Let me make one thing painfully clear. I am an idiot. I am not smart at all. My intellectual capacities are considered poor at best. Nicknames I have endured during my life have included ‘Dummy’, ‘Gumpy’ and ‘Old Dung For Brains’. But, by listening to people who are smarter than me and by taking covert notes or secretly recording them, I have picked up a few salient phrases and culturally relevant sentences that make me sound vaguely clever when dropped into the heart of a conversation. Let me share them with you. If, after you let one of these beauties fly, someone questions you further, either fake a heart attack or burst into tears. Then run.
“YOU KNOW THE STAR WARS FILMS HAVE SUFFERED SINCE THEY STOPPED BEING BASED ON KUROSAWA FILMS”
Perfect for dropping into conversations with film buffs, comic book nerds or sci-fi geeks. The parallels between the first Star Wars film and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress have been drawn for years and George Lucas admitted that he basically stole the plot from the Japanese film, then changed it significantly, then stole it again for Phantom Menace. Works best when spoken snottily.
“WITH THE RITE OF SPRING, STRAVINSKY INVENTED PUNK ROCK”
A great thing to exclaim when the inevitable ‘who invented punk rock debate’ starts up (as it does in any situation where middle-aged men are present). The New York Dolls, Blue Cheer, The 13th Floor Elevators and even Skiffle may all be mentioned, but you can trump them all with ‘I think you’ll find…’ (‘I think you’ll find’ is a great way to start any of these phrases) ‘that in fact it began in 1913 with the purely rhythmic passages from Le Sacre du printemps (yeah, use the original French as well) which cause a riot on its first performance’. Then saunter away.
“BALZAC WAS JEALOUS OF DUMAS’ POPULARITY. DUMAS WAS JEALOUS OF BALZAC’S TALENT”
There’s a (probably apocryphal) story whereby Alexandre Dumas (who wrote the Count of Monte Christo, Three Musketeers and that sort of thing) bumped into Honore Balzac (who wrote Lost Illusions and the Comedie Humane series of books) bumped into each other, greeted each other warmly then bitched about each other after they’d moved on. ‘That swine Dumas,’ Balzac said, ‘if only I had his money and success’. ‘That lout Balzac,’ said Dumas, ‘if only I could write like that’. I don’t know what it means, like I say I’m an idiot, but people always seem happy when you tell them that story. Especially if you do it like Sam Fuller.
“CAPTAIN BEEFHEART ONCE TRIED TO SELL ALDOUS HUXLEY A VACUUM CLEANER”
A nice tale to tell in the company of music freaks or literary types. Before he was psychedelic, Frank Zappa acolyte Captain Beefhart (then plain old Don van Vliet) sold vacuum cleaners door to door. One day he approached an LA residence, rang the bell and immediately recognised Aldous Huxley on the other side. Instead of starting on his usual sales spiel, he said ‘I can assure you sir, this thing sucks’. And Huxley immediately purchased everything he had. Beefheart liked to make up stories, so it may not of every happened. But that doesn’t stop you from repeating it.
“IF YOU’VE EVER SEEN LAUREL AND HARDY YOU CAN UNDERSTAND WAITING FOR GODOT”
Best not to venture too deeply with this one. I tend to just blurt it out whenever the conversation is way over my head and everyone starts looking at me expecting me to speak. Many scholars believe that not only was Samuel Beckett directly influenced by Stan and Ollie, but he lifted their characters and dropped them into his most famous work. To back up his silent movie credentials, Becket’s only cinematic work, called ‘Film’, starred Buster Keaton.
“THE GREATEST EVER ARCHITECTURAL FIRM NEVER BUILT ANYTHING”
Should the conversation ever veer into architecture, town planning or general building matters, you can always briefly mention Archigram, the avant-garde architectural firm from the 1960’s who were highly influential and warmly regarded, but never got anything built, mainly because their creations were too crazy. They designed the Suitaloon, a building you could wear, Walking Cities on giant legs and many, many pods.
“T.S. ELIOT AND GROUCHO MARX WERE PEN PALS”
Eliot initiated this correspondence, being a fan of the Marx brothers. Groucho was something of an intellectual and so responded warmly. Unfortunately, the two men eventually met and didn’t really get along. The poet wanted to talk about slapstick while the comedian wanted to talk about The Waste Land and they couldn’t really find any middle ground. So if someone brings up meeting your heroes, you can regale them this. TS Eliot was also afraid of cows, if that helps.
“WITHOUT ANTHONY NEWLEY THERE WOULD BE NO DAVID BOWIE”
Bowie, thanks to his recent album and exhibition, has been clogging up polite conversation for the last year or so. If his oeuvre is completely lost on you, other than the Dancing in the Streets video, bring up Newley, an actor, singer and songwriter from the 50’s and 60’s who starred in musicals, wrote lots of songs that now feature on yoghurt commercials and was a huge influence on the young DB. And he wrote all the songs from the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka film, which you can mention if people start to look at you funny.
“PICASSO, DE KOONING AND MIRO ALL THOUGHT KRAZY KAT WAS A WORK OF GENIUS”
Krazy Kat was an incredibly surreal newspaper comic strip from the 20’s and 30’s featuring a cat who was in love with a mouse and a mouse who threw bricks at the cat’s head. Poet EE Cummings wrote the forward to the first collection of Krazy Kat strips with other fans including Kerouac, HL Mencken and Michael Stipe (who has a Krazy Kat tattoo). So it had a lasting influence on artists, musicians and authors. And it helped to make you sound a bit smarter. Thanks Krazy.
“NEVER FORGET THAT ENGLISH WAS PRETTY MUCH KEROUAC’S SECOND LANGUAGE”
Born to French Canadian parents, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (as he liked to call himself) didn’t speak any English at all until he was 6 and only really mastered the language in his late teens. He started writing On The Road in French and wrote portions of his poetry in that language. Some may say he should have stuck to French (the Beats seem to have taken a bit of a critical beating in recent years) but if you’re a dumbbell like me, you probably don’t want to get into that kind of debate.
“VIDEO GAMES MAKE MORE MONEY THAN ALL OTHER ENTERTAINMENT FORMS COMBINED”
That may not be true, I’m pretty sure I heard someone saying it. I do know that the largest grossing film of last year was Iron Man III, taking $1.2 billion, whereas Grand Theft Auto V made that much of money in a mere three days. Which is pretty crazy. I don’t know if it makes any difference to anything. That’s not my job. My job is to release that information into the world then drift away looking smug. Which I have now done. Thank you.