As the Pooper and I are wont to do, we spent this morning watching Rush: Live in Rio (a DVD I should really return to Brando). Pooper was really enjoying it, and I began to wonder why I view Rush as a "Secret Shame" band of mine: basically music too dorky to admit to liking in certain company (Lumpy's secret shame band is Boston, which fits into what I have to say below).
This led me to consider Pooper's clear enjoyment of the DVD -- his favorite records (as far as I can tell -- I base this on how much sppppplllttting, smiling, and arm-waving he does) are Stevie Wonder's Talking Book, Belle and Sebastian's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and Baby Bach. All three of these records contain fairly complicated songs, some with movements and Brian Wilsonian harmonies, just as the standard Rush song does. When I was younger (elementary/junior high) all the bands I really liked had these same types of complicated set-ups (Iron Maiden, Rush, YES, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis). It was not until I reached high school that I could start to really appreciate songs made up of basically three chords and the truth (or simply three chords really loud and fast). At that point, I took down my Eddie poster, gave away my copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and shoved my Rush and Yes concert shirts into the darkest recesses of my closet. For the next several years, these bands became a guilty and ironic pleasure (something to play during band practice as a joke because we thought REM and The Cult were cooler than this clearly "lame" stuff). It seemed clear that those earlier records were something best enjoyed by children.
So, as a test to see whether this stuff had some connection with youth (or even extreme youth, as Pooper was acting as my guinea pig), I turned off Rush and put on a videotape of two clearly cooler bands with basic song structures: Modest Mouse and Guided by Voices. Pooper's face fell. He literally started crying.
Which brings me to a potential revelation: Perhaps we, as presumeably more sophisticated writers, view "fantastical" stories with talking dragons, monkeys, etc., the same way we tend to view Rush when we reach high school -- dorky, overblown, and for the younger set who has yet to kiss a girl. And maybe this is why so-called "genre" fiction gets such a bad rap -- it is clearly uncool, unnecessarily complicated, and, most importantly, serves to punch all those pleasure buttons we had in childhood. And maybe this is why the large man can blithely claim that a fantastic story is clearly lower on the evolutionary ladder than a "realistic" one, because kids like the fantastic.
After the experiment was over, I switched back to Rush, and Pooper settled in to take a nap in the crook of my elbow. That's when the first twinkling notes of one of my childhood favorites came on, and the power and wisdom of Rush really poured over me. I began to realize that they had had the same revelation concerning form that I had just had over 25 years earlier. To quote Neil Peart as sung by Geddy Lee, "it's really just a question of your honesty" -- and maybe that's the real answer to the argument over what makes a story a good one.