The National, Frank O’Hara, and Not Totally Regretting Life

In what I imagine will become a recurring feature on this blog, here is today’s odd/surprising sighting of Frank O’Hara in the news or pop culture.   In “Why I Hate the National,” a smart, grumpy, and amusing piece by Carl Wilson at Slate, he describes his long-standing loathing of indie band and critical darlings, The National.  He finds the band too studied, too pretentious, too risk-averse, too reliant on crescendos for effect, too monotonous, too … well, a lot of other things: “The National makes me feel that rock music, like much of American literature and visual art before it, has died and gone to graduate school.”

Although I don’t totally agree, and actually like the band for some of the reasons he hates them, what caught my eye was Wilson’s use of O’Hara’s great line from “Meditations in an Emergency” to prove his point about the band being too safe:

I want at least a chance of hearing something that actually risks being screwed-up and wrong and real, some kind of sign that, as Frank O’Hara wrote, “people don’t totally regret life.”

Wilson’s got a point, but somehow I think O’Hara might have liked some of the National’s songs, like “Lemonworld,” in which a speaker escapes from New York City to visit friends at a beach house but fails to find peace and comfort there either (“Joe’s Jacket,” anyone?).  “So happy I was invited / Give me a reason to get out of the city,” it begins, sounding not terribly far from “it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine / because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton / at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner / and I don’t know the people who will feed me.”

O'Hara 2The National

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