By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Nov 18, 2012
You’d like to know which of the new hot books you should read, or if the top-grossing new movie is worth it, or what the cool kids are listening to?
Sorry. You’re in the wrong place.
But if I wanted this site to be big and me to be rich, I know how to do that.
It’s as simple as adjusting my standards.
“James Patterson’s new thriller --- you won’t be able to put it down.”
“’Walking Dead Season 3’ --- the DVD is so real you’ll lock the doors.”
“Taylor Swift --- she’s all grown up now, and these songs prove it.”
And I could review porn (yes, Amazon sells it) or the new Trojan vibrator (ditto).
But Head Butler operates on the Steve Jobs principle. Steve Jobs didn’t particularly care what consumers wanted. His genius was knowing what he wanted. And then making you want it.
So I didn’t launch HeadButler.com to ride the waves of pop culture. I started it precisely because ever since the rise of literacy in the mid-19th century, the audience for culture has steadily grown --- and the quality of culture has steadily fallen. People laugh when I say this, but I’d put money on it: by 2020, we will see women going topless on network TV.
No writer posting four times a week is going to reverse the trend --- and this writer isn’t even trying to do that.
I’m playing a different game.
You think you read reviews here? You don’t. These pieces are advocacy. I read this book/ saw this movie/ listened to this music because I hoped to love it, and I did, and I want you to consider falling in love with it too.
Sometimes what I love is old, and from the backlist. When I write about that stuff, I think of some lines from George Orwell’s 1984:
From somewhere at the bottom of a passage the smell of roasting coffee --- real coffee, not Victory Coffee --- came floating out into the street. Winston paused involuntarily. For perhaps two seconds he was back in the half-forgotten world of his childhood….
I feel equally useful when I tell you about something new that deserves praise and attention but hasn’t had enough exposure. It’s a shallow pleasure, I know, but it gives me a kick to help you be the first on your block to have something the others will discover months from now, if ever. Blake Mills. Jess Walter. Krishna Das.
And, finally, it pleases me to steer you away from a Sony stereo that is scandalously bad and toward a Yamaha system that should deliver quality sound for years.
Steve Jobs avoided focus groups. He learned what he needed to know from Apple’s sales figures and the stock price. I’m of his view. I learn what I need to know from the Amazon sales report I get each morning.
I’ve said it before. Let me hammer it home again: It pleases me greatly when you click through to Amazon and buy anything (and, yes, I get a commission not just on the thing I’m writing about, but on every single thing --- that includes refrigerators and computers and cribs --- you buy during that session). But Amazon commissions are not the reason I do Head Butler. And they’re not why I always look at the previous day’s sales figures.
I look at sales reports to get a sense of your taste, so I don’t waste your time.
You love books, so I showcase books two or three days a week.
You’re not big on owning DVDs, so I look for films that can be instantly streamed.
And you’re not crazy about music --- or, perhaps, you prefer to get it from iTunes.
I accept this. But I want to fight you, just this once, on a band I love. And it's not some cutting edge culture. Alabama Shakes is a mainstream success. And not just in America. They’re on a world tour that’s a study in global conquest --- just read this piece in an English newspaper.
I know I just raved about Alabama Shakes. A dozen readers wrote me to say they’d seen the band in concert, and….wow. And a handful of you clicked-to-buy.
It’s 72 cents to my kid’s school fund each time one of you buys Alabama Shakes --- no big deal.
It’s a considerable loss of potential joy, I submit, each time one of you turns away without watching the videos and reading my argument on the band’s behalf --- and that is a big deal.
I don’t do this often, but I’m doing it now. Maybe you missed my piece on Alabama Shakes. Or read it in haste. Or didn't watch a video.
Maybe, if you give them a fair hearing, you'll hear what I hear. And better: feel some version of what I feel.
Because when Brittany Howard sings
Bless my heart/ Bless my soul/ Didn't think I'd make it/ To 22 years old/ There must be someone/ Up above/ Saying 'Come on, Brittany/ You've got to come on up/ You've got to hoooooooold on…'
… maybe you’ll be so jazzed you can hardly wait two days --- or 30 seconds --- for Alabama Shakes to be yours.