And an Upcoming Novel
Tina Turner, Out of the Mud Becomes a Lotus; Also Birthdays for Charles Schultz & Eugene Ionesco (Rhinoceros)
A famous San Francisco DJ used to end his broadcasts with the phrase, “Out of the mud comes the lotus.” The life of Tina Turner, who was born this day in 1939, seems to epitomize this saying. If you read her memoir, I, Tina, or watch the 1993 film loosely based on it, you see the extraordinary journey that began in the muck of ghetto life with all its attendant pathologies, proceeded through abuse and victim-hood, and blossomed finally into the irrepressible flower we now know and love.
Twenty years later, What’s Love Got to Do with It, is still a difficult film to watch. We know that what happened to Anna Mae Bullock (Tina's real name) continues to happen to other women. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence reports that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Eighty-five percent of domestic violence victims are women. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew. Women between the ages of 20 and 24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate-partner violence. And get this – most of these incidents are never reported to police.
If you look at the worst scenes from What’s Love Got to Do with It, you notice a correlation between sex and violence. Pushing cake into Anna Mae’s face. Dragging her into the bedroom after knocking her down and punching her in the face. These acts are extensions of sexual behavior rooted in the idea of male dominance. If you listen to frat boys or rappers—white or black—talking of sex, the discussions of what they want to do to women all verge on misogyny. They don’t want to love women. They want to hurt them. And they want to believe that women actually desire this. Women are ho’s or what have you, and they are built to desire an experience that…hurts so good so to speak. If you are brave enough to read the YouTube comments beneath any random clip of the movie, including those that describe what kind of punishment Ike should receive in hell, you see that even these anonymous comments are mired in the idea of sex as an act of violence. I don’t have to tell you that this is messed up.
What’s wonderful about the film is that it shows how Tina becomes free of all this. You have to go to the cake-eating scene when Ike slaps her friend, Jackie, to the floor (Clip 1). When Jackie leaves the restaurant shouting profanities, she makes it known that he only has to hit her once. She leaves their revue before it tours with the Rolling Stones, and she tells Tina to leave Ike too. But of course, she doesn’t. That’s the thing about this kind of victim-hood: it’s codependent.
Fast forward now to the scene where Jackie returns (Clip 2) and introduces Tina to the meditative chanting that provides a pathway to her physical and psychological liberation. If you want to know more about the chant, you can click here. I was unable to find a clip of Tina’s final triumph over Ike near the end of the movie, where you can see in Angela Bassett’s brilliant performance that she is no longer afraid of him. When that happens, it’s as if she’s depriving him of oxygen. There’s no payoff for the abuser if the victim is no longer afraid. His pornographically induced, co-dependently reinforced psychic erection shrivels away to the impotence his violence had been trying to conceal all along.
None of this is meant as judgment. It’s just a way of pointing out that the lotus does not exist apart from the mud from which it sprang. The third clip features Tina singing “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” from the Thunderdome movie, which seems a fitting coda to this aspect of her story. Victims of the world cannot be saved by an outside hero. Liberation can come only from within.
By the way, Tina Turner has won eight Grammy Awards. She received the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 2005. She is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone Magazine placed her at number 17 on its list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Anna Mae certainly got free.
Clip 1 - Eat the Cake
Clip 2 - The Chant Scene
Clip 3 - We Don't Need Another Hero
Born this day in 1922, this American cartoonist gave us decades of Peanuts, still delightful after all these years. Born in Minneapolis, MN, Schultz influenced many other cartoonists over the years. During its 50-year run, Peanuts ran in 2600 newspapers in 75 countries. Schultz produced some 18,000 Peanuts comic strips, which eventually brought him an income of $30 to $40 million a year. Here's a clip from one of the Thanksgiving cartoons spawned by his lovable characters.
Born in Romania on this day in 1909, this playwright is known for his French written Theater of the Absurd pieces, the best known of which is probably Rhinoceros. What follows is a clip from the 1974 film version with Gene Wilder
Pope John XXIII
Well look, there's even a movie about the man called The Good Pope. So what does that tell you? No wonder the two living popes (Benedict and Francis) have agreed to canonize him on April 27th of next year. He is already officially revered under the title Blessed. And even though only one miracle has been attributed to his intercession, he has been green-lighted for sainthood by the Vatican.
Born this day in 1881, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli became Pope John XXIII in 1958. By all accounts, he embodied sainthood during his lifetime. Known for his humility and wit, he convened the Second Vatican Council, which brought ideas of ecumenism and in an increased focus on relatedness to the once insular Roman Catholic Church.
In his quiet way, he revolutionized the church and was arguably its most important figure during the 20th century. A powerful man, he never took himself seriously. People loved him. With the exception of John Paul II, who will also be canonized next April, that is not something that can be said of too many pontiffs. We respect the others and maybe love the "idea" of pope, but to actually love the man, to be moved toward loving kindness because of their personal example - well, that's really something. When I think of John XXIII, I can't help but remember the protagonist of Graham Greene's novel, The Power and the Glory, who though very different from Pope John, comes to the conclusion Angelo Roncali must have reached in the days before papal responsibility was thrust upon him: "He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint.”
Interestingly, Pope John XXIII left the planet in 1963, a few months before JFK was also taken from us. It happens like this sometimes. A beloved secular figure moves on during the same year as a much-loved spiritual one. Consider 1997, for instance. We lost Princess Diana in August and Mother Theresa in September. I have no idea what that means. Maybe it means nothing. But I do find the parallelism intriguing, though I have no plans to research similar "coincidences" any time soon.
Nuance, transcendence, beauty. These are all words that come to mind when I think of Paul Desmond, but of course I try never to think of him while listening to him play. One of the foremost proponents of "cool jazz" back in the 1960's, his music still gets a lot of play on my iPod. Born in San Francisco on this day in 1924, Paul Desmond is best known for his collaborations with the great Dave Brubeck. And of course, his opening solo on the group's chart-topping hit, "Take Five," which he also composed, is legendary. Take five, why don't you, and give it a listen.
Screenwriter Robert Towne Born This Day in 1934
Jack Nicholson is still young and handsome. He has a head full of shiny dark hair that is just beginning to recede in front and turn thin in the back. You can see part of his scalp shining through, but he has a good haircut, and anyway it does not matter. He looks virile. That’s the thing. His eyes hint at wickedness, but there’s something else too. You can’t quite put your finger on it. That’s what makes it interesting.
Faye Dunaway has not yet entered the room, which means Jack has not yet had his nose slit open with the switch blade. When she does appear wearing a grey felt hat, brim down on the side, he will look at her like French fries on the hungriest morning of his life. She will blow him off and confuse him. I don’t get tough, she will say, my lawyer does. And even though he does not know what she is talking about, he will get involved anyway. Partly because he has to, but also because this is the Faye Dunaway before Mommie Dearest, and you do not care that she has already made it with Thomas Crown and Clyde Barrow. You do not care that she has played chess like a circle in a spiral and flown in a glider like a wheel within a wheel. You have seen her body shot full of holes, but you do not believe she is dead. Most of all, the coat-hanger brand that will cling to her like an albatross has not been put there yet, and when she walks into your office dressed in that grey felt hat, brim turned down on the side, all you can feel is what you are meant to feel—an ardor only God can satisfy.
With the exception of millennials, just about everyone knows by now that author Norman Cousins famously cured himself of a crippling illness and even treated his heart disease by taking massive doses of Vitamin C and watching Marx Brothers movies. One of the funniest of the lot was the non-speaking, harp-playing Adolph "Harpo" Marx, who was born this day in 1888. Here's a montage featuring the great clown and pantomime artist in scenes from Animal Crackers. You don't have to be sick to watch it. But you will surely feel better by the time you finish. And just in case you don't, there's an extra dose of Harpo right behind it in a hilarious scene from Love Happy.
TAGS: Famous Birthdays, Truth & Beauty
The famous Belgian surrealist was born this day in 1898. Here's a delightful birthday tribute put together by Mourad EL AMRAN
Before she was Kate Hudson's mother, she was the blonde with the looney laugh on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in. Born this day in 1945, here she is with Dean Martin on the advantages of being "dumb."
When it comes to "The Father of the Tenor Sax," born this day in 1904, no words are necessary. Just do yourself a favor for about six minutes, and listen to this man play "Body and Soul."
Born this day in 1940, he turns 73 today. But you can't put a label on him. Listen to the way he mixes blues, jazz, funk, and zydeco in this clip with Ringo, Levon Helm, Joe Walsh, Rick Danko, Clarence Clemens, and Nils Lofgrin
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Here's a delightful series of snippets from French TV featuring the wit and wisdom of the Nobel laureate, who was born this day in 1902.
Bobby Kennedy, Born This Day 1925, on JFK Assassination with Jack Paar; Also His Speech on Mindless Violence
He would have been 88 years old today. It is tempting and perhaps unavoidable to think of RFK in terms of the tragedy that ended his life. But I prefer to remember what he stood for, what he accomplished, and how he inspired so many during his brief 43 years on the planet. The mere title of his book, To Seek a Newer World was enough to become a rallying cry during his presidential campaign during the 1960's.
But it turns out the quote most often attributed to him wasn't really his. It was JFK who first paraphrased the line from a George Bernard Shaw play (Back to Methuselah). But when Teddy Kennedy used the quote to close his brother's eulogy in 1968, it became forever attached to Robert and can be found now on posters, email signatures, and even scribbled down the left arm of Taylor Swift.
In the end, it probably doesn't matter much who said it first. That it has been assigned to Robert Kennedy speaks volumes about his legacy. "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say, why not?"
Here's a clip from Jack Paar's Tonight Show interview with RFK four months after JFK's assassination. It is followed by a beautifully edited 6-minute presentation of his speech, "The Mindless Menace of Violence," from Mindwalker Studios. The speech was delivered, somewhat prophetically, only two months before a menacing act of violence brought an end to RFK's remarkable life.
Ken Burns' Context for Gettysburg Address -150 Yrs Ago; Celebs Recite & So Can You; Sharon Olds & Dick Cavett Born
What's great about the Ken Burns clip (below) from his PBS series, The Civil War, is that it establishes a historical and emotional context for understanding how President Lincoln must have felt when he delivered his now famous speech, known around the world for its eloquence and truth. Actor Sam Waterston gets it right, I think, when he recites the speech near the end of the clip. But its a speech that belongs now to each of us. If you don't already know about learntheaddress.org, today's 150th anniversary provides a perfect opportunity to hear celebrities like Rachel Maddow, Uma Thurman, Bill O'Reilly, President Obama, and dozens of unsung, everyday Americans recite this amazing speech. You can visit the site, watch the others, and record your own recitation by clicking here.
We think of San Francisco as such a free-spirited place, it's hard to believe one of its best known poets was raised as a "hellfire Calvinist" there. Perhaps that's why she is so loved. Because she escaped. Born this day in 1942, she shares a birthday with another important poet, Allen Tate, who was born in Kentucky in 1899 and, with John Crow Ransom, established The Fugitive literary magazine and helped lay the groundwork for the New Criticism, which relies on close reading of the literary work itself without regard for the author's background. The poems of Sharon Olds stand up very well to that kind of scrutiny, but they also draw heavily on the details of her own difficult childhood. I'm especially fond of "The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb," which ends with these words: "Everything that's been done to him, he will now do. Everything that's been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light." But her poems are also very funny. No wonder the audience in this clip can't keep from giggling as she reads, "Douche Bag Ode."
Once known for a certain "boyish" quality, Dick Cavett turns 77 today. Back when television was still in its twenties, his was the most refreshing talk show on the airwaves. It's easy to find DVD collections from the program, which feature his still-interesting interviews with John Lennon, Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, and just about anybody worth listening to then or now. Here's a clip from his interview with Alfred Hitchcock, who tells of being traumatized by his mother. That show's opening, which Cavett alludes to in his introduction, is a clever send-up of the opening to Hitchcock's own TV series. Author John Irving once said, "The best joke is not the one most people laugh at. The best joke is the one the best people laugh at." This was not an attempt to justify snobbery but an acknowledgement that some "jokes" require a little background if their cleverness is to be appreciated fully. In any case, it was this quality that set Cavett's show apart from all the others. And still does to this day.
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