I Am An Idiot by Daxson Hale

I am an idiot.

That sums up my life right there.

I am an average human being. I’m a little smarter than some people, a little dumber than some people, taller than many but not the tallest, lazier than many but not yet fat. I would consider myself to be more cultured than most people, and some yogurts, but I am not by any means one of the elitist artsy folk who know how to stand when they look at an art display. I don’t even look at art displays. I don’t even know if that’s what you call them. My culture comes from two things: my upbringing in a musical family and my two years spent in Italy. Not exactly depth. However, I’ve always considered myself to be smarter and more knowledgeable than most people. That’s probably not even true. Actually most likely it’s not. Like I said, I’m an idiot.

I think, however, that I’ve recently had a kind of cultural rebirth. My brother Kyle is one of those people who know things. He’s smart. We’ve always clashed when it comes to music. He wears his hair and fingernails long (the nails for playing the guitar). He’s an independent music kind of guy, and I’ve always been more of a Top 40 man. Admitting that kind of hurts, actually. Kyle has spent the last five or six years trying to get me to listen to his music. He gave me a mixed CD entitled “Music you’d better like… or else.” I think I got to the third song before I gave up and put on the Black Eyed Peas. That’s how it’s been for a while. I’ve always thought of Kyle as kind of a music snob. Sorry, Kyle.

But in the last few months, Kyle has helped me see how much of an idiot I’ve been my whole life. Two conversations were pivotal in my recent change. Both happened in cars. That has nothing to do with anything; I just thought that was funny. Our first conversation had to do with Owl City; he told me he “reluctantly” likes them, but is frustrated because there are so many musicians who work in the synthesized electronic music world who nobody has ever heard of. He told me about something he had read. It was originally published in The Economist. The direct quote is this:

"A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year [2009] was disproportionately likely to have read ‘The Lost Symbol’, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it."

It was in that moment that I realized I was an idiot. I loved “The Lost Symbol”.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with reading the New York Times bestsellers; there is nothing wrong with liking Top 40 music; however, at that moment I realized I was kind of hungry for something more.

The other conversation that changed me was only maybe a week or two after that. Kyle was bringing me home from somewhere, and trying to get me to listen to another band I’d never heard of, something with guitars probably, and lyrics that I didn’t get, and he could tell I was still resisting. He stopped the car outside my apartment and started trying to figure out why I am the way I am. I dismissed it as a matter of personal taste; I just happen to like the music on the radio, the music my friends know. He told me though that he thought it was because I was no longer creating. He said something like, once you start creating, once you have an outlet, you’ll be able to appreciate other people’s creations more. That hit me in the face. He was one hundred percent right and I knew it. I used to play music; piano, saxophone, trumpet, basically any instrument I picked up. I used to read five or six books every week. But now I was a stagnant and festering shallow pool of slime. I was a consumer. I needed to change, I needed to have water flowing into my intellectual pond and flowing out as well.

That night I went to the public library for the first time in a very long time and got six books. I read them in less than a week. I started a blog so I could start writing again. It was amazing how quickly my attitude changed, about life, about art, music, everything. My musical taste has changed so much in the past two or three months it surprises even me. I started discovering new music on my own. (Inspiration for this article also came from Kyle; I heard a friend play Fleet Foxes’ arrangement of “False Knight on the Road” and asked Kyle if he had ever heard of the band. He said, and I quote, “You are an idiot. I told you about them two weeks ago.”)

As I was contemplating how I wanted to contribute to this magazine, I felt stumped. I read other articles and felt like I didn’t fit in with the artistic community who share their ideas here because I still feel pretty shallow. I had an idea though that will help me satisfy my hunger for depth and change, and in a way that can eventually hopefully help others who share the Top 40 mentality. Each piece I write will be about a different facet of art, music, or literature that I recently have seen, read about, or participated in. I want to go to operas, concerts, international film screenings; I want to read thick books. I want to stand in front of a painting with my head sideways. I also want to try creating these things. I want to try my hand at writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction. I want to paint. Take pictures. I’ll perhaps even try composing music. Then I will write about my discoveries and report them to you.

Please help me. Feel free to make suggestions, comments, or condescending remarks. I am just tired of being a boring person. I don’t like being an idiot.

Daxson sometimes wonders what life is all about. And then he sees a commercial for a Dairy Queen product and remembers.


Natalie said...

I am a big fan of this post. It's the difference between those who are just trying to find bands that no one's heard of to sound like a more legitimate listener versus the realization that if such a large percentage of the US agrees on the same Taylor Swift song as the best they've heard in a while, we are all thinking and feeling the same things. Maybe one of the Top 40 songs really connects with someone. But if all of the exact same media connects with you the way it connects with everyone else, what are you really contributing? If all of the world is gathering inspiration from the same song, isn't all of the world contributing the same output? Calling that idiotic might be a little far. I think it's just plain boring.

eliza.e.campbell said...

Inspiring, like a trailer for a movie where "things are about to change". Want to hang out and expand our minds?

Kyle Alan Hale said...

Coincidentally, read this while listening to Fleet Foxes. I'm happy for you.

Austin said...

YEP. Definitely looking forward to more Daxson essays...

Jerry said...

I like that Economist quote. Unfortunately I often lose appreciation for great works once they become recognized by the masses. 2 examples: Three Doors Down and Harry Potter.

Kyle actually introduced me to 3 Doors when it first came out and we both loved it, but after like a year, it was over-played on every station. I read the first few Harry Potter books before it became a world-wide phenomenon and really enjoyed them, but then I lost interest and it wasn't till I was married that my wife made me read the last two books and then I realized what I'd missed.

The other sad reality is that artists often create something genius but then fame, money, and business stifle their creativity and they turn into generic pop artists. 3 Doors Down and Harry potter both fell victim to this to some extent.

Other artists isolate themselves to the point that their works become so fringe and out of touch that no one can appreciate them. And I think that's ok if they create art for art's sake, but frequently it effects the artist's perception of reality and how they associate with others in society. That's why we have so many brilliant artists of the past few centuries who went insane.

Where's do you draw the line between creativity and practicality?

Daxson said...

Thanks, everyone! Eliza, the answer is yes. Jerry, hi. I've thought a lot about that too. I hate the band Bush. I think personal taste will always come into play. I can be as open-minded as I want but I know I will never like Bush. There are some bands that Kyle has introduced me to that just straight up hurt my ears. But these bands have their audiences. I'm just not among them. I agree with you that some musicians and artists let their fame get to them, and that sucks. Not all music is good, and if you think it isn't good, oh well. Good is an opinion anyway. I know I personally am nervous to approach a new genre or a new artist because it's unfamiliar, or it's not a part of my culture, or it was screened at Sundance. But that doesn't mean the material is bad. Many people are content to make music for small audiences. Your taste in music can be affected by your childhood, your surroundings, your friends, or the amount of times your brothers played Bush or Yellowcard or Third Eye Blind at full blast, and just because you don't like something doesn't mean you aren't cultured.

I don't think this applies to only music. Art in any of its forms is about personal expression. Independent artists are usually more free to express themselves in an unobstructed creative process. It doesn't have to be practical or appreciated by other people. Sometimes it resonates with people in some way. If you are satisfied with your music playlist, that's fine. But if you only listen to one kind of music, only read one kind of book (or don't read any books), if you don't try and consider other people's points of view or what was going through their head when they decided to make a painting that looks like today's breakfast digested, if you aren't expanding in some way, I think that makes for a boring person. Like Natalie said.

Anyway, I don't know if that even answered any questions but I hope it at least made sense. I'm having trouble with simple sentence structure today. Someone else might have a different perspective on all this.

Kyle Alan Hale said...

Good question, Jerry. That's exactly why I'm going into copyright law. I think that the current model stifles art. Not exclusively, of course; there is some great art that emerges from the clutches of the record industry, but it can't be coincidence how many would-be artists become de facto factory workers. De factory workers.

Jerry said...

I just realized that I wrote "WHERE'S do you draw the line..."

But if you say it with a wise-old-man voice, the grammar fixes itself.

sam_theman said...

See now I like this alot because i feel like i have been in the same situation but opposite for a good long few years. I only listened to music that was at least 20 years old and the radio to me was soulless. All modern music in my eyes was over produced crap written by other people for a pretty face, but I think you can find inspiration can creativity everywhere. The more i stop changing the station when B.o.B. or Ga Ga comes on the more i realize they are not so different from everyone else who is just trying to put music out there. I want to try and enjoy all music and let whoever is putting a song on, put that song on with no flak from me. every note ever played has some musical value.

Steven said...

Eye opening. This Hale fellow is a genius.

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