Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Something about it just sticks in my craw, even though the longer I think about it, the less surprised I am. Shoot, I could have guessed. Still.

According to NPR, a company called Music Intelligence Solutions--and that makes sense--has created a computer program that assesses a pop tune's marketability. If you're a singer/songwriter--and there are millions--you fork over a hundred bucks or so, submit your latest to their software, and its crystal ball lays out your success or lack thereof. A low score, and you do some tinkering. Creating and selling music isn't hocus-pocus, and writing it isn't magic. It's science. A computer can do it. Art by algorhythm.

There's something repulsive about that, even if it isn't shocking. After all, I could dang well increase the sales of my novels if I scribbled out a full-blown bodice ripper: say, under a yellow, harvest moon an aging, paunchy college English professor/werewolf hunts down young couples taking late night walks in the shadowy cottonwood grove just behind the President's house--no, make that "President's mansion." Hmmm. I'd bet good money I'd increase sales locally a hundred fold. Cut the werewolf and make him a vampire, and I'll do even better these days.

Aging, paunchy, scar-faced English prof mysteriously transforms his American lit class into attack-dog zombies, who march en masse on Wal-Mart singing Ms. Emily's "Because I could not stop for death" to the tune of "Amazing Grace"? That'll get some attention.


There's just something disappointing about artists sticking their work in a computer and altering thereby. I know, it's done all the time. People used to say that the most-read Iowa novel of all time, The Bridges of Madison County, was written by a marketing formula--by a business prof, too. It was schmaltzy and steamy, but good night did it sell copy--and a movie.

It's not rocket science, after all, to guess how my two favorite novels of the last few years became so. One, Marilyn Robinson's Gilead, is basically the reflections of small-town Iowa preacher who calls himself a Calvinist. The other, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, is a series of short stories connected, basically, by a retired teacher in a small town in Maine. Hmmm.

Of course, I'm not alone in my leanings. Both won Pulitzers.

Maybe I ought to be the machine that calls winners.

Here's my take. Maybe algorhythms can predict platinum, but not every last winner. There's always going to be those stories and tunes that come out of nowhere. There's always going to be the outsider, the shocker, the one that no one would ever have guessed. There's always going to be a dark horse. There has to be. I wouldn't want to live in that other world.

Here's what I think--there's always going to be the miracle.

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