A New Dull

Scottish writer John Boswell was once talking to his friend Samuel Johnson, an English man of letters, about the virtues of a certain poet. Here is the exchange, starting with Boswell:

“I understand he was reserved, and might appear dull in company, but surely he was not dull in poetry.

“Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull ever where”.

How Johnson finishes his fiery condemnation is what is oddly fascinating.

“He was dull in a new way, and that made people think him great…”.

To Johnson, this poet was popular because he gave people what they expected in a fresh package. Can we be fascinated by hearing the “dull in a new way”? Peter Robinson illustrates this in a article in The Guardian, calling such music the “New Boring”.

It would seem that such an admonition is dismissive of such poetry and, well, music. Even so, there is another perspective from such an angle. Perhaps the familiar done in a new way is something we crave in music more than we will admit.

I love newer artists who rehash soul music. Soul music is something that I love, that I am familiar with. To hear other artists play on that style in their way means I get to listen to more music that I already enjoy. One could admit that there is not any innovation in it and yet that music still draws me in.

The same could be said of a lot of music we like. If we get down to it, some of it is dull,unoriginal, insipid. And yet how that artist takes and frames the dull could be what drives us to love her music.

There is something about getting what we are used to with slight differentiation that is inherently human. Maybe we should not chastise it but try to understand this inclination more.


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