Pretentious? That’s Not Pretentious. That’s Pretentious.

In a 100 percent perfectly titled post, Patrick at Popehat (and Ann Althouse) tears asunder the nomination of Merle Haggard’s classic Okie From Muskogie for Andrew Sullivan’s poll on the “smuggest, most pretentious pop song in history.”  How, after all, can a song that anyone with even a modicum of understanding of music, much less country music, much less the awesomeness that is Merle Haggard, would understand is just supposed to be fun be simultaneously “pretentious”?

Answer: it can’t.

And, while we’re here….

It’s no doubt appropriate that Michael Jackson is nominated in this category (for “Earth Song,” with which I’m unfamiliar).  But the failure to nominate “Heal the World” is just appalling.  What makes that song so particularly pretentious is that, unlike any of the other songs on the list, the world’s largest television audience of 1993 was forced to endure it in the middle of an already-terrible Super Bowl (eventually won by the Cowboys 52-17 over Don Beebe and the Buffalo Bills).  This is a song that was so pretentious that it even made people who were actually at the game forget about the fact that the score was already 28-10, the game effectively over, Frank Reich’s (just weeks removed from orchestrating the Greatest Comeback of All Time) presence coming on in relief of an injured Jim Kelly notwithstanding.  Indeed, when the song started playing, the fellow Bills fan sitting immediately behind me proudly asked “Anybody got a rifle?”  Worse still, this pretentious jerk decided to compound the pretentiousness of his gawdawful song by making the 100,000 people in attendance hold up fucking placards.  With cartoon children on them.  Holding hands.  For six fucking minutes. 

What kind of an egotistical, pretentious, and smug maniac subjects a captive audience of hundreds of millions of people to his pretentiousness while enlisting the forced labor of 100,000 innocents (including the guy from the gas station around the corner from me who flew across country to attend and buy tickets off a scalper) in the process?

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22 thoughts on “Pretentious? That’s Not Pretentious. That’s Pretentious.

    • The years 1990-1994 were, shall we say, a traumatic experience in my life as a dedicated sports fan. That they were the high point of my life as a sports fan (well, with the exception of 1986) only makes things worse. That they were further tarnished by being pressed into the service of what has to be one of the all-time most pretentious and all-around awful pop songs makes it intolerable.

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    • Yes. Yes we can. Imagine how many lives would have been saved, and how our memories of him would be less conflicted, if he had successfully placed himself in a cryogenic freezer back in 1988.

      How long until some comedian updates Denis Leary’s old bit about Fat Elvis?

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    • You mean the people around the stage who weren’t forced to hold placards for 6 minutes? I assume they’re volunteers who actually wanted to be there and would have paid huge sums for the privilege because they were Jacko die-hards. Also, keep in mind that this was 1993; we were just a few years removed from Thriller and Bad, just a year removed from the influential Black or White video, and the first sexual abuse allegations were still a few months away (I had to check my memory on that, but this is indeed the case); his infamous Oprah interview was even still a few weeks away.

      One thing I just learned – it was also the first Super Bowl in history where the telecast’s audience actually increased at halftime.

      This was thus, literally, the absolute apex of his fame and popularity. Hell, I was even pretty excited for the performance – how often do you get to see the most important figure in music since the Beatles in the flesh singing Billie Jean? And yet the thing I remember most about being there was the guy behind me asking “anyone got a rifle?” That’s how pretentious the song was.

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  1. I think Sullivan generally gets pretty shoddy when he writes about what he finds pretentious. His ‘poseur alert’ is often frustrating because about 50% of the time he highlights a passage that really does sound like the person is being pretentious, and the other 50% reads like they’re being totally reasonable and Sullivan just can’t comprehend that people talk about some topic he’s not interested in with words that he doesn’t like to use.

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    • I had the same thought when I saw ‘Earth Song’ – I’ve never been mis-fortunate enough to hear that song; ‘Heal the World,’ on the other hand, was seared into my consciousness through the Super Bowl half-time show and all the ‘Free Willy’ ads. It was a dark time, my early teens.

      Not to mention, any list of ‘most pretentious songs’ that omits John Lennon admonishing us to “Imagine” life with no possessions is just misguided from the start.

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      • I go back and forth on Imagine. In the hands of most artists, I think that song would be indescribably pretentious, which is why I can’t stand to listen to any covers of it. But the original, at least to the extent you don’t have to watch the music video with Yoko Ono’s mug? It winds up being a surprisingly pretty and even haunting song to me, even if it has some lines that on their own would make me want to puke. That song even managed to have some real meaning for a good number of people who would never have gone along with the notion of “Imagine no possessions”: the John Lennon wall in Prague remains, to me, one of the more inspirational stories or anti-Soviet resistance to come out of the Cold War.

        I figure the song probably deserves to be brought up in any discussion of pretentious songs, but at least the original version winds up with a lot of mitigating factors.

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        • I think I generally agree. As written, the lyrics are hopelessly pretentious. But it’s masterfully arranged and sung by Lennon and you can’t help but buy the sincerity of his performance.

          I suppose, having read too much about the Beatles, it’s the tension between Lennon’s life – the verbally abusive, absentee-father/husband, drug addict, dilettante, millionaire – and the tone of his writing in that song that rubs me the wrong way. But I can’t deny he somehow makes that song believable when he performs it.

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