Monday, November 10, 2008

The Review Heard Round the World: A E-stalker's Guide to Peter Gillette

Now, in my slightly younger years I was one of several "trivia masters" for The Annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest. You'll notice on the wikipedia page, several sample questions are included, and one was actually written by me. (And I swear, I didn't add it to wikipedia. I have been banned from wikipedia via any IP address you can imagine, most recently for creating an elaborate cross-referencing network between a handful of entries that accused Winston Churchill of murdering Edward Elgar.)

"What was Holden Caulfield's middle name?"

The answer, of course, is Morrisey.

At the time that question was written, however--2001, I believe (a full two years before I became a "trivia master")--the answer would have been quite hard to come by. J.D. Salinger had a team of lawyers going about the internet slapping injunctions deep up the you-know-whats of any John Q. Geocities who would dare to post his uncollected, copywritten, early short stories on teh internets. You could, however, post a bibliographic list of where they could be found, and so, one fall day in 2001 I opened up the December 22, 1946 New Yorker to be greeted by the words "Holden Morrisey Caulfield." When the trivia contest hit, I was overjoyed by what I'm sure was happening in a few hundred dorm rooms and living rooms:

"Hey, I have Catcher in the Rye! Quick, flip through it!" But it's not there.

Of course, maybe Salnger's lawyers have...fallen...down on the job.

But I wonder: should I retain counsel to scour the internet and purge it of my uncollected early works?
I edited my student newspaper (and consequently wrote several hasty, ill-considered, impenetrably equivocal editorials for the purposes of space-filling that can be found among these 114 articles, which I'm imagining is some sort of pathetic record. Keep in mind also that, while I was in charge, about half of the issues never made it to the internet because I didn't really understand the importance of webmastering and all that.)

The latest of those hits is an article written within the last month giving a sort of white-washed, in-joke summation of my life since June 2006 with lots of local college vernacular.

Anyway, while I was editor, a man who was about 4 years older than me, a really wild, awesome guy who I had played trivia with one year, emailed me in a panic. He had started dating a girl, and knew that since it was getting serious, she was going to google him any day now. He hadn't written anything terribly embarrassing, just your garden-variety juvenalia--you know, mistaking the local bar band for the second coming of Kurt Cobain, taking ridiculously strong stands on terribly mundane issues, things of that nature. In addition to fears that his girlfriend would find out how nerdy he was, he was also starting work at an advertising agency (or a law firm, I forget) and wished that he had sounded smarter. I tried and tried to remove the articles. I really tried to help him out. But somewhere, in a vast data farm, google clutched millions of copies of it close to its strange little heart.

There are several Peter Gillettes, many of them from the Minneapolis area, where I think my Great-Great-(Great?)-Grandfather's brother settled a long time ago. To hear my grandfather tell it, they were the "city" or "industrial" Gillettes, and I come from the Michigan, or rural, Gillettes (putting it too simply, since there were some fancy cats to come out of the SW Michigan Gillettes!) I've even found a Peter Gillette of a different race/ethnicity, and I think that's cool. It makes me wonder, what if I were black? How would I be different? Silly question, I suppose.

Was it one of the other Peter Gillettes who was watching an episode of Taxi at 1 AM the summer before leaving for college who started writing a rambling essay about it before submitting it to the quasi-scholarly sham web publication The Journal Of Mundane Behavior?

One thing you should be sure not to miss if you're e-stalking me is this insanely thorough interview I gave last spring to Iowa's college radio station. If you're a potential employer wanting to check me out surreptitiously while wasting an hour of your boss's time, that's a good place to start. (Audio starts immediately after clicking the link.) Not all of the information about my life is up-to-date, but there it is, in the internet.

Now, I had forgotten I even made this blog until I did my quarterly extensive google search on my name, and blog-searched my way back to this blog I had shamefully neglected. In the course of blog-searching myself I found a few disturbing things. First of all, there's this thoroughly disturbing segment from a LiveJournal story "community" (?!):

"She closes her locker door and turns to find Peter Gillette standing in front of her. Peter Gillette, five foot-eight, dark hair, blue eyes and first string forward on the pyramid team.

"Hi Kara." He says. "You, um, going to practice today?"

She shakes her head and holds up her arm to show him a cast. A clean break, courtesy of her mother's latest drinking binge. "Maybe I'll sit in tomorrow, but I have something to do today."

He smiles and nods at her. "I'll see you around then, I guess."

Now, I have green eyes, not blue, but I can't shake the feeling that that resembles me. If only I knew 1) what a pyramid team is, and 2) who this guy is...Or did someone vaguely use my name to match a description which, admittedly, is quite generic?

My favorite blogs about me, however, fall into the general category of "international reactions to ill-advised attempts at conceptual humor through the unforgiving medium of the ironic review."

This is the review in question. The summer of 2005, I was an absolute loafer. I had a minimal job, few expenses, a few good friends, and hundreds of hours of TV on DVD. I also discovered that there was a whole subculture of reviewers who refused to grant certain works--OK Computer, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, anything by Mozart or Bach or Beethoven--"classic" status. Sometimes it was on the flimsy grounds of packaging or obscure complaints about analog-to-digital transfers. While wasting an entire evening searching for these, I had my Itunes on shuffle. First, a techno-inspired movement from Uri Caine's wonderful purist-baiting manifesto, his Goldberg Variations, album popped up.

The album takes Bach's Goldberg Variations on a trip through Bach's past and present, the intervening years between the 18th century and today, and into the future.

Here's Uri Caine talking last spring about his affinity with Bach:

Listen to a few seconds of that. Doesn't Caine's absolute love of Bach come across? Now, on that boring June evening, as one of Caine's techno-inspired Goldberg Variation came on, I of course went to its page, that had several virulent negative reviews, including this one-star review, entitled "God-awful":

"After listening, appalled, to this recording I can only think that Uri Caine hates the Goldberg variations and has made this recording to exhibit his contempt for them. First, there are the (relatively) conventional tracks: It's pretty clear even from the opening aria, before you understand just what depths of depravity he's heading for, that he has absolutely no feeling for the work as it was written...his hummingbird-fast ornaments are entirely wrong, his tempo wrong...the idea of using a Silbermann fortepiano is a good one, but there is little feeling in his mechanical playing. His 25th variation is just it is being played by a bored teenaged piano student, which in a sense it is. And some of his tracks of the original variations with original instrument ensemble are just ... okay, nothing to write home about. If the recording consisted of only these tracks, it would be at worse laughable, at best ignorable.

On other tracks, can I put this? It's like going to a gallery to see Rembrandt and then in comes Uri with his magic markers and crayons. Not only does he think his scribblings deserve to be on the wall by Rembrandt's masterworks, but he proceeds to draw *on* the paintings themselves. Then he brings in a gaggle of other artists to urinate, vomit and defecate on the result. All the while we're supposed to applaud this juvenile irrationality."

First, a very technical critique that attacks the music for not being what it doesn't say it is, and then a wrenching criticism that it should not be what it is, and all perfectly valid! The reviewer sets out expectations for what the music should achieve and then attacks the music for not being that.

Next on my shuffle that night came the wonderfully exciting Pablo Casals Cello suites movements. I remember it was a Sarabande, I think from the second suite. (For my non-musical readers, if I have any this far down in a long post, a Sarabande is a slow baroque dance in 3 often accenting the second beat slightly.)

Now, in my high-concept, lots-of-free-time mind, I thought, "Hmm...What if I did what Caine's reviewer did to the beloved Casals?" There are lots of puristic reasons to turn up your nose at romantic renditions of Bach, but I thought, hey, what if, instead of coming at it from the perspective of a baroque purist, I attacked his recording from the standpoint of a 21st century fan of mixed media?

In retrospect, my 2-star review entitled, simply, "Lacks accompaniment", was what the kids call a "massive fail":

"I think that Mr. Casals' playing is very fine but I was very disappointed that he chose to play these unaccompanied. Perhaps the pianist and chamber group could not be booked or miked appropriately due to the time. I was so disappointed in this production choice because the first and only other Bach cd I have, the goldberg variations by Uri Caine, blew me away: JS Bach was very ahead of his time in his use of electronic musics and freely improvised counterpoint and jazz musics, things that the rest of the "classical" world did not catch up to for another few centuries. Save your money on this one. Sorry, Pablo. I won't come to florida for you."

I even closed it, in true George Michael Bluth fashion, with a stupid Jerky Boys reference. Well, the international blogosphere took me to task for it, here in, I think Portugese (although, I think, it may be an amused and not offended post.)

And here, in...Chinese?

There are a few responses on the Amazon page as well.

The lesson? Now I'm studying to be a historical musicologist, and this bit of foolishness is everywhere attached to my name. Is there any way to delete reviews on Amazon? The site is so important that it pops up as a first google hit. And what if girls find out, or my new ad agency? Sigh.

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