ENJOY SOME OF AMANDA SHAW IN THIS VIDEO CLIP.
He was my favorite author. Period. I adored him and (almost) all he ever wrote. He was a literary genius, perhaps the best of his generation. He'd experienced the wilds of the Upper Peninsula and southern Arizona - and wrote of each so stunningly. His words brought back a lifetime of memories for me, and provided so very much to ponder about our relationships with our families, friends and the world around us. He was blatant about his weaknesses, and taught us much about honest self-assessment. The masterful humor throughout most of his work is unbeatable.
Somewhat hauntingly, in the past few months since my mother died, I had a ravenous and insatiable need to read his work. I listened to "Returning to Earth" in audiobook (almost as good as reading it the first time), devoured his most recent "The Ancient Mistrel" (an autobiography for certain), and re-read numerous articles about him. I had a feeling we would lose him soon. After reading "The Ancient Minstrel," I concluded that he'd prefer not to live without his wife Linda, who died in October. Indeed.
Just a few weeks ago, I discovered a protege of Harrison's: Callan Wink. Also from Michigan, he fled to Montana (as did Harrison for the summer months). While Jim was the master of the novella, young Wink is already a master of the short story. This is clear from his debut collection "Dog Run Moon," which I am enjoying thoroughly. When you are missing Harrison, you might turn to Wink. He will certainly be one to follow.
Thank you, Jim Harrison, for all you have given us in poetry, novels, screenplays, and non-fiction. You will live in my heart forever.
It's June in Tucson and the ice cold cinemas are calling.!
Just saw "Love and Mercy," director Bill Pohlad's brilliant biopic of Beach Boy Brian Wilson's struggles. Paul Dano delivers Wilson in the 1960's, while John Cusack embodies the older Wilson, both beautifully. (An Academy Award for multiple actors playing the same character in a single film may be due.) The brave and determined Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) lifts Wilson from a hell that includes Paul Giamatti as one of the creepiest characters of the year. Another well cast tyrant is Wilson's father Murry (Bill Camp). And, oh, the music - some amazing scenes of the creative genius (and teamwork) that led to those unforgettable sounds of the Beach Boys.
Knowing that the real Brian and Melinda helped inform and refine the film made it all the more meaningful. Just see it!
Last night brought the honor of sitting in Tucson's beautiful Fox Theater, listening to Judy Collins perform. It was inspiring to see (and hear) what a 75 year old woman can be. Her voice is still angelic and crisp (well, okay, it tired slightly as the concert progressed), and her charm remains effusive and nonchalant. In keeping with the season, she included some Christmas carols, but also made certain the expected standards were there. She also did some storytelling, which she's quite good at. Her second number was "Both Sides Now" and her voice was sheer perfection that early in the performance. As I'd learned from her fascinating memoir*, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, she tirelessly pursued classical voice training throughout much of her career - and it shows. Of the aging folk and rock performers I've seen recently, she is by far the most well-preserved vocalist. (Note what I had to say about her former beau Stephen Stills here in June.) A Sondheim medley gave way to "Send in the Clowns" - after which the mostly over 60 audience went wild. Her closing encore was Amazing Grace, which the audience joined in on. I noticed many people wiping away the tears as they sang, perhaps sharing my feeling that this was a blessed moment to share with a simply amazing woman.
*I highly recommend this book. Even better, listen to her read it as an audiobook, as I did.
There's a lot of historical fiction in literature and in film lately, some of it extremely well researched and consistent with facts. I am enjoying it immensely, as I can lounge with a book or sit in a theatre and rationalize that I'm studying something!
Two of my favorite recent films portrayed some history of African slavery: Ten Years a Slave (of course) and Belle (which did not get a lot of theater time for some reason - have you seen it?). Belle was perhaps more informative, as it dealt with a key turning point in the slavery laws of England. Of course, the British brought the formalized slave trade to its colonies, and thus it's entangled with our own country's abhorrent past.
I'm currently on a roll with books in the historical fiction category. (I've already written about "Thirty Girls" in my June 3 piece on recent books about abductions of women and girls.)
Here are a few other options to consider for some light and engaging American history lessons on the 19th and early 20th centuries:
"The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd is a fast read that alternates chapters from the perspectives of infamous abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimke and "Handful" (imagined for the novel) the maidservant slave gifted to a reluctant upon Sarah on her 11th birthday. It's a captivating tale about not only of the courage and smarts of South Carolina slaves, but of also the tribulations of a southern white woman who's been a stubborn and vocal abolitionist since she was a child. If you've enjoyed this fine author in the past, just read it!
"What is Visible," the first novel by Kimberly Elkins, tells the story of Laura Bridgman, who lost her sight, hearing, plus the senses of taste and smell at age 2 and yet became one America's most famous women in the 19th century. Meticulously researched, we learn of Bridgman's many years at Boston's Perkins School for the Blind under the tutelage (and foster parenting) of Dr. Samuel Howe. Laura develops not only reading and writing skills, but an informed and opinionated personality. It is the foundation of the Helen Keller story, which seems almost commonplace once you've learned about Laura. The novel will almost certainly convince you that there would never have been a famous Helen Keller had the amazing Laura not preceded her. (Indeed, Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, was taught and mentored by Bridgman at the Perkins School!) Poet and abolitionist Julia Ward Howe is an intriguing cast member; and other historical figures such as Charles Dickens and Helen Keller herself appear. But Elkins' writing shines most as Laura experiences the world through only the sense of touch, and the memories of normalcy until age 2. Her longings, frustrations, and basic animalistic needs are tangible. A thought provoking read, for sure.
Much more fiction than history, Lily King's compelling novel "Euphoria" is based on the journeys of anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson in New Guinea. King builds a triangle of American wife and husband team of Nell Stone and her husband Fen (loosely Mead and her second husband, Fortune), and their lonely English rival Andrew Bankson (fashioned on Mead's third husband, Bateson). Driven by desperation, tropical fevers, and competitive spirit, the three entangle to create a tragedy of the heart, the soul, and the intellect (King's real achievement here). Throw in some cannibals, a rare matriarchal society, years of real wilderness travel, and you've got an armchair adventure that reflects on universal human nature and the roots of our formalized fascination with aboriginal cultures. While not a stunning piece of literature, it's a gripping and worthwhile read, particularly for a scientist and adventurer like me. It led me to ponder the oddities of "civilized" humanity, and the potential insanities of scientific "drive."
Yes, I am still in love with Stephen Stills. This recently rekindled relationship has lasted almost 45 years.
From row G, at Tucson's Fox Theatre, my friend Kay and I enjoyed Tuesday evening with the highly talented Mr. Stills. The audience demographics were predictable; I suspect everyone was a fellow Baby Boomer and several left as the hour reached 10pm. Case in point: the theatre's wheelchair section was full.
I'd most recently seen Stills with CSN in 2012 (Marin Center), and with Buffalo Springfield in 2011 (Fox Theater, Oakland). Seems these guys will reunite for a tour anytime, with anyone (as long as they're alive and can hold a guitar)! For perspective, I first saw Stills in 1974 with CSNY at the Cleveland Stadium. At that historic concert with an audience of 90,000, Santana, The Band, and Jesse Colin Young were the warm ups. Those were the days, indeed. You can actually listen to that 1974 concert if you'd like.
Here in Tucson, the last stop on his solo tour, Stills treated us to his mastery on what seemed like a dozen different guitars, acoustic and electric. He prevails as a rock and folk guitarist, and clearly those extended electric jams are his favorite things. Explaining that he was particularly tired of doing the songs he's written (he just released a 4 CD boxed set of his music), almost a third of his concert setlist was covers from other artists, including Bob Dylan , Graham Nash, and Neil Young. His encore, perhaps predictably, ended with Love the One You're With which included much audience participation (and gyrating mature adults!).
Although you'd never know it from his pick-tossin' guitar playing, Stills is 69. His voice is definitely not the instrument it used to be. He told us that Tony Bennett convinced him to change keys on songs to adapt to an aging voice. In retrospect, Crosby and Nash didn't sound too good in solos when I last heard them, either. However, even now, when CSN are singing 3 part harmony, it is awesome. My theory is that their voices are each so beautiful that they can be functioning at 50% and still sound magical as a trio.
Rather sadly, Stills does not actually look like the above photo, which was used on the tour poster. His boyish handsomeness has turned to ruggedness, but he still glowed when he offered a rare smile. (I must admit that he seemed rather grumpy and impatient on stage at times.) Let's face it, we are all learning the dance of maturity. Thus, I remain an adoring fan, and am thrilled to have spent yet another musical evening with him.
CSN begin their 2014 tour on July 2. Maybe you can catch him there.
First, allow me to give credit where due. I found these 3 recent books in the New York Times Book Review; each review captured my interest. All pointed to the universality of misogyny - specifically, the strident and almost normalized abductions of women and girls. I read the novels within weeks of each other, and a golden thread led me the share them as a group. Each novel portrays realistic incidents abroad (Haiti and Uganda) and next door to me (Mexico). The perpetrators are urban gangs, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and the drug cartels of Guerrero. The victims include a Haitian-American woman held for ransom, and young girls taken en masse from their boarding school or consecutively from their remote village.
Each book held me captive and then lingered as I pondered the impact. I recommend each of them highly, particularly now as we await news of the schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, and hear more psychotic proclamations from Boko Haram and the pitiful rumblings of Nigeria's clown for a president.
Roxane Gay's first novel "An Untamed State" holds nothing back in describing the horrendous experiences of Haitian American lawyer Mireille Duval Jameson after being kidnapped for ransom outside her parents' enclave in Port-Au-Prince. To survive the brutalities of being a hostage, Mireille clings to memories of a privileged childhood and her solid, passionate marriage. She also develops a fascinating blend of resignation, determination, and emotional disengagement as she suffers the insanities of her violent captors. The prose is gripping, and kept me reading late into the night. An unnecessary twist at the end was distracting, but it's a fabulous, thought-provoking read.
The novel "Thirty Girls" by Susan Minot is based on the mass abduction of more than 100 girls from a Catholic boarding school in 1996 by followers of cult leader Joseph Kony. In the novel and in reality, a nun tracks the abductors down and negotiates for the girls' release. She is successful, except for 30 girls who must remain with the LRA as child fighters and "brides." In the novel, one of them is Esther Akello, and it is her story of capture, enslavement, escape, and rehabilitation that Minot tells most beautifully. In alternating chapters, we also hear the story of American journalist Jane Wood, who travels to Uganda to write about Esther and others who have escaped. She has, of course, taken on this project as an escape from her own trappings. Jane joins a cast of white, bohemian characters (some are African ex-patriot caricatures) who provide her with not only a chance for romance, but adventures that only privileged white folk could possibly enjoy in Uganda. At one point I lost track of who was having sex with whom, but eventually I figured it all out. And so does Jane, who benefits not only from the overwhelming wisdom shared by the traumatized Esther, but from African tragedies of her own. An excellent read.
Jennifer Clement knows today's Mexico very well, and her wonderful "Prayers for the Stolen" is a testament to her deep understanding and her engaging prose. In remote villages of Guerrero state, not far from Acapulco, the drug cartels rule. When baby girls are born, mothers give them a temporary boy's name and dress them as such. If this fails as the girls grow, they make them ugly with haircuts, clothing, and blackened teeth. They create hiding places for girls to rush to whenever the cartels' black SUVs are heard or seen. Abductions are commonplace, and many stolen women are eventually murdered and left to join the growing lists of disappeared daughters. This coming of age story focuses on young Ladydi Garcia Martinez (named for Princess Diana), her struggles to avoid abduction, her archetypal alcoholic mother, and a cast of village families, all of whom share the struggle to survive the cartels. One of Ladydi's cohorts, Paula, is much too beautiful to disguise, and the cartel finds her. Amazingly, she makes her way home a year later, bringing with her the graphic and transformative realities of life with a cartel boss. The novel takes off from there, winding almost every character's fate into Paula's story and the expansive reach of the cartels. This novel is absolutely grounded in the harsh realities of Mexican life, and Clement (a poet) presents a tale as only the best of storytellers can do. It's a haunting, captivating read. I hope you'll agree.
Good reads, etc.