State of the Art

Taylor Swift and me

I have come late -- but not too late -- to an appreciation of Taylor Swift, who rocked Time-Warner Arena Monday night.
I have come late -- but not too late -- to an appreciation of Taylor Swift, who rocked Time-Warner Arena Monday night. T. Ortega Gaines

I have just watched the video for “Blank Space” for the first time, helping Taylor Swift toward a billion hits on YouTube.

Then I followed it with “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood.” These things are addictive.

Virtually every American pop music-lover under 25 already knew this, of course. They were familiar with the unexpectedly clever lyrics, mild self-deprecating humor and thoughtful (if sometimes depressing) view of romance in these songs. But I wasn’t.

Like most people over 40 – 20 years over, in my case – my opinions about music had calcified. I don’t mean I thought Mozart eternally reigned supreme over all writers (which I do) or The Beatles produced more great songs than anyone else in my lifetime (which I also do). Nor do I think people writing and performing today have nothing to say; it was just too much trouble to investigate that possibility.

After a lifetime of buying and listening to every kind of music from ABBA to zydeco, my brain is full. I could spend the rest of my life exploring the collection I own now and still not know everything about it or get bored with it.

So I hear about a talented young singer or a pop-culture phenomenon and wave my wrinkled hand indifferently, in a gesture that says, “They come and they go.” And I miss things. Taylor Swift’s appearance in Charlotte, which caused such a stir across the city, gave me a chance to learn about music new to me. For once, I took it.

I should apply this idea to all aspects of culture, of course, from books to TV shows. (I already do apply it to theater, movies, classical music and dance, because I write about them.) The world has cultural riches none of us can fully explore, and we live in an era when more of them lie at our fingertips than ever before.

Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason – perhaps not as nasty as wrath, envy, gluttony, pride, lust and greed, but deadly just the same. We know laziness can help kill a healthy body, but it also hastens the decay of a healthy brain.

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