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Friday, June 28, 2019

A Different Slow Song

Here's a question for everyone, except for my dear friend Jimmy and my neighbor Drew (because I already know how they'll both answer): Which musician or group have you seen in person the most?

Both my wife and I have lost count how many times we've seen Joe Jackson. We know we began loving his music soon after his debut album - Look Sharp - was released in 1979, the year after we met. I'm pretty sure we first saw him on the tour that supported either his second (I'm The Man) or third (Beat Crazy) album. From there it gets harder to separate the consistently first rate albums from the even more consistently excellent - and always surprising - live shows.

Despite those surprising shows, my wife and I were confident he would close his show with A Slow Song when we invited friends to join us a few months back to see Jackson at the State Theatre. Our smug prediction seemed a sure thing. That soaring ballad - which Jackson has re-imagined each time we've seen him since he first began playing it during the Night and Day tour - is a near-perfect closing song, given its lyrical theme. And, the last four or five times we've seen him, A Slow Song sent us home on a high.  

But as the show ended - a musical triumph in every sense - our ostensible Joe Jackson "expertise" collapsed. Were we disappointed not hearing A Slow Song? We were not. His closing song this time? I'll keep that to myself because I want you to go see Joe in person. Then, tell me what song he closes with. That way, I can vicariously experience the joy you'll get listening to this man do his magic. No matter what his last song is, both my wife and I will know it and you'll enjoy it. That I can guarantee.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Words For The Ages: Line Eleven

"It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive."

Despite the "ain't", I trust even English teachers out there - especially those who are fans of the Boss - will agree this phrase from Badlands belongs with the others I've previously selected as words for the ages. For me, this lyric concisely captures the affirming message that everyman Bruce Springsteen has continually conveyed for a half century.

Which Springsteen lyric do you think will resound many years from now? Since doing a presentation on Bruce's songwriting craft a few months back, that phrase above hasn't left me alone. Would you be surprised if someone quoted these words in a eulogy? How many tattoos or gravestones would you guess feature this aphoristic lyric?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

My Evolving Perfect World

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/06/today-in-my-perfect-world.html

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2015/06/fours-years-later-in-my-perfect-world.html

The two posts above - published four years apart on this date in 2011 & 2015 - each list a few items that would clearly make the world more perfect. I remain curious as another four years has passed what you'd add to my flawless lists. And, here a few more new items for my evolving perfect world.

* We all have eyelids to help us screen out things we don't care to look at. Unquestionably, the world will be more perfect as human evolution develops a similar protective mechanism for our ears.

* Texting might be more tolerable when we're each able to identify who is sending the text before we decide whether to open it. My guess? Texts from some folks will remain unread.

* When rock & pop stars stop comparing Pet Sounds or Sargent Pepper's to Mozart, a collective sigh will be heard around the world. (BTW, Pet Sounds and Sargent Pepper's are personal favorites. But, Mozart? Come on.)

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Digits With A Story

Once upon a time, one of two sets of three digits identified where people in my lifelong home state likely resided. 201 marked you as a New Jersey Yankee; 609 made you a New Jersey Rebel. Though our North-South line of demarcation didn't carry as much cultural or historical baggage as the Mason-Dixon line, when I was growing up there were at least a few stories attached to those digits. And as an adolescent, I recall those stories helped to make me proud of my 201 roots as well as sometimes a bit wary of those 609-ers.

Now that New Jersey residents can have any one of six area codes, I suspect folks Gen X-age or younger would find this reflection baffling, at best. I wonder: What percentage of people in those age groups know the first three digits of their cell phone numbers have a geographical significance? Do they ever wonder why any friends they've made who first got their cell phones when they resided in a different state - or a different section of New Jersey - don't share their area code? Do younger folks ever use the phrase area code? Are there any New Jersey stories connected to 908, 856, 732, or 973? Do any of those stories involve regional differences, e.g. Do people expect those with 732 area codes to be more likely to own several beach chairs?

It's highly doubtful anyone reading this is old enough to recall when the New Jersey phone universe had one area code. But if so, I really want to hear your recollection of when the State got bi-furcated. Also, I've got to know: Do you still have a landline? If yes, what percentage of the calls you get each day are robotically generated? And, have you read Reclaiming Conversation? Great book, right?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Antidote For Cynicism

If you find yourself - as I frequently do - periodically succumbing to mindless, lazy cynicism when discussing the rancorous partisan divide in modern American politics, Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America (2019) can be an effective antidote. In my experience, reading a book of history as rich and well researched as Jared Cohen's can restore some perspective to those of us who are regularly disillusioned watching our elected officials make asses of themselves. Because, much worse things have occurred in our not distant past. Consider:

* The 1876 Presidential election, decided by the House of Representatives when the votes of the Electoral College were in dispute. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote that year but Rutherford B. Hayes was handed the Presidency after his Republican party agreed to rollback Reconstruction. Thus was a good part of Lincoln's legacy, first casually tossed aside by our first-ever impeached Chief Executive, the despicable Andrew Johnson, now officially in the shitter. The South is still recovering.
 
* You think a Congressman yelling "Liar!" at then President Obama was bad? How about a fistfight in Congress? Or, even better, one elected official drawing a gun on another in those hallowed halls? You only need to go back to the mid 19th century to re-learn of politicians pulling far worse stunts than sleeping on the job, like the late, not-so-great Strom Thurmond.
 
* Despite my political affiliations, I've never been a big Kennedy fan; the patriarch of that clan was no role model. Still, reading Accidental Presidents reminded me - again - how LBJ got stuck with a growing morass in Vietnam in large part because JFK's crew - all nominal Democrats - were master obfuscators. And, Kennedy talked a good game vis-à-vis civil rights, but it took a lifelong Southerner with no progressive racial views to make things happen, helping to realize the long-delayed promise first codified by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, one of the last Lincoln triumphs.

Reading the tangled, messy web of history is a source of constant inspiration for me. I hope one or more of you will pick up Accidental Presidents and share here what you learn or re-learn. Even better, I hope you'll tell me reading it acted as an antidote for that cynicism.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

My Ideal Reader

Anyone who puts their writing into the public sphere - no matter how many people are reading it - must have an ideal reader in mind. From the inception of this blog eight and one-half years ago, my ideal reader has been my wife. She remains the person I most rely on to keep me tuned up day-to-day. Many of the questions I've asked here are questions for which I'd like her answer. And whenever I challenge myself to be more, it's not false modesty or any need for affirmation that prompt me to do so. Each of those challenges to be more are put to the test when my wife holds me accountable for my public statements. How do people close to you know what you'd like to be held accountable for?  

My ideal reader is also a window to look through to help me see others reading this blog. As long as she continues telling me my questions provoke her, I'm confident those questions will provoke others. When she tells me from time-to-time that she laughed at something I wrote, I'm confident others will be similarly amused. If a post about a book that has moved me prompts her to pick up that book, I'm confident she won't be the only reader so inclined. 

Notoriety aside, if you're a writer, who is your ideal reader? When did you last acknowledge the valuable role that person plays in your creative life?  

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Not A Fishing Expedition

Apologies to only children for excluding you on this particular post.

Since a recent intense conversation my wife and I had about her place in the birth order (fourth of five) vs. mine (oldest of four), some reasonably vivid early-in-life memories re-surfaced for me. And a couple of the less benign of those memories prompted me to reflect on a mildly unsettling question: What effect did any of my casually cruel or insensitive behaviors have on my younger siblings? If you're not the youngest in your brood, how recently did you pause to consider this potentially uncomfortable topic? What conclusions have you reached?

Near as I can recollect, this is not a subject that came up during my years in therapy. Writing today, avoiding this useful piece of self-scrutiny back then feels expedient at best, perhaps dishonest. At the same time, I'm not sure how productive it would be to have a conversation about this today with three adults in their sixties. What benefit is to be had from opening old wounds?

Before anyone accuses me of the "glass half empty" trope, I'm aware that - not being a psychopath - there are likely many positive effects this oldest child had on the three that followed him. Maybe to offset today's slightly darker reflections, any of you with older siblings will share some heartwarming anecdotes? If either of my sisters or my brother reads this post, I'm not fishing, I swear.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

#55: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Which four authors have had enough of their work successfully adapted to film that you can erect a Mt. Rushmore featuring their visages? Though my mountain also lists four worthwhile films for each  author I selected, I'll be satisfied if you give me one worthy movie to go with your four selections. Or, if you have another favorite film adapted from a book by any of my guys - sorry they're all guys, and white ones at that - tell me about that. Alphabetically, by author:

1.) Nick Hornby - About A Boy, High Fidelity, Juliet, Naked & The Long Way Down are all worth watching. My favorite is About A Boy, especially the scene when Hugh Grant warbles Killing Me Softly With His Song. I do have a minor quibble with High Fidelity. Why Chicago instead of London? Was John Cusack unable to nail a British accent? If so, why not cast Gary Oldman like I did?

2.) Stephen King - Of the slew of King's work made into film, Dolores Claiborne, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, & Stand By Me are my standouts. Two novels, two short stories; Stand By Me was originally called The Body. My favorite - today - is the underrated Dolores Claiborne, perfectly cast - Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a sublimely creepy David Strathairn.

3.) John le Carre - The Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man, Russia House, & Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Each of these spy thrillers has something to recommend it. My favorite is the bleak but brilliantly acted A Most Wanted Man, with Philp Seymour Hoffman in the last movie released before his untimely death.

4.) Elmore Leonard - Get Shorty, Hombre, Jackie Brown, & Out Of Sight all feature Leonard's trademark crackling dialogue. Jackie Brown - originally known as Rum Punch - is my favorite Quentin Tarantino film. Get Shorty is my favorite adaptation of a Leonard book and my favorite film of the four favorites listed here; it also has some of John Travolta's best onscreen moments.

I'm curious about what you're constructing out in the Badlands. I bet others are too.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Help From The Other Side

Soon after realizing politics was opening a gap between myself and someone dear to me, I made a purposeful decision to begin more regularly reading the work of leading conservative thinkers. I want to better understand how someone I care about reaches such different conclusions than me about ways to solve - or at least ameliorate - some of America's most intractable problems.

By every measure, the most rewarding part of this new journey to date has been finishing Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt (2019). Author Arthur Brooks has been President of the American Enterprise Institute - arguably the most influential conservative think tank in the U.S. - since 2009. This game-changing book is humane, smart, and straightforward. I've already used several of the common sense techniques Brooks suggests when confirmation bias has me in its grip. Brooks has also helped me see which of my political positions need better grounding. Which thinker from the other side of the political spectrum has similarly assisted you?