Transcript for Jason Hartley on "The Advanced Genius Theory"

Anne Strainchamps: You know those artists who burst on the scene, and everyone raves about how brilliant and original they are. And then a few years later when they do something new, everyone says "Oh that's terrible. She must have been a one book wonder. He's jumped the shark." Well maybe we're the ones who just can't keep up with them. To the Best of Our Knowledge producer Doug Gordon has found a new explanation. What have you learned?

Doug Gordon: Anne, I've learned about a new theory that may explain what's going on in these cases. It's called The Advanced Genius Theory. Anne: OK. Who came up with it? Doug: A guy named Jason Hartley, along with his friend, Britt Bergman. They were talking about the creative decline of Lou Reed over pizza at a Pizza Hut near the University of South Carolina. This was back in the early 90s. And during their conversation, they had an epiphany. Maybe Lou wasn't losing his creative edge, maybe Lou was just ahead of Jason and Brit's time. And thus, the Advance Genius Theory was born. Jason Hartley explains the theory in his book, "The Advanced Genius Theory. Are They Out of Their Minds? Or Ahead of Their Time?" 

Jason Hartley: They're established artists who were ahead of the time, and then everyone sort of caught up with them a little bit. And then they went off in to directions that were really puzzling, especially to their initial fans. One of the great examples is Bob Dylan going electric. You know, he could have been a folk singer forever, and he would have had incredible credibility and would have been a legend as it was, but it wasn't enough for him. Going electric was heresy. He was called Judas by people in the audience. His biggest fans were the most hurt. That became sort of a theme, but then they would go to a place where then no one liked what they were doing. You look at Bob Dylan's output in the 80's, you know, just maligned completely. What we started to try to understand was as we think about what taste is, and what our judgment is about the quality of any artwork, or anything in general, it's very subjective. When there's really no right answer, my take is, I would rather take Bob Dylan's word for it, than mine or some critics, or the public at large, because he's been right so many times before.

Doug: Lou Reed served as the inspiration for The Advanced Genius Theory. What makes Lou Reed so advanced?

Jason: Wow. What doesn't make him so advanced? The famous statement that Brian Eno makes about Velvet Underground, his first band, was that only a thousand people bought the Velvet Underground record, but every single one of them started a band. So the fact that he was influential, you can't question that. He was completely innovative in what he did with the Velvet Underground and his earlier work. The subject matter of junkies and prostitutes and all that sort of thing. Putting it into rock and roll was just not done yet. It's something that he created. He really created sort of a genre. So then as he evolved, then he started to do some of the things that the advanced do, which is when they're interviewed, they lie all the time. I'm sure it's part of keeping up their mystery, but there's also a certain protecting themselves I would imagine, and their artistic integrity. Then as he evolved, he got into the 70s, he lived with a transvestite for a long time. He dyed his hair blonde. He made an album called Rock and Roll Animal, and all these things. You couldn't anticipate it going from where he was. As he evolved, he went to the 80's, everyone hated his music. Then all of a sudden he was good again, then he was bad again. Now he's doing albums with Metallica, and getting his liver transplant recently. One of the things that the advanced always do is they embrace technology. So I think getting liver transplant is sort of like the (inaudible) embracing technology. Doug: Is there one particular Lou Reed song, that you think Jason, makes the best case for Lou being an advanced genius? Jason: Wow. On the way over here I was listening to Street Hassle, which is just an amazingly great song. But probably everything that makes him what he is is in that. The cello and strings are sort of dominate the beginning and he tells a story of junkies and they're having sex and they die and it's really a very sad story. But it's also sort of callously told through different characters and that sort of thing. (song) Jason: He goes into sort of a fret-less bass which is an instrument that people really like. That's there, and there's guitar, and his voice is sort of flat and atonal. And there's this big long story and it's really challenging. It's thirteen minutes of a song that you're supposed to sit and listen to, and it's really a sad song. Then he also got Bruce Springsteen to come in and do a little soliloquy, and that was sort of a takeoff on Born to Run, which is not something you would say "Oh, well Lou Reed's going to bring Bruce Springsteen in on this song." (song) Jason: There's just so much in that song that makes it an amazing song, but also someone might hate it.

Doug: Do you have a favorite advance genius from outside the world of music?

Jason: I think Orson Welles. I mean, that's the one I always go back to, because there's just so much about him. He achieved so much when he was young. He's so universally seen as a failure, but if you read about him and what he was doing after, and there are canisters of film out there that I would just love to see put together. He was making a movie for years and years and years. It just sounds incredibly fascinating. The people that he got involved...but then he was a pitch man for cheap wine.

Doug: Paul Masson.

Jason: Exactly. He was on "The Muppets." My favorite thing about his appearance on "The Muppets" though is that he plays a movie producer, which is exact person that destroyed his career basically. When he was doing "The Magnificent Ambersons,"  they tore up his film, they re-cut it as he was off in Mexico. You know, the fact that he would leave without it being edited, I have no understanding of that also. So, you know, that's just the advanced for you. I just love to read about some of the things. Powers Boothe told the story about performing with Orson Welles in the movie, and Orson Wells was supposed to be some character, and they said "Well he's in makeup. He has to get a prosthetic nose to be in character. He says he has to be in character." Powers Boothe said when he showed up, the prosthetic nose looked exactly like his regular nose. So go figure.

Doug: I can't help but notice Jason, that we've only been talking about men. Are there any women that qualify as advanced geniuses?

Jason: I'm asked that frequently. My wife is one of the people who asked. She's not advanced.

Doug: Or is she?
 

Jason: Well you can't live with an advanced person.

Doug: Okay, okay.

Jason: Yeah, but at any rate. Yeah, I think that there are women who are advanced. As I write in the book, it's my fault really, that I haven't listened to more music by women. I am a man, and I probably have leaned that way just for whatever reason. But also the rules might be a little bit different. I deal mostly with rock and roll artists also, and people ask me about hip hop and things like that. It's like, I don't know, the rules are a little different. For the musicians, the rock and roll musicians, they all wear black sunglasses, they all wear leather jackets, they sell out, they do all these things. For hip hop, that's what you do when you're overt. So everything's crazy. As far as women are concerned, I think that Madonna is a great possibility, but I don't know that she really embarrassed herself. She didn't really lose it. You know, one of the things that I say to people often is that women might just have better sense. So it's not a bad thing that they're not advanced. I'm certainly not saying there aren't genius women artists. I think Patti Smith is another women who might have been an advanced artist. She left music to go raise a family, which is about as un-punk rock as you could be. But then she came back and she kind of came back into favor. There is a great clip of her singing You Light Up My Life on a children's show on YouTube that I highly recommend your checking out.

Doug: OK. I will do that. What kind of reaction has the theory received?

Jason: Mostly positive. I would say that the people that I...I have a Twitter account, and Facebook. The thing that I hear most from people is they thank me for giving them sort of a tool to open their minds a little bit. Because what happens is if you start to think well maybe this is OK, you start challenging what's OK and what's not, you just expand what you expose yourself to. That can only be a good thing. Even if you don't like it, just experiencing it. Maybe having a moment where it might have been OK, or might have been a good thing, just expands your world a little bit. There are people who get really upset when I tell them about the theory, or they've read it. They say "Your crazy. Paul McCartney can't possibly be good anymore." And on and on and on. And then another day they'll come up to me and say "Well, is Peter Gabriel advanced?" And then finally when they start to get it, it becomes something that it's not as challenging as it first appears.

Anne: Jason Hartley is the author of "The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time?"  He spoke with To the Best of Our Knowledge producer Doug Gordon.

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