I think there’s a law to the omniverse that says that whenever I get excited by a new project or two, either I have to be distracted by the shiny objects of my past obsessions, or I have to get sidetracked by life in general. This week has been a bit of both. Most of it has been good, but it seems it’s been anything but productive. That really isn’t the case, it’s just that I have so many irons in the fire that none of them ever feel like they get warm sometimes.
I’ve been combing through some of my past book reviews from the other site, cherry picking to see what I should transfer over. I made a discovery on this front. Most of my early reviews are just terrible. I’m not really sure I’ve gotten better, but I’d like to think so as time has gone on. It’s also had the side effect of making me nostalgic enough to revisit some of them. I suppose this is a good problem to have? I’m also seeing a great many blanks. I gave a lot of books a star rating without actually reviewing them, mostly because I’d read them over the course of my life before I started reviewing for fun. Part of me wants to go back and revisit many of those too. The graphic novels alone would probably take me the better part of five years to revisit and review.
When I get home from work in the evenings, one of the things I do to relax is watch a little “dinner theater” after I’m done making a mess in the kitchen. Most of my regular TV shows are in hiatus, and I’m not in the habit of watching just anything to fill the void. The last couple of weeks on this front have been all about Disney animation. I studied art and animation back in college, and my respect for Disney goes way back, and it’s only gotten deeper as years go by. I’m a card-carrying member of their fan club, D23. You could be too. It’s free for the basic package. Just sayin’. Anyway, I’ve been slowly upgrading my DVD collection of the old animated classics to Blu-ray. I’d have had them all immediately, but money talks, and I have very little of it. Pity, pity. I’ll get there in the end.
A couple nights ago, I revisited Aladdin. You’d think after nearly 25 years (has it really been that long?), I’d remember they changed some lines in the opening number. But this is how my mind works. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I know these songs by heart. I saw this one in the theater with the original lyrics intact, and I own the original soundtrack release that predates their edits. A sure sign that you’re getting old is when you mention this sort of thing in passing to people who might know what you’re talking about, and they’ve either forgotten or aren’t old enough to know. I just take it for granted sometimes that if I’m aware of it, everyone should be, and I know that’s now how it works. Suffice it to say, I hear the not-quite-perfect voice match every single time, and every single time it throws me off. Don’t get me wrong, I get why they did it, but it’s like it’s hardwired in my head. Just like with the Star Wars Special Editions, I understand and appreciate why the changes are there, but I remember the original versions too. I hold no grudges or anything because it’s pretty standard to edit films after they’ve been released. It’s just that sometimes these curious little artifacts of the past come back to the surface once in a while. If you’re not aware of these changes to Aladdin‘s opening track “Arabian Nights,” you can learn more about them here. Just an aside, it’s really interesting to go back and see some of Pixar’s early collaborative efforts and see how well they hold up. There’s a great many examples of CG today that don’t mesh this well.
Related to that on some level, I’m fortunate enough to be able to listen to audiobooks or whatever during my day job, and to help pass those hours I try to learn new things from time to time just because I can. Being the music lover that I am, I’ve started on one of the lecture series offered by The Great Courses (available through Audible) on Broadway Musicals. I don’t pretend to be the biggest fan of the modern stuff. It’s just that as a music lover and patron of the arts, it bugs me when I have this glaring gap in my appreciation of something like that. Most of my enthusiasm for this comes from either film or from the jazz greats like Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald. I have a great respect for The American Songbook, as it’s now known, but my knowledge of the shows these songs come from is sporadic at best. Harry Connick, Jr., once said something about how to sing these songs properly, you have to understand them. It’s not just technique, it’s the emotional impact their writers brought to them. Many of the songs are semi-autobiographical. They hit on a personal level, which is why they stay with us and became classics in the first place. The more modern the show, the less I know about it, largely because these kinds of songs aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they used to be. Now the whole is larger than the sum of the parts, so they say. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but I need to venture into more. I think I can count on one hand the number of modern stage musicals I know, and I’ve only seen one performed live. Much as I did with Opera a few years ago (which changed my life forever), I decided it was finally time to secure my foundational knowledge on this topic and gain some higher appreciation. It always helps to have a place to plant your feet when you push off into new directions. Start with what you know, learn some history about it, explore what influenced what you like, explore that history and get some context, and the rest unfolds itself like a rose if you get out of your own way and let it happen. The stronger your understanding of the roots, the more you get out of the overall appreciation of the garden.
Another musical exploration for me lately revolves around my fascination with film scores. My biggest complaint about the Hollywood machine right now is that everything is playing down to the lowest common denominator in an effort to reach a more global audience. The effect it has on film scores is that many of them sound the same, and many of them are devoid of anything resembling heart and soul. See a need, fill a need. Here in the States, the average composer is being “helped” by several executives who know nothing of music, and the creativity is being sucked out of a project in order to make it serviceable and unremarkable. I find that the same can’t be said overseas. We live in a truly remarkable age these days where internet streaming makes it easy to find new things if you’re willing to look. I’ve been discovering composers and works from Spain, Italy, and Japan that have taken my imagination by storm. I’ll have to do a proper write-up on this at some point as there’s way too much to list off here right now. Mostly I just want to say how pleased I am that there’s still a viable and creative outlet for these great talents. That used to be Hollywood.
Along similar lines there, I’ve been exploring backwards on this as well. It’s truly incredible to be able to explore modern recordings of classic Hollywood scores. The care taken to honor these great works has really opened up the listening experience. I’ve been listening to Max Steiner’s Casablanca and King Kong quite a bit lately, as well as works from Erich Korngold and Bernard Hermann. I’d say they don’t make ’em like this anymore, but the tradition is still being carried by the likes of John Williams and Howard Shore, even if Hollywood is largely stifling everything else around them. Every so often, a spark of greatness can still be found. Gives me hope.
Now that the weather has turned cooler (an, my sword studies have picked up more momentum, which cuts into my evening reading time. Joan of Arc and King Arthur have already had to take a back seat. I like to think they’d understand. :P I sometimes hear the petty comments from my neighbors while I practice, jeering me for one reason or another. I take it as a sign that they need to feel better about themselves by trying to tear me down in the process. It’s sad, really. They mistakenly think I’m doing this to learn how to defend myself, or that I’m trying to prove something. I suppose I am trying to prove something, but it’s only to myself. It’s impractical to assume that just because my fighting style will transfer to a number of other hand-to-hand weapons or to open hand that I can defend myself in a manner optimal to the 21st century. I could on some level, but that’s not what it’s about. Indiana Jones made that point quite eloquently, I think. For me, the study of the medieval longsword is a meditation. It’s a way to focus and to unify mind, body, and spirit. It’s part and parcel with my chosen lifestyle as a modern day knight. “Prowess” is the first point of my code of Chivalry. Without Prowess, it’s impossible to operate on any level. It’s how you build skill, and with it, self esteem.
I tie my sword studies into my academic pursuits as well, taking the same mindset I hone on the practice field to my books. It works out surprisingly well too. When revisiting Arthur, I see the ideals of Camelot as something achievable, even in this cynical age. With Joan of Arc, I marvel at what it took for her to win her battles. I train to be nowhere near as effective as the soldiers and knights of her day, and she had zero training in any of it. It’s a perspective that I struggle to put into words, but it continues to blow my mind. It makes me appreciate both skill and transcendence.
That’s pretty much where my head’s been the last week or two. How are you?