Thursday, May 21, 2009

Notes from Ground Zero of pop culture

Yes, I do mean Little Rock.

Which normally would not be the ground zero of pop culture, but this year one of the two American Idol finalists is from Conway, Arkansas, which is (I suppose) a suburb of Little Rock. Except (1) there is very little "urb" anywhere around here, and (2) for a city to be a suburb of another city there has to be some relationship of population and proximity, and I think Little Rock, to say nothing of Conway, lacks enough heft in both areas. Here, I was going to add a metaphor about two celestial bodies orbiting each other but being too small to count, but my ability to construct this metaphor is failing me. You get the (overwrought by now) joke.

Anyhow, last night was the final of American Idol. Given the provenance of one of the two finalists, it was being treated like something between game seven of the world series and what I can expect reaction to be if Osama Bin Laden is captured alive and put on trial. There were a number of "watch parties" (as they are called in these parts) and Jill convinced me that we should go to the Peabody Hotel to participate in one. Since Jill and I would be watching the program anyway, and since I will soon be in no shape to go out, I thought this was a good idea.

The Peabody Hotel, long-time readers may recall, is best known for its duck parade. As a refresher, this hotel keeps a few ducks in a pen on the roof, and every day a costumed bellman who looks like he is prepared to meet a foreign dignitary solemnly rolls out a red carpet, takes a glass elevator to the roof, escorts the ducks into the elevator and into the lobby, and keeps guard as they walk towards the lobby fountain. The same bellman escorts them back to the roof after they have done whatever business ducks do in the fountains of hotel lobbies.

The ducks were put away last night, and the lobby was full of chairs and about 300 Arkansans in various stages of obesity. The local radio station was hosting the event, and the evening included such innovative concepts as giving away an extra-large T-shirt to the largest man in the room, and a raffle for a free lunch at a local restaurant called Scobey's (the applause was defeaning) and another raffle for a rudimentary cell phone (the response was as though a Lamborghini had just been given away). I realize I am a jaded jerk from a big city, so I'll cast my cynicism aside for a moment and say that everybody was having a good time and it was neat to see a relatively small town rally behind their standard-bearer on this program.

And then he won, against all odds. I literally thought I was going to go deaf from the 120 decibel roar that filled the room. I have been to many rock concerts in my life, including Deep Purple whom I believe was in the Guinness Book for the loudest concert of all time, but I have never feared for my hearing as I did last evening. People were sobbing, screaming, standing on chairs, hands in the air...there were probably more than a few people speaking in tongues but I couldn't hear them over the din. I wrote "can I please close out my tab?" on my cocktail napkin and showed it to the bartender, who waded through the sound waves and gave me back my credit card. I looked around -- the whole scene was like a cross between the height of Beatlemania and a bad HeeHaw rerun. I was trapped somewhere between V-J day in Times Square and the fall of Saigon. Sheer madness.

And yet...what a remarkable place to be on a night like last night.

Good for the little kid from Conway, Arkansas. And good for the people that root for him. There's probably a lot to be learned from watching simple folks derive a great deal of pleasure from such simple things. Particularly when one is in the process of getting rid of cancer, and re-considering what's important in life.

Next time I feel myself being jaded, I'll do my best to keep that in mind.