|Posted by paul on July 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM|
This surely will be the most off-topic piece I've ever written. It's inspired by the anniversary of Amy Winehouse's death. I mentioned Winehouse in a comment the other day, and it must have seemed so off the wall to do that. Why even mention that booze-soaked British whacko on a Celtics forum? The connection for me is art.
Because it is the anniversary of Winehouse's death, there has been a spate of articles purporting to meditate on her significance. Mostly they suggest that the public passion over her death is inexplicable, given her slender talent and accomplishments, and that it must be due to some quirk of her public persona, which caught the public imagination. Here is an example:
You sense that maybe Winehouse had such an impact on the public because, ultimately, she was the quintessential relatable star in the public limelight, one of the most successful results in the media trying to turn the rich and famous into everyday Joes. Winehouse didn't need any sculpting though, the singer rarely changed throughout her career ascension, she enjoyed going to the pub and smoking, everyone enjoys that. What everyone can't enjoy is having a glorious voice and a devastatingly striking appearance, but whilst it was those two assets that propelled her to stardom, it was her down to earth nature - or the caricature of which was portrayed - that kept her there. Her strife, ups and downs ultimately were no different from those many were suffering from, which from a press perspective is the ultimate in how they want to show a star, and from the public's perspective something they could really empathise with. The sad passing of Winehouse was almost a defeat in the battle against daily life.
Of course there is some truth to this analysis. Winehouse, for all her craziness - or in part because of it - managed to seem somehow more real, and more accessible, than most music stars. She always had a minder with her, when she went out in public, something most folks don't have, but she still ran down to the local pub in her trademark dirty ballet slippers, where she was more than likely to get into some row that didn't do her image any good. Can you begin to see some parallels with Rondo? While Rondo's public persona is icy, not crazy, he comes across as uncompromisingly real more than most athletes do. There is little of that carefully crafted mask that we have become so used to seeing on sports stars. I think that's why so many of the dino-writers don't like him. They are used to being pandered to by stars. They are used to smooth lines, handed to them by smooth-talking public figures, obviating any need for them to do any actual work.
But note the way such evaluations of the Winehouse Legend invariably downplay her actual talents. You can see that this is true (that she was extremely talented, and that her talents were often trivialized by 'experts') from the way other music legends have expressed admiration, and even awe, for Winehouse. The list of her admirers is pretty amazing; folks such as Tony Bennet, Mos Def, George Michael, Adele, Seal and Elton John have passionately sung her praises. Notice here too a parallel with Rondo? Rondo's talents and achievements have been dismissed as slender by the media and the 'experts', even though his list of enthusiastic Great Admirers is similarly amazing; folks such as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charle Barkely, Bob Cousy and Shaquille O'Neil have sung Rondo's praises.
The way I look at music history, it is an ongoing tidal struggle between a kind of faceless corporate juggernaut, which seeks to turn the creation and marketing of entertainment into a quasi-mechanical process, and generations of artists, who seek to rise on wings of inspiration, communication, sponteneity and individuality. Of course, the picture is more complicated when you look at it in detail, but painted in broad strokes, that's what I think it looks like.
Again and again in history, just when the juggernaut appears to be on the verge of crushing human creativity via the 'starmaking machinery', some artist or group of artists (usually there is a wave, and one person or group of person comes to play a particularly important role) comes along that sets the juggernaut back a little, and reminds everyone that art is created by human beings, for human beings. I would cite the Beatles, in that role, for example. I would cite the punk movement as a decade long assault on The Machine, that crested with Kurt Cobain. I would cite hip hop as another such movement, and Tupac Shakur. I think Amy Winehouse was such an artist. Stars like Britney Spears had made it seem like the artist was dying out of the music industry, by the early aughts, to be replaced by plasticized beats, electronically manipulated voices and crazed 'lyrics'. Winehouse came just in time to reassert the value of sophisticated vocal technique, wedded to deeply emotional singing, and lyrics of personal revelation combined with sarcasticly insightful social commentary. Adele, for one, has acknowledged the key role Winehouse played, leading the way for other artists.
Of course, it's hard to miss the fact that death has stalked many of the artists who shocked 'the System', and set the entertainment juggernaut back. Artists have to bare their souls, sometimes enduring levels of personal vulnerability that few can stand. The more powerful an artist is, the more this tends to be true.
That's rarely the case with artists on the basketball court, though they too have to fight 'the System', and sometimes they too pay a high price. Connie Hawkins, for example, opened the path for so many of the greatest basketball players who followed him, but arguably he paid a high price for being such an iconoclast. Still, hardly anyone dies in basketball, so I'm not trying to be morbid, when I say that I see in Rajon Rondo someone who has stood up against the Juggernaut.
Sports too can be a juggernaut, with its own starmaking machinery, churning out an increasingly homogenized 'product'. Look at ESPN, and it's Lebron obsession, or SportsCenter's relentless stream of Slamma Jamma highlights. Yeah, I know that phrase is old. So is the homogenized, plasticized, pre-packaged sports 'product' that gets dished out to us by 'the Machine'. I think that a lot of what people - and great athletes - see in Rondo is someone who is determined to do things his way, someone who is determined to play the game of basketball the way he sees it and feels it, and someone who is changing the game. Look at the way players imitate Rondo. Even Lebron does it. In fact, I think Lebron does it a lot. Rondo is reminding people why they love basketball.
Thinking back, isn't that what made the coming of Bird and Magic so exciting? They reminded us why we loved basketball so much. I wasn't around when Cousy came into the league, but I think he probably had the same impact. Michael Jordan. Say what you want about Jordan, he is a guy who never made it look like a chore to go out and play basketball.
It's not about how old you are, or even how many rings you have. It's about the (creative) wings you have.