Sorry if I drool over her work again but Ann Powers really deserves the praise. She’s doing some of her best work ever for the L.A. Times now. But a recent piece of hers about Sinead O’Connor made the wonder about the whole idea of the “guilty pleasure.”
Here’s Power’s quote about the subject where she tries to lay out what a secret love is and how it’s different:
“It’s not the same as a guilty pleasure; that term has been neutered by the prevailing idea that taste is just a matter of perspective and hierarchies are for old men who can’t get over Bob Dylan. Guilty pleasures today don’t involve much guilt; either they’re camp, or they argue for certain ideas—that the 1970s were underappreciated, for example, or that teen idols can make serious musical statements. Secret loves, on the other hand, argue for nothing. They just persist, and in their resilience, reveal the undefended, perhaps indefensible corners of the heart.”
But is it really true that the whole concept of the “guilty pleasure” is a myth?
Though a Blender editor argued with me about this also, I really do believe that the concept of guilty pleasures are indeed real. I think that sometimes in our field, we mistake a rarefied, relativist view that we sometimes have to take to do our work and assume that this is shared by non-scribes who willfully commit themselves to their favorite styles of music- some of this precludes attraction to music or bands that they’re squeamish about admitting (same goes for certain TV shows or movies). I myself don’t easily or readily admit that I have a Helen Reddy record in my collection without prefacing it with the fact that I got it from my mom!
Digging deeper into this, the idea of the “guilty pleasure” comes down to our own perceptions of our selves and those around us. Let’s stick with my Helen Reddy example and say that my friends were metal-heads. Because I might be afraid that they’ll ostracize me or laugh at me, I might not bring up the fact that I do like Reddy. Of course, this kind of perceived or real peer pressure is more important to younger people (i.e. teens) than it is to older folks who many times get to the point where they just don’t give a damn what other people think. That’s understandable because by a certain age, you hopefully become comfortable with who you are and understand yourself better and you’ve created a network of friends who appreciate you for who you are (knock wood).
I kind of feel I’m at that point in my life but I know for damn sure that it wasn’t always that way. I grew up in North Jersey where I went to high school in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and where classic rock ruled. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd and of course our homeboy Bruce Springsteen were all gods. Mostly, we were too young to go to their shows but we worshiped these white guys (that’s what classic rock is mostly made up of, right?) and listened to local stations that kept playing our favorite songs of theirs—not necessarily “hits” but the classic album tracks that were staples (i.e. “Stairway to Heaven,” “Baba O’Riley,” etc.).
But then I started reading Creem magazine and found out about this guy named Captain Beefheart. Out of curiosity, I bought some of his albums and loved it. It was so wonderfully weird and foreign to me. But I had a problem. I was certain that I couldn’t share this love with any of my friends. I was convinced that they would think I was too weird and maybe wouldn’t want to hang out with me if I tried to make them listen to Beefheart. So I kept sharing their love of classic rock (which I did genuinely like at the time though less so now) and never spoke a word of this to them. It was only when I got to college and worked at the campus radio station where I met other music freaks that I was comfortable sharing my love of Beefheart with other people there.
THAT is what I would consider a secret love. This is something you enjoy but can’t really find a way to share it with other people—some kind of fear, whether it’s a fear of alienation (my case) or of losing your own private world where you bliss out on your own with something. A guilty pleasure on the other hand is another kind of love that you can’t share with other people but for a different reason—it’s possible alienation again but this time, it’s from shame. Beefheart is something that I couldn’t share because it was too strange but Reddy is different because it’s foreign in a different way—she’s not only a female artist but also a pop (gasp) artist who makes hits. In truth, that kind of thing would be just as alienating to a classic rock crowd as it would to most metal-heads. It’s the difference between being a weirdo and a wimp. Neither is desirable but on the whole, which one would you chose?