Something for Thursday

 It’s fun to look up live performances of anime music on YouTube, because Japan takes this stuff very seriously but also does a lot of interesting stuff with this sort of thing. If you want just standard orchestral renditions, you can find that…but if you want to hear your favorite anime theme played by an orchestra and a marching band as it marches through a stadium, you can find that, too!

Here’s a concert performance of Joe Hisaishi’s main themes from Laputa: Castle in the Sky. This one is somewhere in the middle in terms of how flashy it is. I love this music and I’d love to hear one of these concerts one day!

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Tone Poem Tuesday

The sky is beginning to show some streaks of light over in the East there, behind our mount’in. The morning star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go,–doesn’t it?

-Stage Manager, Our Town (Act I) 

It seems a little strange to me that at this point in my life, as I’m six months away from turning fifty, that as ubiquitous as it is on amateur and school stages throughout the country, I have only seen the play Our Town produced exactly once.

It was in 1981 or 1982, thereabouts, when I was in fifth grade. The theater club at St. Bonaventure University, where my father was in second year of teaching, put it on, and that year my father was sharing an office with a guy who was very much involved with the theater, and who actually played the Stage Manager part in that production. I remember finding it an odd play at first: There were virtually no props, aside from the costumes. When one of the characters is supposedly in her kitchen making breakfast on May 7, 1901, she was pantomiming things like frying bacon and pouring milk from a pitcher. Later on, two high school sweethearts who live next door to one another are talking through their windows at night; this is done via two step ladders, which are placed side by side. And when the play’s final scene, set in the graveyard, rolls around, there’s just some chairs on stage. No stones, no backdrop other than the backstage curtain.

Ten-year-old me figured this was all because the college theater troupe couldn’t afford props and decided to do the play as best they could. I didn’t realize that this was quite deliberate on the part of playwright Thornton Wilder, who opens the play with the empty theater:

No curtain.

No scenery.

The audience, arriving, sees an empty stage in half-light.

Presently the STAGE MANAGER, hat on and pipe in mouth, enters and begins placing a table and three chairs downstage left, and a table and three chairs downstage right. He also places a low bench at the corner of what will be the Webb house, left.

After this, the Stage Manager begins addressing the audience in a monologue that literally introduces the play, starting: “This play is called Our Town.” He proceeds to slowly bring the audience into the scene, through Wilder’s meandering-by-design speech that creates the town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Even though he’s just set up the “set” that will be the houses of the two families we primarily follow, our Stage Manager gives a description of the town itself, pointing at things as though they’re really there: Main Street, the railway station, where the Polish neighborhood is, the various churches. Only after a bit of this–which, in the hands of a good actor, is quite engrossing–do we get to seeing actual characters on stage, actually acting like they’re in a play.

But that vacancy of physical props gives the whole thing a dreamy quality, which connected with the Stage Manager’s lengthy meandering monologues about the history of Grover’s Corners and what life there is like, keeps the audience feeling like they’re not witnessing a story so much as inhabiting a few moments in this town’s long life. Wilder knew what he was doing here: all the details he chooses for his town are familiar and somehow distant. Most of us probably think of our towns as having been like this, I suspect: an old town where nothing much happens, where people keep on living, and where no one notable ever really emerges. A few times Wilder presses the Stage Manager’s constant breaking of the “fourth wall” even farther, at one point even enlisting a couple of members of the audience (who are planted actors, obviously) to ask questions about Grover’s Corners (“What kind of culture is there?” and “Is no one in Grover’s Corners aware of social injustice?”)

Now, many years later, I see that Wilder’s metatheatrical approach echoes something that has vexed playwrights not just in his time, but for all time. Even Shakespeare had to grapple with the nature of his stage versus the stories he wanted to tell within it, as we hear in the first speech of the Chorus in Henry V:

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

In the end, of course, we start to get a hint of what Wilder is really driving at. Everything in our world is ultimately transitory, and all the remains is time and death. I suppose this is one thing that makes Our Town a staple of high school theater: along with being really cheap to produce, it’s got the kind of big theme that appeals to young people, its main characters actually are young people, and the whole meta-theater thing somehow feels more modern than it actually is (the play is now more than eighty years old). None of which is to suggest that Our Town should not be as common as it is…but its appeal is pretty easy to understand.

All of which brings me to the Tone Poem for today! Our Town has been filmed several times, for television and for the movies, and the 1940 film featured an Americana score by none other than Aaron Copland. Copland would later reduce his score to a ten-minute orchestral suite, which he dedicated to his friend, Leonard Bernstein. It’s a work of gentle sweetness, suggesting in its simple strains just the kind of town that Grover’s Corners is.

Most everybody’s asleep in Grover’s Corners. There are a few lights on: Shorty Hawkins, down at the depot, has just watched the Albany train go by. And at the livery stable somebody’s setting up late and talking.–Yes, it’s clearing up. There are the stars–doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk…or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.

(He winds his watch.)

Hm…eleven o’clock in Grover’s Corners.–You get a good rest, too. Good night.

–Stage Manager, Our Town, Act III

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And now, some space art!

 I saw this on the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Flickr stream. It’s a cool illustration of the formation of a planet. All that lightning and whatnot is, I must admit, somewhat inspirational as “sensawunda space opera” pictures go.

Hubble Watches How a Giant Planet Grows

Description from the photo page:

Five million years might sound like a long time, but it’s a young age for a planet!

 

Hubble studied an exoplanet that’s grown up to five times the mass of Jupiter over a period of about 5 million years.

 

This illustration of the newly forming exoplanet PDS 70b shows how material may be falling onto the giant world as it builds up mass. By employing Hubble’s ultraviolet light (UV) sensitivity, researchers got a unique look at radiation from extremely hot gas falling onto the planet, allowing them to directly measure the planet’s mass growth rate for the first time.

Cool!

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A 16 for Roger’s 16

 Roger has been blogging for 16 years, so in honor of that, here is Chopin’s Prelude No. 16 in B-flat minor, opus 28, for solo piano. Give it a listen, it’s all of a minute long! Surely you can manage that. And go read Roger!

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Something for Thursday

 Today is Willie Nelson’s birthday. He is 88 years old.

Sheila O’Malley has more on him, but suffice here to say that he’s one of the great geniuses of American art in the last century. I truly believe this. His songs and his music will endure.

A few selections:

Also, do check out one of my favorite pieces of music writing ever, this article on Willie Nelson and his guitar, Trigger.

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Tone Poem Tuesday

 One thing I’ve always believed about writing is that if an idea doesn’t work out in one piece, that’s no reason to put it aside forever. I’ve reused a lot of my own ideas over the years, a practice I learned in part from my beloved Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz wrote a concert overture based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, relatively early in his career. Berlioz wrote very little abstract music; just about everything he wrote had a literary antecedent of some kind, and Scott’s novel was the thing for this piece. And it’s quite a decent piece: it’s not one of Berlioz’s greater works, but it’s a perfectly good concert overture.

Berlioz himself was never satisfied with the Rob Roy overture, but he knew a good idea when he had one: the slow melody in the central part of the overture stuck in his mind, so when it came to write his second symphony, itself based on a literary work (this time Byron’s Childe Harold), a work that was to feature solo viola and orchestra after a generous commission from Nicolo Paganini, Berlioz basically lifted that entire section of his earlier Rob Roy overture and dropped it into the first movement of Harold In Italy, which is one of Berlioz’s greatest works.

Learn from mistakes and lesser works–but don’t be afraid to mine them for ideas!

Here’s the Rob Roy overture by Hector Berlioz.

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Images from an April

 April is a strange month around these parts. I’ve maintained for years that of Buffalo-Niagara’s four seasons, spring is the worst. Summers can be too hot and humid, but are mild compared to the South or the Eastern Seaboard; our autumns are spectacular and frankly, our winters are fine. Really. I’ll take the snow. But spring? It’s always an unpleasant March and April, usually stubbornly cold and stubbornly cloudy and just persistently unpleasant until May.

This April, though, has been…not bad. Not bad at all. It’s been mixed, certainly! But all in all? Not bad.

In baseball terms, May is on deck and warming up, but April has hit a solid single that it’s stretched into a double with some deft baserunning.

Here are some images of April 2021.

Always good wisdom to remember. #KnoxFarm #eastaurora #wny #spring #nature #hiking #trees #sign

Knox Farm, 4-18-2021

Knox Farm, 4-18-2021

April snow makes up for being slightly annoying by being short-lived and really pretty. #snow #wny #the716

In the interests of fairness, this is ALSO April in the 716. #wny #spring #the716

D9 of #AuthorLifeMonth: COVID Coping. A whole lot of it involved doggos and overalls (among other things). #Cane #dogsofinstagram #greyhound #greyhoundsofinstagram #Carla #pitbullsofinstagram #pitbullmix #pittie #staffordshirebullterrier #staffiesofinstag

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A Year of Masking

 It’s been a little over a year since Governor Cuomo issued an executive order requiring people to wear masks when in public. I remember the week or two leading up to that order, as it was pretty clear that masks were coming, and soon. People were saying things like “I hope we don’t all have to wear masks!”, but I was thinking, It’s just a matter of time. And sure enough, it was.

And now, a year later, we’re still wearing them…or at least, we should be wearing them. I’ve still got mine:

Masked

Yes, I took that picture outside, just [day]. And yes, I still wear mine outside…depending on where I am. More on that later.

Like many people, it took me a while to figure out the whole mask thing. The first mask I had was the “tissue paper” variety of disposable surgical mask, which left me feeling like I was struggling for oxygen and unable to see because just two months earlier I had returned to wearing glasses most of the time. It didn’t take me all that long to figure out how to shape the little wire thing to my nose, thus cutting the glasses-fogging down significantly. I also got accustomed to breathing through the mask pretty quickly; my brain was pretty fast in getting over the Oh shit I can’t breathe all my exhaled CO2 isn’t going anywhere and I’m going to faint for lack of oxygen OH NOES!!! thing. Yeah, that was complete nonsense that my brain was cooking up, as demonstrated by people all over the interwebs posting photos of their blood-O2 readings after hours of mask-wearing.

(I did buy an blood-O2 device, which I was at one point using daily to make sure I wasn’t heading into trouble. I never was; I have received exactly three readings less than 97%, and each of those became a 97 or better when I took it off my finger, waited ten seconds, and re-tested.)

A week or so later, my company provided white cotton masks for all of us to wear. This wasn’t entirely an improvement, as these didn’t have the wire in the nose and it wasn’t entirely clear which end was up. I didn’t much care for this one, as it was thicker and made my mouth a bit hotter and the glasses problem got worse with this one.

This may make my RBF worse. #Mask

For me, the main comfort issue was not with breathing or the warmth around my mouth and nose, which are things I actually got used to. The serious source of discomfort came from the ear loops. I don’t know how many other people had the same problem, but the flesh behind my ears would start to ache after an hour of wearing the mask, and after several hours, the pain was bad. I am lucky at my workplace in that I have a small workroom that’s all mine, into which I can go and where only one person is allowed at any time, due to social distancing guidelines. Thus I could get a “mask break” when I needed one, but long-term, this kind of mask wasn’t the answer. I did see gadgets on the market where you could tighten the loops to fasten around a strap that then tensioned against the back of the neck, thus relieving the ear issue…but instead I bought some hand-made masks from a guy I know who just happens to be an artisanal denim maker who makes, among other things, designer bib overalls.

Here I am with his mask and a pair of his overalls:

At the Farmers Market! Rocking the @zacebrand overalls AND mask! #ootd #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #zacedenim #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife

Not only was I able to purchase from an artisan directly, but these are very well-made, with good thick layers of cotton, an opening for a filter, and the brass nosepiece that folds to the nose easily and holds its shape. Best of all, though, is that the elastic loops go around the head and tighten via a spring clip. At last I had masking comfort and safety!

If you’re interested, those masks are still available, I believe! His current site is https://buttonbandana.com/; his usual web address, ZaceDenim.com, currently points to the Button Bandana site.

As the pandemic dragged on, I did buy another trio of masks, these from Proper Cloth. These also come with around-the-head loops, a nose-bridge stiffening wire, an internal filter and are made with thick-weave cotton. And if you want color choices, these are good, too. (I got navy blue.)

Out and about #winter #WinterInThe716 #ootd #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #lee #leeoveralls #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife #vintageoveralls #sweatersandoveralls #scarf

When I bought my masks, I bought three each time, so I still have one of each that I haven’t even worn yet. This seemed wise to me, given that it does not seem that masking is going to go away completely in the foreseeable future.

So that’s the mechanics of my mask-wearing. But how do I feel about masks in general?

Meh, I’m fine with them.

An awful lot of people have seized on mandated mask-wearing as the kind of tyrannical government overreach that fuels the fevered nightmares of all libertarians, which is in all honesty an over-the-top reaction that makes me either laugh or shake my head every time I encounter it. Masks are a pretty simple thing to do, but a whole damn lot of folks in this country hate them and go out of their way to make their feelings plain. I’ve seen people wearing MAGA masks, and masks reading “Worn by FORCE not FEAR!!!” (as if fear is the motivation, as opposed to thinking collectively about being a member of a functioning society). Once I was in a store and saw a woman wearing a mask that was imprinted: “THIS MASK IS USELESS!!!” That’s a big claim for the anti-mask folks, that mask-wearing is utterly useless and serves no purpose whatsoever. I’ve heard a lot of very bizarre claims, like “How can masks protect you from COVID if you can still smell a fart!” Thus demonstrating the speaker’s complete ignorance of the size difference in gas molecules and respiratory droplets. Or the goofy claims about how masks make your exhaled CO2 cloud around your mouth, stealing your oxygen, which I’ve already noted as disproved.

And then there are people who note the stubborn persistence of this pandemic, usually with a simple and pithy “I thought you said masks work!” Thus proving that they don’t understand that nobody ever said that masks were a simple cure-all. So it goes.

Oh, and the woman mentioned above with the “THIS MASK IS USELESS!!!” mask? I was deeply tempted to walk up to her and say, “You’re right, your mask IS useless, since you’re not wearing it over your nose, you idiot.” I did not do this, but damn, was I tempted.

I have not found mask-wearing in any way an impediment to my life or my job, and I do work that is occasionally fairly strenuous. In truth, sometimes I forget that I’m actually wearing the thing! More than once I’ve gone to sip from the mug of coffee in my hand, only to remember that I’ve got a mask on and I need to wait. Some commenters, usually right-wingers, will gripe about seeing people wearing masks in their car when they are driving by themselves; my response is that I do this because I’m usually combining multiple errands and multiple stops into the same trip, and I am simply not bothered enough by the mask to put it on, take it off, put it on, take it off, lather rinse repeat, all day until I’m done.

I also tire of the performative mask-removers. These are the people who will, upon exiting the store or business in which they’ve had to wear a mask to enter, will rip it from their faces and take in a huge breath of air, as if they’re breaking the surface of the water after a deep dive to the limits of their lung capacity. Cut the shit, folks. You’re not fooling anybody. Ditto the “I have mah rights!” crowd who insist that some tortured reading of the Constitution gives them the right to not wear a mask in a private business.

The newest wrinkle on mask-wearing, now that the vaccinations are proceeding nicely across the country*, is to insist that now we should all be able to stop wearing masks at least outdoors, and they should be a lot less necessary indoors. And yet, you can see by the topmost photo, I’m still wearing my mask outdoors. Why? Well, I don’t always wear a mask outdoors. When I take The Dee-oh-gee(s) for walks, either around the neighborhood or at a local park, I am very much still social distancing, and in nearly all such cases I am not encountering anyone at all other than to wave hello from the other side of the street.

However, when we venture into, say, the Village of Hamburg for our weekly trip to the local bakery we like, I’m putting the mask on. It’s a village, and I run into a lot more people there for fifteen minutes than I do in an hour of walking in the woods. Even though we’re outside and the outside breezes should disperse respiratory droplets pretty quickly, I’m not comfortable risking that…even though I’m vaccinated. The vaccines we have are amazing science, but all the science isn’t in yet, and we don’t know enough about whether fully-vaccinated people** can carry the COVID virus in sufficient supply as to pose a threat to non-vaccinated individuals. I choose not to risk it.

I choose to think collectively. I have thoughts on the recent history of America’s ability to think collectively, but I’ll save them for another time; suffice it to say that right now, the American addiction to “rugged individualism” is starting to strongly appear to me like the thing that’s going to ultimately doom this country to receding into the historical fog. But that’s for another time.

And you know what else is nice? When I’m wearing a mask, if you irritate me, you’re not going to be able to read my lips when I mutter, “F*** you!” And it’s over a year since the last time some self-appointed Enforcer Of Required Happiness told me to smile, so that‘s something.

So yeah, I’m gonna keep wearing my mask. And if that bothers you, well, that’s your problem, not mine.

(swiped from someone on Facebook; actual credit unknown)

* If you haven’t had your vaccine, and you don’t have a doctor telling you not to get your vaccine for whatever reason, go get your damned vaccine. Anti-vax preciousness is absurd and indefensible.

** I reached the “fully vaccinated” threshold of two weeks past my second dose of the Moderna vaccine over a week ago.

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Mr. Mannion

 Blogger Lance Mannion, whose real-life name was David Reilly, has died suddenly. I’ve been reading Lance for…I honestly don’t know. At least seventeen years, I would guess. He was a deeply literate man, with wide interests and voracious reading that informed his bright and curious writings. I didn’t visit his blog daily, but that’s OK, since he didn’t post to it daily. He was one of those bloggers whom you could tell worked hard on every post. He ignored the often-cited “laws” of writing online that advised brevity at all costs; even when he did do a short post, there was a thoughtfulness at work that you don’t find often.

Lance was also not precious about his tastes. He would write about literary figures and comic book movies at equal length, and that was just that. And he deeply loved his family, often posting about their own travails, like his sons’ educations (oh, the pride that shone through at their accomplishments!) and his wife’s own health struggles. There’s no love quite so tender as the person whose spouse is suffering.

He often began his blog posts by indicating that the text to come was taken from his notebooks. Apparently he liked to go to Barnes and Noble and sit in the cafe with his coffee and his notebooks and…write. There’s a certain charm to this, and it’s a kind of approach that I’ve often considered adopting.

A quote:

Yesterday morning we Mannions made a pilgrimage to Barnes & Noble where I built this stack of books on our table in the cafe. I had no plans to buy any of them—as our poet pal Steve Kuusisto is wont to call it, B&N serves to its corporate dismay as a loitering library for too many of its customers, including me, most of the time. I’ve been known to buy more than a coffee on occasion—I was only looking through them to see which I wanted to put on reserve at the library. Mrs M looked aghast at the stack. She didn’t trust me to limit my choices. We’re in the process of being crowded out of our house by books I’ve taken out of the library that I intend to read, knowing I won’t get around to reading, but can’t bring myself to send back because, you know, just in case. I assured her I would be realistic this time.

Lance wrote easily about sports

It’s been a long time since I was a football fan, and I haven’t watched it regularly in ages, since Joe Montana left San Francisco, in fact. But I watched Buffalo play Baltimore last week and I’m watching them play Kansas City tonight, because a good friend from my college days is an ardent Bills fan and I feel I have to root for them for her sake, but geez! Football is boring.

What are we watching? Two committees of old men playing eleven-level chess using young men as the pieces?

When I tweeted that point last week, a friend quoted George Will: “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” But Will was talking about the play on the field; the committee meetings he meant were the huddles. I mean the way football games are covered on television and the way we’re made to see them. The committees are the coaches, and the cameras and commentary focus on them as if what they’re doing is why fans at home are watching and who we’re rooting for.

…and politics (this post written in 2010, as it became clear to Democrats that the Tea Party was about to swamp them and there wasn’t shit they could do about it)…

After reading the article, though, I see Palin selling them something else, a magic ingredient of her own concoction. She’s selling them her unhappinesses and resentments, her sense of injury, her insecurities based on her sense that she is not what she ought to be.

She is selling them her own self-loathing.

Which makes her like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, obvious self-loathers who’ve made careers out of peddling their own insecurities to audiences willing to feel abused, misused, exploited, and despised by their betters.

There were hypocrites who sat in the meeting houses and nodded along as preachers like Jonathan Edwards told them they were sinners in the hands of an angry God who was looking for a reason to drop them like spiders into the fire and thought, “Yes, that’s exactly what they need to hear.”

But there were more members of the congregations who wanted to hear how much God despised them, how unworthy they were of His mercy and even His notice.

It’s another perversion of pride.  “See, God, what a wretch and a sinner I am.”  People can become as addicted to their self-loathing as to any other feeling.

Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck are enablers.

Pointing this out won’t do us any good come November.

…and Star Wars.

But the core of the original movies is the tale of the last Jedi Knights, and now I am going to say something complimentary about George Lucas.

Lucas based his knights on the Knights of the Round Table.  Luke is King Arthur.  (Interestingly, but fittingly, in the Expanded Universe, it’s Han and Leia who go on to rule over Camelot, while Luke becomes a version of Merlin.  The Jedi don’t want power, after all.)  Obi-wan and then Yoda share the role of Merlin.  That’s always been obvious.  The three prequels/sequels have underscored it.

And in the first three movies Lucas cared more about his main characters’ stories as knight’s tales than he did about their roles in the war that drives the plot.  The war is only the background to the important stuff, which is why Lucas allows the war to be mainly fought and won by secondary and minor characters.  Luke, Leia, and Han help save the day, but Lucas makes it clear that the rebellion itself doesn’t need them.  This is why Wedge Antilles, Luke’s ace pilot pal, is an important character even though he appears only briefly in each of the original three movies.  Wedge must be at least as good a pilot as Luke, but as far as we know he’s not strong in the force nor is he a famous hero.  He’s one very good pilot among many.  The Rebel Alliance has all the troops, all the Wedges, it needs to fight the war.

Which leaves Luke free to pursue his own ends.

Which he does.

That one kills me, because Lance name-checks me in it:

In Attack of the Clones, Obi-wan sets out to solve the mystery of who is trying to murder Padme, which reminds me that I promised Jaquandor that I would write a post about Obi-wan’s career as the Jedi’s top private detective.

I never got that post about Obi Wan Kenobi, Jedi detective. It’s OK, Lance…but if there is an afterlife, I expect you to have that shit ready for me.

Lance wrote about his father a lot. His father only died a couple of years ago. I occasionally got a sense in Lance’s writings, maybe a bit more frequently these past years, that he was beginning to sense that he was no longer the young man, that his own sun was closer to his own Western horizon than the Eastern one. I don’t know for sure if he thought any such thing, but it’s something I felt lurking in his writings.

This one I remember. He liked doing this kind of post, in which he just reported straight on things he saw unfold out there in the world. I think it was because of Lance that I started really noticing the intersection between “aggrieved white guy who votes Republican” and “owner of a pristine pickup truck”…but this isn’t political. It’s just a capturing-in-words of what happened when two people might have passed in the night…but didn’t.

Tonight I was at Barnes and Noble, having a dad’s night out, and not enjoying myself as much as I would have even five years ago—browsing through the new fiction I kept coming across author biographies that began, “So and so was born in 1980…”

While I’m in the cafe drinking my coffee, a barely 20 something girl sits down at the table next to mine.  A golden blonde, with languid, shy eyes and a determined chin. She wears a black tunic dress with spaghetti straps and a slit up to her thigh, a red cardigan over her shoulders (which she lets fall to her chair and onto the floor when she gets up to go to the counter later) and she stirs the ice in her iced latte a hundred times as she looks deeply into one of the books she has brought from home in a ragged canvass pouch. She reads with her lips slightly parted in a small, enigmatic smile.

My middle aged male vanity kicks in when I notice her. There are many empty tables all over the cafe, why pick the one next to mine?  I get the answer when I go to get a refill on my coffee.

At the table behind mine, and so directly across from hers, sits a young hero, another 20 something, with a granite chin, dark wavy hair, blue eyes, broad chest, a three day stubble and black rimmed Ben Franklins on the end of his nose. On the table in front of him is an empty coffee cup and a large cup of Pepsi.

Remember these props.  The coffee and the Pepsi.  They’re Chekhov’s gun, the one he said that if you bring it on stage in Act One has to go off in Act Three.

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it; you’ll have to read the entire thing.

Sometimes when times got tight, Lance would reach out to his readers for a bit of financial help. One time I sent him $20…and a copy of Stardancer. I have no idea if he read it, or if he did, if he liked it. I’m not sure I need to know. There’s a GoFundMe for his surviving family. 

Farewell, Lance Mannion. You inspired me to write better. I hope I did…and still will.

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Something for Thursday

 Songwriter Jim Steinman, one of the biggest contributors to the “bigger than life” aura of a lot of rock music of the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, has died. He was 73.

Steinman’s songs were the stuff of excess: in a genre where radio play discourages songs much longer than four or five minutes, Steinman filled artists’ albums with epic anthems eight, nine, even twelve minutes long. His songs were huge-sounding, too, seemingly written to take advantage of a singer’s full range (and God help a singer of limited range who tries to enter the juuuust-this-side-of-campy emotional world of a Steinman song). In Steinman’s lyrics, relationships are all about intensity and emotion and sensuality; Steinman’s songs are the stuff of wild love affairs that leave the participants in a breathless, sweaty heap, lit either by the final flickerings of the guttering candles or by the lonely lights of the car’s dashboard after a long night of…well, a long night.

Steinman’s songs may seem to be a marriage of the adolescent and the epic, but I find them wonderful just because it’s nice sometimes to remember what it all felt like in those awkward years when every emotion was a feeling large enough to tilt the world on its axis. That is what Jim Steinman captures in his best songs, that sheer, white-hot intensity of feeling that adult protestations aside, really is a lot more than just raging hormones. An inexperienced heart feels things wildly, in the kind of way of a Jim Steinman song.

While a lot of people might cite his work for Meat Loaf, my personal favorite Jim Steinman song is one he wrote for Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”. It’s a song where passion and anger and rage and death and tragedy all come together, and say what you will about it, you surely have to admit that this song belongs to Celine Dion’s enormous arena-filler of a voice.

Thanks for the music, Jim Steinman.

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