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Overheard on NPR - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
July 14th, 2007
09:09 am

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Overheard on NPR
So, I'm in that almost-awake period, not ready to get out of bed yet, and I hear a discussion about the "great age of American pop song", the age of Gershwin, Porter, and their contemporaries. The discussion was centering around a book, "The House That George Built", by Wilfrid Sheed. Two things caught my ear:

"Happy people don't need to have fun" - touching on the observation that many of the big songwriters of that era were depressed. It makes sense, but it's an observation that makes me uneasy.

Later, the discussion turned to the too-short lives and careers of some of these greats, including Gershwin, who died at age 38. The host made a comment, saying that many people wonder what Gershwin might have gone on to do, had he lived longer, much like John Kennedy.

Recall, I'm almost-awake at this point. So, instead, I heard the name "John Candy", which I thought an unusual, but not incorrect, comparison to make.

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From:ginsu
Date:July 14th, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
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"Happy people don't need to have fun" - touching on the observation that many of the big songwriters of that era were depressed. It makes sense, but it's an observation that makes me uneasy.

Without any context, I'm going to guess this means that writing cheerful music was his escape, as opposed to riding roller coasters (or having affairs, though he had affairs -- maybe they were what depressed him).

If so, I think it might also count that Gershwin was being paid six figures a year to compose music during the Depression -- a staggering amount of purchasing power. So perhaps his output was also due simply to wanting to preserve his lavish lifestyle.

Still feel uneasy?
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From:tsmaster
Date:July 14th, 2007 11:32 pm (UTC)
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this means that writing cheerful music was his escape, as opposed to riding roller coasters

I think that captures the intent of the author in pulling in that quote, yeah - the songwriters were depressed, and one means of escaping it was songcraft. I'm sure they had many other ways (from illicit affairs, to drugs, to whatever else) to self-medicate.

The unease I feel about it isn't about Gershwin in particular, or songwriters, but really about having fun - that it's essentially an avenue for people to avoid a painful existence. I'd rather imagine it being a healthy part of a normal day - do your work, have some fun, learn something new. The way the quote presents it, fun is what you boil up in a dirty spoon because the alternatives are too painful to bear.

That's what I'm uneasy about.
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From:ginsu
Date:July 14th, 2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
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Over time I have come to think of happy as experiencing a sense of useful progress or forward motion and depressed as experiencing a sense of stagnation or failure to change in a positive way.

Travel, for instance, often leads to happy because the sense of progress is literal and the sense of personal growth is palpable. Other smaller ways to get to happy include washing the dishes or finishing homework or figuring out a clever algorithm because in every case achievable goals are set and met.

Having fun I see, I think, the way you see it. It's just the pursuit of trivial but pleasant experiences.

So, if you buy all that, happy people can either have fun or not.
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