For too long I thought good art had to be opaque. That's the way it was presented in school. Everything worth studying was complicated. You had to do handouts and then later essays where the objective was seemingly to crack the code, decipher the work of art.
My first exposure to "classic" literature was something that concealed what it was about. The truth is, most of the classics have an expiration date. After that, you need a map just to enjoy them. Four hundred years in the future, an episode of South Park will need just as much exegesis as Shakespeare does now. It will appear just as opaque, the language just as obscure. It will be seemingly written in code.
The best art is clear. But art cannot remain clear because language and culture are always changing. The best art then should exist outside of time, which it can't. Yes, there can be timeless works, but those could only be made once, so they are still attached to one point in time.
Great art stays the same and progress leaves it behind. But we're never taught this. We're exposed to art as a series of coded messages, there to disguise simple things as complicated. It's why the cognitive activity most associated with English classes is "bullshitting." Especially when it comes to poetry. Poetry was what faggots with too many feelings wrote who were too big of pussies to state their feelings directly. And they did it just to ruin your adolescent life. They did it to make some kid a sesquicentury later squirm in his desk trying to figure out what the hell a Grecian Urn was anyway. Until you want to smash that Grecian Urn and all of Western Civilization with it.
But that frustrated high school freshman doesn't need to do anything. The work has already been destroyed. It has been destroyed by the treatment of art as a puzzle to be unlocked, a way to conceal truth from those who aren't worthy of it. So we have turned our backs on art, simply because we weren't properly introduced.
Today, across the world, thousands of teenagers are going to discover Led Zeppelin for the first time. I cannot express how much I envy them.
They are about to have their Zeppisode. Your Zeppisode usually starts sometime between 12 and 16 years of age. It mostly affects males but has also been observed in female populations. It occurs when you first hear Led Zeppelin and are captivated by this hitherto unfamiliar sound. It can be as short as a single play of Immigrant Song, or it can last into your twenties. It's an interesting phase, because you're trying to define yourself as your own person, but the only way you know how to do it is with traditional symbols of rebellion. And there is that appeal. Yes, it's loud, so it communicates your angst. And yes, it's slightly more acceptable to be that weird kid at your high school who decks himself out in Led Zeppelin shirts rather than just that weird kid at your high school. It gives you a reason to check The Hobbit out from the library. They carry with them the whole mythology of rock and roll. It's the first time you can be conspicuously into something which is decidedly adult.
How could you ever be sad at IHOP? Just imagine endless stacks of golden pancakes, emerging from a gleaming kitchen, each time the door opens the smell of frying dough and bacon wafting out and caressing your nostrils; picture the smiling faces as they spread some kind of delicious voodoo butter on their steaming, perfectly proportioned and perfectly round tall stack, then luxuriously drizzle three flavors of syrup over it, until it spills off the pancake and ever so delicately laps up against a side of crisp yet tender bacon, the symmetry of its waves reminding one of the harmony of the universe. And as you cut into that golden, fluffy pillow of dough and put it to your lips, you are overcome with a sense of calm, a sense of warmness, a sense of oneness with everything in the universe, as if you were being enveloped in the bosom of God. At IHOP, there can be no tears.
The people of this rock learned long ago to trust the currents with their fate, scanning the horizon for their departed leader. Before we were born, a generation or so, he got his hands on an angel suit complete with an airtight glass halo, set his sights on the sky, and when the people asked him where he was going, he only said he was "going up." They say he strapped forty seven bottle rockets to a chair, attached wings of tarpaulin together with dental floss and chewing gum, and perched atop the southwest minaret of a local mosque he lit a fuse. We haven't seen him since but they say he's coming back. The tides are strong, even the most intrepid assholes don't get very far away. Sometimes we'll rig up canisters of condensed milk and dried mashed potatoes with another bottle rocket, if we can spare one. Then we shoot it off in the direction we last saw him going. The first time we sent a can opener. We might be stuck here but we're not stupid. We sit in bars, huddled under the TVs, waiting for some news. We don't know whether we hope he'll come back, but we know one of us will have to be the next person brave enough to defy this rock.
There's nothing good I have to leave you with, but it doesn't mean I have nothing good to say. Just nothing good for this occasion. There's probably a good story or anecdote with which I can tie this whole project together and wash my hands of it, but I can't find it. Truth is, not much of substance can stay on the surface of my memory for very long. Not long enough to be written down anyway. Maybe I chuckle, maybe I cringe. Every once in a while I'll yell something to drown out the thought. This is probably how the people who yell at me on the train got that way. It all started with a few regrets and a bad coping mechanism. For a long time writing, or at least storytelling, was my coping mechanism. But that doesn't really suffice anymore. I can no longer write in service of myself. I can't say exactly what it will be for, but it if I am to make anything it will have to be with a sense of greater purpose. I can't say that it will be high art in service of the revolution, but I can say it will be a decent attempt at making a decent world.
I won't be flying the spaceships, but I can take you to space with my stories. I won't be the next charismatic leader, but I can write his speeches. I won't be playing on the next album that defines a generation, but I can at least write the liner notes. It will never be enough, but the man with aspirations is never at peace. Thank you for supporting this folly. I don't even need your applause, I can let myself out.