–by Matthew Socey
In my last blog, I wrote about how the art doesn’t change but the audience changes. What can also be vital is the time in which one encounters a piece of art. Sometimes we’re too young or too old. Then there are those lovely moments when the time is right.
Like many, I saw the the latest Star Wars installment/off-branch/cash cow Solo. For a space cowboy tale, it was fine, but I wasn’t jacked up about it. I was seven years-old when the first Star Wars film was released. Perfect timing. Three years younger and it would have been too scary at times (Then again, I saw Jaws at five and I’m fine. Really). Two or three years older and early male cynicism might have crept in.
In the previous blog, I mentioned that I first saw the film The Big Chill when I was 13 years old. What I got out of it at the time was strong acting and grown-up characters who were vulnerable. I hadn’t had enough life experience to really relate to the film. A decade later after a classmate killed himself, I gained an emotional attachment to the film more than ever before.
The first impression can be critical. How many people had Shakespeare ruined for them by English teachers? I had an English teacher in high school that dragged out the multi-part vinyl edition of Hamlet starring John Gielgud. Instead of dropping the needle and letting side one of disc one play, she would lift the needle after the first scene and ask “now what just happened?” I argued to just let it play and let the words wash over us. I lost that argument. Fortunately, my love of Shakespeare never went away.
Sometimes the timing is right. I was seven years-old when I first experienced the first Star Wars film. Perfect timing of action, adventure and age. Maybe too intense if I was younger, then again I saw Jaws at age five and that really scared the hell out of me. I would have been probably a bit more jaded had I been older. When I showed my daughter Jaws in her early teens, he response was “It was OK. I could see how that would have scared you at five.” I’m one of the old guys who hold the first three Star Wars films (to hell with your Episode nonsense) probably because I was 7-13 during those three film’s releases. It’s hard to recreate that youthful enthusiasm. There was less enthusiasm for the the next trilogy (Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar, the romantic scenes, “NOOOOOO!”) and slightly more for the latest stretch of SW films (mixing something old and something new).
A year later, I saw the film Halloween with my father and older brother. Most of it was viewed between my fingers, but this was the first time I heard from the audience an equal mix of screams and laughs. I don’t remember any laughter during Jaws (there could have been, but I was occupied with fear).
Music-wise, I was 14 when I first heard the Bruce Springsteen album Born to Run. Like many, Born in the U.S.A. was huge when I was 14 and I sought out the rest of his discography immediately. Hearing Born to Run’s tale of being young and trying to burst out of your hometown and experience the world (I grew up in Flint, Michigan. I could relate) really resonated with me. To this day, Born to Run is my favorite rock album.
By the time I entered college, I was curious about music that wasn’t played on the radio eight times a day. I had friends in my high school jazz band and was exploring into jazz in my teens. By college, I found music that I didn’t understand what was always trying to be said but was curious about the journey (late-era John Coltrane, Yes). Then there was the music of Frank Zappa where I knew exactly what he was saying in his songs, but his arrangements could be extremely challenging. Any musician who dismisses Zappa should pick up their instrument and try to play some of his pieces. These musical challenges helped balance out my love of Bad News (a British comedy version of Spinal Tap featuring actors from The Young Ones and The Comic Strip) and Dread Zeppelin, who performed reggae covers of Led Zeppelin tunes sung by an Elvis impersonator. I am not making this up.
Then there is the arc of being affected by something, dismissing it in your teen years and then as one gets older going back and embracing it. (WARNING: NAME DROPPING) When I interviewed Richard Thomas on radio, I brought up his cult film Battle Beyond the Stars, a campy 1979 space version of The Magnificent Seven. “At one time, I wanted to be buried with every single print of that film. I’m old enough now that it’s doesn’t bother me anymore and I love it,” Thomas told me.
I remember being scared of the Vincent Price film Madhouse(one of his post-Dr. Phibes films in the early 1970s), seeing it for the first time on TV. Watching it again in college, I was embarrassed that it had that kind of effect on me. Decades later, I love those 70s Vincent Price films.
Your homework assignment…quiet down, everybody, think about a play, film, album, book, that you experienced too young to fully enjoy and give it another go.
Matthew Socey 6-11-2018