Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Billy Joel biography “a hyperextended Rolling Stone article”

In my younger days, Billy Joel was one of those performers whose music you either loved or hated, mostly depending on your tribal affiliations, your musical expectations, and the depth of your musical exposure. Put simply as possible, if you were really only familiar with the cuts that made it to the Top 40 rotation, or were suspicious of anything the sweaty masses liked, or expected your music to defy musical conventions, or any combination of the three, you most likely hated him.

... At least until you lost some of your snobbish pretentiousness, became more familiar with his catalogue, and grew more appreciative of his craftsmanship.

Going to one of his shows would most likely shift you off your base. By the 1980s, Joel was already acknowledged an electric performer who could pump up the audience with his energy and showmanship. Now in his mid-sixties, Joel may not be able to do back-flips off a Steinway, and may be a little more careful about crowd-surfing or climbing the lighting gantries … but he can still rock the house down to the ground, bringing a fan base that now spans two generations jumping and screaming to their feet.

In a sense, then, how you appreciate Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, by Fred Schruers (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014; $29.00), depends on your expectations of biography. If all you’re looking for is a recital of some facts of Joel’s life, his interpretation of those facts from his perspective in 2014, and some relation of his music’s lyrics to various events (particularly his failed romantic and business entanglements), Schruer’s work will suffice. If, however, you expect biography to expose the development of the subject’s character and craft, on that level Billy Joel fails; it’s little more than a hyperextended Rolling Stone article.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The smile on the lips of martyrs

I suppose we Catholic writers are socially expected to have a massive episode of cognitive dissonance over the news of the significant drop in religious affiliation over the years 2007 to 2014. Because, of course, this sort of thing has never happened before (he said while rolling his eyes melodramatically).

Religious revivals come and go. So do intellectual fads and ideological fashions. Leftist progressivism has been in the ascent in the last few decades, and irreligion has been riding its coattails as it’s risen. As I pointed out in my very first post on this site, neither atheism nor agnosticism offers us better arguments than they did a hundred years ago. However, the bar has been lowered. Scientific advances haven’t made Christianity indefensible; rather, pedagogical innovations and ideological indoctrination in the classrooms have left fewer Christians able to defend it.

When you’re not satisfied with an answer, it doesn’t take much to change your mind. Many if not most former Catholics didn’t leave the Church so much as they formalized a separation that had been there for many years, even from childhood. There’s now almost no social cost to abandoning religious practice; in some circles, irreligion is not only tolerated but expected. And, to be perfectly frank, the Church in the West made it easier by decades of poor religious education, clerical malformation, and episcopal cowardice.

By the same token, when you find an answer that satisfies you both intellectually and emotionally, the argument against it has to be very powerful in order to change your mind about its truth. No one has yet made an argument to Catholicism’s falsehood that I find remotely persuasive, let alone convincing. Indeed, many people seem more committed to mocking, berating, and shaming me out of my illusions than they are to showing me that they are illusions.