Why I Appreciate Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney won’t be around much longer, and that makes me incredibly sad.

The legendary commentator is 91, and he’s been doing his bit on 60 Minutes for just about 32 years now. What I do on this blog every day isn’t much different than what Rooney’s been doing for decades. The key difference, however, is Rooney’s been able to comment all these years about the subtleties and nuances of life without ever straying to a polarized stance.

Think about it: Most of us either love or hate something. That’s most apparent in the media, where debates and roundtables will feature guests with completely polarized views — the neo-conservative debates the bleeding-heart liberal; the pro-choice advocate debates the priest; the anti-war activist debates the general. The problem is our brain doesn’t necessarily operate within absolutes. Not always, anyway.

Rooney? His mind never does.

Sharp as an arrow after all these years, I try to catch Rooney’s segment every Sunday evening because he reminds me it’s OK, if not healthier, to just like or dislike something. Rarely will you hear Rooney say he loves or hates something. He operates within that 25-75 percent window from which most of us are outliers. His standard of deviation never strays far from lukewarm, and that’s probably why he’s going strong at 91.

Rooney’s taught me it’s important to appreciate small things, and certainly no waste of time to call attention to them. He realizes those who don’t like his commentary can certainly tune out or turn him off, and I suppose the same goes for my blog.

I was thinking about Rooney when a friend of mine invited me to an upcoming discussion between Frank Black and Carl Wilson. Black is a musician best known as lead singer of alternative rock outfit the Pixies. Wilson is an editor and critic for the Globe and Mail (of Toronto) who wrote a book called Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, which discusses how Dion is one of the most polarizing recording artists ever. (People either love or hate her music.)  According to the Facebook invite I received:

They’ll have a dynamic, irreverent discussion about the changing meanings of “alternative” and “underground,” the relationship of indie to mainstream, emotion in music, and how what we like defines, creates and possibly distorts who we are.

Now, given my limited knowledge of these individuals, both should have the predilection to use words like “love” and “hate” quite a bit. (Given the nature of the discussion, I would imagine we’ll more likely hear “fucking love” or “fucking hate,” actually.)

Could this discussion take place were Rooney a part of it? Yes. However, it might not be as lively to the audience, because we’re hoping these two great minds butt heads a few times or harmoniously praise or revile the same things. Rooney wouldn’t take the bait. He would say, “I don’t see why you’re getting so worked up about things. Celine’s music is perfectly fine, but you won’t find her work in my record collection.”

It’s not my style to operate within Rooney’s range of contentment. There’s no way I could go on writing about things with such harnessed feelings. Unfortunately, my feelings (and so my writing) runs hot and cold, rarely in between. What I will take from Rooney now and remember long after he passes is its OK to muse over the way you like your coffee every morning or grumble at the way jeans fit so tightly after just being washed. Those are the little things that make up the brunt of our lives, anyway. They’re frequent, but still infinitesimal and not worth getting too worked up over.

I hope when Rooney passes the producers of 60 Minutes are tactful when thinking his replacement. They should settle on someone full of like and dislike who everyone can love or hate, just like Rooney.

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