Last month, I had the privilege of speaking at commencement exercises for the health professional schools at Nova Southeastern University. It was a homecoming of sorts: I spent most of my childhood in South Florida, about fifteen miles from the campus. But a lot has changed. When I left in the late 1980s, the sports/concert arena where I spoke did not exist. Neither did the hockey team that plays there. As for NSU, I remember it as a small, relatively obscure school, with maybe a few thousand students overall and no significant presence in health care.
Stardom isn’t normal. It’s familiar, even commonplace—ever-present not only in the realm of actors, singers, and other pop entertainers, but also in the overlapping circles of athletes, politicians, tech “visionaries,” and ambiguously skilled celebrities-as-celebrities whom Americans love to ogle, aggrandize, belittle, and resent. The impulse to idolize is as old as the gods, of course. Jesus was a superstar some time before Andrew Lloyd Webber came around.
The pop charts have gotten awfully crowded. There are still only ten songs in the Top Ten, although some could count as multiple songs for the way they combine elements grafted from other pieces of music. There’s nothing new or scandalous in that method, by which Lupe Fiasco employed parts of a Modest Mouse recording to make “The Show Goes On,” the number-nine hit on the Billboard singles chart this week. What’s extraordinary—in fact, unprecedented in the history of pop music—is the high number of ad hoc teams of collaborators named as artists.
Franzenfreude, Franzen feud, Franzen frenzy: This literary squabble, one of the most fraught in recent years, isn’t over. It started two weeks ago when Jodi Picoult, peeved that the Times had given Freedom two glowing reviews in one week, gently tweaked (should that be tweeked?) the paper via Twitter: “Is anyone shocked?
Last week, my children, who just started kindergarten and first grade, asked me if I knew how to sing "California Girls." Of course!, I replied. I started to sing this: No, no, no, they interrupted. That's not "California Girls." They started to sing some unrecognizable tune, with some snippets of lyrics that included "sunrise so hot will melt your popsicle" and "fine, fresh fish." I still had no idea what they were singing. Now, to be clear, the Beach Boys are way before my time.