28 June 2011

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all things were this bad?

Background, part 1: I used to be a huge fan of internet sports columnist Bill Simmons.  I am a sports fan, particularly college football and professional baseball, and I found Simmon's mash-up of popular culture and sports funny and occasionally insightful.  He even almost got me to care about the NBA.  My interest has waned a bit (too much NBA, the pop-culture shtick sometimes became sophomoric), but recently picked back up considerably with Simmon's launch of Grantland.  His new ESPN affiliated website talks about sports and pop culture, occasionally at the same time.

Background, part 2: I occasionally enjoy reading Chuck Klosterman.  He knows a lot about rock music and is often funny.  But, like many late-30-something writers who embrace pop culture, he can seem like he's trying to hard sometimes. Many of the essays in Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs are great, but there are more than a few where I picture Klosterman giving himself a 'wow, I'm cool!" pat on the back after writing them.  Anyway, Klosterman now writes for Grantland.

Klosterman's recent column is a "second by second" analysis of Led Zeppelin's "In the Evening".  Sure, parts of it are smarmy, but in it Klosterman is often funny and displays a considerable amount of music knowledge.  Now, read or scroll down to the last paragraph of the Klosterman piece.

I was particularly struck by this part:

For any piece of art, this is a compliment of the highest order — whenever something's nonessential elements are still compelling enough to generate new meanings for swathes of creative people who have yet to be born, you're totally riding the dog. Details that have been lost to social memory can still thrive within the context of modern products, even if no one recalls who made them up or what deserves the credit; while we're always predisposed to credit the progenitors of certain ideas, it's those who normalize the concepts that define what our social experience is. 
Then there is the wonderful last line:
This is Led Zeppelin when they sucked. And wouldn't it be wonderful if all things were this bad?
I think there's something about gaming in there, particularly about the OSR.  But it's late in the day and I am pretty tired, so I can't quite put my finger on it.  I'll take a stab at some points, though:

  • You can read the above as, say looking backwards at Appendix N and other material circa D&D 1978 OR you can read it as contemporary commercial geekdom looking back at D&D.
  • What "normalized" the concepts that define our social experience of D&D?  Moldvay?  Certainly it was Mentzer for me. . .
  • Is crappy D&D still better than most other things?  You may hate 4th Edition, but is playing 4th Edition still better than other forms of entertainment?
Maybe I'll be able to flesh this out a bit later, assuming my children let me sleep for more than two hours at a stretch tonight.

4 comments:

  1. This is why it is good to be involved in stuff other than the OSR. It gives you some interesting insights that you can bring back to the game.

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  2. It's like Jason Zavoda was saying. Back in the day when the hobby was amateurish and there fanzines and funky illustrations and it was all underground and awkward... Man, that would be WAY cooler than the D&D we have now.

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  3. @ Paladin -- Thanks! I can't just read gaming stuff.

    @Christian -- But fewer people would probably be playing it. Worth it? I don't know. Sort of like Velvet Underground vs. Led Zeppelin. Maybe.

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  4. I think there are a lot of ways things can be cool. Indie OSR vibe is one of them--aided to a large degree by nostalgia, I think. But slick modern production can be cool, too. There's room for rock opera and garage bands, I think.

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