#TBT: Puritans and Cake Without Icing

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Puritans and Cake Without Icing.

In any field of human endeavor, you will find people who like things stripped down to their essence, free of trappings and “pure.”

The Puritans come to mind, for example.

Their whole outlook on life was that the Church had become too much about religion and not enough about God. To them, you found God by stripping away everything else, including the incense, the ceremony and the fancy church building, until it was just you standing unadorned before your maker.

Years later, the American League introduced the Designated Hitter rule, and the Puritans were reincarnated. Unless the pitcher must stand in the batter’s box, unadorned before a 100-mile per hour fast ball, it’s just not baseball, according to some.

But I’ve always wondered this about Puritans: Is it really about the Designated Hitter or the bare altar, or is it about being able to exclude people who don’t meet your standards?

Or, worse still, is it about clinging to a world that is gone and perhaps never really even was?

When it comes to live entertainment, this Puritanism often expresses itself in what I call the “Great Performance Delusion.” In short, the Great Performance Delusion is the belief that “all that matters is a great performance.”

In other words, if the musician just goes up on stage and pours out his or her soul through music, everything else resolves itself correctly: The fan appreciates this beauty, a following is created, a career is sustained and our culture is enriched.

If only.

In fact, I’d posit that there are many, many truly talented, soulful musicians in all genres doing just that every night, and you’ve never heard of them.

Why not?

Because the Great Performance is a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

When Purists hear this, they revolt. Anything that goes beyond what’s necessary smacks of waste, frivolity and superficiality.

It’s icing instead of cake.

But let me just say that while cake is good, cake is much, much better with icing.

Some people love un-iced cake, just like some people like to watch pitcher Brad Penny stand in a batter’s box and look like an ostrich holding a broom while the opposing pitcher throws three flaming meteorites by him until he gets to go sit down again.

Some of these icing-free folks are in classical music and just keep getting angrier that the world doesn’t bow down to the greatness and virtuousity of great and virtuous classical musicians who they can name, but no one else can.

Some of these Puritans are in rock music and desperately want that world in which the person on the stage is singing just the right rebel song to make them feel like they can change the world again.

To them, I say that the world is still changeable. That possibility has not left the building.

It’s just different now, and no amount of genuine heart-rending vocals or virtuoso guitar work is going to change that. It will never be 1974 again, until another earth and heaven pass away and a new one, just like this one, comes around again, and then it becomes 1974.

Most people like cake with icing. In fact, if you told the people in your office right now that there was cake in conference room A with chocolate icing and a cake in conference room B that was “pure” cake, I know where you’d find the crowd.

For some people, picking the “pure” is about despising the crowd, or worse still, flattering oneself.

Fair enough. You can do and think what you want. If it’s satisfying to build yourself up as a perceptive rebel, above the teeming masses who like icing, go for it. It’s natural.

But then don’t complain about being unpopular. If you hold people in contempt, they get that.

Even if your contempt is dressed up in pretensions of purity.

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