter, applause.

“Justin, you’re too much! I should have known you’d have a quick answer. But in that case, what about General Lopez?”

“Who?”

“A three-star general, born in Mexico. Or Admiral Singh and General Yee? Neither of them were born in the United States, and it hasn’t hampered their advancement. Do you really think we Americans are so prejudiced we would pass over Justin Beaver, the country’s greatest living general just because he was born north of the border? Aren’t we and Canada allies, from way back in history?”

Justin didn’t answer. He just sat staring, as if he was just waiting for the interview to end.

“But you, Justin, you know you’re lying to my face if you want to tell me that what connects you with the music of Homer is your mastery of the art of singing. You claimed you were a font of knowledge about Homer, you even promised me a full demonstration, but you haven’t shown me a thing! You aren’t even willing to tell me what the skills of a pop star are, even though I’ve been practically begging you all night. You’re a chameleon, Justin. Just when I think I’ve got you pinned down, you shift your colors. Now you’re even going so far as to call yourself a general, just so you can avoid letting me in on your store of Homeric wisdom. If you are truly a master of the pop star’s art, and if you truly are a font of knowledge on Homer, then you’ve done me wrong, Justin.”

Socrates paused for effect.

“But maybe, just maybe, there’s a better way to look at it. Maybe you aren’t a master of your art at all, you’re just a conduit of a divine spirit passed to you through Homer’s music, so that you can sing it, and seem to understand it, and explain it, but without actually knowing a single thing about it. Right? So then tell me, Justin, how then do you wish me to think of you? As someone doing me wrong, or as the keeper of a divine gift?”

Justin grinned.

“That’s not much of a choice, Socrates. It’s a lot cooler to be divine.”

“Then that’s exactly how I’ll think of you, Justin, in the coolest possible way, not as some mere craftsman toiling away at his craft, but as the divine Justin Beaver.”

Cheers, applause, cut to commercial.

 


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From Daily Nous

8 Bit Kierkegaard

Some of you may have enjoyed my recent repost of my popular essay “Kierkegaard’s Narrative“, about the influence of Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard on several popular books and movies (notably including High Fidelity). For a radically different look at Kierkegaard and pop-culture, please enjoy “Is Boredom Worse Then Death,” the latest production from 8 Bit Philosophy, which presents classic works of philosophy through the lens of old-school video games.