Last night – probably too late last night, I tweeted this:
At the time, I was watching a movie that featured a few ex-Spetsnaz characters, which got me thinking about the incredible novel REAMDE from Neal Stephenson, which also features one of those scary, tough, extraordinarily competent dudes. I decided to re-read that book as soon as I finished the one I’m on now (which I’m liking but not loving – good thing about books, though, is that there’s always another one). From there, I moved on to a quick mental overview of Stephenson’s entire output (the movie clearly wasn’t really grabbing me) and realized that he’s what I would consider unassailable – everything he’s published is at a certain level of creative excellence, from essays to novels. Not a dud in the bunch. If you don’t know his work, please, see for yourself.
That led to the tweet above, which led to a pretty busy time on my feed. Seems like there’s plenty of brilliance out there (or at least the perception of brilliance). The following names popped up in, in order of posting:
Wes Anderson, Charlie Chaplin, Quentin Tarantino, Jack White, George Carlin, John Williams, Seth**, Alfred Bester, Spalding Gray, Robert Fripp, David Bowie, Philip Seymour Hoffman, David Lynch, Slayer, Twain, Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Kurosawa, Toth, Paul Newman, Bryan Fuller, Daniel Day Lewis, Manet, Cormac McCarthy, Nikola Tesla?, Jack Kirby, Michael Jordan?, Christopher Nolan, Charles Soule (uh huh, sure), Scott Snyder, Brian Bendis, George Eliot***, Quentin Tarantino, Lewis Carroll, Hitchcock, Alan Moore, Otomo, Warren Buffet, Chen Kenichi**, Shigeru Miyamoto, Randall Munroe**, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Rush, Charles Schulz, Miyazaki, Aretha Franklin, Kate Beaton, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Eminem, Kurosawa, Harryhausen, Orson Welles, Jules Verne, Westlake, Hitchcock, Freddie Mercury, Will Eisner, Frazetta, Jimmy Stewart, Maurice Sendak, Osamu Tezuka*, Tom Waits, Akira Kurosawa, Alastair Reynolds, Bill Watterson, John Cassavetes, Warren Ellis, Tarkovsky*, Jack Cardiff*, Christopher Doyle*, Bach, Bowie, Whitman, Naoki Urasawa**, Shel Silverstein, Theodore Seuss Geisel, Alex Ross, Coen Bothers, Calvino, Saramago, Taiyo Matsumoto*, Hiroaki Samura**, Andre 3000, Phonte**, Madlib*, Mingus, Tolkien, Salinger, Faulkner, Emerson & Fuller*, Flannery O’Connor*, Norman Rockwell, Bill Watterson, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Daniel Day Lewis, Jim Henson, Coltrane, Moebius, Jack Kirby, Glenn Gould, Mamoru Hosoda**, Philip Glass, Rothko, Vonnegut, Kara Walker**, Hitchcock, Poe, Miles Davis, Stravinsky, Joyce, Saramago, Moebius, Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Steve Reich**, Hendrix, Kafka, Kurosawa, Wool*, Dostoevsky, Bach, Rothko, Dali, Goddard, Mozart, Warhol, Trent Reznor, Vandana Shiva**, Leslie Nielsen, Coen Brothers, Bella Tarr*, John Candy, Gregory Peck, Meryl Streep, Rimbaud, Plath, West, Cronenberg, Burroughs, Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Brautigan*, Melville, Lynch, Bjork, Reed, Davis, Jodorowski, Otomo, McCartney, Andy Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman, Tezuka, Alex Toth, Moebius, Louis CK, Plath, Proust, Garcia Marquez, Flaubert, George Lucas, Freddie Mercury, Joe Strummer, Bill Finger, Borges, Metallica, Hendrix, Clapton, Stan Lee, Jim Lee, George Lucas (1977), Spielberg, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Beatles, David Lynch, Borges, Scorcese, Scorcese, Alphonse Mucha**, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Osamu Tezuka, Lynch, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Alexander McQueen, Coco Chanel, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser**, The Brothers Quay**, Jane Austen, Hilary Mantel** and… as of this morning, the last pick was, sigh, Charles Soule.
Wow, right? A few thoughts on that list:
–First, it’s a pretty recent group. You’ve got plenty of 20th century folks, but then it drops off a cliff. Earliest name that I’m seeing as I scan through that is Bach. I think that’s legitimate, though, because we don’t necessarily know Bach’s entire output the way we do, say, the films of George Lucas, or the Coen Brothers. I know Bach was brilliant through and through because I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a huge cross-section of his stuff – same with Mozart and Beethoven. But Homer? I know two works, the same ones everyone else knows. For all I know, everything he wrote other than The Iliad and the Odyssey was a bunch of crap.
–There’s a difference between “genius” and “unassailable brilliance.” I think you could make a case for Star Wars being a work of genius, but I’m not sure I would agree with the idea that George Lucas is unassailably brilliant. Howard the Duck.
–No Shakespeare. No James Ellroy. No Frank Lloyd Wright. No Leonardo Da Vinci. No Michelangelo. No Julia Child. No Dickens.
–Few painters, few fashion designers… the focus was mostly filmmakers, writers and musicians. I wonder if that’s because I framed the original question using those, or because those are the people current society tends to elevate, or because that’s who my feed focuses on? Not much as far as popular novelists, either. I think you could make a case for Stephen King – although I’m sure it would spur fervent debate.
–We seem to really like David Lynch, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Miles Davis, Hendrix, Bowie, Borges, Rothko, Moebius, Jack Kirby, , Tezuka, Alex Toth and Saramago.
–Here’s the best part about this, for me – every name on that list with at least one asterisk next to it is someone whose work I’m not particularly familiar with. I’ve heard of most of them (although not all), but I just haven’t checked out their work yet. To put it another way, THANK YOU, TWITTER, for giving me a fantastic series of recommendations for the next little while. I’m particularly intrigued by the ones I haven’t heard of. Those folks have two stars. Do I know everything and everyone? Come on – of course not. I’d be an idiot to pretend I do.
In fact, thank god there is more brilliance out there to find. I hope I never find it all.
–George Eliot gets three stars because of this lovely exchange with my friend Jennifer de Guzman:
I knew George Eliot wrote Silas Marner and Middlemarch, and I’m pretty sure that at some point I knew “George Eliot” was the pseudonym of a female writer – but not last night at 1 AM, apparently. I also might have mixed up Ms. Evans with this other pseudonymic writer. Anyway, no shame! I’ll never make that mistake again.
–Finally, I have no business being on that list.
So, last point – man, I love looking at that block of names. Pure distilled incredible. So much of culture is disposable – which is not necessarily a bad thing, as I think disposability serves a valuable purpose – but sometimes, we transcend.
And maybe the best part? Many of those people are still alive.
Who would you add?