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Studio 360: David Foster Wallace & Sadder Pop Hits | [Kurt Andersen]

Studio 360: David Foster Wallace & Sadder Pop Hits

DT Max talks about his new biography of the late David Foster Wallace. Kurt Andersen asks rockers The Heavy, whose song “How You Like Me Now” is ubiquitous, why generations of Brits have reintroduced Americans to American music. And we find out why pop music has been getting sadder.
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Publisher's Summary

Political reporters on the campaign trail aren’t the only journalists racking up the frequent flyer miles right now. It’s the season of major film festivals, and people who cover movies get the better destinations. Last weekend was the festival in Telluride, Colorado; the Venice Film Festival is wrapping up; Toronto has just begun; and at the end of this month New York's big film festival kicks off. What are all these festivals for, and to whom do they matter?

Next, back in 1996, when I was just starting to think about my first novel, which I wanted to be big and funny and serious and say fresh things about modern life, a new novel appeared on my doorstep. A gigantic novel, a thousand pages in galleys, signed by the author: it was David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I plunged in and realized why so much fuss was being made. It was a dazzling, infuriating, altogether remarkable book about the sadness at the core of turn-of-the-21st-century America’s frenzied addiction to entertainment and diversion.

Then, pop music's not what it used to be. That’s what every generation of no-longer-kids says about what the kids are listening to, but fogey cliches aren’t necessarily wrong. A study just published in the Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts tracked the mood of pop songs over five decades of Billboard charts, and it confirms that pop has changed in substantial ways. Far more of today’s hits are now in minor keys (which most of us hear as sadder or more complex) — more than half, as compared to just 15% in the 1960s.

Next, even if you don’t know the song "How You Like Me Now?" by name, you’ve almost certainly heard it. The funky, gritty tune has been ubiquitous for a couple of years — in a Super Bowl car ad, in TV shows like Entourage and Community, and lately as part of the official Obama re-election campaign playlist. The band behind the song is four British guys from the small city of Bath who call themselves The Heavy.

And finally, a listener named Jeff House told us about his revelation experience with Hamlet. As a teenager he watched the Christopher Plummer film on TV with his big sister, who was enthralled; House was nonplussed. “The language didn’t make sense,” he remembers. The hero was all doom and gloom, consumed by questions about the nature of existence. “I couldn’t figure out what Hamlet’s whole concern was. … I thought he was ‘much ado about nothing.’” [Broadcast Date: September 8, 2012]

Listen to Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

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