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Friday, August 30, 2019

Bookonnection

bookonnection: a phenomenon frequently occurring for avid readers when they discover a passage that connects them back to an earlier beloved book. The new passage can be of any length and often assists the receptive reader to re-experience anew the magic of the earlier book. 

Although my experience with bookonnection pre-dates the book club of two that a reading soulmate and I began in 2015, while recently discussing the Sebastian Faulks novel Birdsong (1993) with her, I decided a neologism was now necessary. Each time the two of us meet to discuss a book, the air gets charged with these reading-induced synaptic sparks. The bookonnections this time included ...

* When Faulks recounts the claustrophobic work done by English soldiers/miners in World War I - digging tunnels beneath the German trenches - I was transported back to the first half of Emma Donoghue's harrowing and brilliant 2010 novel Room. Each book so masterfully depicts a closed-in world that my breath grew a little shallow as I read.

* In one excruciating passage, a secondary character in Birdsong tries in vain to convey to his father the horrors he has endured on the front; his father changes the subject. That scene connected me to a single three page sentence from the stunning Yellow Birds (2012) by Kevin Powers. Different wars but a striking similarity in how the authors relate the inadequacy of words to describe combat as well as the cluelessness of non-combatants.

* Near the end of Anthony Marra's masterpiece A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena (2014), a doomed character rejoices in the knowledge that his daughter is alive. His life is about to end but he joyously screams his daughter's name to his captors. Near the end of Birdsong, a similarly doomed man speaks movingly of his love for his son. Uncovering this bookonnection during that recent book discussion - and re-experiencing the intense pleasure of Marra's book - was restorative.

I would love to hear about your most recent bookonnection. Please?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

HIGH ALERT: Sports Fans Needed

I can understand someone not liking anchovies. But whenever I hear someone say they don't like sports, my reaction is about the same as when someone says they don't like music, i.e. what's not to like? BTW, I like anchovies.

That said, although I could be asked to relinquish my gender card confessing this, when it comes to discussing, reading about, or following sports I am, at best, indifferent. Being a spectator? Less than indifferent. Why then, this post, not the first of which has used sports as a hook in its title ? Simple - I will stoop to any level to attract readers.

So, as a less-than-indifferent spectator, I'd like the opinion of sports fans. With respect to watching, regardless of which sports you play or perhaps even excel in, I submit every sport has relative merit.  Let's call it that sport's excitement index. Sports fans, how would you rank - most exciting to least - the following five in my index? Basketball, bowling, curling, golf, tennis.

Once you've got those five ranked, unless curling is your #1, proceed to step two and slot these next five somewhere into a top ten: Baseball, figure skating, football, horse racing, skiing. The hit parade has top twenty so to get sports on an even playing field with music, add bicycle racing, boxing, ice hockey, lacrosse, long distance running, pool, racecar driving, soccer, swimming, surfing to round out the top twenty. If any sports fan has trouble ranking from #1 down to #20, let me suggest you pretend you have to pay to watch. I think you'll discover my excitement index, less-than-indifferent spectator or not, has some face validity.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cast Away

Who would you hand pick to play the lead role in a movie made about your life?

Call this fantasy grandiose, if judging me makes you feel better. Although my answer is coming, I'm not expecting any responses to this question; I'm sure you have never harbored such a self-indulgent thought. And if you have, I'm just as sure you wouldn't admit it "publicly", a sin I'll soon commit. I'm even more sure I'm not the only one on the bell curve, i.e. someone whose life story has no chance of ever being so immortalized, to have ever entertained such a fantasy.

Just in case any reader is brave enough to own up to sharing my folly, below are a few guidelines I used to pick the famous face that others will see as me on a silver screen. Use or discard these - or invent some of your own - but I feel obligated as the deranged casting director for this exercise, to offer them, let's say, for your consideration.

* I selected someone of my own gender with moderately-difficult-to-pinpoint ethnic ancestry.

* The person portraying me had to have credibly played a musician at least once in their career.

* Since the film will feature my doppelganger recounting a riveting life story - flashback style as he sits on a porch, guitar nearby - the famous face should look about my age, give or take ten years.

My next task is contacting the manager or agent of Jeff Bridges. Anyone not yet looking down at me - wish me luck. To those lost in snarky and/or superior thoughts - keep them to yourself as I cast away. .    

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Private First Class Edward Barton

My Dad fought in World War II but, like most vets of his generation, never spoke of his experiences. In fact, although I'm sure my life's path has brought me into contact with people who've seen combat during a stint in the military, I don't recall ever having a single conversation about that subject. Has any vet who has seen action ever shared any part of their experiences with you? Imagining myself in those circumstances gives me serious pause. What could I possibly say? Would I have the good sense to say very little?

"Death had no meaning, but still the numbers of them went on and on and in that infinity, there was still horror." Reading that sentence about midway through Birdsong (1993), the best I could do was be grateful for a life that has never put me in harm's way. How does anyone find their way back to a life after the kind of combat trauma Sebastian Faulks describes in his graphic World War I novel?

"We forget we have very nearly died today as we wait to die again tomorrow."  The closest I will ever come to knowing the terror that must have gripped my Dad stepping onto the beach at Normandy is via a sentence like that one from John Boyne's 2011 novel The Absolutist, which also takes place in World War I. Books like Birdsong and The Absolutist and movies like Saving Private Ryan are useful vehicles for me to better understand my late Father's time in combat. How I miss him.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Air That I Breathe

What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success are irrelevant?

Some questions can be life altering. Since first coming across the one above in Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic in 2015, I've used it dozens of times to free myself from creative paralysis. What works for you under similar circumstances?

On frustrating days I've had playing my guitar since 2015, one thing is guaranteed to get me out of my head - that question. It also helps silence my inner critic when that voice second guesses the value of a blog post. Even if they're never played for anyone, songs get completed because that question reminds me how alive I feel in the act of creating.

"...leaving me with only two choices: I can resume the slog … thereby risking further failure and despair, or I can guarantee failure by not pushing through." That gobsmacking insight about the exquisite pain of the creative process is from Sally Mann's 2015 memoir Hold Still. When I unearth a gem like Mann's insight or Gilbert's question, I'm reminded yet again of the restorative power of the written word. Words like these are oxygen for my own creative process.      

Friday, August 16, 2019

Back To The Future

What habit most recently ensnared you?

For several years the town nearby had an independent coffee shop I liked a great deal; good coffee, friendly staff, nice vibe. Though disappointed when it closed a few years back, I quickly developed the habit of walking to a different nearby place even though the coffee wasn't quite as good and the employees rarely acknowledged me. Then the old place re-opened about a year ago, right across the street from their original location.

But until earlier today, sitting in the less-favorite coffee shop writing in my journal, I was oblivious to how totally my habit had ensnared me. One of my most dependable riffs during my years doing adult education was extolling the value of mindfulness. I've lost track of how many books, articles, and lectures have reinforced for me the notion that habit can trap all of us. But somehow, during all my recent visits to that less-favorite coffee shop vs. returning to the re-opened one, all that teaching and learning was lost.

Begin, again.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Forgive Me My Trespasses

Considering what some critics have written and the mostly positive word-of-mouth I've heard, my view of several recent films prominently featuring music likely won't persuade many folks to join my bell curve minions. Will offering alternatives prevent a wide scale exodus? I live in hope.

OK, I'll concede the last twenty minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody - the part when Queen plays at Live Aid - are musically thrilling and dramatically moving. But, the preceding 3/4 of that film, especially the musical clichés and melodramatic meetings with the stereotyped suits stifling Queen's VISION, are nearly as over-the-top as some of Queen's catalog. Though it's not a perfect film, try I Walk The Line instead. And I'm not even a big fan of country or Johnny Cash's music.

Rocket Man's good moments are more evenly distributed than Bohemian Rhapsody's. I'm pleased, really I am, Elton John got sober and found a life partner. But there are about five too many crying scenes in Rocket Man. Listen, I cry at commercials but Bette Davis didn't shed this many tears over her entire film career. Also, some of the song choices (Crocodile Rock? Really?) are just wrong. If unlike me, musical biopics are your thing, try Ray instead; not perfect but, far less weeping.

Echo in the Canyon? Deadly dull, philosophically sophomoric, songs re-done in keys that drain every ounce of energy they ever had - a mess. If you like musical documentaries, try instead The Wrecking Crew or Twenty Feet from Stardom or Still on the Run.

Which brings me to strike four. I am an un-reconstructed Beatles geek. The trailer for Yesterday - Danny Boyle's recently released film, starring a charismatic newcomer and fine singer named Himish Patel - hooked me with its central conceit, i.e. a worldwide blackout erases all traces of the Beatles music. Of the four films here, this one almost worked the best. But, although Backbeat is not as high concept as Yesterday, you can re-experience the magic and energy of the Beatles more authentically via that 1994 release. Nowhere Boy, also a low key film with the Beatles at its core, is just as good as Backbeat. 

What are a few of your favorite films that prominently feature music or musicians? I hope if you're one of the folks who really enjoyed one of the recent four that didn't work for me, you'll forgive me my trespasses.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Seven Years, Nine Months, Three Hundred Songs

Which long-range goal have you most recently attained?

Back  in November 2011, inspired by the film Julie & Julia - a different recipe every day for a year - and Tolstoy and the Purple Chair - Nina Sankovitch's memoir describing how she read a new book every day for a year - I gave myself one year to get my jazz guitar repertoire up to three hundred fully memorized songs. Although that number - at least in that time frame - turned out to be wildly over-ambitious, it wasn't chosen arbitrarily; I knew approximately three hundred tunes by heart when my voice gave out in 1978, forcing me at that time to abandon my acoustic guitar and singing act and get a day job. I decided late in 2011 it was time to fully commit to this music as I did to rock n' roll over the first half of my life.  

Today, seven years and almost nine months later, John Coltrane's Giant Steps was added to my list as song #300. Although dismayed it took so long to reach the goal, the positive by-products of all my   diligent practicing and memorizing on my playing are noticeable, even to me. On a recent gig with a good friend, I smiled at my improvising on the Richard Rodgers ballad You Are Too Beautiful. I know this might not seem like much to many people but being satisfied with an improvisational idea, no matter how briefly, is heaven to someone like me.

Phase two of the project - mum's the word on time frames this time - is recording myself doing all three hundred. Wish me luck.  

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/11/goal-for-year-62.html

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

My Debt To A Great Writer

As a lifelong avid reader, many authors have given me the gift of their words. But the impact of Toni Morrison's words on me as a reader and thinker place her in a different category than most of those other authors.

Since Morrison's death two days ago, I've been reflecting on the debt I owe to her singular talent. Had I not read Song of Solomon (1977) - my first exposure to Morrison - it's unlikely I'd have soon after returned to the coruscating essays and painful novels of James Baldwin. If I'd not then gone back and read Morrison's first two novels - The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sula (1974), my later appreciation for her masterwork - Beloved (1987) - would probably not have been as nuanced.

Throughout the 80's and into the 90's, Morrison's transformative novels and provocative essays informed my growing awareness of white privilege and the corrosive legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, as well as helping me understand how great writing can help shape an open mind. My favorite Morrison book, Tar Baby (1981), though one of her lesser-known, remains to this day the novel about race I'm most inclined to recommend to seekers. And, had I never read that, or Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) or, most recently, God Help the Child (2015), other challenging but worthwhile books about the African-American experience by authors like Paul Beatty, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Marlon James could have easily bypassed, enraged, or confused me.

I can never re-pay the debt I owe to the extraordinary Toni Morrison. To which author do you owe a similar debt?

 https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2012/05/attention-sports-fans.html      

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Healing

"Writing is the act of self-discovery": David Hare

Even after a lifetime collecting pithy quotes, playwright David Hare's words remain the ones I most frequently cite. Both my journal and this blog have continually reinforced for me the wisdom Hare captures in just six words.

Case in point: Eight years ago today I published a blog post requesting assistance with a lifelong struggle. Though I didn't know it then, writing of my struggle - muted response to the request aside - was the critical first step needed to heal myself. Though the issue hasn't magically disappeared, I am better. And the only way I know I'm better is because of what I wrote on August 3, 2011 and how I feel on August 3, 2019.

What has been the most recent instance demonstrating to you the wisdom of David Hare's words?

https://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2011/08/help-wantedteachers.html

Thursday, August 1, 2019

National Music Day

Into perpetuity, I hereby decree August 1 will be known as National Music Day. Although all seven of my previous proposals to establish a national holiday in the month Hallmark has mysteriously overlooked have been ingenious, it's odd that this particularly irresistible idea was not the first one I proposed back in 2012. No matter - onto the details; your input is welcome.

* On August 1 beginning next year, concerts with multiple acts will be held in, let's say, two dozen major markets. Each market will feature a different type of music and on each subsequent August 1, the type of music in each market will shift. For example, New York in 2020 could feature jazz, San Francisco could feature country, Miami could feature opera. In 2021 New York switches to folk, San Francisco to R&B, Miami to rap. And so on, into perpetuity. I'd gladly make travel plans knowing in advance which market to head for each August 1.
* Every August 1, all U.S. television stations will feature only music all day. No news, no pundits, no sitcoms; music documentaries allowed. At least a few stations will be dedicated to broadcasting the concerts mentioned above - live - during this twenty four hour period.
* All satellite radio stations featuring music would be free all day every August 1.

OK, we need a national spokesperson for this holiday. I propose myself. But I'll defer to a famous musician - Bruce, Norah Jones, Beyoncé - provided he/she agrees to have lunch with me on National Music Day. Should banks & government offices close and mass transit go on holiday schedules? I vote no; too many potential obstacles. Nothing changes or closes on Valentine's Day - let's keep it simple like that. August 1 - no need to sweat school closings. What am I missing?

Ah yes, branding is everything, right? Your idea for a clever marketing slogan for National Music Day to ensure my brilliant idea takes off? Come on, that's the least you can do.