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Harvey Gotliffe, Ph.D. Headshot

American Idle

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I have no desire to be a teenager again complete with a face full of zits, a changing voice, sweaty palms around members of the opposite sex, and always wondering why. Perhaps I have been resurrected because I still wonder why.

For instance, why is there such an emotional clamor to find out who the next "American Idol" will be? I wasn't the least bit concerned with the results, much less cared who was competing, but wondered what the fascination was that caused bloggers, mainstream print and broadcast media, and breathless pubescent children to get so concerned with the matter.

When James Durbin, a barely twenty-two-year-old Santa Cruzan, didn't make it to the finals, our local and regional media still went ballistic in its coverage. Even in defeat, a May 15 story in the San Jose Mercury News noted that 30,000 fans (short for fanatics) cheered his homecoming, and the reporter noted "the event is likely to linger in Santa Cruz's cultural memory for a long time."

It would seem that the collective cultural memory of another event was slightly more profound in the minds of most Santa Cruzans who were around nine months after Durbin's birth. The October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake ravaged the heart of Santa Cruz destroying forty buildings, caused hundreds of million dollars of damage, and took six lives. However, most of James Durbin's high-pitched, screaming fans were not even born then. Most of the citizenry and the media also seemed to have forgotten another disturbing cultural event when the tsunami hit Santa Cruz last March and caused an estimated $17 million in damage.

In its May 19-25 issue, the intrepid coverage in the peerless local weekly Good Times started with the editor joyously noting that on James Durbin Day, the mayor handed him a surfboard instead of a key to the city. This gesture was apropos since Santa Cruz is known far and wide as "Surf City USA." Durbin modestly confessed that he doesn't surf. The editor then thanked James, possibly for adding so much to the cultural memory of the city, and then proudly referred readers to the paper's weekly column "The Durb Watch." On that page there were also five plaintive letters to the editor, urging James to not worry about his loss for there's still an excellent possibility that the rest of his life might turn out fine.

A few pages later a local writer headlined her column with "Why We Love James" and described the high character of one of his renditions "for its melting authenticity," another for "its electrifying authority," and still another "for its revitalized power." The writer underplays his effect on the lives of everyone regardless of their race, religion, color or land of origin, when she closes with "The whole world is waiting to see what you do next."

On May 22, a columnist in the Mercury News further extolled the local hero and he is shown in a large "news photo" at a Santa Cruz delicatessen displaying a hang ten hand sign, perhaps inspired by his new surfboard. In the next issue of this weekly, the deli bought space for a four-color, half-page advertisement showing Durbin in their store and the copy lauded James saying that they loved him and thanked him for making the deli his first stop on his homecoming day. They closed by imploring customers to "Try James' Favorite Sandwich -- the Durbinator."

Not to be outdone, James is shown arms outstretched in a mountain scene on the front cover of the May 23-June 1 issue of the competing Santa Cruz Weekly. There's no story on James and his musical exploits, and he is used solely to attract attention and inspire readers to pick up their free paper.

James has attracted attention far beyond the 59,946 Santa Cruzans and the 262,382 who live in Santa Cruz County. Enter his name on Google you will find nearly eight million results, including a biography in Wikipedia. It notes that he is a an American heavy metal singer and guitar player who has a tattoo of a star on his upper bicep as well as scripted tattoos of his wife Heidi and his son Hunter.

Out of consideration to the multitude that seems to adore James and his music, I went to YouTube and played several of his songs. Most of which were heavy metal and accompanied by the high-pitched wails of his teenage female fans. His rendition of "Maybe I'm Amazed" had a gentler sound and was somewhat enjoyable to listen to, however I am not ready to turn back the clock and join in the frenzy. Besides, I hope that I am through with zits forever.