Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Quote of the Day (Tracy Chapman, on Questions and Songwriting)

“In some ways, writing a song is about asking and answering questions: ‘Who is this character, why are they doing this and where is the story going?’ When I was young, I thought all these questions could be answered with the first iteration of the song. I’m not as enamored with this idea that the very first thing that comes to mind is what I have to remain committed to.”—Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, interviewed by Lovia Gyarke, “Origins,” T: The Style Magazine of “The New York Times,” Apr. 21, 2024

The image accompanying this post, of Tracy Chapman at the 2009 Cactus Festival in Bruges, Belgium, was taken July 10, 2009, by Hans Hillewaert.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Quote of the Day (Jewel, on Life as One’s ‘Best Work of Art’)

“I remember writing at that age [16-19] that I didn’t want my music to be my best work of art — I wanted my life to be my best work of art. I take music seriously, but I take that promise to myself more seriously.”— American singer-songwriter, poet and humanitarian activist Jewel, interviewed by Lovia Gyarke, Origins,” T: The Style Magazine of “The New York Times,” Apr. 21, 2024

The image accompanying this post, showing Jewel at Yahoo Yodel 2009, was taken Oct. 13, 2009, by Yodel Anecdotal/Yahoo! Inc.

Tweet of the Day (Simon Sinek, on Dog People Versus Cat People)

“The difference between dog people and cat people: dog people wish their dogs were people. Cat people wish they were cats.”— English-born American author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek, tweet of June 23, 2018

The image accompanying this post shows French actress Simone Simon in the 1942 horror classic Cat People, about a young woman who turns into a panther when stricken by jealousy. Now that’s taking this whole cat thing a bit too far, wouldn’t you say?

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Quote of the Day (Michael Wood, on Destroying Rivers and the Past)

“The health of our rivers is vital to everyone. If you love history, it is even more pointed, for in our landscapes are carried all our histories. Destroy a river and you also lose its past; it is akin to losing part of our collective memory. We live in times of the degradation of landscapes across the world, caused by poverty but also by the deliberate actions of the rich and powerful. And in Britain these disasters threaten not only our environment and our physical and mental wellbeing but our history, too.”— English historian, broadcaster, and documentary filmmaker Michael Wood, “Michael Wood on…The History Carried in Our Landscapes,” BBC History Magazine, April 2023

Professor Wood’s article deals with rivers in Great Britain. But these waterways—from the Hudson and Potomac in the east, through the Mississippi and Missouri in the heartland, to the Columbia in the West—have been crucial not only to American commerce but also American culture.

The Passaic River in northern New Jersey might not be as famous as these, but it has been as important to those lining its shores. This waterway has been essential to commerce in the area, but also shamefully abused, even listed in 1970 as the second most polluted river in the United States.

In September 2013 I took the image accompanying this post, of a revived tract of land on its banks: Riverfront Park in Garfield.

The creation of Riverfront Park shows what can be done with great effort in a concentrated area. Much remains to be done elsewhere along this 80-mile-long river to ensure the health of residents in the area—and the maintenance of historical memory of how the waterway helped give birth to America’s manufacturing industry.

In addition, the stream forms the backdrop to William Carlos Williams’ poem Paterson, which, the doctor-turned-writer noted, “follows the course of the Passaic River, whose life seemed more and more to resemble my own: the river above the Falls, the catastrophe of the Falls itself, the river below the Falls and the entrance at the end into the great sea."

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Flannery O’Connor, on Why ‘The Artist Penetrates the Concrete World’)

“St. Augustine wrote that the things of the world pour forth from God in a double way: intellectually into the minds of the angels and physically into the world of things. To the person who believes this—as the western world did up until a few centuries ago—this physical, sensible world is good because it proceeds from a divine source….The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at its depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality. This in no way hinders his perception of evil but rather sharpens it, for only when the natural world is seen as good does evil become intelligible as a destructive force and a necessary result of our freedom.”— American short-story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), “Novelist and Believer,” originally delivered at Sweet Briar College, VA, reprinted in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (1957)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Quote of the Day (Peter Davison, on Criteria for ‘The Perfect Biographer’)

“If there were a perfect biographer, he or she would be the following: a real writer, one who understands how to construct and recount a labile and sensuous narrative; a master of research, in both documents and interviews; a person who is tactful in dealings with relatives, librarians, lovers, executors, children, parents, and editors; one who is so cannily devoted to the personality of the biographical subject as to pursue every true lead and abandon every false one; one who cares so deeply about the precision of the text as to check every fact again and again, every document, every photograph, every rumor. But, beyond the conscientious practice of these skills, the biographer's genius lies in having the sympathy and imagination to create the story of a life about which the subject’s ghost would say, ‘That’s as close to me as anybody else could be expected to get.’ The biographer’s worst temptation is to transform the subject into someone preferable to the original.”—American poet and editor Peter Davison (1928–2004), “To Edit a Life,” The Atlantic Monthly, October 1992

As a lifelong reader of biographies—and, now, a biographer myself—I read this passage by Davison with great interest, knowing just how difficult it is to meet all the qualities he mentions.

But, when I think of a biographer who changes how his subject is perceived, rendering him in all his complexity and in the context of his times, I think of Ron Chernow (pictured). 

He has made his greatest mark on American culture with a biography of Alexander Hamilton that helped inspire the long-running Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and has won the Pulitzer Prize for his life of Washington.

But even before that, I had been enthralled by Titan, his account of John D. Rockefeller, which built on his background as a financial journalist. In the process, he pierced the membrane of what he called “silence, mystery and evasion” surrounding this paradoxical billionaire.

(The image accompanying this post of Chernow was taken Sept. 13, 2004, by the U.S. Department of the Treasury—the institution founded by his subject Alexander Hamilton.)

Friday, April 19, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘My Favorite Year,’ As a Film Idol Returns to a Favorite Haunt)

Alan Swann
[played by Peter O’Toole]: “We'll be two for dinner. Telephone the Stork Club.”

Alfi [played by Tony DiBenedetto]: “You sure you mean the Stork Club, Mr. Swann?”

Alan: “Certainly. It's been a year and a half. Surely they've repaired the wall of the bandstand by now.”— My Favorite Year (1982), screenplay by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo and based on a story by Palumbo, directed by Richard Benjamin

It had been over 40 years, during its original release, since I’d seen this rollicking comedy, inspired by young TV writer Mel Brooks’ attempt to keep the rambunctious Errol Flynn (the “Alan Swann” character) safe and sober before his appearance on Your Show of Shows

Watching the movie again on TCM was like revisiting an old friend, with plenty of smiles and memories abounding.