Music: I'm playing on December 20, January 4 and January 25 with the terrific classic rock group, Second Time Around (like us on Facebook), and I'm joining Ken Slauf on December 13 and on New Years Eve. For details, go to my Facebook page. You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst, IL.
Fiction: don't forget to check out the young-adult publication, Sucker Literary Magazine, volume 2, where my short story, "The Missing Ingredient," can be found. Nine great stories featuring the most interesting people on the planet - teenagers. Sucker is available in paperback for $9.99 and in Kindle form for $3.99.
Song of the Week
Each week I feature one of my original compositions. Keep coming back, take a listen and enjoy. This week's song "I Can Breathe" from my 2009 album, Pause. Seems appropriate for the holiday season.
Last week my daughter made the following statement: “Happy-sad evokes a stronger emotional response than sad-sad,” referring to the many movies that make us tear up. Rather than take this statement at face value, we went through the list of the movies that make us cry: some by her, some by me, and some that we both agreed on. Here’s what we came up with:
Field of Dreams
Dances with Wolves
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Color Purple
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Sense and Sensibility
It’s a Wonderful Life
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Sixth Sense
We could have named another dozen or two, undoubtedly. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune cried at the movie Up, but I’ve seen in so many times now it evokes, I can’t remember if I cried the first time. I probably did. Other movies people seem to mention a lot are ones I haven’t seen: Marley and Me, My Girl, The Notebook, etc.
Looking at the above list, I can draw a few conclusions:
1) Actors Henry Thomas and Haley Joel Osment are fricking geniuses and Thomas should have been nominated for an Oscar. Kids are too often overlooked, though thankfully Osment did get a supporting actor nomination.
2) Music is the big emotional manipulator. Aimee Mann’s song “Wise Up” in Magnolia kills me – KILLS me – every time. And don’t get me started on Randy Newman’s waterworks-inducing scores to Avalon and Awakenings.
3) Steven Spielberg could be paid based on tears on do quite well.
4) Music isn’t an absolute necessity to induce tears. Sometimes silence is the best soundtrack for us to feel raw emotion. Watch this clip from The Sixth Sense:
5) Happy-Sad movies – those that produce a tear even when conveying a happy or bittersweet moment – produce far more tears for me than downright sad movies. And many movies have sad scenes that don’t evoke as much response from me as the happier moments minutes later. Case in point: in To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t cry when Tom Robinson is wrongly convicted of rape, but I do cry when Scout recognizes Boo Radley in her brother’s bedroom near the movie’s end. Another example: in It’s a Wonderful Life, the only moment that gets me every time is when Ernie reads the telegram from Sam Wainwright. There’s something about a guy who’s willing to stick by a friend even after losing his girlfriend to him that resonates with me. Again, this scene plays without music and works beautifully.
Below is the list my daughter and I comprised, this time with an HS for happy-sad and an S for sad. Happy-sad wins out by a mile for me.
Cinema Paradiso (HS)
Field of Dreams (HS)
Dances with Wolves (HS)
To Kill a Mockingbird (HS)
The Color Purple (HS)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (HS)
The Natural (HS)
Sense and Sensibility (HS)
It’s a Wonderful Life (HS)
Schindler’s List (S)
Forrest Gump (HS)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (HS)
Roman Holiday (HS)
Finding Neverland (HS)
The Sixth Sense (HS)
What is it about a bittersweet or happy moment that fills us with emotion that exceeds even that of the dourest occasion? Do we respond to happy moments with the same emotional level in real life, or are we merely being manipulated by the creators of a constructed art form? If our real lives were accompanied by a score, would we be crying constantly?
The invention of the phrase “spoiler alert” has got to be one Man’s greatest linguistic contributions over the last decade or so. Philip B. Corbet of The New York Times has rightly pointed out how overused the phrase has become, and how it’s often used incorrectly, but for my money, overuse is preferable to the alternative.
I think of the woman who came to my home in 2002, and who – after eating our food – thanked us by divulging the ending of the movie, The Others.
I will do for you what she didn’t do for me.
She opened up that pouty little mouth of hers and spewed out, “I couldn’t believe it when I learned her children were dead.”
She is very, very lucky that I didn’t resort to the following (or worse):
After her egregious case of vomit of the mouth, it didn’t matter to me if she was smart or pretty, if she’d overcome obstacles in her life or helped the needy. I couldn’t possibly care less if she gave twenty percent of her earnings to charity or if she was raising three perfect little angels. None of that shit mattered to me. What mattered is she opened her mouth and ruined the ending of a movie I was excited to see. Yeah, the film had already left theaters and moved into video stores, but to me, there is no statute of limitations when it comes to revealing secrets about a piece of art.
I still haven’t told my kids about the ending of Psycho. I’ll never divulge the meaning of Rosebud, whether or not Thorwald really murders his wife, and where the quarter of a million dollars is hidden in the movie Charade. That’s for them to discover. And I sure as heck won’t mention a word about The Sixth Sense. Sure, I could try to ease my kids’ anxiety and mention !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! that the ghosts are actually trying to help, that they’re good guys (never mind the movie’s Big Secret). I resorted to this tactic when my kids were younger watching E.T. for the first time. !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! “The bad guys are actually good guys,” I said, attempting to alleviate their trepidation, but I’ll never do this again. It kills the journey.
Some people just don’t get it, including – unfortunately – much of my family. Last summer my sister-in-law blurted out the secret behind the musical, Next to Normal, the same day my daughter was to see it. And just last month, my mother, in response to an email of mine indicating that I wanted to see the movie Enough Said, wrote the following email !!!SPOILER ALERT!!!:
I fell in love with the Soprano guy, what an appealing person. Was Julia's character vulnerable, screwed up, or just terribly unkind?
Yep. So now I know the ending of that movie, too. Thanks, Mom.
I think when it comes to discussing books, films and theater, we could look to my sister for guidance. Her advice for living in a world in which the excretion of opinions is as commonplace as breathing is this:
Shut your trap.
Watching two bands perform last night at Evantson’s SPACE – a splendid venue, by the way – I noticed how dependent live performance has become on prerecorded tracks. This is nothing new, of course, as even bands with reputations for being authentic – whatever that means – have enhanced their shows with the extra hands that sequencing and loops provide. The band Rush has been relying on prerecorded tracks for decades. Geddy Lee sings a lead vocal, and suddenly two more Geddys join him in the background. And watch closely when he plays the keyboards and you’ll notice that often he’ll press one note on the keyboard that triggers a more elaborate arrangement. Modern cover bands often employ the same tactics – backup vocals sound especially impressive when they’re dubbed over a layer of lush, prerecorded voices.
Neither band I saw last night – headliner A Silent Film and opener Hands – relied so heavily on prerecorded tracks that it diminished the talent or energy displayed on stage (both bands were excellent), but it doesn’t take much for live performance to become predictable, and this is exactly what playing to prerecorded tracks demands: predictability.
Back in the day, recordings were meant to capture live performing, but along the way that method was turned on its head; soon, live performing was meant to emulate the recording. Some bands – The Cars come to mind, but almost any top 40 band could be an example – performed their songs exactly as they sounded on the record. Others – The Who and Led Zeppelin, for example – managed to perform a high wire act that took listeners on a journey that could either flop or mesmerize but never bore, as they played songs that were contradictorily both recognizable and an exploration of new territory.
There’s room enough in the world for both strategies, but more and more it seems that bands are relying so heavily on pre-sequenced material that any hope to elevate a performance to transcendental levels is squashed from the outset.
And this is a problem. In an era when the recordings have become disposable and live performing has become the one think keeping both listeners and performers invested and interested, the need for spontaneous performances has never been greater.
Sure, Hands did a fine job last night, and there’s no question that the band has talent and live chops (particularly drummer Sean Hess), but the songs relied so heavily on Geoff Halliday’s sequenced synth tracks, that each song was undoubtedly performed exactly the way it had been performed the day before and the day before that. There’s simply no room for improvising. No possibility of a happy accident. If a particularly inspired groove or guitar solo happens to develop, there will be opportunity for it to flourish.
Hell, even The Who can’t be spontaneous with songs like Baba O’Riley or We Won’t Get Fooled Again, since they have to rely on the synth tracks Pete recorded over forty years ago. Luckily for The Who, back in the day these songs were the exception to an otherwise spontaneous performance.
A Silent Film, which relied much less on prerecorded tracks than their opening act, announced a few songs into the set last night that they were going to perform without a set list, insinuating that this was A Big Deal. Perhaps these days that’s what passes for spontaneity – playing songs exactly like the record, but in a different order.
But will it keep audiences coming back? Will it breathe life into a faltering industry?
Recent movies and commercials have highlighted our tendency to mishear lyrics, especially those by Bernie Taupin, who penned Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and “Bennie and the Jets”:
But sometimes the lyrics we think we hear are more revealing than the words actually sung.
My favorite mishearing of a lyric is Paul Simon’s “Song About the Moon” from his Hearts and Bones album. I was certain Simon sang the words, “You really can’t remember what you can’t replace” and thought it yet another example of Simon’s artistry. A more careful inspection revealed that the lyric is in fact, “Think about the photograph that you really can’t remember but you can’t erase,” a fine lyric, but to me far less compelling. So I did what any songwriter would do – I stole the line I originally attributed to Simon and used it as my own on the first song of my first album. In “A Fine Place to Start” I sing (and, ironically, in the line prior I reference the aforementioned “Rocket Man”):
“Rocket Man” is sent to me
By tantalizing frequencies
It sets my tempo at the right pace
It reminds me of a girl I used to know
I wonder why I let her go
But I really can’t remember what I can’t replace
Recently, I read a lyric on-line of Yes’s song, “Your Move,” and was convinced that it was incorrect because I own an old biography of Yes in which Jon Anderson quotes the line: “Cuz his time is time in time with your time and his move is captured.” It’s not a meaningful lyric, but it’s kind of cool, and even makes a little sense to me. His time is in time with your time. Has a nice ring to it.
Well, I was wrong. I rechecked the line in the book (my memory be damned), and it’s the same as on all the various lyric websites. “Cuz it’s time it’s time in time with your time and his news is captured…”
Not nearly as good, I think, and now I wish I’d never have looked the lyric up!
In the liner notes of Seal’s second album, he writes:
One of the most popular questions people seem to ask is “why don’t you print your lyrics on the album?” Well, the answer in that is that quite often, my songs mean one thing to me and another to the listener. But that’s OK because I think it’s the general vibe of what I’m saying that is important and not the exact literal translation. How many times have you fallen in love with a lyric that you thought went, “Show me a day with Holda Ogden and I’ll despair” only to find that it went “Show me a way to solve your problems and I’ll be there.” I guess what I’m saying is that the song is always larger in the listener’s mind because with it they attach imagery which is relative to their own personal experience. So it is your perception of what I’m saying rather than what I actually say that is the key.
Nicely done, Seal. I couldn’t agree more.
What we bring to the table is really what makes art work in the first place. I see a painting that means one thing to me, another thing to you, and something completely different for the artist.
My friend recently played Oscar Wilde in a play, and although he researched the author in preparation for his role, he told me he didn’t find it particularly helpful when it came to acting the part. “That had to come from me,” he said. An actor has to pull from his own experiences to imbue a role with emotion.
It reminds me of a story about the playwright Harold Pinter. It’s said that a director once asked Pinter about what the characters were up to before they enter the stage, thinking it might help him stage the scene. Pinter replied, “Mind your own fucking business.”
Which only goes to show that Pinter’s demeanor was as poor as some of his plays.
But it also hits upon the point that what each of us brings to the table is what feeds the art. It’s what makes Yo Yo Ma’s interpretation of a Bach concerto different than Emmanuel Feuermann’s. Or, if we want to stick to the Elton John theme, what makes his version of “Pinball Wizard” distinctive from The Who’s original. It’s what makes one staging of Macbeth unique from another production of the same play in the same town, but by a different theater group.
In this sense, we are all creators of art. We extend the life of and shape the meaning of a work of art by fusing it with our own life experiences.
Woe to the child sports fan who has the misfortune of living in the Eastern Time Zone. The 2013 World Series is only two games old, and I doubt there’s a kid on the East Coast under the age of 16 who’s watched beyond the 8th inning of either game. Both games began at 8:07PM EST and lasted in excess of 3 hours. These start times are slightly earlier than the 2008 series, when games didn’t start until 8:29 and 8:37, but the MLB and FOX ought to look at more dramatic changes if the health of baseball is to be considered over immediate financial gains.
In 2009, Bud Selig said, “Our goal is to schedule games to allow the largest number of people to watch.” With a country as vast as the U.S., this goal is unquestionably a tricky balancing act.
The approximate makeup of the United States by time zone is as follows:
Alaska and Hawaii........0.6 %
Assuming children are distributed in the same proportions as the overall population, this means that 80 percent of kids would have had to stay up after 10PM to finish games one and two of this year’s World Series, with nearly half having to stay up after 11PM. Couple this with the fact that this year’s representative cities are located in the Central and Eastern time zones, and it’s easy to see that the goal of scheduling “games to allow the largest number of people to watch” probably isn’t being achieved, especially among young fans.
All this is in light of recent evidence that baseball’s popularity is decreasing among our youth. Google the phrase “popularity of baseball kids decreasing” and see what comes up. It’s doubtful that a child who doesn’t care about baseball today is going to start investing time and money into the sport as an adult, so why not make it easier for kids to actually watch the games right now?
World Series games used to be held in the daytime, also not an ideal scenario for kids since many of these games were played during school hours. But in the 70s and early 80s, there seemed to be a nice balance: weekday games took place during the evening (albeit a little too late at times), and weekend games were often played during the day.
In 1982, when the Milwaukee Brewers made the series, I was fourteen years-old, and I watched every game in its entirety, even attending game five (without parents!). Start times were as follows (all times CST)
Game 1, Tuesday, 7:30
Game 2, Wednesday, 7:20
Game 3, Friday, 7:30
Game 4, Saturday, 12:20
Game 5, Sunday, 3:45
Game 6, Tuesday, 7:20
Game 7, Wednesday, 7:20
Push the weekday start times to 7PM CST for the East Coast fans, and I’d say that’s a pretty perfect schedule. As it was, both teams were from the Central Time Zone, so the start times were ideal for the most interested fans. Unfortunately, short-term greed changed things, and the last day game played in a World Series was game 6 of 1987.
In light of the recent downturn in popularity, Major League Baseball should consider the following:
1) Incorporate flexibility in the schedule so that start times can be adjusted based on who’s playing in the series. In 2008, two East Coast teams played each other, and games didn’t start until around 8:30 EST – absolutely ridiculous. Games could easily have started an hour to an hour and a half earlier while still attracting the primary audience. Last year’s series between San Francisco and Detroit was perhaps best served with the 8:00 EST.
2) If flexibility is impossible, schedule start times that favor the Central and Eastern time zones, since these zones not only comprise 80% of the country’s population, but 73% of Major League Baseball teams. It’s true that a West Coast series like in 1989 could make things challenging. But I argue that even a 7:30 EST start time wouldn’t be catastrophic for this scenario. Networks would still get to attract most of the country’s population, and a 4:30 local start time in the West isn’t as debilitating as it might have been years ago. Internet access could allow working people to follow the games for the first few innings before returning home, kids would already be out of school, and most working adults could tune in live by the third inning or so. TiVo and the like could be employed as well, and although fast-forwarding through commercials isn’t what Fox wants, it’s probably better than losing the East Coast entirely.
3) Start weekend games earlier. Why not take a cue from football and start the games at 6:30 EST like in recent Super Bowls? True, the World Series isn’t the event that the Super Bowl is, but starting games an hour and half later certainly isn’t going to help turn it into one.
Folks who disagree with me will likely talk demographics, and how advertising dollars need to target the right audience. I get this. But will there even be an audience in 15 years if today’s children haven’t the ability to watch the games?
Sometimes a short-term loss is a long-term gain.