Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Does Anyone Remember John Weinzweig?

Canadian composer John Weinzeig would have turned 100 this year.  The Toronto Star had a nice overview of what's going on in celebration of his life. But before I get back to him I have to ask: Do you remember that whole thing about needing a new Hockey Night in Canada theme song?

What do you say about the winner? I say it's really, really kitschy.

Firstly, Bagpipes? And isn't this really just another David Foster Olympic tune, except without the edge? Or are the bagpipes the edge?

The new hockey song isn't bad. It's just kitschy. Which I suppose means really bad, but it doesn't sound really bad, so does that make it a work of genius?

Perhaps I've been reading too much Kitsch: The World of Bad Taste, a book I picked up at my favourite bookstore.

It's a depressing read. If you take the book's arguments seriously, basically everything around us is kitsch. As some of the Amazon reviews contend, this could be a "hoplessly outdated" high/low view of art, and I suspect most people who read this book will balk at the possibility that there's this much bad taste out there.
Worse, it was written in the 70's, and as far as I can tell, things have gotten much much worse on the kitch front. At least people way back then came by it honestly! (That's a not very obvious joke right there)
I even found myself looking at the book going "Really? That's kitsch too? Crap! I like that"...he has a special dislike for superheroes - one of the captions for some Batman bedroom wallpaper reads: "The idiotic figures of Batman and Robin raised to the level of unsophisticated decorative fetishes." That, my friends, is contempt! but then again, when you think that superheroes are our biggest, fattest Hollywood spectacles, which people watch while eating an artisinal hamburger with artisinal relish and artisinal kraft dinner made by artisinal artisans from the land of Artisinalia...

Also, my son has a pair of Batman pajamas. He hates them. Now I realise why - my son has an innate hatred of kitsch. God bless that little boy!

I the end of this exhausting book, I began to dismiss old Professor Dorfles essays as the sad musings of a modern curmudgeon, musings that sound, ahem, a lot like this blog...but just as you get to the end, he makes a case for Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as decidedly unkitschy artists. Why? Because they use kitschy elements...the miasma of kitsch is unstoppable.

My theory as to why kitsch is everywhere? Kitsch is the aesthetic form of late, late, late capitalism. I mean, once you've exhausted handbags and diamond encrusted watches as luxury goods, where else is there to go but down? Rich people want to eat terrible food too, but they don't want to pay terrible food prices! and if you think I'm kidding, the latest issue ot Toronto Life has an article on fancy tater tots! you cannot make this stuff up folks!

But what about that hockey song? I listen again to the not-so-new Canada hockey song, and I recall how excited people in Canada get when Tim Horton's offers to slop chili into a bowl made of bread, and it seems that Professor Dorfles worst fears have been realised as Canadian society. We are so deep in kitsch that we know nearly nothing else. This is where Stephen Harper was deeply wrong about ordinary Canadians not caring about the arts - when it comes to kitsch, it seems both Canadian artists and ordinary people can't get enough of it. I should know, I live near Dundas and Ossington, perhaps the epicentre of artsy kitsch.

So what's all this crap about kitsch got to do with the hockey anthem, or the title of my post?

My suggestion for the hockey anthem - John Weinzweig's Hockey Night in Canada. It's resolutely unkitschy, for the same reasons Warhol and Lichtenstein are. You can listen to it here. Stick - Check- Bodycheck. He takes the kitsch and he stabs it to death right in front of you. And as a choral piece, it reminds us that our experience of hockey on television is very much through the colour commentary. The other theme songs are just there to tell you to sit down on the sofa, Weinzweig reminds you that you're there to be part of a sacred ritual in Canadian society - watching grown men skate around on ice and shoot a vulcanized rubber disk at each other in the hopes of hitting it into a net.

I would gladly watch the first four minutes of Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday to hear it. But then I would probably turn it off.

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