And an Upcoming Novel
If you are interested in the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, which occurred on this day in 1948, you must look elsewhere. Go to that other place for blogging about the rise of Hitler (1/30/1933) or the ritual execution of Oliver Cromwell in 1661. There was other tragedy too, which occurred in Northern Ireland, on this day in 1972, when British Paratroopers opened fire and killed 1400 unarmed civil-rights marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland. Let it be noted that evil occurs in the world. That it cannot be ignored. But let it not be something upon which we dwell or nourish within our inner garden. Let it not be the thing we think too much on. Or grow with our mind's attention to it. Let it not be. Or rather, Let It Be.
Which brings us to the point of another noteworthy event that occurred on January 30, 1969. If you read the headline, you already know. There's something about that final Beatles concert that calls to mind unforgettable dialogue from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest. Found? In a handbag? At a train station? Well, it was a rooftop this time. And when you check the video below, you'll see the incredulity of Wilde's dialogue written on the faces of London police. The Beatles may seem mild by today's standards, but in 1969, they were some bad-ass musicians. After the police shut down the concert, John Lennon said, "I’d like to say ‘Thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition.”
Here then is a three minute clip from the final concert, followed by 35 minutes of audio, followed by two clips from Julie Taymor's paean to the Fab Four, the rooftop scene in Across the Universe.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anton Chekhov (1/29/1860) - His 5-Point Checklist for Creating Great Stories
Many decades before Kathy Bates tormented James Caan in the film version of Stephen King's Misery, Anton Chekhov wrote a far more touching story by the same title. Stephen King's Misery had to do with his addiction to drugs, with the Kathy Bates character demonstrating in fictional terms the writer's punishing relationship to his tormentor. In all likelihood, Chekhov's "Misery" will never make it to anyone's list of scary thrillers. And yet, there is something frightening and sad about the story of a lonely man ( a kind of cab driver) who has sustained a great loss no one wants to hear about. I once asked a professor why this was considered a great story. "Because it makes you cry," she said.
Chekhov's stories don't make a lot of noise - except of course when someone fires a gun. They reach down into the quiet, sad places of the human heart and show you what's lurking there. They look at longing, loss, anticipation and failed ambition. The real stuff of everyday life.
Although he would eventually abandon writing for the theater, Chekhov's collaboration with Stanislavsky yielded a five-point checklist every storyteller should know.
For every character in the story, you must show the following:
It's been quite a while since I've wondered why Chekhov's stories are great. If you read them, you find out why. If you are Raymond Carver, you read them, love them, imitate them. And when you die, newspapers around the world will refer to you as the American Chekhov.
I love Chekhov's "Lady with the Pet Dog." Also his plays, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Seagull.
I also love the fact that Chekhov represents a kind of ideal: the poet-scientist. He was a young medical student who started writing stories to support himself through school. Although he became world famous, he continued to practice medicine. He had a dual calling, and he answered both exceedingly well, treating wounded soldiers right up to his death in 1904. As another of my professors once said, "One would like to be like Chekhov."
Here's a Storify slide-show presentation that shows why. There are some good bits here, which include Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, and Laurence Olivier. If you don't know Chekhov's "Misery," Kenneth Branagh's reading (also here) is a fine way to get acquainted.
Can One Song Honor the Memory of the Challenger & Also Our Connection to Henry VIII, Jackson Pollock & Alan Alda?
January 28. This date has all the earmarks of a constellation within which individual stars compete with one another for our attention. It's the anniversary of the tragic Challenger space-shuttle explosion in 1986. King Henry VIII died on this day in 1547. Colette was born. So were painters Jackson Pollock and Alice Neel. Alan Alda, Sarah McLachlan, and Nicolas Sarkozy also have birthdays today. On January 28, 1813, Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice. One could wax eloquent on each of these -- if only there were time and space to do so.
Suffice it then to mark this day with a song that seems to encompass them all. It was on this day in 1985 that a bunch of musicians got together to record U.S.A. For Africa's "We Are the World."
There have been other versions through the years, each with its own take on a familiar theme. Regardless of how the song and its imitations may seem in hindsight, one has to admit that it bears the mark of poetic truth. Perhaps that is why it has struck a chord with more than 34 million viewers on YouTube alone, to say nothing of the millions more who have downloaded it on iTunes or purchased a jewel-cased CD. It carries a message that can never be stated only once, finally and forever. Maybe that message is what the world's religions, each in its own way, have all been striving for all along. That we recognize our connectedness to one another -- and love the world as ourselves. Since, as the poet tells us, no man is an island. We are each a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
Divine Comedy: What Katie Couric's Twerking Has to Do with the BMW i3 & Is Toyota's FCV the Best Thing Since Mozart?
One could argue that Dante’s Divine Comedy was born on this day. For it was on January 27, 1302, that he was exiled from Florence. As one of the city’s six priors, he had banished others and now got a bit of his own in return. Karma. What goes around comes around. That kind of thing.
Although he was to spend the rest of his life wandering from town to town living off the kindness of relatives, if not strangers, this end of his political career turned into the beginning of his masterpiece – the three-part epic poem that begins in Hell (Inferno) moves up a notch to Purgatory, and ends finally in Paradise. It took him 11 years to write, and he died before it became the enormous success that is now taught in every university in the world.
John Ciardi’s translation begins like this: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape to fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!”
That’s the kind of stuff you write when Karma comes round and knocks you on your tail feathers. Thus, loss serves as a function of redemption.
To mark the anniversary of this important turning point in Dante’s life, I had intended to post this wonderful video. But you know how it is on the internet. Before I could click, I was distracted by a frame showing my old friends Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel together again in the front seat of the new BMW i3. Déjà vu?
To be clear, I’ve never met Katie or Bryant, but they were a fixture in my house on many mornings as I brushed teeth, gulped coffee, and tried to get a sense of the daily coffee klatch from Today on NBC. They had good chemistry. I liked them. They felt like old friends.
So of course, I had to click like the 2.3 million others who had already done so. The BMW i3 retails for about $42 to $46K. The commercial targets older people, like Katie & Bryant, who have that kind of money to spend on an all-electric car. A millennial on a bicycle looks at the two as they try to figure out this new-fangled contraption. In its effort to relate to the intended audience, the spot reveals the West’s ongoing struggle with the aging process. Pushing into what Jane Fonda refers to as the last third of life, we want to make smart 21st century decisions. We want to remain relevant. We do not want to go gently into that dark night. Perhaps that is why the commercial asks us to consider whether Katie Couric can twerk. After all, wouldn’t everyone rather be more like Miley Cyrus than Dante Alighieri?
The Toyota FCV
Since I wasn't quite ready to run over to my nearest BMW dealer for a test drive, I decided to see what else might be going on in the search for a 21st century solution to the fossil fuel crisis. I'm already a fan of Tesla's three options - the Model S, 3 and X. But look what Toyota has come up with. Will the all-electric car become a fossil before its time? Is the world ready to be changed by hydrogen fuel cell? Toyota thinks we'll need three options going forward: hybrid, hydrogen, and all-electric. The two clips below provide a glimpse of a future that may be just around the corner.
Here's a look at how it works.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. MOZART
The technology that wins the race to supplant oil as the world's primary energy source is not likely to last as long as the 713 years since Dante penned the Divine Comedy. Nor even the 259 years since the birth of Mozart, who came to the planet on January 27, 1756, and left us some of the most enduring pieces in the history of music. Any car produced today, however twerky it may prove to be, will likely go the way of everything else that's temporal. Only the eternal survives beyond time. Like the millennial cyclist in Katie and Bryant's new-fangled commercial, future generations will look on our bumbling with amusement. And like the priest in the following scene from Amadeus, they will remember only those things that touch them in some lasting way.
Why Oprah's Anger Made TV Guide's Top 25 Moments & Two Good Reasons to Remember Angela Davis & Anita Baker
Why Derek Walcott - Born 1/23/1930 - Would Be Worth Knowing Even if He Never Won the Nobel Prize for Literature
On January 23, 1943, when Derek Walcott turned 13, Duke Ellington took his orchestra to Carnegie Hall where they performed his long symphonic suite, "Black, Brown and Beige." It's a poetically inspired work, which seeks to express the complicated history of African-Americans in the United States. The first movement, which Ellington called "Black," involves a "West Indian Influence."
That influence is not about the small island of St. Lucia where Walcott was born thirteen years to the day of Ellington's concert. But it might have been. Like Haiti (the West Indian influence in Ellington's piece), tiny St. Lucia had been "owned" (on and off) by France during the hey-day of European imperialism. The tensions and contradictions that come with having both European and African ancestry are as true for the people of St. Lucia as they are for Haiti.
Ellington brought some of this to the "Black, Brown and Beige" his orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall in 1943. But it would take that thirteen year old boy from St. Lucia to explore these themes more fully in poetry and plays that would eventually earn him a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.
Although the Nobel prize committee praised Walcott for creating poetic work of "great luminosity sustained by historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment," it was probably Omeros that clinched the prize for him that year. The book is basically a retelling of the Iliad in terms of characters who live in 20th-century St. Lucia.
Think of the George Clooney film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, from a few years back, and you will get the hang of this. That film was a modern retelling of the Odyssey, with wonderful parallels to Homer's epic poem. Clooney was Odysseus, John Goodman was an eventual cyclops, and Holly Hunter was Penelope (Penny), the wife Odysseus leaves behind when he goes off to fight the Trojan War. All of these Homeric elements are in the Clooney (Coen Brothers) film as in a dream. It's not a slavish restatement but cleverly references Homer as it spins its own tale set in the Deep South of chain gangs and the Ku Klux Klan.
Omeros does more or less the same thing in seven "books" of poetry within a single volume. Perhaps this is why the New Yorker magazine praised the work as the "perfect marriage of Walcott's classicism and his nativism." It's an astonishing achievement.
Here's the book's description from Apple iBooks: "A poem in five books of circular narrative design, with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events -- the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement -- and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile."
One more beautiful thing about this book: At first glance, the cover looks like a painting by that other Homer, Winslow, who often painted island scenes. But it's actually a watercolor by the author, Derek Walcott himself. So what we have in this masterpiece is Homer the poet and Winslow Homer, the painter, channeled through a luminous poetry that is not only a joy but an illumination.
Those who still care about poetry are no strangers to Walcott's work, especially his beautiful "Love after Love." I have included several readings of that poem in the Storify slide-show presentation below. Because sometimes you have to read (or hear) a poem two or three times before you "get it." Walcott's own readings and interviews are there too. So is Ellington's "Black, Brown and Beige" Symphonic Suite, which you'll find in separate movements in the last three slides.
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