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Haley Reinhart’s Creep, from Postmodern Jukebox

Haley Reinhart’s Creep, from Postmodern Jukebox

The scars of being boxed, packaged and sold by corporate machines can last all too long, but if this video is any indication, Haley Reinhart has managed to overcome this in resounding ways. If her time with Postmodern Jukebox tells the tale, she’s not only overcome her stint on American Idol (2011), but used it the right way: to launch what appears to be a unique and promising musical career, while doing it her own way, independent of corporate pressures and cookie cutter mindsets.

To me, her performance of “Creep” is flawless, with its incredible dynamic range, mood shifts, infectious building toward crescendos, its soaring highs and lows. A jazz aficionado, Reinhart adds scat, growls in just the right places, merges beautifully with the backing band, and basically knocks it out of the park. She’s only 25.

 

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Surprisingly good, fresh, funny and touching, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl tells the story of high school kids, coming of age, learning not just about life, but about death, and how we still keep discovering new things about people after they’re gone. Even the most important things. We still keep learning about ourselves in the process, and that how we treated them while they were on this planet is everything — well, except for realizing this should apply to the not-dying too.

Young Greg Gaines, played by Thomas Mann, is a senior in a Pittsburgh high school, and he’s socially awkward, very hard on himself, and tries his best to navigate through all the baffling teenage factions without ever getting involved in any one of them. And perhaps because he’s decided to remain free from all attachments — except for his one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler)  — he’s taken aback one day when his mother asks him to befriend Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke, who has been diagnosed with Stage Four Leukemia. His mother (Connie Britton), “the LeBron James of nagging,” wants him to go over to see her, so he does, and he initially makes a mess of things, but soon enough his quirky sense of humor wins her over and they become fast friends. So while she goes through chemo, loses her hair, gets sicker and sicker, they become close, and the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, tries to steer away from the usual Hollywood cliches. Greg narrates the film and tells us more than once that this won’t be the usual YA romance. And it isn’t, really. The fault is not in his stars.

But I bought it. And so did the audience at Sundance, apparently. And that helped launch this film, made for roughly 5 million dollars, into wide release last year. Though if you’re in a cynical mood, and inclined to pick these kinds of movies apart, it’s not that difficult — ironically, on grounds the director and writer likely sought to preempt. These days, it’s harder and harder to make movies without referring to other movies referring to movies and worrying overmuch that you’re caught unaware that it is a movie. Sometimes it’s easier just to make a blow ’em all up, action/chase/thriller/horror film and be done with it.

 

 

Harper Lee has died

Harper Lee has died

This is sad news. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird and the controversial Go Set a Watchman died today, age 89.

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

There will no doubt be hundreds of articles about her life, work and times, appearing all across the web, and I won’t even try to add to that list. But I do want to express my thanks for her brilliant first novel, for the creation of several iconic characters, and for what she gave overall to the Republic of Letters.

Harper Lee, you will be missed.

For those of you who want to read a quick look at her life, with several links to other articles, this Guardian story is a good place to start.

Death and the Mountain

Death and the Mountain

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

I

The splinter of sunrise in the mind
Before the wind shifts

And the beacon fades

All of life is a furtive glance
By death

By death in life
Unless we laugh and make that splinter

Shine
Make it manifest as full beam

As entire sun
Entire world

 

Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

II

The girl feared no one would care
She feared no one would come after her

But Van Gogh watched
And Van Gogh cared

As she walked into the horizon alone
Into the auburn and ochre

On her left
And the reds and greens

On her right

Black crows circling
Cawing above her

Mimicked in a sky
Like brushstrokes

Like golden bluish redish
Swirling heavens of new life

Overcoming death and fade
Death and forgetfulness

 

 

— by Douglas Pinson

 

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes formed in 2009 in Athens, Alabama, with Brittany Howard on lead vocals and guitar; Zac Cockrell on bass guitar; Heath Fogg on guitar and backing vocals; and Steve Johnson on drums, percussion, backing vocals. Their offbeat, highly idiosyncratic sound draws from blues, rhythm and blues, roots revival and, surprisingly, heavy metal bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. But what drew me to their music was the crazy, raw and beautifully strange voice of Brittany Howard. Able to warp it rough and gritty, throw in shocking highs and lows, twist her phrasing into pretzels and come back to hit you in the gut again, Ms. Howard gives “distinctive” new meaning. And while their sample size is fairly small, at two albums, they don’t appear to be in the mood to ever produce the same old same old.

This is a band to keep one’s eyes and ears on for the foreseeable and very bright future.

 

New Poetry and the End of Purity

New Poetry and the End of Purity

Spinozablue welcomes Colin James to its list of fine poets. Please send us your feedback regarding his poem, the site in general, the world as it is and ought to be, or whatever else is on your mind.

Garden With Courting Couples. 1887. By Vincent Van Gogh
Garden With Courting Couples. 1887. By Vincent Van Gogh

Finished Franzen’s Purity a few days ago, and was surprised at the sudden drop off in the quality of the novel, especially when the character, Tom Aberant, narrates in the first person. It was, frankly, agonizing to get through, and I couldn’t wait for the author to get back to the story of Pip (Purity) Tyler, but that didn’t happen until nearly the end of the book.

From this reader’s point of view, the problem lay in his decision to focus on the love/hate relationship of Tom and Anabel, diving into their respective neuroses to a fault. While deep psychology wounds, torments and a character’s way of coping with them can sometimes make for a riveting story, there is such a thing as too much, for too long, without coming up for air. There is such a thing as being swamped by the neurotic, by the viciousness and cruelty of relationships, which, if there is no escape, no sense of learning from these things, no real attempt by either party to stop torturing each other, tries the patience of even the most sympathetic among us. Fish and guests and the three day rule on steroids, basically.

And the story of Andreas Wolf wasn’t much better by the end. His relationship with his mother was toxic. His relationship with Anagret was toxic. As was his ambiguous love/hate for Tom Aberant, and Tom’s for Andreas. Perhaps it’s just me getting older, but when I read novels, I want at least a few of the fictional characters I encounter to be “good company.” I want, preferably, the main characters to be people I’d enjoy being around and spend time with. Because you do, in a sense. You spend time with them, they’re company, at least for a time, and if the novel is moving, well-written, compelling, you will likely keep company with them after you put the book down for the last time. In the case of Purity, Pip, and to some degree, Leila and Jason were it for me, and Franzen chose others to focus on more.

Lastly, the sexual politics of the story seemed all too often tone-deaf as well. Franzen has taken some hits over time from some feminists for his depiction of women in his books, and I couldn’t help sensing that he was working through this in the guise of the story itself. It was as if he were carrying on a conversation, sub rosa, with those critics, both acknowledging some past errors and remaining defiant at the same time. Through his characters. Through their own battles. And this can sometimes work, but it typically requires sublimation of resentment and I think it was far too close to the surface.

Positives? Thought-provoking sections on the Internet and our loss of privacy, of the shrinking contours of private lives outside the Web, on social media, on the massive difference between public and private personas. And, as mentioned earlier, a truly beautiful section on the wilds of Bolivia, Pip’s wonder at her discoveries there. But, for me, the deep neuroses on display was too much to overcome.