Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Personal Jesus

I went from reading Susan Sontag’s “Notes On Camp” to a “New York Times Magazine” article on catastrophe insurance and found a defining thread, that of logic. Everything in life is logical, from sensibility to gambling odds, regardless of whether or not we’re consciously aware of it. (There’s arrogance in the word “miracle” – a subtle supposition that if we in all our “glorious human wisdom” can’t see it and explain it, it must not be logical.) This idea was perfectly encapsulated in a quote from that same magazine’s profile of the visionary music producer Rick Rubin (the Billy Wilder of his industry in terms of genre reach). As a kid from Long Island Rubin fell in love with magic, but he was more concerned with the logic of the perceived “supernatural.” “I always think about how things work, the mechanics of a situation – that’s the nature of being a magician.” Later in the article he admits, “I do not know how to work a board. I don’t turn knobs. I have no technical ability whatsoever…My primary asset is I know when I like something or not. It always comes down to taste.” While this is undeniably true, Rubin’s taste isn’t something mystical but a result of a particular obsession that led to learning and finally to a subconscious “knowing.” (Like a boxer whose muscles know how to throw a right cross instinctively through years of training.) Outwardly, Rubin’s brilliant decision to have the late legend Johnny Cash reinterpret industrial Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and new wave Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” at the end of his country music career seemed odd. Even Rubin acknowledges, “I still never assume that anyone will like any thing. But I can’t imagine that they won’t either.” Rubin isn’t merely secure in his own gut feel faith. He finds that faith in knowledge.

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