Sunday, December 30, 2007

American Entertainment

Those of you who know me personally know that I have three real hobbies. Well, I guess you could say two. Depends.

I'll go with three.

Music. Reading. Writing.

Or, you could say two. Music and literature.

Doesn't matter. You get the point.

Of the three, the third I get to practice here in cyberspace-and have the unbelievable pleasure of knowing that you, continuous readers, come here regularly (or semi-regularly) and read.

The second I practice daily. I read constantly. It's been my undying love from the time I was four or five. I've spent countless nights awake, all night, locked in the tight embrace of some fictional place, unable to break free, even to rest my aching eyes.

And it's true love-love at first sight, really. I can't recall the first book I ever read, but I can tell you, it must have been incredible, because it birthed a deep eternal love for the written story.

And it's been true to me; it's never let me down. I can't say for sure, but it must be, I'm sure, better than any drug or drink. It's a high that never lets you down.

Buy you probably already know that about me. I can't say for sure, but my guess is that I've written enough here that you know that I'm a sucker for a great story.

You probably don't know all that much, though, about the first on my little list of hobbies: music.

The truth is, I stumbled upon music by accident. Well, I take that back; the seeds were probably planted back in third grade. How old are you in third grade? Eight? Mother and Dad drove me and Nan down to Los Angeles to find a saxophone. I don't know for sure whose idea it was for me to play the saxophone; I can't recall ever having an intense desire to play the thing. Nevertheless, down to LA we drove, to some used instrument shop that Dad knew of. Mother and Dad (as I recall) didn't have much money at the time, so in hindsight, I'm humbled by the fact that, ultimately we settled on a moderately used Bundy II alto saxophone (the same model, I'm told, that my earliest musical idol--Kenny G--plays). I don't know for sure how much they paid for the thing, but it can't have been extremely cheap.

I played in the elementary school band. I don't remember much about those days, other than the fact that I was the youngest guy in the band, and I always envied this one rich girl whose parents had bought HER a bassoon (ours must have been the only elementary school band to have a bassoon; 17 saxophones, 15 trumpets, 12 trombones, 3 timpani, and a bassoon).

I learned to read music there-a valuable lesson, I guess (although, I'm not all that great at it now). I continued to play through junior high and high school. I was decent-never fantastic. Although, for one year, I was really, really good. My senior year in high school I joined the jazz band-a group of reasonably accomplished musicians, at least for high-schoolers. And I realized that I WAS good. For two reasons. First, early on, I'd also developed a liking for the drums. And I started hacking around on them at church. At some point, apparently, I developed some level of skill. And the jazz band was the first band I'd ever played with that actually had a drum set. They found out I could play, and asked if I'd take a hack at playing part of the time. I said sure. But they wouldn't let me play all the time because, when I wasn't playing the drums at church, I was blasting on my saxophone. And, almost by accident, I'd learned to play improvisational. In fact, I was the only guy in the band that could play a decent improv solo on the sax.

But that was really all just goofing around. I said music happened to me by accident. Music as a real love did. When I was probably 13 or so, the youth director at church asked me, on a fluke I guess, if I'd sing a solo in church. I was stupid enough to say yes (I'd never sung in church other than as part of the congregation). I found that I liked it.

Ultimately, Shawna and I were asked to take responsibility for the Music department at church. I bought a keyboard, and taught myself (with some help from a few extremely accomplished pianists) to play the piano (rather, I'm still LEARNING to play the piano). I take music seriously.

So, as you can imagine, although I'm not a regular viewer, I've always been fascinated by American Idol, a show on FOX that every year catapults some previously unknown talent to musical stardom. It's billed as America's greatest talent show. Musical stars-to-be go on the show and compete against each other for the chance at a record deal with a major record label.

I've toyed with the idea, from time to time, of trying out for the show-particularly after I heard that last year one of the finalists was the music director from some Mid West church, and got on the show (I guess) singing some gospel song.

I never have though for a number of reasons, not least of which being, what are the chances that America's next idol will really be some guy from a small town in California who only sings gospel music?

Not likely.

But a guy can dream, can't he?

And then, this evening, I was surfing about on the Net, and came across this post that really says a lot about America's favorite show. Or maybe it just reminds us that we Americans just want to be entertained.

It's the story of one woman's wait to audition for the show. It's fairly innocuous, but telling all the same. Go read it. It'll surprise you. Or maybe it won't, especially if you've ever seen the show (or even clips of it over on YouTube).

You see, it's a reminder that the show isn't really about finding America's next top star; it's about entertaining Americans. And sometimes, it's more entertaining to play footage of an overweight woman, wearing a Big Bird outfit, who has no musical talent whatsoever. Or maybe of an overly made-up teen girl, who has mediocre talent at best, breaking down and crying when the rude host of the show brutally ridicules her. Or an Asian college student from Stanford University that can barely speak English, who butchers a popular pop song, but butchers it in a style that the camera loves.

No, the show is about ratings; about attracting viewers--viewers who want nothing more than to be entertained--every week. And so sometimes true talent is pushed aside to make way for true entertainment (although, whether or not this is true entertainment is questionable).

But it reinforces my decision (does consistent inaction qualify as a decision) NOT to try out for American Idol.

Although, maybe now I should. Because, at least now if I'm booted, I can say it was to make way for Big Bird!

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