Not so long ago, I went with my buddy Debra to watch the recent film of Carole King performing her groundbreaking Tapestry album at Hyde Park in London in 2016.
Tapestry (1971) was on repeat play on the turntable in my sisters’ room when we were growing up. I have strong and fond memories of the music.
Debra, inviting me to go, remarked that I seemed like the type who would love Carole King. She was right.
The Hyde Park concert was amazing enough to watch as a film. It must have been magical to be there. First of all, Hyde Park in London. I’ve never been but it looks lovely in photos.
A huge and congenial crowd is in attendance, singing along with Carole and clearly connecting to her music, whether as a remembrance of a time past or as younger, newer listeners struck by the emotion and angst of the songs.
Tapestry itself is such a classic, every song a gem (except maybe Smackwater Jack, but I loved it when I was 10 and I still like to sing along with it). This is the list of songs on Tapestry:
I Feel the Earth Move
So Far Away
It’s Too Late
Way Over Yonder
You’ve Got a Friend
Where You Lead
Will You Love Me Tomorrow
You’ve heard them all. I’ve sung them all. It’s a legendary work of art. But what I’ve noticed a month after seeing the film is that the one song that won’t leave me is So Far Away.
There’s so much about this song that keeps it on my mind. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and prone to nostalgia. The lyrics themselves provoke a sense of loneliness, time slipping away, a need for connection and love and friendship.
I’ve been thinking of the notion of far away. It can be distance, it can be time, it can be a mental state. My sisters and my brothers are distance away–3,000 miles give or take. That’s far. Too far. My mother is time away; when I say time I mean earlier days and memories, not a discrete amount of time that can be traversed. She died in August, 2009. But I dream of her frequently and miss her every day. And then someone can be sitting right next to you and be far away, lost in thought, in another world, with you but not with you. I am sometimes that person who is far away, dreamy and distant.
I wake up with So Far Away playing in my head. I will be listening to my audiobook of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and up will pop So Far Away. That is fitting in its way. If you know Anna’s story, she was ostracized by friends and family and the larger society, not allowed to see her beloved son. She was right there, but made to seem far away, even to herself. Spoiler alert–Anna’s story doesn’t end well. We need family, friends, connection.
“One more song about moving along the highway can’t say much of anything that’s new.” So true. And it’s predominantly men who sing those moving on down the highway songs. The Allman Brothers and Ramblin’ Man as well as Midnight Rider. The Grateful Dead and Truckin’. Ricky Nelson and Travelin’ Man. (And what’s with the dropped letter g, by the way?) Steve Miller took it to the skies with Jet Airliner. Steppenwolf and Born to be Wild. Pretty much anything from Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska (which I love).
Was it a coincidence that about 95% of the audience in the movie theater the night we went was female, of a certain age, and we all sang along? But it was So Far Away that had me wiping a tear from my eye. I can think of one other song that has this effect on me–James Taylor’s Shower the People (1976).
Letting the people that you love know that you love them–it seems so simple yet it can be so difficult. It’s the subject of many a novel, play, movie. We carry such inner turmoil around showing love. Yet we crave love ourselves. James Taylor is a guy that gets it.
Again, not a coincidence that James Taylor and Carole King have a history going back more than 40 years, including him performing backing vocals on Tapestry. In addition to his own songs, he’s performed (and made famous) many of King’s songs, such as You’ve Got a Friend.
James has his own Highway Song; it seems to be a male rite of passage. Women want to seek out and befriend, men want to get moving along/away.
When I was younger, my ex-husband’s response to strife was to suggest we move. During our 20+ years of marriage, we lived in too many apartments and houses to count in several different towns, including Ashland, Oregon; Ankara, Turkey; Chico, Vacaville, Winters, Sacramento, Davis, Fairfield, and Napa in California. I think what he really wanted was to move on without me. Now, with Bob, we’ve lived in this same house for the 13 years we’ve been together. It’s a nice feeling to be at home! Yes, he travels, but I always know he’ll be back, and be happy to be back. He’s never so far away that I can’t reach him.
Come visit us sometime; it would be so fine to see your face at our door. As long as you aren’t allergic to dogs and cats. They help make this place home, too.
During the infamous summer of 1972, our cross-country traveling family ended up in Las Vegas for a few days. This was in 1972; Las Vegas was NOT a family destination. It was a seedy place. Celebrity chefs hadn’t flocked there yet. I haven’t been back to Vegas (although I spent a lot of time in the Carson Valley), but I imagine it’s quite the scene these days. Not my scene, then or now.
I did not like Las Vegas much. Except for Circus Circus, which was new and fun back in 1972. The 3 of us kids were left unsupervised to wander around Circus Circus, which didn’t do us any harm, although maybe wasn’t one of my mother’s better parenting decisions. This excerpt from the memoir contains several questionable parenting decisions.
This episode revolves around a stay at Caesar’s Palace. The 1972 version, not the modern one.
If you aren’t familiar with Totie Fields (1930-1978), she was a stand-up comic (then called a comedienne), the rare female in the male-dominated field of the 1960s and 1970s. Tame by today’s standards, she was pretty raucous for her time.
And then there’s John Davidson. Born in 1941, he’s been an actor, singer, and game show host. My sister Ellen thought he was dreamy.
The two of them performed a show in August, 1972, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. We were there. Apologies to my siblings for any unintentional fictionalizing of the truth, but this is actually how I remember the story. Was 16 (almost 17) year old Ellen really served champagne? The laws were probably looser back then, but there were also a lot of big tips (bribes) to staff that made this entire event even happen. I’m sure I didn’t know the term maitre d’hotel at age 10 (almost 11), but I did hear the term that sounded like “maytra dee” a lot and I knew who that was. Maybe Totie was the opener for John; usually the comic is first up before the singer. Whatever. Here we go; what happened in Vegas isn’t staying there!
[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]
For a change, we make an early start. Not that there is anything to do at the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.
“What year do they think it is in Utah, anyway?” grumbles Van. “It’s 1972, not Prohibition. They could serve a man a drink in the restaurant, damn it.”
It’s a long, silent drive into Las Vegas. I thought it was hot in Texas, but this is crazy.
“I’m afraid the old girl is going to overheat, and we’re almost out of gas. Gonna try coasting and see if that gets us closer.”
Van hates to buy gas, so we are always on the verge of running out. Mom keeps suggesting he fill up the tank when we stop, but he hates not just the buying of the gas but the paying for it, so he won’t buy a full tank. I might only be a ten-year old Little Shit, as I am constantly reminded, but I can see this makes absolutely no sense at all, but then, neither does referring to the station wagon as The Old Girl.
He navigates down the “strip” as he calls the main road into Las Vegas. It seems to be all 24-hour coffee shops and gaudily lit hotel casinos. On opposite sides of the street, competing signs for the Flamingo and Caesar’s are lit up even though the bright sunlight seems to defeat the purpose. The marque for Caesar’s advertises its big show: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Ellen perks up in the back seat. She has a crush on singer John Davidson. I know who Totie Fields is from watching Johnny Carson late at night with Mom when neither of us can sleep.
Van decides on Caesar’s. It must be a gesture to Ellen; she can say she stayed at the same hotel where John Davidson is performing. He follows the drive to the front and he and Mom go in to get us rooms.
“Maybe you’ll see John Davidson in the hallway and he’ll talk to you,” Steve teases Ellen. We wait in the car in the unbearable heat, all the windows open and fanning ourselves with magazines and comic books.
Mom and Van finally emerge and get back in the car.
“He said to drive around back,” Mom explains as Van puts the car in drive. We head around back to a stark, black asphalt parking lot the size of a football field and a rectangular white cinderblock building separate from the hotel. We have rooms in the addition. It looks like the prisons on television shows. There are even bars on the windows of the ground floor rooms.
Van hands us the key to the room the 3 of us share. It’s next to the room where the Coke machine and overworked ice machine generate constant noise and even more heat. He and Mom are on the second floor. At least they aren’t next door to us. Small favors.
The room is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Even the Bumbleberry Inn was nicer than this. Awful red bedspreads on the two beds, nothing to disguise the white cinderblock walls. The television is chained to the dresser. At least there is a television. And air conditioning, though it struggles to provide any cooling effect in the bright white room.
After showering and changing into our “nice clothes” (my green print dress that Mom made and is way too hot, the dreaded white socks, and patent leather Mary Janes), we head to the hotel. The asphalt is hot and sticky in the shimmering heat. What are we going to do in a casino? As soon as we enter, a scary looking man in a red suit comes over.
“These two can’t go onto the floor.” He nods his head toward me and Steve. “How old is the young lady?”
Ellen seems pleased to be asked. But when she says she’s 16, he shakes his head. “No, she can’t go on the floor either.”
The floor is a loud, crowded, place I don’t want to go anyway. Tired looking cocktail waitresses circle with trays of free drinks, slot machines make a constant high-pitched jangling noise, and it’s hard to tell if it’s day or night. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovers over the huge space.
“They can stay at the edge, and they can go in the buffet or the gift shop.”
Van pulls out his wallet and begrudgingly hands Ellen some money.
“Y’all go on the buffet. We’ll come find you there in an hour.”
Ellen sighs, but the word “buffet” has Steve’s attention. All-you-can eat buffets with no parental supervision are this summer’s most exciting discovery for him. The Grand Canyon and the Alamo had been cool, but to his 14-year old appetite, unlimited access to food trumps everything. I just want to go somewhere cool and quiet, but I am not sure that exists here.
It’s been a lot longer than an hour, but that’s to be expected. Steve is still exploring the Mexican section of the vast buffet. Ellen picks at the salad she’s pieced together. We call it big weird salad. You put whatever sounds good on the plate with some lettuce and put salad dressing on top. I have opted for the dessert section. I fix myself a cup of milky coffee. Mom lets me have it sometimes, and since no one’s paying attention to what I am doing, I go for it. I wish I’d brought a book. But there are lots of interesting people to watch.
Finally, close to 10 p.m., Mom and Van weave their way over to where we sit.
“Come on, kids, we’ve got a surprise.”
Uh oh. Van and surprises are usually a bad combination.
We follow them through a maze of loud crowded rooms and up the stairs to a lobby leading to huge, elaborately carved doors. The big, lighted sign on the door reads “Caesar’s is proud to present: John Davidson and Totie Fields. Two shows nightly.” The lobby is crowded as is every other space in the hotel. We follow Van like ducklings to the maitre d’hotel stand by the door. Van says something in the man’s ear and I see them shake hands, a tiny edge of a green bill showing in Van’s hand.
“Come on,” he says, looking at us, and we follow him and the maitre d’hotel without comment, unusual in itself, into the show room, and sit at a big round table next to a railing overlooking the stage.
“Enjoy the show, ladies and gentlemen.” The maitre d’hotel walks away with his head high. How much money did Van give him? He must have won at whatever gambling game he’s been playing. Ellen, dumbstruck, looks like she’s forgotten how to breathe. Steve looks at the sign on the table: “Four drink minimum.”
The waiter comes over for our order, and points to the sign. Van orders “7 and 7” and Mom has the same. It’s a disgusting combination of brown liquor and sweet 7-Up. I much prefer Sprite, plain, icy right out of the bottle. Sometimes, depending on where we are, the bartender puts a maraschino cherry in the glass, and Van will immediately toss his on his napkin in disgust. If he’s not paying attention, Mom lets me suck on the cherries, the odd, smoky, bitter taste of the whiskey and the sweet sticky cherry somehow pleasant in my mouth. It reminds me of the rum balls we had once from the bakery on Cheshire Bridge Road where Mom used to go for salt-rising bread and cheese straws.
Van slips more money to the waiter, who nods his head. He comes back with 4 of each adult drink, 4 Cokes each for me and my brother, and 4 glasses of champagne for my underage sister. The 4 Cokes sit in front of me, ice melting and glasses sweating. Should I drink them one at a time, or take sips down the row of glasses, keeping the levels all the same until they are gone?
Thankfully the air conditioning in here actually has some effect on the desert heat, and keeps the cigarette smoke from suffocating us. The lights dim and everyone stops talking. Ellen squirms in her seat, and switches with Steve so she is next to the rail and a few inches closer to the stage. John Davidson is on first, the opener for the more famous Totie Fields. I pay more attention to the levels in my Coke glasses than to what he’s singing. Ellen sways in her seat to the music and sips champagne. She looks so grown up, it scares me a little.
During the intermission, Van disappears. Mom chatters with Ellen about how good the first half of the show was. Ellen is starting to giggle, and her cheeks are rosy and glowing. Van reappears, a mysterious smile on his face. He looks pleased with himself. More surprises?
The lights dim again, and Totie Fields comes out to great applause. She is a small, round woman with large, elaborate hair. She alternates between songs and jokes, none of which I understand, but I can tell that Ellen and Steve are embarrassed. At one point she grabs one of her breasts and says, “What is this, chopped liver?” Everyone laughs. We are the only children in the room, and now I realize why.
It’s finally over.
“Can we leave now?” I whisper to Ellen, but she doesn’t hear me.
Van is still in his seat, with that self-satisfied look on his face. The maitre d’hotel finds us. He hands cocktail napkins to Ellen and Steve. Ellen squeals and wobbles on her high heels. “To Ellen, thanks for coming to the show. Love, John Davidson” is in black ink on the slightly crumpled napkin.
Steve’s face turns bright red and he tries to shove the napkin he’s been handed into his pocket.
“What is it?” I grab at his hand and try to pull it away so I can see. “Steve, I hear you are a big fan. Love you, Totie Fields.”
Van cracks up; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him laugh so genuinely and joyfully before. I think my brother is going to cry. Van has temporarily won over Ellen but humiliated Steve. I am not sure which makes him happier.
It’s hard to believe this was 45 years ago this summer. Mom and Van are both gone, as is Totie Fields. John Davidson is a senior citizen, but at 76 still active in stage musical productions.
I get mail from AARP now. But in my mind I’m still that girl called Little Shit.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?
There are variations on the words, but for anyone who was ever called names as a child, an adult might have recited this to you to remember the next time (and there was always a next time). It really didn’t help. Words do hurt.
I will never forget proudly riding my new bike to school in 4th grade and someone calling out, “Hey, fatty on the red bike!” All these years later, I still hurt for my 9-year old self.
Labels. I started thinking about them at work recently. One of our volunteers had the Dymo LabelMaker out, and was on a roll reorganizing the file cabinet of materials we hand out to animal adopters at the shelter.
I’ve always loved label makers. Getting things organized and in their place with the nicely typed label–such a satisfying thing to do. Between my educational background in library science and my years working cataloguing art in museums, I naturally tend to categorize and label things. Things, not people. Labels are great when we need to know what’s in our food, for example. Although the little labels put on every piece of produce in the grocery store drive me crazy. Someone has to put them on, and then they are hard to get off. Another reason to go to the farmers’ market. They don’t have to label the food to identify it.
What I did learn about the labels on our produce is they actually are a code that means more than just an identification for the checker for pricing. This IS important.
But it was a slow day and my mind drifted to what labels I would put on my coworkers and our volunteers. The Bossy One. The Talker. The Mother. The Scary One. The Big Sister.
And as I was doing this, I realized how unfair it is to reduce people to a single characteristic, and how hurtful it can be. Growing up, I always thought of me and my siblings with the labels The Pretty One (Cathy), The Funny One (Ellen), The Boy (Steve, obviously), and The Baby (me). My alternate label would have been The Shy One.
But I wanted to be pretty, and funny, too! I never wanted to be The Boy, but my brother was also The Athlete, and I, to my embarassment and humiliation, had (have) no athletic abilities whatsoever. We are all so much more complicated than simple labels imply. I worried about following in the footsteps of these siblings when it was my turn at Druid Hills High School, and how disappointed the teachers would be when the youngest Cottraux turned out to be a quiet, clumsy nerd.
Things happen in life that we don’t predict, and I never went to Druid Hills High School. I arrived in California at age 11 with no labels, but that didn’t last long.
Stereotypes abound in popular culture. In books and movies, there’s the Sassy Best Friend and the Goofy Sidekick and the Grumpy Old Man and many others. A popular movie in the 1980s, still beloved today, was The Breakfast Club (1985).
The 5 high school characters are clear stereotypes. I most heavily identified with the Ally Sheedy character, Allison, who in plot synopses is called The Basket Case. I disagree. She’s an introvert and an outcast, misunderstood, with things to say if anyone cared to ask.
One thing I disliked about the movie is that the key to opening up for Allison is getting a makeover by Princess and Popular Girl Claire, played by Molly Ringwald. Suddenly she’s happy and being noticed by the boys. Life doesn’t work that way.
One of my favorite television shows, and it unfortunately wasn’t on for long, was Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), set in 1980. I graduated from high school in 1979, so the world depicted in the show is a little closer to my high school experience. A great show with a great cast, critically acclaimed, yet it failed to find an audience for reasons I don’t understand. I developed several celebrity crushes seeing the early careers of actors like Jason Segel and James Franco. I loved this show. Please watch if you find it.
The high school counselor, played by Dave Allen, reminds me so much of my senior English teacher. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was different. He took the desks out of the room and put in old couches. The first day of school he talked about how the movie Midnight Express (1978) was the scariest movie he’d ever seen (drug smuggling reference, if you’re unfamiliar with the movie). I was a little afraid of him, but he was a great teacher.
Labels and stereotypes, again. In 1977, Randy Newman released the song Short People, about the ridiculous nature of steretypes and prejudice. And as a short person, I found it highly amusing.
Ridiculous yet hurtful. So why do we persist in labeling each other? Within the family it starts, then continues when we go to school. Teachers label us. We decide we are good or bad at something based on stereotypes and labels. I was in school in the days when girls weren’t encouraged in math or science. According to Peter DeWitt in Education Week, teachers use a term Growth Mindsets; he discusses the labeling teachers use with students and how it leads them to treat students in fixed ways.
Adam Alter, writing for Psychology Today, describes a study done by Darley and Gross (1983) that is still relevant today:
College students watched a video of Hannah playing in her neighborhood, and read a brief fact sheet that described her background. Some of the students watched Hannah playing in a low-income housing estate, and her parents were described as high school graduates with blue collar jobs; the remaining students watched Hannah behaving similarly, but this time she was filmed playing in a tree-lined middle-class neighborhood, and her parents were described as college-educated professionals. The students were asked to assess Hannah’s academic ability after watching her respond to a series of achievement-test questions. In the video, Hannah responded inconsistently sometimes answering difficult questions correctly and sometimes answering simpler questions incorrectly. Hannah’s academic ability remained difficult to discern, but that didn’t stop the students from using her socioeconomic status as a proxy for academic ability. When Hannah was labeled “middle-class,” the students believed she performed close to a fifth-grade level, but when she was labeled “poor,” they believed she performed below a fourth-grade level.
Scott Barry Kaufman, also writing for Psychology Today, describes how we become trapped by labels. Labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and follow us long after the label has been lifted. I will always be that 9-year old girl humiliated by the mean taunts as I rode my beautiful red bike. And labeling doesn’t allow for variations and gradations:
When we split people up into such dichotomous categories, the large variation within each category is minimized whereas differences between these categories are exaggerated. Truth is, every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences. While this isn’t true of objects, such as rocks, books, and television sets, it’s true of humans. Which is why we must be very, very careful when we allow labels to get in the way of our perceptions of reality. As the actor Anthony Rapp so aptly put it, “labels are for cans, not people.”
Have you ever seen the Diversity Day episode on the comedy The Office? Funny, yet a little too true in how stereotypes work.
I particularly like this quote from Ellen DeGeneres:
And here is one from Joan Baez:
I still get labeled. The Good Sport. Annoying Vegan. Book Nerd. Crazy Cat Lady.
We were out walking the dog this afternoon and I saw this on a telephone pole:
I laughed, and wondered why someone felt the need to write the name Kevin on the pole. “I shall call this telephone pole, hmmm, lemme think, Kevin!” It’s probably not even the pole’s name. Who knows.
I tried Googling songs about labeling, and came across this by The Ting Tings. Not my musical style, but it seemed appropos.
My name is Genevieve, and someday I am going to get back on that bike again. I don’t care what anyone says.
If you have ever met me or read my blog, you know that I am not a tall person. And I’m okay with that. Thomas Wolfe, on the other hand, was not a small person. I assume he was okay with that. Tall people come across with a sense of authority and power to us shorties. I am 5′ 0″. Wolfe was 6′ 6″.
I’ve always kind of known about Thomas Wolfe, mostly from the book title You Can’t Go Home Again (published posthumously in 1940) and the romanticized view of Southern writers that an avid reader who spent her childhood in Georgia can’t escape.
After watching the film Genius, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer A. Scott Berg book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978) and writing about it, I have continued reading and researching into the life of Thomas Wolfe.
I loved the film, but after my recent sojourn to Indianapolis for the 39th Annual Meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society, I have even more questions. (And I’m buying yet more books. Running out of places to put them all!).
What was interesting to me is that so many dedicated Wolfe scholars and readers had some negative reactions to the film, which we watched together at the Indianapolis Public Library as a part of the weekend. Author Berg, on the other hand, who spoke to us to a standing ovation at our closing banquet, was pleased with the film. And I still love it.
One of the complaints from the group about the film was the casting of Jude Law as Wolfe. Law, in my opinion, did a wonderful job, but he’s not anywhere close to 6′ 6″ and 250 plus pounds. But what actor would be close to that without being some former wrestler or football player of dubious acting ability? Law is better looking than Wolfe, but it’s a movie. I can look past that!
The book had been considered for films for many years, according to Berg. At one time, Paul Newman was slated to play Max Perkins. And at another, Tim Robbins wanted to play Wolfe. That I can see, in his younger days.
One thing to keep in mind is that the film is based on a book about Max Perkins, the editor who wrangled with Wolfe and served as a father figure to him in many ways. In the book, next on my to-read list, Perkin’s relationships with 2 of his other writers, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are also featured. It’s not a biography of Wolfe.
In speaking about the casting of Jude Law, Berg said that in the interviews he did for the Perkins book, it was mentioned that when Wolfe first appeared in Perkins’s doorway at Scribner’s, Perkins saw, in his mind, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Berg sees Shelley in Law’s countenance. Of course, we don’t have photos of Shelley to get an accurate idea, but there are portraits.
My imagination was totally captured by the images in the film of Wolfe writing as fast he could, using the top of his refrigerator as a desk, sheets of paper flying through the air as he filled them with words. I imagine the inside of his head as a swirling word soup. Mine often is like that, but my word soup tends to stay soupy and muddled, whereas Wolfe was able to put the words into such beautiful creations. If we were working in a restaurant, I would be the dishwasher and Wolfe would be the executive chef, the genius who I admire and emulate. Or maybe Wolfe would be the Chef de Cuisine, doing the work of making the delicious soup, and Perkins would be the executive chef, at the pass making sure the plates are perfect before they go out.
This leads to the burning question, can a refrigerator be used as a desk? Remember that Wolfe was 6′ 6″ tall. A typical 1920s-1930s refrigerator was probably just over 5″.
You can buy such a vintage refrigerator today if you think it will help you become a writer.
Being who I am, I had to test this out. My home refrigerator is 5′ 10″ tall. For me to use it as a desk, I have to stand on the kitchen counter next to it.
One of my favorite papers presented at the meeting was by Paula Gallant Eckard of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She is the author of the recently published Thomas Wolfe and Lost Children in Southern Literature (2016).
There is a common thread of a sense of “lostness” in much Southern literature, especially in regard to children. Eckard discussed, among other contemporary writers, Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster, 1987) and Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, 2011).
Other highlights: the charming performance by the Indiana University Kokomo Players of “Wolfe’s Wanderlust: Scenes and Music from His Life and Fiction”
and the amazing table centerpieces created for the banquet, each based on a theme in Wolfe’s life.
Everyone I met was warm and welcoming. I arrived a bit anxious about going into a meeting of scholars with relatively little knowledge. I needn’t have been. They are all eager to share Wolfe with the world and bring him back into the canon of American literature alongside his contemporaries Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He died so young; who knows what legacy he might have left behind.
Speaking of young, the first person I encountered going to register for the conference was my new friend Savannah Wade, from Asheville, North Carolina. Pay attention to that name, she has a bright future ahead of her. I was so impressed with her varied interests and thirst for knowledge. When I was 23 years old, I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to get on a Greyhound bus alone and head to an unknown city to meet with anyone! I felt so grown up doing this at age 55. Savannah, now, I can picture writing a work of genius using a refrigerator as a desk. And I can see that she has ways with word soup that I can only dream of.
And now I must go and dust off the top of my refrigerator. It’s the first time I’ve seen the top of it in a while!
I used to be a very moody person. Tempered by age, a lot of hard work, the love and patience of my nearest and dearest, a major career change, and the pharmaceutical industry (hey, don’t knock it; Prozac changed my life), I am a fairly happy, easy to get along with person.
We all have bad days, but I handle roadblocks much better than I used to, and little things don’t trip me up as much. I still have bouts of anxiety. I’ll always hate parties.
My ideal party is me, cats, a hot beverage, and books, or a good cooking competition on television. And Bob. Bob can attend. And Einstein, the dog. He can come too.
But I still love sad songs and melancholy singer-songwriters. Why? There’s something about singing along with a sad song and getting a little teary eyed; there’s no feeling like it that I can describe.
I was reminded of this at a party (by which I mean, eating dinner in front of television with Bob and the animals). We were watching season 3 episode 4 of the HBO series The Leftovers.
This season (the final) has been mind blowing. The writing, acting, the crazy plot turns, the unpredictability, and the use of music all leave me feeling stunned at the end of each episode. The series is based on the book of the same name by Tom Perrotta, published in 2011, chronicling life for the surviors, or leftovers, after a rapture-like event takes some (referred to as The Departed) and leaves others behind.
The opening music is different each episode, and sets the tone for the show to come. Episode 4, entitled “G’day Melbourne”, has Kevin and Nora travelling to Australia. The song that plays over the opening credits is a sad song, “This Love is Over” by Ray LaMontagne.
I got a bad feeling about where this was headed!
Here is Ray LaMontagne performing the song with the Pariah Dogs.
And I was right. The episode ends with Nora sitting alone in a burning hotel room while the fire sprinklers rain on her, to the seemingly odd strains of “Take On Me” by A-HA (there’s a story to the choice of music here too but I digress).
In my head, the Ray LaMontagne song took over, combined with the imagery of Nora with water dripping from her profile. The song obsessed me. A giant ear worm ate my brain. I have a thing with ear worms. They keep me awake at night and I start to think I am going crazy. Ray LaMontagne is now on an endless repeat loop on my iPhone music and in my head.
What is it about sad songs and heartbreak that consume me, an otherwise happy person? Richard Thompson, another notable sad song guy, said “It’s fun to sing sad songs. And it’s fun to listen to sad songs. Enjoyable. Satisfying. Something.”
“Even when I’m in quite a happy state of mind, I like writing really sad songs. I think a lot of people do.” This is from Ellie Goulding, a singer I never heard of until I started working on this post. But she apparently is into sad songs.
Natalie Imbruglia: “I like singer-songwriters, and I find sad songs comforting rather than depressing. It makes you realise you’re not alone in the world.
So it’s not just me. And it’s not just songs. It’s books and movies, too. Happy endings are great, believe me. I’ve admitted my love of Hallmark Channel movies. But I love a good cry too. West Side Story. I’ve seen it so many times, the film and staged versions. I cry every time. I hope that the ending will be different every time. But it never is. Chino still shoots Tony and Tony still dies in Maria’s arms. And I watch it again. And cry.
All you have to do is mention the movie title All Mine to Give (1957) to my sister Ellen, and she will start to tear up. I think the only explanation needed is that the British title is The Day They Gave Babies Away.
A book title that will do the same to me is Child of My Heart (2002), about 15-year old Theresa and her younger cousin Daisy, who is 8 and ill. It’s a lovely book. I rarely use the word poignant, but I will here for Child of My Heart.
Opera is always tragic. NPR, in their 2006 April Fools Day story, did a piece on making opera happy (One Man’s Sad Goal? Make Opera Happy). I still remember sitting in my car listening to an interview with a (fictional) Hamilton Banks, who wants to rewrite operas so that Madame Butterfly doesn’t kill herself, Mimi is cured of TB in La Bohème, Don Juan is born again and repents. It took me a minute or two to realize this was a joke story. But it just wouldn’t be the same, opera with happy endings, would it?
On reflection, I realized that the emotional impact of music does not come from imparting particular emotions, but rather from being emotionally engaging in general. Sometimes sad songs do you make you feel bad if they revive memories of your own tragic times, but more often they engage your interest because they describe or convey important events in the lives of others. Such emotional engagement is also important in other forms of art, including tragic drama such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, stirring paintings such as Picasso’s Guernica, and thrilling movies…
All of these songs combine original music, appropriate lyrics, and superb performances to evoke intense emotions. So it does not matter whether a song is happy or sad, only whether it has an emotional impact on the listeners. People are happy to like sad songs, just not boring ones.
Then there is the theory of downward social comparison (you know, that thought that as bad as things are, there’s someone out there worse off than you). This is from David Nield of Science Alert:
In terms of social psychology, one way of thinking about this is that we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who’s doing even worse, a well-known process known as downward social comparison. Everything’s going to be okay, because Thom Yorke is having an even worse day than you are.
I don’t know who Thom Yorke is, but I feel bad for him! Thagard goes on to describe the neuroscience theory as well:
Some scientists think melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical which helps to curb grief. The body is essentially preparing itself to adapt to a traumatic event, and when that event doesn’t happen, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go.
Thanks to brain scans, we know that listening to music releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with food, sex, and drugs – at certain emotional peaks, and it’s also possible that this is where we get the pleasure from listening to sad tunes.
Tear-jerkers such as Adele’s Someone Like You frequently top the charts these days, while gloomy classical compositions like Mozart’s Requiem have moved people for centuries. Both portray and bring about a strong sense of loss and sadness. But our enjoyment of sad music is paradoxical—we go out of our way to avoid sadness in our daily lives. So why is it that, in the arts, themes such as loss can be safely experienced, profoundly enjoyed, and even celebrated?
The research adds to a body of work suggesting that music appreciation involves social cognition. People sensitive and willing to empathize with the misfortune of another person—in this case represented by the sad music—are somehow rewarded by the process. There are a number of theories about why that is.
The reward could be purely biochemical. We have all experienced the feeling of relief and serenity after a good cry. This is due to a cocktail of chemicals triggered by crying. A recent theory proposes that even a fictional sadness is enough to fool our body to trigger such an endocrine response, intended to soften the mental pain involved in real loss. This response is driven by hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which actually induce the feelings of comfort, warmth and mild pleasure in us. This mix of hormones is probably particularly potent when you take the actual loss and sadness out of the equation—which you can often do in music-induced sadness.
It is also possible that the effect is mainly psychological, where those who allow themselves to be emotionally immersed in the sad music are simply exercising their full emotional repertoire in a way that is inherently rewarding. The capacity to understand the emotions of others is crucial for navigating the social world we live in, and therefore exercising such an ability is likely to be rewarding—due to its evolutionary significance.
They used the phrase that so often comes to mind in this regard–a good cry. There is a Yiddish proberb “A good cry lightens the heart.”
There are lots of articles on why crying is good for you, emotionally and physically.
Check out Aging Care on why it’s good for you to cry:
It Relieves Stress Because unalleviated stress can increase our risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of our brain, humans’ ability to cry has survival value, Frey says.
Crying Lowers Blood Pressure Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and raged.
Tears Remove Toxins In addition, Frey says tears actually remove toxins from the body. Tears help humans remove chemicals that build up during emotional stress.
It Reduces Manganese The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum.
Emotional Crying Means You’re Human While the eyes of all mammals are moistened and soothed by tears, only human beings shed tears in response to emotional stress. Emotional expression acknowledges the feelings you’re having. Emotions motivate us to empathize, coordinate and work as a unit to best survive.
Good news for women, and bad for men: on average, women cry 47 times per year and men only 7. Hey guys, instead of that action flick, try watching Steel Magnolias. It’ll be good for you!
And now I am wondering about the whole “tears of joy” thing; why do we cry when we are happy? But I don’t have time for that now. I have a party to go to, with Child of My Heart, Ray LaMontagne on my playlist, a cat, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues.
Have a good cry!
P.S. If you haven’t seen The Leftovers season 3 episode 5, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”, OMG! There’s the whole Frasier the Lion thing that is based on a real story. I am still reeling over the episode (a lion eats a man claiming to be God; I mean, this is serious stuff). And there is a song, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and sung by Sarah Vaughan, to go with it. In the words of Bob’s mother, “It’s a weirdy!”
And that reminds me of another sad song, Tears for Fears’ 1982 “Mad World”, as covered by Gary Jules for the film Donnie Darko (2001). Sigh, I am in a never-ending loop here and I only have so many tissues. G’bye!
I don’t usually pay attention to the ever-changing Google doodle. I don’t always get it, not being all that culturally hip, and I am often on a Google mission that keeps me from lingering on the home page. April 8 was a day on which I did linger. I was attracted to the blue background, the vintage female figure with the movie camera, and of course, the cat on the figure’s shoulder.
Who was the woman, a woman I immediately wanted to be? I clicked. April 8 would have been Mary Pickford’s 125th birthday. I realized I knew very little about Mary Pickford. I had a vague idea of her being a silent-film era damsel in distress, an early cinematic American Sweetheart. But she was so much more than that.
Here is the Google blurb:
Lights, camera, action! Today’s doodle honors the “Queen of the Movies,” Mary Pickford. An actress, a film director, and a producer, Mary Pickford proved that actors weren’t relegated to careers in front of the camera. She co-founded the film studio United Artists and was one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Before she became one of the most powerful women who has ever worked in Hollywood, she was “the girl with the curls,” and one of the most beloved stars of the silent film era. She appeared in as many as 50 films per year, and eventually negotiated wages that were equal to half of each of her films’ profits. She went on to demand full creative and financial control of her films, a feat still unheard of to this day.
She used her stardom to bring awareness to causes close to her heart. She sold Liberty Bonds during World War I, created the Motion Picture Relief Fund, and revolutionized the film industry by giving independent film producers a way to distribute their films outside the studio system. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in Coquette (1929), and an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement in 1976.
Today, we pay tribute to Mary Pickford’s enterprising leadership on what would be her 125th birthday.
Born in 1892 in Toronto as Gladys Marie Smith, she began in a traveling theater company at age 7, with her family, and was known as Baby Gladys Smith.
In 1908, a producer gave her the name Mary Pickford, changing her middle name Marie to Mary, and using her mother’s maiden name, Pickford. She appeared in her first film in 1909.
It was her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917 that finally gave her the fame and fortune that she built on to become the Queen of Hollywood.
This is from her first talking picture, and the one for which she won an Oscar, Coquette (1929). She is said to have been dismayed at hearing the sound of her own voice.
In her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow (1955), she wrote that as a young girl in Toronto, she would buy a single rose and eat the petals, believing the beauty, color, and perfume would become part of her.
Here she is in 1976 receiving her honorary Oscar; I was dismayed at the zebra skin rug in the foyer at her home Pickfair, but more on that in a bit. It’s a bit sad to watch but remember she is 84 years old in the video clip.
Pickfair, the estate where she lived in Beverly Hills until her death in 1979, was a gift to her from second husband Douglas Fairbanks.
Sadly, so-called actress Pia Zadora (“Who?” I can hear you ask) razed the house in 1990, having purchased it in 1988 from Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Russ. In its place, she build a “Venetian-style palazzo”, eventually claiming after much criticism that she did so because the house was haunted, not by the ghost of Mary but by one of Douglas Fairbanks’ mistresses. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in a public statement after hearing that the house had been destroyed, “I regret it very much. I wonder, if they were going to demolish it, why they bought it in the first place.” In its heyday, Pickfair was second only to the White House in American house fame.
Zadora sold the “palazzo” (17 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms) in 2006 to Korean businessman Cory Hong. It was listed for sale again in 2008, with an asking price of $60 million.
Despite the zebra skin rug, which seems much more Pia Zadora than Mary Pickford to me, made me think about Ms. Pickford and animals. Many images of her include animals, particularly dogs and cats, but also rabbits and birds.
I wonder, even though in some images I found she is wearing fur, if that is also of the era (like the zebra skin rug), and if she was in fact an animal lover. I feel she might be a kindred spirit.
She was a trailblazer, and even today not many women have the creative control and power she had.
I’m never going to be an actress or a director or a producer or any kind of “powerhouse”, but I admire Mary’s determination and seeming sweetness. I’ll have to read more about her. In addition to her autobiography, there are quite a few books about that early era of Hollywood and the people who made it happen. The one I am going to look for is Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood (2007) by Eileen Whitfield.
In the meantime, this will have to suffice as my homage to Mary Pickford and women like her: strong, determined, and happy to have a cat climbing on her shoulders.
Peace and hugs from me and little Chiclet, foster kitten extraordinaire.
P. S. Please support me in my fundraiser for Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. My goal is fairly modest. Mary would approve.
Okay, maybe this image of Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski from the movie Gran Torino (2008) is a little extreme. But we almost all of us know the “get off my lawn guy”. Heck, sometimes these days I am the get off my lawn guy!
Maybe Homer Simpson is a better example, although I am sure there are Walt Kowalskis in the world.
When I was a kid on Dyson Drive in Atlanta, it was Colonel James G. Bogle. I am sure he was a nice man. He lived a long life (1915-2010), and I hope a happy one. Our family spent many evenings at the home of his family. His daughter, Alice, a few years older than me, had a wonderful bedroom filled with the most spectacular array of toys and games. I was allowed to play in there. According to my sisters, Alice also had all the best Barbie stuff. Col. Bogle kept up a miniature train wonderland in his basement. But I was afraid of him, and we all knew not to step on his lawn
Once, when I was in about 2nd grade, there was a hurricane warning issued, and the school decided to send us all home. It was getting really dark outside, and it was kind of exciting. My mother was at work, and couldn’t come get me. We only lived a block away from the school, but I wasn’t allowed to just walk home. So Col. Bogle came to pick me up and walk me home. I remember being frozen in place, afraid to go with him, and afraid of the coming storm. What’s a scared little girl to do? Looking back on it, it breaks my heart to think of how he must have felt seeing my fear. I wish I could apologize, or have a redo, and slip my hand in his and walk down the street happily missing an afternoon of school.
I just finished reading the book A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I loved this book, and loved the main character Ove. The book is at times funny, at others sad. Ove can be frustrating. But it’s made me think about the stories of grumpy old men and how they came to be who they are.
I first proposed reading A Man Called Ove to my neighborhood book group after it was suggested to me by one of my animal shelter buddies (and one of my favorite volunteers). My book group declined; they had mostly all read it already and one guest (not a member, just visiting) said she didn’t like it, finding grumpy Ove tedious. Hmmm. Makes me wonder if she is the Grumpy Old Woman version of the get off my lawn guy. (Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up the book group for the time being due to schedule conflicts. But I made some great friends and received so much encouragement from my fellow bookies regarding my school and career decisions.)
The book is from Swedish author Fredrik Backman, and has since been made into a film.
You’ll notice there is a cat featured on both the book cover and the movie poster. Maybe that’s partly why I love this book and I love Ove. The cat does play a central role in showing us Ove’s lovable side. And he does have one.
I can’t wait to watch this movie!
Speaking of movies, there was the Grumpy Old Men movie (1993) and the sequel, Grumpier Old Men.
And there was Harry and Tonto back in the day (1974), another lovable grumpy old guy with a cat.
Another great grumpy old guy who has a story we learn (and I cried over) and comes to find a new life is Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Edward Asner, in the Pixar animated film Up. This time it’s a dog, named Dug, not a cat. Kids and animals are often the way to the heart of the grump.
One of my particular favorites is Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982), not necessarily grump, but a handful with a back story.
The point is, everyone has a story. Ove’s story was the loss of his beloved wife Sonja, the only person who ever seemed to accept him for who he was.
The story is often one of loss and loneliness. I write a lot about kindness toward animals, but I also worry that we aren’t kind enough to each other. Bullying in any form is not okay, and often mistreatment of animals and of people go hand in hand. Whether it is your neighborhood Grumpy Old Man or Crazy Cat Lady, show some compassion. Like Ove with Parvaneh and her family, they might come to mean the world to you.
I worry about the products I buy and whether they are cruelty-free. Do celebrities, especially the animal-loving ones, pay attention to what they have their staff buy for them? First, I wanted to find out who some of these beautiful vegan celebrities might be; I know many beautiful vegans who aren’t famous, but the world seems to want celebrity to give something credibility. So here are some famous, beautiful vegans. (Note: My definition of beauty includes inner qualities, not just the outer ones.)
So how do they maintain this beauty and stick to their vegan ideals? There are cruelty-free products out there; one just has to look. Look for symbols from organizations like the Leaping Bunny or get the Cruelty Cutter app from the Beagle Freedom Project. With the app, you can scan the barcode on a product and find out whether it is cruelty free before you purchase.
This led me to the thought of how I could make my own, since DIY is always more fun than buying something. I often have a bowl of okara, the ground soy beans left from making soy milk (see The milk of human kindness (is non-dairy) in the refrigerator, and I’ve been trying to find ways to utilize it. I sometimes add it to soups and stews and even baked goods as a protein boost.
In the directions that came with the soy milk maker, there is a recipe for an okara facial mask. The recipe uses honey, which is not a vegan product. I gave it a try, mixing the okara with some agave as a binder instead of honey, and a little Vitamin E oil in place of the various essential oils recommended, since I didn’t have any of those. It actually did make my skin feel soft and smooth after I rinsed it off.
What are some other simple, do at home (with things you probably already have) vegan beauty recipes? One good source is the DIY Home page of the blog Vegans Have Superpowers. I am not volunteeering to do the banana facial mask; just sayin’. If you have things at home like apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, oats, sea salt, baking soda, olive oil, and essential oils, among others, you can make your own skin-care and hair-care products.
The editor of The Vegan Beauty Review, Sunny Subramanian, has a book with co-author Chrystle Fiedler, The Compassionate Chick’s Guide to DIY Beauty. I just ordered my copy.
Don’t want to make your own products but want to try some fun and different products from a variety of cruelty-free manufacturers? You can subscribe to the monthly Petit Vour cruelty-free/vegan PV Beauty Box.
Nerd that I am, I also find smart people really sexy. You think being vegan is stupid? Just ask these people.
And then there’s me, kinda cute, kinda smart, and kinda silly, but not doing too badly at age 55. I’ll never be a star, but I do what I can to lead an ethical and compassionate life, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I am in beautiful Monterey at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa for the semi-annual residential conference of Saybrook University.
This is the start of my 5th semester in my PhD program (how did that happen?) and struggling with focusing my research toward a dissertation. The more I learn, the more interests I find and the more I want to do. So in one sense, my brain is one of the fractious array of cats to be herded referred to in the title.
If you’ve ever been around cats at all, you know they don’t really follow any rules of group dynamics or recognize much in the way of authority but their own.
Much like the amazingly intelligent, mostly outspoken, and dynamic group of people who want to make the world a better place meeting here at the Saybrook conference. Being here reminds me of the wonderful short story by John Sayles, The Anarchists’ Convention.
I became aware of this story from listening to the Public Radio International (PRI) show, Selected Shorts.
The story was read by comedian Jerry Stiller. If you ask me, he is the perfect voice for the story.
I won’t elaborate too much, but suffice to say that there isn’t much structure or order at an anarchists’ convention, and not a lot is achieved. But it makes a great story, and I love a great story. Maybe I’ll write my version when this conference is done. One thing we do all seem to agree on is that systems are broken and change is needed. The big question is how do we make that change?
Can you stalk someone who is no longer alive? I’ve become entranced/fascinated/obsessed with Thomas Wolfe since I brought him up in Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said. I go through crushes with writers. I’ll become intrigued, learn everything I can about said writer, read everything they wrote, watch every movie made about them or based on their books, until I’ve exhausted the possibilities. Then I move on to the next crush.
I now follow the Thomas Wolfe Society on Facebook. My queue on Audible.com contains whatever they have (and as much as I like the writer Tom Wolfe, it’s Thomas that’s the subject of my interest).
I saw a post on the Thomas Wolfe Society Facebook page about the movie Genius (Don’t Believe the Haters: In Defense of ‘Genius’), starring Colin Firth as editor Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe. The post is a defense of the movie, which apparently had detractors. I had never heard of the movie (have I mentioned that rock I seem to live under?). I had to see it. Why? It’s about Thomas Wolfe, and it stars the amazing Colin Firth, handsome Jude Law, always good Laura Linney, and Ice Queen Nicole Kidman. I am not so crazy about Kidman, but in this movie her demeanor and style seem to fit the character, Aline Bernstein, a woman who succeeded in the then male-dominated world of theater set and costume design and could be said to have had a “tumultuous” relationship with Wolfe.
I found an interesting post on History vs. Hollywood that compares the actors to the characters they played in the film. What is really interesting to me is that this is a predominantly English cast, in a movie filmed in England, about an iconic American writer from the South and the story is mostly set in New York. Dominic West, who I thought was American the whole time I watched The Wire, portrays Ernest Hemingway. Guy Pearce is a convincingly pained and troubled F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why do the Brits appreciate this literary heritage more than most Americans?
Fitzgerald was one of my crushes. I went through a fascination with Hemingway the man, but never got so much into his writing. Yes, I appreciate his style and way with words, but I’m not so much into his subject choices. Fitzgerald totally appeals to me: handsome and troubled with a beautiful, crazy Southern Belle wife.
This was in my freshman year of college, and in my American Literature class with Professor Robert L. Casebeer (real name) in 1980 I wrote many a paper about Fitzgerald.
Before that, in high school, I went through a serious John Steinbeck phase. I still love his books. I admit to being a total wallflower nerd in high school. I spent a lot of time in my room, drawing and painting and reading and sewing my own weird clothes. No surprise I was never asked to the prom, much less on a date.
I’ve been through similar obsessive phases with the English writers Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisted) and John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga).
Evelyn Waugh, Aged 26, from the portrait by Henry Lamb in the collection of Lord Moyne. Cr: Little, Brown & Co. Memo-hardcopy: 38304
Lest you think it’s only male writers that I stalk, I’ve been through my Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) phase and an Agatha Christie (1890-1976) phase as well.
I first became fascinated with Thomas Wolfe back in the 1990s. I got to Wolfe through a desire to live in Asheville, North Carolina. Musically, I was in a David Wilcox phase, and he is (was?) based in Asheville. I was also in my museums career phase, and figured there would be a job for me at the Biltmore Estate. I applied for several jobs, but it’s hard to get an interview when you live 3,000 miles away!
And it was my obsession with Asheville that got me to Thomas Wolfe, native son.
There are so many connections I could go into–Paris in the 1920s, where so many artists and writers (the so-called Lost Generation), including Wolfe, spent time. A good account of this is Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. And one day I will make a pilgrimage to legendary Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, central to that time and that generation.
But meanwhile, I’ll be listening to the audiobook version of Look Homeward, Angel and dreaming of different times and places.