About two weeks ago I took a rather inelegant stumble and fractured two ribs. For those uninitiated to this type of injury, it’s surprisingly unpleasant. There’s no easy remedy; it’s the kind of injury that just “heals at its own pace.” Knowing this makes it even worse. Each day you don’t sleep, can’t reach down to put on your own socks, or just leave things on the floor makes you feel prematurely aged.
At the height of the pain and frustration, and mitigated by a reasonable amount of (prescribed) narcotics, I found myself surfing YouTube at 3 AM. I had already spent two nights attempting sleep, and by night three, I had given up. Once the inflammation and bruising subsided, sleep would return. At least, that’s what I told myself.
For anyone who enjoys stream-of-consciousness type thought, YouTube has to be the greatest thing ever invented. Watch one video about anything, and the little robots that run the server will call up something else fascinating. And then another video. And another, and another, ’til suddenly the sun is rising, and you deceive yourself into thinking all you need is some coffee and you’ll be ready to face the day.
During one of those pseudo-sonambulic online wanderings, I came across a Barbara Walters interview from 1981 with Gloria Swanson. It’s really amazing what you can stumble on without really trying.
Gloria Swanson (for those not in the know) was one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. She worked with everyone from Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin to Rudolph Valentino. At a time when the average worker earned less than $1 per hour, Swanson was a multi-millionaire. The transition to “talkies” stalled her career until a phenomenal comeback in 1950’s “Sunset Blvd” cemented her forever as the silent movie star Norma Desmond.
As famous as Swanson was for Sunset Blvd, she was equally known for her affair with Joseph Kennedy — father of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and five other children. The affair was widely known, but never officially acknowledged, until Swanson wrote a book and discussed it. This was the basis of the Barbara Walters interview.
At the tail end of the interview, Barbara Walters reads a comment from Eunice Kennedy Shriver — daughter of Joseph Kennedy. In discussing Swanson’s revelations about her affair with Kennedy, Shriver states that her mother’s marriage was happy and her autobiography was inspirational to many. But then, this:
“Gloria Swanson’s autobiography, written at age 80, may make her a popular figure, but what lasting value has her life left us?”
That last part got me thinking: What lasting value has her life left us? The concept of “lasting value” really got to me. I work with musicians. And music is something that, at it’s best, causes change, raises awareness, consoles or condemns, and is a driving force. Think about all of the songs that raised our social consciousness. Then match that up against what’s being released today. How much of it has a “lasting value?” And which is more important: popularity or value?
That’s not to say all music has to make you march in the streets. But it’s starting to feel like we aren’t making “classic” music anymore. Where are the “albums that defined a generation?” 50 years on, will we be listening to “classic” Justin Bieber? Timeless music by Nicki Minaj?
Now consider the current presidential election. What lasting value will this election have? Did we actually discuss penis size on the debate stage? Shouldn’t we be outraged? What, if any, good comes out of Donald Trump’s candidacy? How can we as Americans take pride in the petty and petulant behavior displayed by the Republican candidates? Donald Trump is popular. He’s entertaining. But does he actually have value as a candidate? I don’t think so.
I’m not saying that the Democratic candidates are saints. I’m sure there are plenty of skeletons in Bernie and Hillary’s closets, but they have displayed a greater level of respect for the office they’re seeking. Again, this isn’t a question of policy positions, but for the most part you haven’t seen the locker room mocking, schoolyard bully type behavior that the Republican field has shown. And what frightens me, is that the media continues to lap it up. It makes for great tv, great ratings, and yeah, it’s entertaining.
Thinking about Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s criticism of Gloria Swanson, I can’t help but ask Donald Trump, The Kardashians, Caitlyn Jenner, Justin Bieber, most Reality TV, Sarah Palin, Perez Hilton, and so many others …… what lasting value have you left us with?