From Gilead to New York to Juffure

It took Nettl, Netflix, and retirement to get me into movies. Until a few years ago I often felt the odd man out, so to speak, when friends asked, “Hey, have you seen ‘suchandsuch’ yet?” I just wasn’t into movies and I couldn’t justify the cost of going to a cinema and spending $20 on snacks that I could buy at any supermarket for much, much less. I mean, seven bucks for popcorn? I can buy a pantry supply for that. And, really. Who can go out to see a movie and not buy popcorn and Twizzlers? Not I.

When HBO first came out, I became a subscriber and an avid movie-watcher, but that was when cable cost me $20 a month. When that expense soared to $100, I knew it was time to cut the cable. But then, miracle of miracles, Netflix burst onto the scene and Nettl and I began watching movies together in the evenings and on weekend afternoons. I can’t say I like most of those I’ve seen. I’m not a fan of gratuitous, pounding, impersonal sex, or of the spurting,  bursting blood bladders and crunching, slurping Foley effects that accompany sensationalized, glorified violence.

I’m rather a prude.

Sometimes, however, I can deal with this trend of sex and violence and, in a few cases I think some of it is important to the story.

Last week, we started watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. Having read Margaret Atwood’s book some years ago and having seen the 1990 version (starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall, with screenplay by Harold Pinter, no less), I was fully prepared for this remake to be updated for the modern audience, i.e. semi-automatic rifles shooting bullets into chests and soulless sex enacted upon enslaved young women. I was even prepared for public executions as well as the brutality of women’s subjugation to the worst degree, but I wasn’t prepared for the acting and direction to be so damned good. The series is especially poignant as we face the strategic stripping away of our rights as women to govern our own bodies and our dwindling healthcare options during Trump’s “Make America Great Again” regime coupled with the religious right’s agenda to make America a (Christian) theocracy. At a time when merely being a woman is considered a pre-existing condition, this series is about as timely as it gets, and I hope it will be pirated posted on YouTube soon so that more people can watch it.

The only criticism I have about this series is that it’s, well, a series. I find it a little slow. I’ve never been a fan of week-to-week cliffhangers anyway, so that’s probably just my problem. This is a story I think I’d rather binge through over a weekend, but, really, it’s a small complaint. That I’m a fan of Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The West Wing) helps. She is totally believable in her role as Offred and she makes it easy to experience simpatico with her character.

A couple of nights ago I sat up watching The Lennon Report, a film I’d not heard of until that afternoon. I’m rather cynical where movies about the Beatles are concerned. They’re usually cornball and badly casted and acted, which is enough, but they’re also often historically inaccurate, taken from some badly written exposé by some non-entity who wants to revise the facts to suit their pathetic need for fame. Everyone has an ax to grind, it seems, especially where John and Yoko are concerned. John is portrayed as either a saint or a prick and Yoko is, well, Yoko is universally hated in these crap films so I avoid Beatles biopics like the plague. When I found The Lennon Report on Amazon (a $2.99 rental fee for SD, $3.99 for HD), I was prepared to hate it. It looked well made, though, so I didn’t mind gambling three bucks.

Wow! Was I moved by this film. The story is taken from eyewitness accounts of people who were at Roosevelt Hospital the night John was shot, including Alan Weiss, a producer at ABC News who’d been brought into the ER after a motorcycle accident. There’s no real violence, but there is blood. A lot of blood and graphic scenes of open chest surgery. One should expect that, though.

Seriously, this is one I want in my library.

Last but certainly not least, I sat up until 3:30 this morning watching the 2016 remake of Alex Haley’s Roots. I don’t care if this story is fact or fiction, if Mr. Haley was telling his family story, or if he plagiarized it from several sources. I don’t freakin’ care. It’s the story of the 12.5 million slaves who were stolen from their country against their will and sent to America and the 10.7 million who survived the Atlantic crossing only to suffer unimaginable brutality and dehumanization. The story needs to be told again and again until we wipe out our despicable racism and bigotry.

This remake is amazing, although it was hard to watch due to the violence. The battle scenes were a little long—today’s films love to show off gym-pumped actors shooting things up—and I found the scenes a bit gratuitous since Haley’s book didn’t dwell on this aspect of life in both the Revolutionary and Civil War eras of the south. As for the rape scenes, I thought they were horrendous, but completely non-gratuitous and not at all titillating. Overall, though, I trusted co-executive producer Levar Burton (who played the role of Kunta Kinte in the original 1977 mini-series) to know what he was doing. If he thought we needed to see it, that was enough for me. It was uncomfortable, and I’m sure that was his intent.

On a personal note, I was pleased that white slave owners’ names weren’t changed like they were in the mini-series, even if it revealed that my ancestors were part of it all. Dr. William Waller is the brother my family came from. In the mini-series the name was changed to Dr. Reynolds. Why, I don’t know. After reading the book back in 1978, I wrote a letter to Alex Haley to express the emotional turmoil I felt being related to his family’s owners, as well as to his family (rape was widespread on the plantations because white slave owners believed they held rights over the black women. The scums), and he wrote a very nice letter to me in return in which he said he’d met many, many fine Wallers, one who was a very good friend of his. As I look back on it now, I’m not at all ashamed that I sought absolution from Mr. Haley. We all need to feel shame over slavery and to ask forgiveness, at the very least.

I have to admit I wept over the new series just as much as I did the original. It’s a must-see and I believe both it and Shindler’s List should be required high school viewing for all students.

I didn’t set out to write reviews of these films, I only wanted to share with you the emotional ride I’ve been on the past couple of weeks. I hope I’ve piqued your interest on at least one of these excellent films.

Have a great week!

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On Opera, Tornadoes, and BBQ

I just looked back at my recent posts and was shocked at how obsessed I’ve been over the redecorating of Bookends Cottage. Enough already! Today, I’ll just make a sort of unbulleted bullet list of some of the other things that are going on around here.

Judging by the picture above, you probably can guess that we saw an opera. Man, did we ever! The Met live-streamed Mozart’s Idomeneo re di Creta to a large number of movie theaters across the country last Saturday and Nettl and I went to OKC to see it. We’ve both been to the Met and, sure, it’s wonderful to be in the actual hall, but sitting seventh row center in plush chairs with an unobstructed view and a box of Twizzlers was pretty cool, too. Oh, come on. In Mozart’s day people ate, drank, gossiped, played cards, flirted, snogged and shagged at the opera! Last time I was at the Met, I was up in one of the balconies and couldn’t see facial expressions at all, and I certainly didn’t have any Twizzlers. We’ll definitely do this again.

I was impressed with the cast, each artist fresh, unjaded, and flawless, but it was mezzo-soprano Alice Coote (Idamante) who totally rocked my world. I’ve long been partial to mezzos (hey, I married one!) and I confess I’ve had no favorite since Frederika von Stade retired. That certainly has changed now. It would be enough that Ms. Coote possesses a rich, emotional voice, and it’s almost too much to ask that she be an excellent actor as well, but she delivers, entirely, profoundly. I spent several hours in YouTube last night listening to her in other roles and in each she owned her character, spot on, fully engaged and strikingly believable. It’s a wonder to behold. Try this out. And then this. You won’t be sorry. The chorus, too was in great form; this opera is really chorus heavy and the Met chorus is phenomenal. After the opera we went to Guthrie to Stables, our favorite BBQ place. Opera and BBQ… culture in Oklahoma. Oh, how my life has changed since my active years as a composer and conductor! Meh, don’t listen to me. I’m much more relaxed about these things these days and I’m perfectly happy with that.

Apparently, we survived the season’s first tornado watch last night. I don’t worry about them as much as I did when I first moved here 17 years ago. Anymore, it’s the fracking earthquakes that get to me. As a native Californian you’d think I’d be better at that, but living in Quakenado Country has a way of keeping one on edge.

I’m still trying to get this house finished, but it’s slow. Also slow (but that’s my own fault) is getting back to my CD. There’s only so much energy to go around these days, and I have to choose my battles wisely.

Have a great week!

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Butterfly Fingerpicks

I don’t remember when I began teaching myself different finger picking patterns, but I do remember buying a set of plastic finger picks. I tried them a couple of times, but they didn’t feel natural to me, so I put them in a box somewhere and forgot about them. Well, except for the thumb pick. That came in handy sometimes. I went back to my usual bare finger finger picking (try saying that three times!), not even considering grooming my nails to work for me. Lately, though, I’ve become more aware of the different sounds I can create using my nails. Problem is, my nails are extremely fragile and just one night of extended playing probably would trash them. Guitar players go to all kinds of lengths to have strong nails, including having acrylics and gels applied. I don’t know about you, but I hate the heaviness of fake nails, and they’re expensive, besides. What’s a choosy guitarist to do?

Last week I saw Butterfly Fingerpicks on Pinterest and I was immediately intrigued. Besides looking damned cool, the idea behind them seemed rational. Adjustable wires form-fitted to my fingers and nails? Hey! That sounded like those Indian water buffalo sandals we had in the Sixties! With those, all you had to do was put them on and stand a bath tub of water for a while, stretching them out, and then walk around in them until they were dried to a custom fit!.I ordered a set of finger picks, and they arrived today.

Butterfly Guitar Picks 1

First of all, they come in a really sturdy clear plastic box. Who wants to worry about them getting smashed by your gear? They come in three metals: gold, silver, and copper. I got the copper ones because I wanted a softer, less metallic sound from my 12-string. They also come in three basic sizes, small, medium, and large.

Butterfly Guitar Picks 2

When I took them out I thought, “Figuring out which pick goes on which finger might not be easy,” but I needn’t have worried. It was pretty obvious.

Butterfly Guitar Picks 3

All out and in proper order.

Butterfly Guitar Picks 4

When I first put them on, they didn’t fit at all, but I was prepared for that. I bought the small size, and they were just a bit too tight and a couple of them didn’t slide into place, but these are adjustable, remember? I went to the website and read the instructions on how to fit them properly.

Butterfly Guitar Picks 5

After a few minutes they looked and felt much better!

Butterfly Guitar Picks 6

With all four in place, I was surprised at how comfortable they are. You really could wear them for hours. But finger picks aren’t just for looks and comfort, you know. They have to sound good, so I tried them on each of my three guitars. On the Luna Trinity 12-string they were hard to use; all those strings so close together made picking a bit clumsy, but I suspect that with practice that’ll sort itself out. On the Fender nylon string they sounded great, a lot like when classical guitarists use their long nails. But it was on the Briarwood 6-string that they really wowed me. Nice action and even nicer tone.

The hardest part for me will be getting accustomed to playing with extensions. I’m used to my fingers being right on the strings and, without that sensation of skin-against-string, I feel a little disconnected. I’m going to work with them, one guitar at a time, until I’m comfortable using them on all three. If you’d like to give them a try, just go to Butterfly Fingerpicks. They’re really nice there and have the best customer service I’ve encountered since I bought that beaded curtain from a hippie catalog back in 2007.

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