I've been thinking a lot lately about historical significance versus pop-cultural significance. Given the choice of a vibrant life of artistic success, but to be critically considered pop-trash or have an entirely unsuccessful artistic life, only to be regarded as intensely brilliant post-mortem ... which would you choose?
I would choose the first option. If you chose the second, you're probably some sort of masochist or entirely in love with yourself. Sometimes people can have their cake and eat it too in this scenario -- Andy Warhol, The Beatles, the dude that wrote Beowulf -- but more often than not it's one or the other.
I've been thinking about this subject for a couple days now, because I find myself reading two books by relatively famous Chucks; Palahniuk and Klosterman. The books in question are Survivor and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. It is my belief that these two authors contribute nothing to the lexicon of history, but I also feel that both of them secretly (or perhaps openly) know this. What is it to become a "great" writer; do you have to create something that you just feel like talking about (Klosterman) or create a noir-ish social commentary (Palahniuk)?
John Fante was an Italian depression-era author from Colorado who saw limited success in his early life. This is most likely because he wrote seven books about being an Italian depression-era author from Colorado. He went to L.A. and began writing screenplays that eventually were made into movies. Still no one cared. Then sometime later, after his death in the 80s, someone was like "Ohhh, I get it... he's an Italian depression-era author from Colorado. This is deep". Ask The Dust, currently Fante's most popular work, finally made it to the New York Times bestseller list six decades after its publication (and even that required heavy pushing from Charles Bukowski... and he was drunk the whole time anyway). The problem about this man is that I feel he was endlessly self-involved and basically wrote journal entries over the course of his bazillion books uncleverly disguised as some other character (let it be known that I have not read one word of John Fante).
"But wouldn't people that want instant fame and gratification be in love with themselves too?"
Yes, this is true as well. I'm sure that pop-band-of-the-moment Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz is immensley obsessed with himself. But, I think it's a different kind of in love with yourself. People that want to be immortalized after their death are "visions-of-grandeur-in-love-with-themselves". These people want to be like Jesus... or David Bowie. People that opt for the first choice are "I-just-want-to-be-popular-in-love-with-themselves". Who are we as a people, but insecure. It's only a normal hope that people in some capacity can recognize you as cool. The people that obsess over what "the critics" say want to make art. Everyone else kinda just wants to have fun with it.
So this brings me back to my two Chucks, whose books I am finding immense enjoyment in (and they're critically appraised!). Maybe it's a Freudian pleasure complex*, but I want to read pop-novels of now, just because I'm entertained and can relate to them. To say you would rather have your work loved later is to say, "I don't want to be pop now, but I would like to become pop later". It's the same thing, the same sort of adulation, but now you're deep, even if you were just writing about what your neighbor said to you or something.
My Chucks want to entertain first, and be profound second if it happens to occur at all. C.P. wants to write dark social commentary for your enjoyment. C.K. wants to write highly-self aware pop-culture-isms for your enjoyment. And in creating enjoyment for others, both of these authors certainly must enjoy what they do.
I'm currently working on a screenplay for my screenwriting class. At the encouragement of my teacher, I have created a dream-like, intensely personal, character piece. And I fucking hate it! I never write stuff like this and I don't care about anything happening in it, even when my class nods in approval of its "deep" message. Listen, I would rather be in Queen than in than in Radiohead. Because it's fun. It's pop music. Still, it's profoundly connective. Freddie Mercury could sing on the most cliched or boring subject matter of all time (girls, having fun, riding a bike) and it would still be awesome because it's fun. Sure, Radiohead are great artists and an incredible band. Maybe I just have a problem being totally sincere about things I care about. Or perhaps I just don't care about things that Thom Yorke would care about. I care more about having a good ol' time than global warming**. Plus it's Queen, man... fucking Queen!
*It is undoubtedly not a Freudian pleasure complex
** Get the Hold Steady's new album.