I've got a few table scraps in the frostier corners of my consciousness, and now seems like a good time to pull them out and warm them up a bit, before they get stale.
The Things We Do Out Of Love: There was a stretch of time when I thought nothing would set my teeth on edge harder than the opening notes of the High School Musical soundtrack. Then Hairspray came along. I initially embraced it — God help me, I actually bought it, witlessly hoping it would usurp HSM as my daughters' CD of choice. Boy, were my hopes met with a vengeance. When it first played I rather liked the opening number (“Good Morning Baltimore!”), with its combination of Pez-dispenser cheer and Alfred E. Neuman hipsterisms. Now, however, it's become the signature promise of a very long and musically dreary car-ride. I'm sure that, beyond providing the inspiration, John Waters' involvement in the musical was little more than an amused nod of permission, but that's more than enough to incriminate the man. Let the punishment fit the crime, say I: he deserves a long weekend road trip through heartland America, listening to my daughters sing the entire soundtrack non-stop for the three-day duration.
I remind myself, of course, of how much certain records meant to me when I was my children's ages. You're A Good Man Charlie Brown was particularly treasured. Funny how someone else's words set to someone else's music could express exactly what I was thinking and feeling at a very particular moment. Suddenly, against all odds, I realized I wasn't entirely the odd kid out. I might not be like everyone else, but this music affirmed that in some very special sense I was most certainly not alone.
“I watched what only my heart could see walk deeper into the woods.” This seems an appropriate time to mention Sarah Moffett's memoir, Growing Up Moffett. I'm slow to gain wisdom (and really: what's the rush?) but one of the deeper truths to impress me as I've grown older is the realization of how fundamentally unprepared we are for the inevitable heartbreak in our lives. It's astonishing enough to discover adults who have the wherewithal to deal with their tragedies, but the ones who are able to assist children with theirs are a very special breed. Moffett's family staggered through a year of heartbreak that, in broad strokes, is a fairly common fate. But Moffett astutely draws from particular details which evoked for me that aforementioned “Hey, me too — exactly!” feeling. She delivers the story in the voice of a kid whose head is on straighter than she realizes, and whose parents are more capable of assisting each other and their children than they realize. This is a touching, life-affirming memoir. I've placed it on my daughters' “You Might Be Interested” book shelf, and I look forward to reading more from Moffett (whose blog is here).
Be Careful What You Wish For: my lovely (and very observant) wife gave me Donald Fagen's Nightfly Trilogy for Christmas. I was over the moon with joy, and promptly subjected my extended family to the musical contents of the entire package. As expected, it is indeed a scrumptious treat for a Fagenite like myself. HOWEVER ... if you aren't properly set up with a SurroundSound© system, you're getting precious little for your dollar. The CDs are unaltered (I actually compared the soundfiles using Audacity); the re-mixed tracks, the interviews and videos and lyrics and liner notes are all encoded on the MVI DVDs. Again, the lyrics and liner notes are no different from what came with the originals, but I do lament their physical absence. And while the MVI bonuses are snazzy in their particular modality, that's not a mode I'm especially keen on. To make the most of it, you link to the MVI website and use their platform to play with “your” content (getting MP3s, ring-tones and the like). As with all internet-based “product” I'm prone to thinking of MVI content as the equivalent of sky-writing: sure, it's quite the feat, and it's certainly there for you today. But who's to say a random breeze isn't going to come along tomorrow and dissipate it into so many useless ones and zeros? As for the re-mix, a good set of headphones will give the listener some sense of what's been done, but SurroundSound© is finally what's required, and if you don't have the set-up there's very little point to this purchase.
Cinema Experience Of The Year: Ratatouille ... but consider: I only went out to see two movies this year, and Shrek 3 was the other. Even with the complete lack of competition, I still thought Ratatouille was one of the year's most overrated movies. I'm too old to find the hero's quest especially moving (an artist rises above his squalid origins and triumphs), the movie's animated moments of surreal "wow!" were few and far between — particularly for a Pixar film — and the most emotionally compelling figure turned out to be a bloodless critic who rediscovers his soul. His change of heart was, in fact, a very powerful moment. But then we got the sermon telling us it's easier to criticize than it is to create, and I was jolted back to reacting critically and wishing I was watching a different movie — No Country For Old Men, perhaps.
Speaking of which: great book! Sure, it's got all the stylistic tics that make the beleaguered, common-sensical B.R. Meyers apoplectic, but the book is short enough for me to consume them without suffering literary indigestion. Furthermore, McCarthy's moral searching is, for once, surprisingly direct and poignant. It's probably too late for me to say this, but if you want my advice, skip The Road and head straight for No Country.
For Those About To Write, We Salute You! So who's the real hero: Meyers or McCarthy? God love 'em both, but in my books the real hero is that Grumpy Old Bookman Michael Allen and Kingsfield Press for making his The Truth About Writing a free PDF download. It really is “an essential handbook for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters” — containing some of the most practical and (in its clear-eyed way) encouraging advice for writers that I've ever encountered. If, like me, you've hesitated to curl up with a good PDF, this is your chance to surmount your prejudices and enrich your life (or you could just buy the book).
If I don't log in before then, Happy New Year!