Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

BLASPHEMY

The PopCulteer
March 4, 2011

I don’t know if my regular PopCult readers have noticed this, but I try to keep a generally positive tone in this blog. I don’t just write fluff, but part of my mission is to share with my readers those things for which I have genuine enthusiasm.

Which is not to say I won’t criticize or rant when it’s needed, but I don’t want to turn this blog into a prolonged whine session about everything that the neo-hipsters think is wrong with Charleston. There are plenty of websites like that, cranked out in dingy basements and filled with bile all over the internet. It’s really easy to be negative all the time. That’s not what PopCult is about.

But I don’t want to leave you guys with the impression that I like everything I come across, so today I’m going to share with you a dozen things that I DON’T like. Some of them I detest with glee, others I feel the need to explain. There are some items on this list about which I’d like to change my feelings, but have yet to be able to, successfully. The point of this is so that you can learn more about what shapes my tastes. If I consistently heap praise on something you don’t like, this list may help you understand my position. If I casually dismiss something that you find spectacular, this list might tell you why. You might be shcocked at some of the stuff I DON’T like.

So let me put my highly-prized and astoundingly important blogger-cred on the line, and expose you to my “dirty dozen” things that I don’t like.

1) Coffee

For someone with so many baristas as friends, this may be a bit of a shock, but I can’t stand the taste of coffee. I like the idea of coffee–a nice hot beverage, lovingly brewed to perfection and loaded with enough caffeine to get you started in the morning–it’s a wonderful concept.

If only it didn’t taste so bad to me. I’ve tried to drink coffee. I’ve had friends swear they could win me over with the just the right blend of roasted and pulverized beans. So far, nothing has clicked. It still tastes a bit like varnish to me.

The closest I’ve come to enjoying coffee is the chocolate-covered espresso bean. A treat to which I was introduced to over twenty years ago by Sue Gaines at The Coffee Bean in The Charleston Town Center. Sue was a buddy from The Charleston Playhouse, and the chocolate-covered espresso beans were the magic fuel that got me through more than a few long, overnight shifts with the radio run of RFC.

2) Miles Davis

I don’t know why I can’t get into Miles. Lord knows I’ve tried. Every couple of years I pull out “Sketches of Spain” or “Bitches Brew” and try to reach that epiphany that you’re supposed to get when listening to Lord God King Miles Davis. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t hate his music. It’s worse than that. The music of Miles Davis bores me.

I can’t figure out why. I can wrap my brain around Coltrane and I love tons of music by people who worked as sidemen for Miles Davis. Something about his music just fails to connect with me. I can recognize the technical brilliance and marvel at the virtuosity, but there’S no emotional link for me.

This is one that I still struggle with. I want to like Miles Davis, but it seems I prefer the idea of enjoying his music to actually having to listen to it.

3) People Of Walmart

Maybe it’s some sudden surge of maturity, but I don’t find this website funny or entertaining. Many of my friends–most of my friends–do. Perhaps I’m softening in my old age, but the idea of lampooning people because of their looks, girth, or unfortunate fashion choices isn’t as funny to me as it used to be. I guess my take is, point and laugh if you want, but don’t expect any sympathy if someday they’re pointing and laughing BACK at you.

4) Kevin Smith

This one confuses me. I should love Kevin Smith. I’m in the target audience–nerdy, overweight guys who like comic books and lowbrow culture. His work should resonate with me on an almost religious basis.

But it doesn’t. I find his work to be utterly predictable. I can see every joke coming eight miles away. I only really liked one of his movies, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” and I don’t know why that one made me laugh while all his other films fall flat with me. His stand-up routines (or lectures, or whatever it is that he calls them) are only mildly amusing to me. They’re not really anything I want to dedicate my undivided attention to.

Maybe it’s because we sprung from the same primordial ooze. We’re about the same age. We grew up with the same interests. He can’t really shock or surprise me because we have too much in common. I have long ago outgrown the need to surround myself with people who get every obscure pop culture reference known to man, so I don’t really need a geek messiah to lead me to the promised land.

Geek culture is in the mainstream now. I got to this promised land all on my own.

5) Beer

As with coffee, I like the idea of beer. I am fascinated with the brewing process. I enjoy reading Rich Ireland’s blog.

There is an interesting and respectable culture of lagers and ales.

I feel happy for my friends who can find bliss in every bubble and wax poetic about the barley and hops and how we need more craft beers and things like that.

If only it didn’t all taste like pee-water to me.

6) The Velvet Underground

Almost every band I’ve liked for the last forty years has listed The Velvet Underground as a major influence.

I don’t get it.

I like a lot of Lou Reed’s solo work, and I’m a huge fan of John Cale, but the records made by The Velvet Underground, with and without Nico, just sound awful to me. It’s misery, with a half-assed beat.

I’ve always suspected that there was some Rock Music Critic offshoot of The Freemasons, and that one of the secret codes that they used to signal their membership to one another was that they would praise The Velvet Underground. I think they very carefully chose a band that nobody could possibly like accidentally.

7) “Batman: The Dark Knight”

I’m not crazy about what Christopher Nolan did with the Batman mythos. I hate the new Batmobile, and I think Heath Ledger’s Joker was pretty lame.

Sorry.

8 ) American Idol

I hate the idea of competitions and contests between creative persons. That’s a pretty big “strike one.” I also hate the blanderized contemporary pop crap music that American Idol celebrates. It’s lowest-common-denominator music that is corporate-friendly and the antithesis to the music I love.

The most memorable moments of the series have been the poor saps who had their dreams crushed. See the entry on People of Walmart for my distaste for that style of humor.

So pardon me if I have not a crap to give about American Idol.

9) J.R.R. Tolkien

I enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction. I’m a big fan of the genre and love to get lost in a world created by a talented writer with a wonderful imagination. I don’t like Tolkien.

His work is so dry, devoid of any soul or purpose other than to tell a story by rote. He writes with all the passion of someone preparing a dissertation on seventeenth-century crop rotation.

I love a good sword-and-sorcery epic. Give me an interesting hero, exciting locales, cool bad guys–I’m there. But don’t give me the Seven freaking dwarfs acting out “Ring Of The Nibelung” in fairytale land and tell me it’s a thrilling epic worth plodding through four terribly dreadful books to get a payoff you saw coming on page two of the first book.

I’ve considered the possibility that my deep-seeded dislike of all things Tolkien is rooted in something other than the work itself. I was assigned to read “The Hobbit” during my Junior year of High School.

I went to my teacher, Mrs. Helen Starr, and told her that I didn’t think I could make it through the book. I felt it was horribly written and a waste of my time. This took guts because Mrs. Starr was a huge Tolkien fan and taught his work in both eleventh and twelfth-grade English.

Mrs. Starr was very open-minded, however. She struck a deal with me. If I made it through “The Hobbit” and proved that I paid attention to it, but still didn’t like it, the next year she would let me read an alternate book.

I aced the test on “The Hobbit” and Mrs. Starr asked me if I still wanted an alternate book to read the next year. “Absolutely!” I replied, “I’ve paid my dues and I never want to have to fight my way through this man’s hideous prose again!”

My Senior year in High School, Mrs. Starr took ill. She hadn’t informed her substitute of our bargain, so instead of getting to read “Ragtime,” I was going to have to read “The Lord Of The Rings.” I never cracked open the book, guessed at every answer on the tests, and scored a “B.” The only time the substitute caught on to me was when, instead of a multiple choice test on one chapter, our assignment was “write the next chapter.”

I wrote about Frodo’s hemorrhoids. Got an after-class lecture for that one.

I still think the books suck, and even though I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson, I can’t bring myself to sit through the movies.

10) Jescomania

The story of Jesco White was exactly interesting enough to fill up one of Jacob Young’s documentaries. Everything beyond that is just sad, pathetic and crass exploitation. I’m glad the poor guy seems to be getting some money now, and some help in not blowing it, but the country is filled with crazy, drug-addled, delusional mental cases who think they can make it in show business. Why did they have to come to West Virginia to find the one to hold up as an example?

11) “Slumdog Millionaire”

This was a “feel good” movie in the sense that it really feels good to sleep. I had a screener of this two months before it hit theaters around here, and after eight attempts to watch it, because of all the positive buzz, Melanie and I realized that we were never going to make it more than ten minutes into this bore-fest without dozing off.

I still pop it in the DVD player once in a while to cure insomnia.

12) Tudor’s Biscuit World

I have been actively boycotting Tudor’s Biscuit World for nearly two years. I tell people that this is because I was so offended by the way Oshel Craigo, Tudor’s owner and a former legislative power-player, bought off our state legislature by shipping in bags of food to be shoveled down the gullets of our porcine lawmakers so that they would kill a law that would require restaurants to list the calorie counts of their food on their menus. I wrote about it in the very first PopCulteer.

That’s not really why I don’t eat at Tudor’s.

I don’t eat at Tudor’s because their food sucks. It’s loaded with calories. The ingredients are suspect. The prices are too high for the glorified fast-food that it is. And on top of that, it’s owned by a politician.

I was in my late twenties, a life-long West Virginian, when I was first exposed to the horror known as “biscuits and gravy.” For those of you who are not familiar with this little item, it’s a biscuit, split down the middle, covered with a thick, gloppy white puke-like gravy. I was traumatized by this. It was like eating with Brundlefly.

I used to actually eat food from Tudor’s. They offered one of their biscuits with pepperoni and gloppy fake cheddar cheese. They called it “The Peppi” and it was one of those things I would eat back when I was ignorant of how important it was to eat properly. Back then if something had pepperoni and cheese on it, it was close enough to being pizza for me to eat it.

After a while, I realized that the Peppi wasn’t really very good. In fact, Tudor’s biscuits in general aren’t very good. You would think that being a “biscuit world,” Tudor’s would have some idea how to make a decent biscuit. You’d be wrong. The biscuits at Tudor’s have the consistency of baked library paste,but lack the flavor.

If you’re unlucky enough to get a biscuit from an overdone batch, you might risk breaking a tooth.

The sad fact is that Tudor’s sausage biscuit is inferior to the McDonald’s sausage biscuit. And it usually costs more, too. For me, the boycott of Tudor’s has been practically effortless.

So there you have it–twelve “shocking” things I don’t like. Hopefully you can now appreciate how much I really do like something in order to praise it here in PopCult.

Next week all of our regular features return, along with Radio Free Charleston 122, with music from Roger Simms, Drop Ded Phred and Sasha Colette.

5 Comments

  1. Choke on an IP log

    I love it when you take potshots at those losers at the hater site. Did you read the piece where they were whining because nobody will advertise with them? It was hysterical! The thing was written at a seventh-grade level, poorly, and proved why that website will go under as soon as the handouts from the owner’s family and the investors he’s swindled runs out.

  2. Steve Beckner

    Although I already knew about several things on your list, I didn’t know about Tolkien. I’m currently reading LOTR for probably the twentieth time, and I still get something out of it. As for his prose, it’s never bothered me, and I certainly wouldn’t call it “hideous.” Tolkien writes more like a historian, especially in “The Silmarillion,” but Middle Earth has a depth to it that I haven’t seen in any other author with the exception of Larry Niven. I love an entertaining sword and sorcery romp as well, but I always come back to LOTR. Now, biscuits and gravy, however, you’re just plain wrong about. Tudors, maybe, but my Granny’s biscuits and gravy were the bomb, city boy.

  3. rudy panucci

    I knew it would surprise people. There’s something about his writing patterns that hits my brainwaves the wrong way. I’ve tried to like him, but life is to short to struggle through a book I hate when there’s stuff out there that I know I’ll enjoy more.

    I wasn’t knocking homemade biscuits. The stuff they call by that name at Tudor’s is disgusting. I’m not a fan of gravy, period, but the stuff at Biscuit World looks like industrial slop. I think it has Vaseline in it.

    Only in West Virginia can a Dunbar native be a “city boy!” 🙂

  4. Steve Beckner

    I wanted to razz you for basing your opinion of Tolkien solely on a forced reading of “The Hobbit.” LOTR is a very different read; the Hobbit was aimed at a young audience: a whimsical fairy-tale. Assuming both are written the same way is like assuming all the Beatles catalog sounds like “Please Please Me.”
    And you might actually like the movies; I can’t believe the guy who can sit through the Turkish Superman won’t even try to watch a Peter Jackson movie…

  5. rudy panucci

    I didn’t base it on a single forced reading of The Hobbit. I gave it several tries. Found it to be much worse. I’m sure the movies are spectacularly well-crafted, I just dislike the story so much from my prior attempts to plod through the books that I can’t see wasting my time on them.

    And I maintain that Turkish Superman is one of the great cinematic achievments…

    …to come out of Turkey.

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