George Kaufman (YGtCTO #192)

You Can’t Take It With You


Stage play written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

You can’t make this stuff up. Our first home as a married couple was the second floor of a three family house in the distant suburbs of Boston. The place was large and the people nice enough, even with the first floor fire from smoking in bed.

We also learned the valuable lesson that timing is everything when seeking a place to live. We saw the railroad tracks on the other side of the backyard fence, but were too naive to foresee the implications. You’d think we would know better as we had turned down a place in Boston’s Back Bay when we heard the subway pass by just outside the walls on the first floor.

The tracks served the commuter rail, which proved convenient because I could walk a block and catch the train into work. Plus, we knew the commuter rail only ran during times when we would be awake. That did not take into account the leasing of the tracks to Amtrak or freight carriers overnight.

So, upon moving into our new abode, we happily unpacked our fragile items and put them up on shelves. I still remember waking suddenly to the entire building shaking as a loud rumble approached and subsided. My response at the time involved turning to my wife and saying something like, “It’s just like that scene in You Can’t Take It With You.” You know that you’ve married well when you can make a reference like that in the middle of the night and receive an agreeable nod in return.

Items teetered on the edge, but nothing broke. We probably shifted everything to the floor until morning.

George Kaufman

Studying theater
in college provided quite a few revelations, but the best may have been George S. Kaufman. First, the gratification of finding that the same genius had been involved in so many plays and movies that I loved- we’re talking smart comedy that relied as much on timing and word-smithing as performance- it made sense as a model for a career in ways that auteur‘s seemed created by luck more than by sweat. For that matter, humor required sweat and work if you wanted to be really good. Everything does, which is not a bad lesson to learn in college.

If you spend any time at all working in theater, amateur company through full blown Actors’ Equity production, you know that it is a collaboration. You also discover the full slate of human personality. Then, you get to see them under duress. It can be hard to find a model for quality behavior in the morass that ensues. Even when people say that someone behaved like a gentleman, they may be suggesting that he was a prig.

My favorite story is about how Kaufman gave notes to his cast individually, foregoing the usual group postmortem that torments so many casts and crews. Hearing stories about Kaufman as a director and a collaborator- he knew how to bend without breaking. He brought creative solutions to intractable problems. Most of all, he treated everyone with respect.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 108 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (YGtCTO Words #64)

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

Short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Your experience may vary, but I had to read The Scarlet Letter in school and I resented it. The teacher clearly suspected her students of indifference because we received regular quizzes to ensure that we kept up with the reading. I confess to actually liking some of the book, but that did nothing to reduce my irritation. This was late middle school, of all things, and let’s just say that some key plot points had little resonance.

A few years later, I visited Salem and toured Hawthorne’s house with the seven gables. I came away with no improved opinion of Hawthorne, but with a mild interest in New England architecture. Really, it was probably a lot to ask a nice historical tour to compete with the hullabaloo that has grown around the Salem witch trials. Once they’ve seen a torture chamber, it’s tough to impress them with a gable.

Yet, that damn book keeps returning, like some specter haunting our national consciousness. Students still find it required reading. And somehow it touches a lot of people. Hawthorne’s accomplishment in touching on universal themes and making them continuously relate-able rather stuns me.

Then, there was this thing where I went to college and took some literature surveys in order to fulfill the English requirements. More Hawthorne appeared before me, as did a number of other 19th century authors. Shades of Willa Cather and Wilkie Collins for me (don’t get me started).

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The real struggle

at that age is trying to figure out where you fit into the scheme of things. People are always telling you what you are supposed to like in order to fit in, let alone succeed. As an artist, that becomes an internal debate about from whom you will learn and whom you will discard. Even worse, one collegiate English department is not like another. Stephen Crane might be acceptable in one place while he is a minor curiosity elsewhere. Reading genre fiction would only get you transferred to the pop culture studies department headed by the professor who burned enough incense to have his office moved to the basement.

So, I read some of Hawthorne’s short stories and really liked them. One professor appreciated them, but no one else seemed interested. Once again, that feeling of being on the outside looking in… But Hawthorne seemed gifted in ways that high school teachers barely had the time to hint at. He touched on themes of loss and betrayal and somehow made old pain feel like modern pain. His characters were so much more than Hester Prynne. For her part, she’s sat in the back of my mind, just as that early reading intended. She has certainly proven a good test for empathy over the years.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 109 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Miles Davis (YGtCTO Music #64)

Solea


Composed and conducted by Gil Evans; performed by Miles Davis

So, there’s this thing that we all count on where we assume that the intractable problems of today can find solutions tomorrow because part of the problem is the people who are trying to find the solution. They are locked into prejudices and modes of thinking that prevent forward movement. Progress may be a generous term for the spurts and false starts that add up to history, but the long view seems to favor overall gains in many, many fields.

The history of art illustrates this well as movements have come and gone. Generally, new movements rise among up and coming generations. Part of the requirement is that the elders make room. With that stepping aside, even reconciliation between traditional foes becomes more likely.

In recent decades, many advances in the arts have been technology driven. Beside the incredible rise in marketing across all arenas, popular arts have been successfully commidified by corporations (as well as the less popular arts).

As a growing adjunct, we now have available more art than anyone could possibly consume in a lifetime. Over the past century, we have created documents of music, opera, theater, literature, and all the rest. The quality of those documents has improved substantially in the last half century to a degree that much of this “older” art remains in circulation and competition with work being produced today. No matter how much you love any artist working today, their popularity pales in comparison to The Beatles- and I mean their popularity today and not in their heyday.

In 1910,
you might have remembered Eugène Caron fondly, but he was not in direct competition with Erico Caruso, but any new recording of Tosca has to compete with Luciano Pavarotti.

Miles Davis

This is all by way of long prelude to saying that Miles Davis hangs over jazz music in a way that boggles the mind. Sketches of Spain, which includes Solea, is one of the great musical recordings of all time. That amounts to the last century, doesn’t it?

But it is only one milestone among many. Other people might point to Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew as absolute favorites. The list does not stop there, but I will.

Essentially, Davis with his fellow musicians carved out this remarkable landscape on recordings which remain widely available. They are wonderful- we continue to hear them.

Maybe there is a group of future innovators growing up somewhere on the planet now. They will develop a new, much loved variation in one of the arts. It will be that much harder as a part of their potential audience to set aside Miles Davis to allow them room. Add to that the deluge of art created by the democratization of art production. I wonder how we recognize the next great thing… because I’m not sure Miles Davis really looked all that promising early on.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 110 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.