Thursday, April 05, 2012

BC2012: The Advanced Genius Theory by Jason Hartley

It starts with a Chuck Klosterman foreword. It ends with an index like every good non-fiction book should (memoirs, dictionaries, and encyclopedias excepted). The 250 pages in between are the kind of pop culture commentary and criticism that I love.

Basically, the Advanced Genius Theory states that certain people are so brilliant that their work is beyond reproach. If you don't like a particular album, movie, or book created by an Advanced artist, it's because that person is so far ahead of you (and by "you" I mean virtually everybody) that you are not yet capable of understanding and enjoying the work. After laying out the theory, Hartley analyzes the careers of dozens of artists (mostly musicians but also actors, directors, writers, et al) to evaluate which ones are Advanced.

Hartley uses Lou Reed's Mistrial album as an example of an Advanced project that he was unable to grasp when it first came out (indeed, Reed was the inspiration for the whole theory). Personally, I love Mistrial although I wouldn't call it one of Reed's best.* Reading this book, I'm certain that Hartley would consider Reed's almost universally panned recent collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, to be Advanced.

As a theory, I think the Advanced Genius Theory is only worthwhile if you have someone to debate with (give the book to a friend!), but I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Advanced Genius Theory nonetheless.

* I know my opinion is partly the product of two biases: 1.) the concert halo effect - I saw Reed on the tour promoting this album so those songs remind me of the concert (my first rock concert ever), making them seem better** 2.) the first new album effect - Mistrial was the first new album that Reed released after I became a fan of his music.

** I have seen this effect in others as well. In high school, a friend made me a cassette he called the "Best of Bruce Springsteen." It was heavily biased toward The River and included middling (for Bruce) songs like "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" and "Crush On You". When I became a fan and bought all of his albums, I didn't think The River was all that great compared to Darkness on the Edge of Town. But my friend had seen Springsteen on The River tour, which explains why he put so many songs from that album on my best-of tape.


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