Saturday, August 05, 2006

What's Better? Umberto Eco or Echo and the Bunnymen?

You know, I'm a literature person. It's high time a blog battle had a literature enrant. Umberto Eco has done philosophy, literature crticism, even literature of his own. Foucault's Pendulum, The Name of the Rose, and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana are titles that just reek culture.

Echo and the Bunnymen may have a funny name, but their talent is dead serious. "Enlighten Me" may be their highest chart topper in the U.S., though they did a ripping cover of "People are Strange" that ought to be familiar to anyone who saw the movie The Lost Boys.

So, "What's Better?": Umberto Eco or Echo and the Bunnymen?


M. Leary said...

This is awful. I really don't know how to begin arbiting between these two cultural icons. On the one hand, I listened to Echo and the Bunnymen more than anyone else as a kid because I could only afford to buy tapes from those $1.99 bins they used to have in record stores. For some reason, you could always count on Echo and the Bunnymen being there. On the other hand, Umberto Eco, who is one of the few postmodern critics I have used with any success.

I suppose I should just attempt to develop a ratio between success and failure for each entry and simple decide pragmatically on that basis.

Echo and the Bunnymen:

Their first album must be forgettable, because I remember nothing about it. Their second album, "Heaven up Here," is a much different story. Ian MucCulloch comes into his own, and the band seems to find its production niche. There are no real standout tracks, the entire album is just like a time capsule from a 1980 conference in which a council of musicians discovered a new way to make pop music. Evidently, U2, Love and Rockets, and a few others cottoned on to this very quickly. Of subsequent albums, "Heaven Can Wait" is remarkable for the single "Killing Moon" which contributed to the best scene of "Donnie Darko" and several of my first romantic conquests. I think soon after this Ian McCulloch left the band to crank out a string of flat solo albums, and the new lead singer they brought in was never able to resurrect the edge of early Bunnymen work.

On the other hand, from a total of 11 albums (and one best hits album) I can think of about ten songs that are worth listening to. Their cultural value seems to bank more on the influence of their craftsmanship on other bands than it does the success of their songwriting.

Umberto Eco's successes include The Open Work (arguably one of the most important works of 20th century literary theory), Travels in Hyperreality (arguably one of the coolest books ever), a bunch of seminal books on semiotics, and Foucault's Pendulum (a novel which almost ruined my life).

On the other hand, I can't think of outright failures. I haven't read his recent fiction, so I could be way off, but Eco seems to have been consistently helpful in his writing.

I am tempted to say Echo and the Bunnymen wins because their influence has affected untold millions through their very strong influence on U2. On the other hand, Eco's work on semiotics has probably affected billions both by its influence on contemporary advertising and its influence on our understanding of pop culture in general.

Eco wins.

BethR said...

I cannot resist the wave of leary's logic. Eco it is.

John said...


Ellen Collison said...

Eco, no question.