Yesterday, I watched a gorilla at the zoo have what appeared to be a brain-tingling moment when he removed some dung from the anus of another gorilla. I might be assigning human emotions to the gorilla when I write this, but soon after eating the concoction, the gorilla closed his eyes. There is a variety of reasons why a gorilla might close his eyes, and most of them are most of the reasons we close our eyes, but I thought he was taking a moment out of his day to savor whatever that other gorilla ate and whatever flavor that other gorilla’s digestive system added to it. The elongated, almost spiritual closing of the eyes might have been a coincidence, but I thought the gorilla enjoyed the concoction so much that he wanted to savor it for a moment before going back to the dispenser. There was a full tray of food awaiting the gorilla, in the southeast corner of his enclosure, but he preferred going to the dispenser before him. Watching that gorilla go back for more, I realized that individual tastes are so relative to the flavors we create that it’s pointless to try to fashion our work in such a way that it pleases everyone. We can only create whatever our nervous system produces and we flavor it with the dispensaries we have at our disposal in the hope that someone somewhere might enjoy it for what it is.
Yesterday, I realized the roles those two gorillas played in this display defined for me what proved to be one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. I enjoy the music of Ben Folds, and I’ve been a fan for a long time, but there is something missing in his music. He has some fantastic singles, but I’ve never been so attracted to his oeuvre that I would list him as one of “my guys”. If I informed Folds how frustrated I am that he comes so close to reaching me, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. Not only would he not care, he shouldn’t care. If I met him and told him that most of his music misses the mark for me, he should say, “That’s on you. I can only do what I do. I can’t worry about pleasing you, offending you, or infinitely pleasing you. If it pleases enough people that I can make a living at this game, that’s great, but I’m not going to change what I do to please you or Betty Beatle from Idaho.”
William Shatner is not one of “my guys” either, but he’s always around. He’s the green bean casserole of the entertainment world. I doubt anyone who has yet to try green bean casserole would look at it and think, “Yum!” but it’s at so many family get togethers and potluck dinners that we eventually “what the hell” it, until we discover it’s not so bad. As long as we don’t overdo it, repetition can even lead to a level of fondness for it, until we look forward to the next get together or potluck dinner that has a tray of it.
No one should confuse the term “my guys” with a description of talent. I’ll drop the typical line people drop to explain the discrepancy. “I respect the heck out of what Folds and Shatner do, but it just doesn’t reach me on a personal level.” I know people who love John Lennon so much that they suggest Paul McCartney was not talented. I understand that we all take sides in any rivalry, but to suggest that a talent on par with Paul McCartney has no talent is ludicrous. The Silly Love Songs vs. Important Songs debate rages on in some quarters, as Lennon fans suggest Lennon was not only more important he was more creative. These people relate more with Lennon, and because of that Lennon was “their guy”, but to prove that point, some try to so by belittling McCartney’s Silly Love Songs talent.
I missed Folds and Shatner’s collaboration for years, because they weren’t “my guys”. When I eventually heard the album Has Been, however, I was blown away. It reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: cranberry granola and banana flavored yogurt. On its own, this yogurt flavor is too sweet for me, and while this flavor of granola is tasty, I probably wouldn’t eat it as a standalone. When I put the two together, however, I enjoy it so much that I’ve considered submitting it to the overlords as my reward for living a decent, moral life. When I pass on, I want to meet my long-deceased relatives of course, and I wouldn’t mind it if someone played me a Brahams Sonata on the harp, but if your’re wondering how best to reward me for a life well lived, might I suggest that the floors and walls of my reward taste like the banana-flavored yogurt and cranberry granola concoction I created.
When we eat concoctions like these, we spoon too much of one flavor most of the times. Some of the times, we spoon too much yogurt, and some of the times, we spoon too much granola, but there are occasions, at least once a container, when we hit a Goldilocks spoonful. The album Has Been is the Goldilocks concoction of talent for me, and when I listen to it, I close my eyes to savor the moment. I’ve listened to that album so often that I’ve tried listening to the other concoctions they’ve made together, but they rarely hit the mark in the same manner. On their own, Shatner and Folds create interesting, quality material that doesn’t quite hit that brilliant, Holy Crud! mark, but together they created what I consider their Goldilocks moment. I would think that such moments are so fleeting in any artist’s career that when they hit one, they would immediately run back into the studio to dispense another collaboration, but perhaps they don’t think they can create another Goldilocks moment. I know they did singles together before and after Has Been, but that album was so good that I would think it would drive them right back into the studio to do another collaboration. We know that Folds affinity for Shatner brought them together, but we don’t know why they don’t make another album together. They might also think that fate and whatnot permit but one Goldilocks moment a life.
Carnivores in Cartoons
Yesterday, I thought carnivores were the mean, bad guys of the wild. Today I realized that cartoons conditioned us to believe that when a lion, shark, alligator, or any animal at the top of the food chain eats one at the bottom, they do so with some evil intent. We find a definition of this in Aesop’s fable in which a mouse removes a thorn from a lion’s paw. The lion, in turn, agrees not to eat the mouse. The mouse does something nice for the lion, and the lion, in turn, agrees to do something nice for the mouse. The inference is that lions eat mice because they are mean, or they do not like mice. If the lion betrays this agreement and eats the mouse that must mean the lion is mean.
In another fable, on the theme, a frog agrees to assist a scorpion across a pond. Before doing so, the frog says, “Wait a second, you’re going to sting me.”
“If I stung you, we would both drown,” the scorpion responds.
The frog reluctantly agrees to help the scorpion across the pond, and the scorpion stings the frog. As they’re both drowning, the frog says, “I thought you said you weren’t going to sting me.”
“What do you want me to say, I’m a scorpion. This is what I do.”
Some allege that the moral of the story, for young people, is that there are vicious people in the world who, no matter how nice you think they are, will stab you in the back. While I think that is a valuable lesson to learn, the more valuable lesson is that which exists in nature. No matter how nice and cute that wild animal appears, and no matter how many cartoons we watch that display that animal as cuddly, they will probably scratch and bite us if given the opportunity. They might not understand why a seven-inch gash in our skin prompted our decision to stop playing with us. If they could talk, they might say, “C’mon, I was just playing.” The point is, in most cases, they did not intend to hurt us, and they’re not being mean. They’re relatively brainless creatures, compared to us, that operate almost entirely on instincts. Biting and scratching is just what they do.
Think about all the cartoons we watched and books we read in our youth. They depict carnivores with jagged teeth and menacing growls. As we often do, we confuse scary with being mean or bad. Lions, wolves, and bears aren’t mean, or bad, they’re just hungry, and like all other animals, they eat when they’re hungry. Regardless what it does to their reputation as a beautiful animal, wolves enjoy eating fluffy bunny wabbits. If they’re able to catch them, they will do awful things to one of the cutest creatures of the wild, but that does not mean they’re jealous, mean, or evil in the manner we define such terms. By teaching young humans lessons, using animals as main characters, some of us anthropomorphize these characters to such a degree that we assign them human characteristics. Lions, tigers, and bears aren’t nice, they aren’t mean, and they don’t make decisions on what to eat based on how other animals interact with them. They eat meat and other animals have meat on them.
Yesterday I learned that even if the animals at the top of the food chain are not the meanies we thought they were when we were kids, we should still consider doing everything we can to avoid one in the wild. After watching videos that focus on animals biting humans, nature lovers qualify the instinctual actions of these wild animals by saying, “We are not on their diet.” The nature lovers then provide a number of theories regarding how these incidents often involve nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. These theories are true, of course, as most animals in the wild, and in the ocean, have never seen a human, and self-preservation is more important to them than eating in most cases. Animals often take a pass on anything unfamiliar if they think they could get hurt in the process. Sometimes, however, they’re so hungry that they’re willing to eat anything that moves, especially if it moves slower than other prey.
Most animals don’t know what a human is, and that’s why they fear us, but we are also a point of curiosity for them. Thus, when they see us walking around in their domain, or floating on the surface, they’re curious, and that curiosity is almost exclusive to considering whether they should consider adding us to their diet. Yet, seeing, hearing, and smelling us might not be enough to satisfy their curiosity, and they obviously cannot communicate with us, so their last resort is to taste us to try to figure out what we are to determine if they might want to start adding us to their diet.
The nature lovers further their argument by opening up the belly of a bull shark. “When we open up the belly of a bull shark, we find everything from license plates to cans of paint to packs of cigarettes. The bull shark, unlike other sharks, is not very discerning. They’ll eat anything they see floating on the surface of the water, even if it happens to be a human on a surfboard.” Translation: They do not intend to devour us. They’re just curious. They just want to taste us to see what we are. I see the nature lovers working here. I know they’re trying to relieve our fears about sharks, and in turn preserve the shark population, and I know wild animals are not bad or mean in the context the former cartoon watchers define such terms, but it does not comfort me to know that all they want to do is taste me. If I happen upon one of these carnivorous beasts, and it’s clear that all they want to do is taste me, I’m still going to do whatever I can to get away. If I fail to escape, I’m probably going to shoot it, because I have to imagine that even though they’re just tasting me, it’s still going to hurt like the dickens.