A blog to get Spinal Tap into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and whatever else I want it to be about)

Art, sport and the worst dance move ever

First of all, I want to apologize if anyone read my last blog and watched Dancing With The Stars. That was not my intent, and I’m truly sorry for all the pain and suffering I’ve caused. But let’s not forget who the true evildoers are — the people who make DWTS.

For those who didn’t see it, there were a couple Spïnal Tap references in the show. Firstly, when Kiss performed, the judges scores went “all the way to 11.”

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Then, at about 1 hour and 40 minutes into the show, they showed a miniature Stonehenge hanging in the  air. But that was it. No songs by the Tap, no context, just enough to bewilder most of their audience (“I don’t get it” is a frequent refrain with all things Tap).

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My guess is that there was a producer who loves Spïnal Tap and wanted to do a whole bit. Stonehenge would come down to the stage to find little people dancing. Little ballroom dancers, dancing to “Stonehenge”. Then cut to the control room to see Marti DeBergi or Nigel Tufnel directing the show and then throwing his headphones down in frustration. That might have been funny. But then some executive said “I don’t get it” and nixed it, Then the producer started crying and the executive said, “Okay, keep the statue”. That’s how TV is made.

I don’t care for DWTS at all. It’s just phony and inauthentic. Processed, manufactured dreck. Don’t get me wrong, I love dance (I’m a fan of  the modernist and even post-modernist aesthetic, in case you are curious) and I love music — not just rock. I love flamboyantly gay men and scantily clad young women. This show should be a lock. On my must-watch TiVo list every week. But truth is I get nauseous after watching a few minutes of it. I can’t even enjoy it ironically. It’s gone past “so-bad-it’s-good” back into repulsive. And anyone who has known me for a while knows that I’m not that picky when it comes to TV. I’ll watch nearly anything. But not that. Not “Smash” either, but more on that in a bit.

It’s hard for me to deconstruct DWTS very much, not having watched more than a few minutes of it here and there. But the other night Carlos Santana was on the show to promote his new album. So he played, and there were dancers. At one point, a male dancer ran across the stage to his partner, whose arms were spread out. The male dancer leapt in the air so that he planted his crotch in her face. She fell backwards and held on to his thighs and he landed, straddling her face, as she laid back, holding herself up in a perfect plank. It was like a dip, but instead of him holding her gracefully, he propelled his boy parts into her face. Not smooth, elegant and graceful, but kinda brutal and ugly. I can appreciate the athleticism it took to pull of that move, but if dance is an art, then it should be evaluated and appreciated with that in mind. Barishnikov was a great jumper, but I saw him when he was older and his leaps were not as big as they once were. Nevertheless, his jumps were still powerful, dramatic and graceful. And he didn’t feel the need to run over his dance partners with his junk.

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And that may be why I hate the show; it’s a soulless exhibition of moves and feats and sparkle without any substance. Professionals take amateurs (the ‘Stars’), train them relentlessly and then show them off to a panel of judges. But performing for judges makes it neither sport nor art. Where technique, flash and homogeny have replaced anything of merit or substance.

IMHO, if it requires judges, it’s not art, and it’s not a sport. Gymnastics or competitive diving or other activities that require judges, they’re pageants (boxing doesn’t require judges, it just has them so fewer people get beaten to death). They perform and then ask judges what they think. To make it more ‘fair’ they try to make it consistent rules and  criteria have been established — a point off for falling down, a point for proper extension, extra points for extra flips. So competitors, wanting to win, do more flips to get more points. Then it becomes an extending and flipping competition, and who wants that? But if I’m watching diving and one diver gets an 8.7 and another an 8.5, I don’t know what one did to beat the other. But if I’m watching basketball, I can tell the difference between an 87  and an 85 (and it must have been a hell of a game).

I heard T.S. Monk speak once and he said that art is the purest expression of who you are. DWTS is about seeking approval (and resurrecting dead or dying careers). We as people love to put numbers to things that don’t have numbers, from movie ratings  to college football rankings to S.A.T. scores to Robert Parker’s wine scores. I’m not saying that we can’t judge and evaluate and be critical, but putting a number to art is a shortcut that bypasses real communication and understanding. A critics’ job is to observe, evaluate and communicate their opinions. When an artist changes what they are doing to please a critic, their work becomes less about them and more about the critic. This isn’t to say artists should ignore their audience, but they also need to be true to themselves. Imagine, if you would, a show where singers performed for judges and they and the television viewing audience got to give their opinions and choose their favorites. I would expect the winners of such a show would be mostly mediocre middle-of-the-road performers while the most successful alumni would come from the ranks of those that didn’t win. On the other hand, I imagine that show would be pretty un-watchable too.

Why do I hate “Smash?” Because it’s the same, manufactured, focus-grouped crap that’s killing the American musical. It’s trying to be realistic instead of real. It has the veneer of real people trying to put on a Broadway show, but then they break out in song. Even somehow the songs from the fake musical seem to fit the character’s state of mind. It’s forced and phony (am I sounding a little Holden Caulfield here?). “Glee,” on the other hand, recognizes the inherent unreality of people breaking out in song and runs with it. If you remember high school, everything was so much bigger and more important and dramatic than it is now. Just words aren’t enough, being a high school student demands musical numbers and dream sequences and ridiculous exaggerated characters and choreography. That’s also probably why the show is feeling a little tired. A great pop song is also short (the same could be said about a blog). It’s a burst of energy that can’t be sustained for long, a confection meant to be enjoyed quickly. Even the great long pop songs feel more like 3 or 4 songs than one 10-minute song. Anything more would be tedious, and we’ve all heard songs where we enjoy them at first but are sick of them and ready to move on before they’re done. Unfortunately, that’s “Glee”. “Smash” is the dessert that isn’t sweet and is kinda bland and mushy. The kind your grandmother has, but has been sitting out for way too long.

But wait, isn’t this a blog about Spïnal Tap, you ask? You may have asked this several long, tedious paragraphs ago, in fact. Well, in “This is Spïnal Tap,” they ask an artist to make a sculpture of Stonehenge, they expect it to be huge, but when tit shows up on stage, it’s tiny, hence the hanging Stonehenge on DWTS. The artist in the movie? None other than star of “Smash”; Anjelica Huston. Booyah!

Coming soon, I’ll blog about this past weekend’s RnRHoF induction ceremony and Spinal Tap (and my trip to Coachella). That’s my blog: barely topical, rarely timely. I give it a 7.

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