This video gem captures country singer-songwriter Marty Brown performing several songs in 1992, long before he became a fan favorite on America’s Got Talent. The show is from an appearance at Longhorn Dance Hall in Calgary, AB, Canada.
Brown sings songs such as “Don’t Worry Baby,” “My Wildest Dreams,” “Your Daddy’s Long Gone,” Hank Williams’s “Honky Tonkin’,” and “Honey I Ain’t No Fool” (one of my favorites, starting at the 13:26 mark).
The following book review is a Guest Post by Russ Miller, an expert on literature, film, and other things. Russ grew up in the West and currently lives in Virginia.
I just finished the absorbing and well-paced debut novel American War by Omar El Akkad. It depicts a dystopian future centered on a second American civil war between the northern “blues” and the southern “reds.” The war’s personal and national tragedy is related through the experiences of one ordinary southern family that ends up having a profound role in the conflict.
American War’s Division
The fissures leading to another fratricidal conflagration are mostly unexplained and unexplored. We all know what they are – drawing as they do on the Republic’s historical, entrenched, accumulated animosities and resentments. But the match that ignites the dry tinder this time (it is the late 21st century) is the southern states’ refusal to comply with a federal ban on the use of fossil fuels.
The ban on fossil fuels comes too late in any case. Global warming and the resulting rise in sea levels has left the North American continent submerged and scorched in equal measure. Florida is already under water and the national capital has long-ago removed to Columbus, Ohio. These conditions exacerbate the conflict. But the cause isn’t climatic. It is something deeper.
American War: A novel is getting well-deserved positive reviews. El Akkad is a Canadian-Egyptian journalist who makes terrific use of his foreigner’s objectivity towards the U.S. and the harrowing experience he’s made reporting from some of the world’s intractable conflicts.
El Akkad brilliantly converts most of our contemporary pathologies into grist for the book’s plot: drone wars and torture; refugee camps and foreign-supported insurrections; and the obvious nod to today’s seemingly irreconcilable hostility between “reds” and “blues.”
Today’s Real Divide
Still, the book’s crux – a revival of America’s north/south hostility – misses its mark. As the last presidential election made clear, the real divide in this riven and disconsolate country centers on values and political perspectives. The fault-line defies geography. As Robert Kaplan reveals in his new book “Earning the Rockies,” red and blue American are not places but deeply-rooted states of mind keyed to questions of cosmopolitanism, identity-politics, and faith. Central Mississippi now is aligned with central Pennsylvania and Central Idaho. Similarly, New York now is aligned with Minneapolis and Lexington, Kentucky. Mason and Dixon can’t explain Donald J. Trump’s victory, at least not as neatly as El Akkad hopes. And besides, aren’t the northern fracking fields of Pennsylvania and North Dakota the heart of America’s new oil boom?
To have served as a more effective critique (or cautionary parable) of our current desperate condition, El Akkad’s book would have done better to imagine a future of secular, progressive North American mega-city-states (northern and southern) that observe their own laws (Seattle may be marking the path for this) as part of a cosmopolitan, global, “blue” archipelago – a modern Hanseatic League. The “red” rural rest should have been portrayed as an exploited and disparaged class kept poor and at bay by brutal repression, walls, and humiliating check-points (in the way that Israel “manages” the occupied territories today). The hinterlands would serve and resent the cities under the regressive, self-interested, and corrupt “governance” of sectarian chieftains or warlords (wouldn’t this be the Southern Baptist Convention). Contemporary London – simply “The City” – on one hand, and present-day Syria and Iraq, on the other hand. Those are the models for the conflict El Akkad imagines, not Charleston and Gettysburg.
El Akkad has the right idea. I also regret our internecine, seemingly incommensurable divisions. But he dares too little with the truth of our current malaise. To have seen the heart of that, El Akkad need not have traveled to Alabama. The short trip from his home “just south of Portland, Oregon” to Oregon’s Grant County (Portland and Multnomah County were exact mirrors of Grant County in the 2016 presidential election results) – east and not south – would have done the trick.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s amazing visual style is on display in the trailer for his upcoming film, The Shape of Water. The film, set during the Cold War in 1963, tells the story of a woman working at a government facility. She discovers an intelligent sea creature that is being held for experiments. From the trailer, it looks like a magical and suspenseful story.
Sally Hawkins stars in the movie, which was written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. Other actors in the film include Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Lauren Lee Smith, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Doug Jones, who played Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films, plays the creature in The Shape of Water.
If you have enjoyed del Toro’s work in films like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Hellboy (2004), you will not want to miss The Shape of Water. Check out the trailer.
The Shape of Water hits theaters on December 8, 2017.
Emmylou Harris recently appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert with her band The Red Dirt Boys and gave a moving performance of Steve Earle’s “The Pilgrim.” The song is my favorite from Earle’s bluegrass album The Mountain (1999), so it was great to hear Harris’s wonderful voice giving it a new interpretation and a new meaning.
In introducing the song, Harris touched upon today’s political culture and the plight of refugees. She noted, “This song is for the over 65 million displaced persons around the world.”
And then she began the song.
I am just a pilgrim on this road, boys; This ain’t never been my home. Sometimes the road was rocky long the way, boys; But I was never travelin’ alone.
A past post discussed cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker and his Pulitzer-prize winning book, Denial of Death. Here, we consider two movie scenes connected to themes from that book.
As discussed previously, Becker’s book addresses how human beings are unique animals. Our intelligence allows us to realize we are going to one day die.
That knowledge of infinite death is overwhelming, so human beings adapt various ways of suppressing the knowledge. We buy material things, we follow sports teams, and we join clubs. Also, we attach ourselves to groups, cultural items, strong political leaders, and things that appear to give us a subconscious feeling of immortality.
Becker argued that some of the ways we suppress our subconscious fears of death are unhealthy. He reasoned that a better way to live is with conscious understanding of our situation. In Denial of Death, he wrote that whatever humans do “has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything.”
Some songs illustrate an aspect of this point: if you consciously realize your days are numbered, you may better evaluate and spend your time on what is important in your life. Two movie scenes illustrate a similar point.
In Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a teacher at an all-boys school. In this scene, he attempts to get the students to confront their own mortality, hoping that if they realize their time is precious, they will better use the time they have.
Woody Allen has often discussed how Becker’s work has influenced his movies. In Annie Hall, there is a scene in a book store where Alvy (Woody Allen) gives Becker’s Denial of Death to Annie (Diane Keaton).
But another Allen movie sums up an aspect of Becker’s book in song. In this scene from Woody Allen’s musical, Everyone Says I Love You, the guest of honor at a funeral reminds the attendees of the fleeting nature of life.
So go enjoy yourself. Carpe diem. It’s later than you think.
What is your favorite movie about death? Leave your two cents in the comments.