As Samuel Johnson said about the dog who stands on his hind legs: he doesnt do it well but you are surprised he does it at all. The Art of the personal Essay, and author of, against joie de vivre, portrait of my body, and, to Show and to tell, among other books. Full Disclosure, obsession and regression, flickr/hughgallagher, by Phillip Lopate. September 9, 2016, everyone should have an activity or hobby theyre not very good. It is quite educational, especially for someone like me with a superiority complex, to struggle for decades trying to acquire a skill without ever rising above mediocrity. I used to tell myself that I had simply started late, in my 20s, having had no tennis courts around me as a boy growing up in ghetto Brooklyn.
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Larger than life, as the saying goes. After the awards had been handed out, a band took over the stage and did a medley of Cantonese pop songs. There was a mini-tribute to leslie cheung, the singer-actor who had taken his life on April 1, 2003, by jumping out of the mandarin Oriental Hotel. (The previous day, which happened to be April 1, i went by that hotel and witnessed his fans gathering with bouquets of flowers, as they do every year on that day. The dreamboat-handsome Cheung, who had starred in a number of Wong Kar-wais films and was gay, seemed to have become the iconic embodiment of Hong Kongs creative, outsider stylishness and suffering.). In the midst of the award nights karaoke-like profusion of songs, two of the Fresh wave festival organizers were called to the stage and sang what I was told was the anthem of the Umbrella revolution, to the assembled crowds passionate enthusiasm. Then Johnnie to got up ordering and belted out my way in English, a bravura, hammy performance with its own innuendo of support for Hong Kong independence. Nothing could top that, but I myself was urged to take the stage, as the jury chairman who had come from afar. Not shy, i got up there and sang in the hammiest way youll never Walk Alone, followed by a demanded encore, my funny valentine. Though in my youth I had had a good voice, and had sung in choirs, i was out of practice and could hear myself going sharp; I had to finesse the high note at the end of youll never Walk Alone by shifting. No matter: it was in the spirit of the evening and the room wildly applauded.
At the end of the second day, we were asked to select a chairman of the jury, and though i kept protesting that it be anyone but me, since i was guaranteed the only one who could speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese (in which languages much. First at a restaurant and then repairing to our hotel, the voting for the awards took place. It was surprisingly contentious, taking four hours instead of the one hour I had over-optimistically imagined. When I had almost given up that we could agree on a grand prize winner, the other members fell into line and picked the one i wanted. All that remained was the next nights awards ceremony and dinner, which took place at a restaurant on the upper floor of a mall, with spectacular views of the city. Johnnie to, the prolific, internationally renowned Hong Kong filmmaker who specialized in gangster genre films of jaw-dropping visual panache (I am a huge fan presided over the event as chairman of the Fresh wave short Film Festival, a job he had taken to encourage the. In person, to is dapper, flamboyant, extroverted, generous, and quite a character.
The protests had petered out, i thought, and just before i arrived, some student leaders had been jailed and an unpopular figurehead installed long by beijing as Hong Kongs chief executive. I expected the mood to be somber and resigned, but quite the contrary. The Fresh wave international Short Film Festival organizers expressed outspoken support for the Umbrella movement as for an ongoing thing, and warmly reminisced about their participation. Perhaps because hong Kong had been until so recently a british colony, it resisted identifying with the authoritarian, big Brother ethos of first the mainland. I was the only juror out of five who wasnt Chinese. We watched 30 short films in two days, and struggling to keep my eyes open and fight jet lag, i sat in the back of the auditorium, so that none of my fellow jurors could see if I happened to snooze. The films were quite competently shot overall, but their cinematic technique was generally far in advance of their scripts, which tended to be one-note, sentimental, and shrilly melodramatic. As expected, there were a few gems; these subtler films competed for the prizes.
I have finally reached an age, however, when I no longer feel embarrassed to demand better accommodations. I am becoming a connoisseur of business class. The last time i had been in Hong Kong was 1990. From what I saw of it during the four days I was there last week, when not in screenings, it has been radically transformed by modern high-rises, with nary an old building left. A highly functioning, efficient city, it has lost some of its idiosyncratic charm: its cityscape of mirror glass skyscrapers and global luxury goods chain stores could have been anywhere. Still, there was the poetry of the Star Ferry crossing the beautiful harbor, and the many hills in the distance—and an intangible spirit of defiant pride and resilience, which i associate with cosmopolitan island republics. I had been following from a distance the fortunes of the Umbrella movement, that eruption of pro-democracy protests a few years back that occupied streets in the central business district. Largely spearheaded by youth, it had tried to hold mainland China to its vague promises, when the. Handed over authority to beijing in 1997, that Hong Kong would be granted a measure of independence.
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No candles and roses, just cut to the chase. But she was married seven times, which means she couldnt have been so hard-bitten. She must have believed in thesis the romantic dream at times, or maybe it was that maternal side of her that wanted to take care of someone. Her last husband was the football player Dick night Train Lane, who woke to find her next to him, having died accidentally in her sleep at the too-young age of 39 from an overdose of pills and alcohol. Her dates are 19241963. I once thought of writing my own book about Dinah Washington, or at least a long article for. The amount of research it would have required deterred.
Forgive me, dinah, all you get is this blog. Phillip Lopate is director of Columbia university's nonfiction program, editor. The Art of the personal Essay, and author of, against joie de vivre, portrait of my body, and, to Show and to tell, among other books). Full son Disclosure 30 films, two days, and the inevitable breaking out in song. Flickr/fljckr, by Phillip Lopate, april 7, 2017, last week i was in Hong Kong, invited to be on the jury of a film festival. It seemed weird to be taking another 15-hour plane ride, so soon after I had gotten back from India; but I had prevailed on the film festival organizers to put me in business class, so, aside from jet lag, the travel was tolerable. All my life i have flown in economy cabins, battling the seat-tilting customers in front of me and trying to find an extra inch of space to extend long legs, while democratically accepting the poor-mouth claims of my gigs sponsors.
Im impressed by her but not in love—my fault, i realize. Sarah vaughan, especially the young Sarah, sassy, is irresistible, the perfect halfway-point between Ella and Dinah. But late sarah sounds tired and mannered. Speaking of mannered, for a long time i resisted Nina simone, who dragged out her phrases to an extremity of self-indulgence, often forgetting to swing. Or so i used to think, though lately ive been taken with her full-throated, idiosyncratic musicality and poetic lyrics.
She too is in the art song tradition. As for Etta james, shes like a kid sister next to these divas: she hollers, appealingly and well, but its a little one-note, limited. She was born Ruth lee jones, and grew up in a gospel church world, from which she acquired vocal intensity. She went from jazz and salty blues to r b to pop standards, even country and western, never compromising her passionate delivery, always sounding just like dinah. According to nadine cohodass biography, queen: The life and Music of Dinah Washington, she lived a fast life, was rapacious in pouncing on those she fancied. Listening to her love songs, one gets the impression she did not confuse pleasure-taking with sentimentality.
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Billie sounded resigned yet bemused, as though she didnt believe in golf love any more but there was still the possibility of hooking up for old times sake. She had that detached quality, whether it came from superior intelligence or booze and drugs, maybe both, a liquid sound, like floating lily pads. Dinah sounded as though experience write had made her angry. There was a touch of gravel in her growl. As she aged, the voice didnt deteriorate, it just got meaner. I know I should revere Ella fitzgerald. Her technique is flawless, but she always sounds so clear and cheerful—I cant hear blues in her voice.
Dont get me wrong, i biography appreciate that Billie is the greater artist. The history of jazz runs through Lady days voice. All through my teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s, i listened constantly to billie holidays records, to the point that i knew every note, every phrase, not only hers but the great jazz musicians she played with, like lester young and Teddy wilson. I listened to her so often that I could anticipate every time she sang behind the beat or slid just under the note, and now I cant hear these records fresh anymore—i know them too well by heart. Then I started listening to dinah. She came a little after Billie. She swung, she was definitely a jazz singer, she played with some great musicians (Clifford Brown, ben Webster but there wasnt the same seamless conversation between her and her sidemen as thered been between Billie and Lester. Whether Dinah sang with a jazz combo, a string accompaniment, or a big band didnt matter: she was always alone. Billie and Dinah both sounded like the voice of Experience, but each came out of experience at different places.
deconstructing the ballad lyrics, clawing them apart and looking inside. She reminds me of Edith piaf, the way she acts out a song as much as singing. Shes convincing us that shes been around the block, that she has all the street cred you could ever want. And now shes distilling all of her experience to bitter wisdom. On the other hand, theres another way of interpreting that Hush now, dont explain. Hush is what you say when youre trying to soothe a baby. So its possible to read in her voice a maternal quality: she knows her man is still just essentially a big boy and cant help himself. The complexity of her response, simultaneously bitter and maternal, is what makes it so devastating. It borders on heretical to say that I prefer Dinahs version of Dont Explain to billie holidays, but there.
Shes the ultimate realist. Her voice, often called gritty, gets down here, hits rock bottom. Theres nowhere further. Her voice is like paint remover or sandpaper stripping the walls. I want to find words to describe her voice, but its a hopeless proposition, especially with this song, because the whole point of it is—dont explain. Its the national anthem of anti-hermeneutics, the theme song to susan Sontags Against Interpretation. Shes trying to communicate to her man about the exhaustion of communication.
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Full Disclosure, the complexity of Dont Explain, flickr/comunicom. By phillip Lopate, april 21, 2017, i am listening to dinah Washington sing Dont Explain. She is telling her man she knows he is cheating on her. Despite the lyrics insistence that she still loves him and it doesnt matter, her voice is harsh, bitter, weary. She is basically saying: Dont lie to me, save your breath, we both know what the score. What is there to gain? Youre my joy and pain. Oh no, dont explain.