Maybe it's just that time of the year, what with awards shows of every ilk and hue sprouting like weeds all over the pop culture landscape. Or perhaps the Global Village has given birth to a new mutation that needs to sap the lifeblood of nuance in order to survive. I'm inclined to think it's the latter.
The other morning, I was at work early, perusing the New York Times, sipping coffee and trying to will myself into another day at a job I'll be leaving in the next few weeks anyway. Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" was wafting through the office sound system, barely noticeable. I was almost convinced I could make it through the workday unscathed by blather.
Immersed and comfortably numb in my sphere, I first heard the voice as a phantom — "Best song ever or worst song ever?", it asked, sphynx-like. I looked up and realized it was only Rudy from accounts receivable. "What the hell are you talking about?" I greeted him. He grinned and made a sweeping gesture in the air, signifying he was talking about the piped-in tune.
I made a vain attempt to keep my eyes from going black, as they are known to do when my blood rushes to my head. I faked a smile, and said, "Neither."
He persisted. "C'mon — it's Pink Floyd! You know about music — it's gotta be one or the other."
Taking the high road, I resisted the impulse to throttle him then and there. He was obviously one of those mutations I mentioned, after all. Instead, I took a deep breath, and said, "I don't deal in absolutes like that, and I'll tell you why." He tilted his head like an eager puppy, and if his widening smile could wag, it would have. "As soon as you say something is the worst, you've elevated it to a level it didn't have before. The worst things don't get any mention at all. You say it's the best ever, and you've excluded all possibilities you may have missed. It changes as soon as the next thing happens, but you've closed yourself to the future."
He looked genuinely hurt, but more confused than anything else. I patted him on the shoulder to reassure him. "It's okay," I said as gently as I could muster. "But you have to realize there is no such animal as the best song ever written. As soon as you name one, you have to think — wait that wouldn't have existed if this hadn't come first. "Bo Diddley" is one of the outstanding riffs, "Louie Louie" established the unintelligible lyric, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" probably lay the foundation for rebellion — it goes on and on, and then backtracks to the raw basics — Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" and circles once again to Nine Inch Nails.
"See, it gets down to this. the best rock song ever written was either never put to paper, since it was created thousands of years ago when Africa was still an arid land and Man was discovering the power of a good riff — or, it lies waiting somewhere in the vast expanse of the future.
"Either way, if and when you ever hear it, you'll know it. The sun will nova immediately afterwards. Now, off with you — and don't worry about such things!"
Rudy scampered away, and I left with a sense that my work for that day was done.