Friday, November 19, 2010

You read it in the Times

If time goes by between posts, it’s because I don’t believe in posting unless I have something worthy to say. Too bad the NY Times feels no such compunction.  More and more I read articles that go nowhere and wonder why I waste my time. Clearly the media establishment feels threatened by the Internet, but they’d have more chance of success if they’d stick to the things they do better—such as investigative and in-depth reporting, reflection, analysis and photo-journalism—rather than trying to compete by publishing articles that are as inane as most blog posts.

I can see it now, the writer comes in with his copy and asks the editor, is this stupid enough? And the editor says, no, Charlie, go back to your keyboard and dumb it down one more time. Except that the problem may be that there is no editorial desk as such anymore, no discussion, just a signing off of things people write at home between dog walks.

A recent example is yesterday’s article by Richard Bernstein entitled, “The Rules of Being a Rock Star,” a comment on Keith Richards’s wildly popular autobiography, Life (which is, I must confess, another reason why I haven’t posted in the last few days; I’ve been glued, captured not by the tales of Richards’s outrageous pranks as much as his rare authenticity). Bernstein’s main idea—hold on to your seats!—is that rock stars are not like the rest of us. I wonder how he came up with that one? Some enlightening tidbits:

(Richards, in his photo) …illustrates the ability in our celebrity-soaked culture for certain people to get away not just with a look but with an attitude that would sink most ordinary people.

…their very celebrity and their defiant, drug-culture behavior also set an example you wouldn’t want your kids to follow.

…rock stars with their celebrity, their money and their lawyers, are different. Other people, perhaps including those influenced by the rock star example to strive for lives of assiduous nonconformity, have a harder time of it.

Bernstein’s salient conclusion:

You can live the cultural outlaw life, and if you’ve got the talent, the looks and the luck, you might, like Mr. Richards, ride to wealth, celebrity, abundant sex and lots of psychedelic adventure. But it was very risky then and it’s still risky now if you don’t.

Nowhere does Bernstein note that Richards never intended to be a rock star—a status he was partly responsible for inventing—he just wanted to play guitar.  Or that much of the time it wasn’t his celebrity status that got him off drug charges as much as the cops’ ineptitude in preparing their cases, tacking on trafficking charges they couldn’t prove (which would carry a stiffer sentence) when Richards was simply a consumer.

And while, yes, he did have terrific lawyers and a certain immunity, ordinary people do not usually live under the kind of minute surveillance Richards did, with cops stationed in the trees outside his home and zealous police forces in every city out to make names for themselves by getting him for something, anything.

Further, what would have been served by putting Richards in jail? What is served by putting any drug addict in jail? Richards’s harrowing descriptions of the drug experience will no doubt do more to discourage drug use than any threat of incarceration--or myriad public information spots.

Bernstein’s article is simply proof that we need the fringe to keep the establishment from becoming too rigid and boring.

Maybe he should take a joint along when he goes on that dog walk.

The unattributed photo, from 1970, that accompanied Liz Phair’s book review in the Times last Sunday.

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