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Monday, May 30, 2022

What Am I Missing?

Like all of you, I've spent a lot less time in theaters recently. As a film buff, an unfortunate by-product of that has been being forced to watch movies on television, including all the Oscar nominees from both 2021 and 2022. Of the ten films nominated in 2022, I've still not seen the winner - Coda - or Dune. How many have you seen? Which has been your favorite so far? Be sure to answer that before reading the next two paragraphs.

In fact, two other best picture nominees this year need an "*" next to them - Drive My Car & Power of the Dog. I started but didn't finish either of these acclaimed films. In the case of the former, had I been in a theater, it's quite possible I might have left before that movie concluded. Anyone who knows my thrifty habits well will tell you this is most unusual. And I can't recall the last time I walked out on a movie, let alone an Oscar nominee. 

Because nearly everyone I know has raved about Power of the Dog, it's possible I'll give that one another try, an easier proposition via watching it on TV. Given how much I've enjoyed the earlier films of director Jane Campion and my high regard for the two male leads - Benedict Cumberbatch & Jesse Plemmons - I'm still not sure why the first hour + of this well-regarded movie felt so flat and lifeless. Hell, there's even been one person I respect who recommended the Thomas Savage novel to me. I must be missing something.

Has to be that damn TV of mine, don't you think?  

Friday, May 27, 2022

Begin, Again

"I love the man that smiles when in trouble, can gather strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection." -  Thomas Paine

How well do you routinely measure up to Paine's rigorous standard? How many people have you known who do?

Given the name of my blog and the focus of a good number of the 2100+ posts I've published, I guess I'm pretty solid with the "reflection" piece of Paine's formulation. And though I wouldn't go so far as to say I've grown "brave" with all that reflecting, doing so does help ensure I routinely look at behaviors needing to be tuned up. How do you integrate reflecting into your life? Would you say that reflecting has helped you grow braver?

As for the first two qualities Paine cites, let me say Thomas might have had some trouble loving me. I try to stay positive - if not necessarily break into a smile - when facing trouble but I fail a lot more often than I succeed. Gather strength from distress? Yeah, maybe sometimes after the fact but rarely when I'm in the middle of it. How about you?

Begin, again.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

#65: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Ever since Eric Clapton's guitar solo on Go Back Home - from the first Stephen Stills solo album - set me on fire again a few months ago, I haven't been able to stop thinking about this latest iteration in my oldest extant series. Which four guitar solos from any musical genre except jazz - I plan to cite four of those in the future - would you enshrine on your musical Mt. Rushmore? 

Mine are listed alphabetically by the last name of the guitarist. I also chose not to repeat any names; put your four in whatever order you like and disregard my no-repeat guideline if you want. 

1.) Jeff Beck on Cause We've Ended as Lovers: There are two non-jazz guitarists on my mountain who could have easily had a few slots; Beck-O and Carlos. Actually, on the same Beck album as this little-heard Stevie Wonder composition - i.e. Blow by Blow - Jeff plays so ferociously I could have easily picked almost any song on that landmark LP to carve into stone.

2.) Doug Fieger on My Sharona: Fieger is the least well-known of my guys - yeah, they're all guys I'm afraid - but this song is the most widely known of the four, maybe even over-played. No matter. Fieger blazes on both guitar solos and his second is a musical marvel. 

3.) David Lindley on I Don't Know Why: Without exaggeration, I have wept nearly every time I've listened to Lindley do his magic on this Shawn Colvin tune from her recording entitled Polaroids.

4.) Carlos Santana on You Can Have Me Anytime: If it were to come out one day that Carlos and Jeff Beck were brothers, I wouldn't be surprised. After all Don & Phil, Nat & Natalie, Judy & Liza were blood, right? I have played this Carlos gem - from Boz Scaggs's Middle Man LP - for every guitar player I've ever known. Carlos - like his maybe brother Jeff - has total command of his instrument. The closest analogue I've ever come up with is to compare his skill on the instrument to the writing skill of Julian Barnes, Toni Morrison, Anne Tyler. His solos are of a piece with the novels of those three modern-day masters. 

I will excuse any reader who is not a guitarist from commenting here, although I'm reasonably sure I can predict at least two solos my non-guitarist wife will cite. But I will not forgive any guitarist who reads this and doesn't weigh in. Come on, guitar geeks - show me what you got. 


Sunday, May 22, 2022

If I'd Been Born on Third Base

If you had been born into immense inherited wealth - Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt type wealth - how do you imagine you would have lived your life?  

Years ago, I heard an heir to that kind of fortune described as "born on third base but thought he hit a triple." I've often wondered how someone with that kind of wealth avoids succumbing to a privileged mindset. How would you avoid it? Though I'd like to think I could, I could be deluding myself. If so, add this item to an already long list of ways my espoused ideals have not been tested.

I did feel it was important to raise my only child to recognize her privilege. In that small respect, I aligned my ideals with one modest action. If my name were Bezos, Gates, or Musk instead of Barton, would I have done the same? I hope so but I don't really know. If your children were heirs to that kind of wealth, what would you do to help them remain grounded?

     

  

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Nurturing Friendships

My wife has always worked harder than me at staying in regular touch with friends we've shared over our forty-four years together. At the same time, given my contributions to those friendships, I'm reasonably confident none of them has ever felt as though I take them for granted. I can always give more but these longstanding friends know they can rely on me. And I know the same about them. 

That gift has been on my mind a great deal as my daughter's wedding approaches. During a recent conversation with my future son-in-law about our friends who will be attending the wedding, I was overcome with gratitude for my good fortune. I want the best for my daughter's future married life; I want her to be as happy forty years from now in her marriage as I am in mine. As I continue to reflect on what our friends have brought to our married life, one good way to sustained happiness in my daughter's future married life seems clear: nurture those shared friendships. 

Does it matter who does more of the heavy lifting in nurturing those shared friendships? I don't think it does. If both partners in a marriage agree it is worth doing and also agree to avoid taking any friend for granted, those friendships will likely endure. I'm not certain about much. I am certain the friends who will be joining us to celebrate my daughter's wedding have all contributed to me being a better person than I would have been had they never come into my life.     

   

     

Sunday, May 15, 2022

I'm Waiting ...

Had I crowed before Time Traveler's Wife aired moments ago, I could have ended up with egg on my face if my daughter's role were then edited out of the episode. Anyone familiar with how fickle show business can be will appreciate why I waited until now to say something.

However, I now fully expect everyone who reads this post to immediately get HBO Max - or at least borrow someone else's password - to watch my daughter's performance about thirty-five minutes into this first episode of the season. Then, feel free to use breathless language when you write about her via a comment on this post. I'll wait ...



What took you so long? 

ALISON BARTON (hialisonbarton.com)


Friday, May 13, 2022

Bookonnection #2

Given how much I read and how many novels deal with the horror of war, it was just a matter of time until a bookonnection appeared. Mesmerized reading the penultimate scene in Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers (1974), I realized my reading journey over the last decade has exposed me - in some fashion - to every major conflict the U.S. was part of beginning at the start of the 20th century. Each of these worthwhile books increased my gratitude for the men and women in uniform, each has something to recommend, and every author - except for Stone - was new to me. Best part: Every one of these talented writers is worth a return trip. 

My literary journey began with the Korean War when I finished Lark and Termite (2009) by Jayne Anne Phillips. Although Phillips makes occasional demands on her readers, she is a gifted storyteller with a startling command of her craft. I travelled next to the Iraqi conflict with Kevin Powers in The Yellow Birds and soon after to Afghanistan via Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ben Fountain) both published in 2012. These two novels will remain with me because of their uncanny depictions of the inadequacy of words to convey the madness of combat. Both taught me that a person who has never experienced war - like me - can ever fully understand its lingering effects. 

My bookonnection deepened when Sebastian Faulks took me back to WWI in Birdsong (1993), one of four books featured in the first iteration of this series. Then, weeks before the nihilistic but masterful Dog Soldiers reminded me of the price we paid for our Vietnam misadventure, Shirley Hazzard transfixed me with her WWII tour-de-force The Great Fire. 

Where did your most recent bookonnection deliver you?

Reflections From The Bell Curve: Bookonnection

  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hyperbole-Itis

As a lifelong music lover, I fully appreciate the enthusiasm anyone brings to their passion for the most ancient of the arts. Indeed, that enthusiasm and the attendant thirst for knowledge are among the things motivating folks who take my music classes.  

That said, there is one DJ on the Sirius station called Little Steven's Underground Garage, whose hyperbolic descriptions of every single song have more than once had me reaching to change stations as he gushes. I appreciate his enthusiasm, honest. But I do question how every single song can be "brilliant" or "groundbreaking" or, a "masterpiece". If every artist featured is "critically important" or "seminal" or, most breathlessly, "a genius", where is the middle? Without more attention to the words used and offering some middle ground, masterpiece, genius, etc. can fast become meaningless words. 

This DJ has clear musical bona fides - a fact he mentions frequently - and appears to know his stuff, or at least he has a good research team who feed him solid, usually pertinent information. What he seems to lack is the willingness to uncover more meaningful and precise descriptive words. When nearly every song is "amazing", almost all the performing artists are "unforgettable", either the solo, lyric, production, or the cowbell (!) are "unbelievable", I don't fully "believe" his gushing, I can easily "forget" the song he is extolling to the heavens, and the thing that "amazes" me most is his hyperbole-itis. Can this DJ be cured? Because I believe I just made up the name of his condition, there probably is no cure, yet. Unless, he stumbles across this crabby rant - pretty sure he'll recognize himself in this post - and then decides to work on his over-heated language a bit. If that happens, I'll look forward to listening to him without grabbing the dial as often and I'll more enjoy our shared passion for music.         

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Bring On the Handcuffs

Although others have raved about it, I could only endure one episode of Dopesick, the mini-series depicting the sleazy role the Sackler family played in facilitating the oxycontin crisis. I've similarly resisted reading Empire of Pain (2021) by Patrick Radden Keefe, a non-fiction account of the same reprehensible tribe, even though several readers I respect have recommended it to me. 

My resistance thus far to both the mini-series and the book - as good as each may be - is directly linked to a stomach-churning disgust I experience each time I think about one of these reprobates luxuriating in one of their palaces or sunning themselves on one of their yachts. Do you ever wonder when one of these plutocrats of our new gilded age will pay a price even remotely commensurate to their crimes? Do any of these creatures ever feel any shame for their role in destroying so many lives?

Recently, both my daughter and my wife have tried to convince me that the mini-series and book perform a valuable public service by shining a light on the heinous acts of these vultures. Although they haven't yet dislodged my resistance, their persuasive argument has my attention. But what will really inspire me to watch the Sackler misdeeds re-enacted - or read about their strategy to enrich themselves as lives were ruined - is watching a few of them taken away in handcuffs, a la Bernie Madoff. Even better, how about a nice group picture of the whole bunch sharing a jail cell?  

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Clearing My Throat

I'm relieved to finally be emerging from the Covid cocoon. Until beginning to do so recently, I didn't fully appreciate how much I'd missed interacting with different groups of people face-to-face. What parts of your pre-Covid routine did you really miss during our long and enforced isolation?

My regular meetings with a group of aspiring writers abruptly halted in early March 2020. Because that group was loosely organized and had existed long before I joined them in 2015, when meetings were suspended that March, I had no idea if they continued to meet via ZOOM or otherwise virtually. I did know I missed learning from the people in the group. 

That gap in my life for two plus years left me so hungry that I lunged as soon as I learned a new group was being sponsored by a local library. I'm happy to report after just four meetings this group meets my needs better than the last. In no small part, this is due to the leader, an intelligent woman with an MFA in creative non-fiction. The readings she selects, the prompts she uses, and the kind feedback she gives to everyone all contribute to a solid learning experience. 

As our leader has said, reading work to others that you've created extemporaneously is an ideal way for a writer to "clear the throat." Until a few months ago, I didn't know how much I'd missed that.   

Monday, May 2, 2022

Daniel Woodrell

 Reflections From The Bell Curve: Authors To Savor

Although it may not be kind to say it, because I aspire to be as good a writer as I can be, some authors are worth reading and others are not.  

A quick search of my 2100 posts turned up five mentions of Daniel Woodrell's stunning novel The Maid's Version (2013) - including my first, at the top - and my most recent, from 2019, below. After just seven pages of Winter's Bone (2006), Woodrell ascended into a small group of authors I know will help me become a better writer. Except for the perpetual unruliness of my "to read" list, I can't fathom why it took me so long to return to Woodrell. 

"Ree tried to hold her Uncle's gaze but blinked uncontrollably. It was like staring at something fanged and coiled without a stick at hand."

With respect to books, I remain committed to a belief held since the inception of this blog: Until I complete and publish my own first full-length book, I have not earned the right to bash the work of any author who has accomplished what I have not, even if that author has little to offer me. In the meanwhile, I've got the future books and back catalogs of authors like Daniel Woodrell to help keep me growing as a writer. 

Reflections From The Bell Curve: The Power Of Stories