Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

We Loved Her … We Hope She Knew

I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits.”  Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarists

I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”  Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic

 

I am a red-blooded American male. But, it must be noted, I am not a standard one.

Standard ones, whether they’re fans of the Star Wars movies or not, think that the best Princess Leia moment, hands down, is any moment in Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi”, taking place inside Jabba the Hutt’s palace wherein the former Imperial Senator and current leader of the Rebel Alliance is being compelled to wear a ridiculous gold bikini thing.

I’d be lying if I tried to convince you that I never really noticed that scene, or that outfit. I’d also be lying if I tried to suggest to you that as the seventeen-year-old me watched the ensuing big Jabba-Sail-Barge fight scene … wherein the good Princess chokes Jabba to death with her slave-outfit chain and then runs out onto the Sail Barge’s deck and basically destroys it by firing a laser cannon down into it … I didn’t think, “boy, Ms. Fisher must not have had any fun doing all those stunts in that outfit.”

I was, and am, again, non-standard in some ways.

So here’s another way: my favorite Princess Leia moments?

They all involve Ms. Fisher’s smile.

 

Episode IV: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have just walked half a mile in order to receive their shiny Rebel Alliance gold medals after having blown up the Death Star. The first one. Princess Leia strives mightily to appear every bit the cool, aloof, regal Princess, straight face and all. Luke looks up at her, not yet knowing she’s really his sister, and grins shyly. And Leia levels a smile at him that is partly amusement, hey look the farm boy who’s a little short to be a stormtrooper actually helped us win, and one part affection, yeah actually as it turns out you’re all right, my friend.

Of course, in 1977, we all thought she was suggesting that yeah, in the sequel the farm boy might have half a chance of wooing; and by 1983 we realized that either she wasn’t suggesting that or she was wrong about a detail or two because during that medal ceremony who knew? But the smile is free of Princess Leia’s previous no-nonsense snark – and also free of her utter delight when she leaps into Luke’s and Han’s arms, as they return victorious from the big battle. It’s as if Leia had overheard Luke reminding Han, “I do … I care.” It’s just a very genuine smile. She cares too.

 

Episode V: Luke is having a new mechanical hand attached aboard a Rebel spaceship, and Leia looks on with a concerned look on her face. But as much as she’s concerned about what it must be like to have one’s hand cut off by the biggest baddest Sith Lord in the galaxy, she’s at least as concerned about the fact that shortly after “I love you / I know”, her new beau (who isn’t Luke; and Luke appears to be dealing with this without weeping) was encased in rock and taken away to who knows where.

Over the intercom, Lando Calrissian promises Leia that he’ll pilot the Millennium Falcon and find the frozen Han. Leia doesn’t even nod an acknowledgment – as if she’s anesthetized, retreated into herself, afraid to move for fear that the worry will overwhelm her. But then, from the Falcon‘s cockpit, the faithful Wookiee Chewbacca adds his own version of “don’t you worry”, and the best smile in the world spreads across Leia’s face, metaphorically lighting it up. It’s just a very genuine smile. Other people care about her. A big fuzzy other person cares. How can she resist that?

 

Episode VI: The good guys have prevailed. The bad guys are in ruins. The cute scene in which Leia clues Han in to the truth, which is that she and Luke are siblings and it will be all right for him to give her many pecks on the cheek in the days ahead, is complete. Our heroes are surrounded by partying Ewoks and all’s right with the world(s). One by one, the main characters’ particular modes of celebration are revealed. One of our heroes is missing, though.

In a scene that lasts not more than four seconds onscreen, into the Ewok village finally strides Luke Skywalker, who has missed half the party in order to make a proper Jedi funeral pyre out of his estranged father’s fearsome costume, but now joins his friends. Leia steps away from Han, and the two siblings meet in a relieved and contented hug that has a little physical impact to it.  Han’s the new significant other, but Luke is safe and victorious and he’s family. The smile on Leia’s face has all the emotions of the two previous smiles in it, and something else besides. After all this craziness and quite literally death-defying running about, improbably, she and the long-lost brother she didn’t even know she had (whose identity she hardly would have predicted, at the beginning of all the craziness) are together, and safe, and care about each other, and have surrounded themselves with good people who also care about them.

 

The nice lady responsible for that smile, Carrie Fisher, passed away this morning.

She was an actress. Decades ago, she played those moments as beautifully as one can play them, considering that the movies that contained those moments were silly things, all about zap guns and spaceships and lightsabers and caped space villains and fuzzy co-pilots and one allpowerful Force controlling everything.

So it was a performance. Three particular performances that I’m thinking of tonight. On the days of filming, Ms. Fisher might have been having the worst day of her life, or might have been suffering from sleep deprivation, or might have been ecstatic that it was finally the last day of filming. But good acting has to come from somewhere. And even considering the complicated life she lived – contending with her self-professed mental illness, abusing a long list of controlled substances, divorce and tumultuous personal relationships … that smile had to come from somewhere.

And when that onscreen smile reached her eyes and made them twinkle … that was when I did the teenage-boy heart-skip-a-beat thing.

A non-standard reaction; but it was genuine.

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December 27, 2016 Posted by | celebrity, current events, entertainment, movies, science fiction | , , , , | Leave a comment

The 31-Day Blog Challenge, Day Ten: “Oh, Master”

Today’s blog challenge writing prompt:

31 DAY BLOG CHALLENGE, DAY 10: First celebrity crush?

 

Now we’re getting personal.

 

At this time in my life, I wish the answer to this question had been a famous person who was in a sober, intellectual line of work, someone more on the level of a UN ambassador or university professor, or if it has to be in the entertainment industry, a groundbreaking director or the equivalent, who broke the glass ceiling and paved the way for women to earn the same paycheck and the same respect as their male counterparts, who became known for their agile and creative mind, …

That, of course, is not what a crush is. Celebrity or otherwise.

A crush happens based on a whole lot of factors that don’t (in the harsh light of early morning) involve a whole lot of logic … or rather, based on a whole lot of factors that involve a whole lot of logic that doesn’t involve a whole lot of thought, sober, intellectual, or otherwise.

There is a deeper, more Neanderthal line of reasoning at work here, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, so why should we be mortified, years or even minutes later? Nature. Human nature. End of story.

Now then. We were discussing my first celebrity crush, I guess.

The object of mine was not exactly subtle … actually, that’s unfair. Rather, I should say, the circumstances and accoutrements into which she had been placed were not exactly the product of subtle minds or intentions … nor were they necessarily her choice, other than “I’m a working actor in the early part of my career; this is work; I am thankful.”

It was late 1960s/early 1970s television, after all.

It was the remarkable Barbara Eden.

 

It was because as a relatively small person, I stumbled onto a rerun of the old “I Dream of Jeannie” sitcom. Larry Hagman, pre-Dallas, as an astronaut who crash-landed in the South Pacific, happened upon a genie-in-a-bottle, released her, and (following the instructions of all genies in all bottles) found himself the unwitting Master of a Genie.

It wasn’t because of the rather, um, revealing outfit.

OK, maybe it was a little bit.

Partly.

I mean, for heaven’s sake, I was eleven years old.

I blame the TV producers for producing an outfit that adhered (somehow) to the 1960s’ network television Standards and Practices, and yet had potential to kinda light a young feller’s imagination on fire.

They did their job perfectly.

But there was something else.

 

I know you don’t believe me. Thus far we have been fixated on skin tone and relative dearth of fabric. In an young eleven-year-old male’s perception, was there anything else that made an impression?

There was. Truly.

There were, in fact, two things.

One was Ms. Eden’s smile.

Fire up a search engine and you’ll see. Her smile was bright and wide. It was not a come-hither smile, because Jeannie was not that kind of genie. It was not a snarky smile, or a smile with any kind of hidden agenda, because Jeannie wasn’t that kind of genie either. It was perhaps an overly trusting smile, because that was the kind of genie Jeannie was. The pilot episode established that she fell in love with the astronaut at first sight. It was perhaps fortunate that Jeannie met Larry Hagman before he became J.R. Ewing, since ol’ J.R. would have taken ferocious advantage of that smile in ways that would have really offended this eleven-year-old boy.

Anyway. In addition to that smile, there was one other thing that convinced this eleven-year-old boy that Ms. Eden was probably a really great person to hang out with (there being no other specific thought at that point, which was just fine too).

It was Ms. Eden’s voice.

It wasn’t a squeaky Kewpie-doll cutesy-pie voice, no matter how much the TV producers might originally have wanted that, during the casting process … no matter how much they might originally have thought that such a voice would help rake in the ratings … no matter how insistent the stereotypes of the time might have been.

It was a surprisingly contralto voice that probably communicated something else to the older teens and fellers in their twenties, thirties … fifties … oi … who were watching TV carefully at that time. But to me, it was a voice that – silly dialogue requirements aside (“Oh, Master!”) – communicated warmth, and friendliness, and humor.

And, at various moments in various “Jeannie” episodes, it communicated a steely resolve, quite often in the defense of this astronaut that the genie rule book said she was to serve. Somehow, Barbara Eden took a character created for a very-specific and not-a-little-sexist reason … and overlaid as much dignity and nobility onto that character as was probably possible. She made something out of nearly nothing.

 

And while everyone watching (including, I freely admit, this eleven-year-old) could not help notice the, um, look of the character … well, I still hope I wasn’t the only one who was taken with what we were hearing. The Barbara Eden voice made an impression on this future musician, whose stock-in-trade was much more audio than visual.

I was such a weird kid. But she just seemed very nice.

May 10, 2016 Posted by | blogging, celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, media, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Can’t Abide the Stanford Band

Yes, friends, after having repeatedly preached the gospel of “if all us band types can’t support each other, who in the world is going to?” in this space … I’m ripping on somebody else’s band.

Irony alert.

 

So, yesterday afternoon, I was alerted by the social media elves that there had been yet another example of college marching bands behaving badly.

In this case, it was the Rose Bowl halftime. As it was, the University of Iowa football team had been taking it on the chin, at the hands of the Stanford University athletic establishment. The score was somewhere near 35 to nothing at the break.

And then, reportedly (as I am without glitzy cable TV these days, I didn’t see any of it, but the reports were quite insistent), the Stanford band took the field, and took a few liberties.

Some background details to note here.

First, the Stanford band is a member of that subset of college bands who tend not to take themselves, their opponents, their activity, or indeed the concept of dignity, too seriously. And honestly, a band that can’t create a little fun in their show – somehow, and there are many ways to do this – isn’t much of a college band. Right?

Second, the Stanford band could not have predicted that Iowa football was going to tank as badly as it did, in that first half. Their intent wasn’t to pile on, at least in that context.

But pile on they did. And even if the score had been the reverse, apparently their halftime-show mockery of Iowa and its farmers and its Midwestern-ness crossed a few lines of good taste and good sense.

This is a thing that the occasional college band will do. They take shots at opposing teams, or schools, as an integral part of their halftime shows. Usually it involves public-address narration, so there can be absolutely no doubt that they meant that.

(You may recall earlier this fall, when there was debate about whether it was okay for the Kansas State band to take a crack at its in-state rival, Kansas University – when it wasn’t even the K-State/Kansas game! Never mind the issue of whether that drill formation was the Starship Enterprise or something, um, more personal.)

And third: this sort of thing is not new for the Stanford group.

Earlier yesterday morning, as they passed in review for the national-TV cameras at the Rose Parade, I watched how they conducted themselves – just the overall dominant impression they offered the average viewer who perhaps was new to the activity – and I posted this on the Facebook machine:

My apologies to everyone in the world… but the Stanford band is everything about band that I wish would just. please. stop. (Unearned swagger, for openers.)

But it goes back further than that. A lot further. And a lot less “oh, they’re just college kids”. There’s a history here.

There’s even a history on my social media timeline. When the Facebook algorithms told me that I had a few memories from past New Year’s Days to review and remember, yesterday … turns out those memories were of me making very similar commentary about that same Stanford band organization, exactly two years ago, after it covered itself in something other than glory during that Rose Parade.

So… Stanford… … … where to begin?”

And then, during that year’s Rose Bowl halftime clunker:

Here’s the only reason UMass should stay in Div. I-A: so that one bright shining day, they can play Stanford in a bowl game and put on the definitive halftime clinic.”

And then, I scrolled down further and noted my reactions to their Rose Bowl halftime show on New Year’s Day 2013, just a year earlier than that:

The TV camera angle of the day, for me: in the foreground, the Stanford band playing its halftime show … and in the background, the Wisconsin drumline kneeling on the sideline, their faces clearly reading: ‘…whatever.’”

Final score: Wisconsin wins music and dignity captions; Stanford wins ‘you’ll remember our band tomorrow morning at work’ caption.”

 

Sorry. That’s a whole lot of high-and-mighty dumping on one particular band organization – a band whom I have never actually met; whose rehearsals I have not watched; whom I have not actually experienced in real life. All I’m basing my reactions on … is what I’ve seen on TV and on Internet replays.

But that’s the point: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is what a few bands (Stanford being only the most obvious, yesterday) do: they live inside the bubble that is their own heads, or their own organizations, and remain convinced that it would be best if they played the part of arrogant jackwagons, on the field or on the parade route, because, well, WE think it’s funny, anyway. If you’re offended, or think we could try to bring a better musical product, well, that’s your hangup, dude.

On that subject, Australian philosophy professor Patrick Stokes wrote:

The problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

In fact, however, when you’re a band playing a halftime show, it’s not all about you – even if, yes, you’re the only people on the field and in theory you’re the show. You’re playing for somebody (in this case, an audience), and you’re representing someone other than (larger than) yourself. One hopes that, at the time, you realize it.

Or at least that your leadership does.

The training I’ve received via my college band, and then as part of the Drum Major Academy staff, has had at least as much to do with remembering where you are and what effect you have on other people, as it’s had to do with guiding the lines and playing the notes and hitting the drill dots and wearing the uniform frontwards.

Also, once, I read a high school band’s governing handbook, and it said this:

Let me give you some other things that band does for you. … #3. Citizenship: to develop better citizens for the world of tomorrow by devoloping the traits of responsible citizens today. This may be realized through the mental and physical discipline incurred from the enactment of the program experience. … #4. Service: to lend dignity, color, and atmosphere to certain school and civic events.” [Italics mine.]

Also, I read an interview with Richard Goodstein of Clemson University, and he suggested this to future band directors:

…As the administration you have to make sure that your students are good ambassadors of the university, whether they’re at home or on a road trip. … There are so many different stakeholders that you have to take a wide view and it makes you politically astute about what kind of things will make you successfull beyond the narrower view of just the marching band program.” [Italics, again, mine.]

Finally, of course, the purveyor of my aforementioned training in how best to do band (and, by extension, the rest of life) memorably said this, in an interview:

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

 

So I guess it just bugs the hell out of me that ninety-nine and a half percent of the college band world is just trying to do things right, to put on a decent show, to not get mocked mercilessly for wearing feathers on our heads, and just generally to get even remotely understood by the general public … And then yahoos like the Stanford band leadership have to go and plan stuff – on-field, pre-meditated stuff – that by extension casts all those darn bands full of dumb college kids, in a really poor light.

And in preparation for yesterday’s Rose Bowl, somebody at Stanford University green-lit that project. Okayed it for viewing by tens of thousands of live witnesses, and by millions of viewers … whose opinions of that school, and that band, and unfortunately band in general, would be shaped by what they were seeing in that moment. And who wouldn’t take the time to go to YouTube or wherever, to find out what the “average” college band performance was. Y’know, just so they could figure out where on that continuum a Stanford-esque show actually sat.

The final nail in the coffin: one of the Drum Major Academy students with whom I had the honor of working, this past summer, leapt onto Facebook and posted a thought that referenced one of our head clinician’s Starred Thoughts which happens to be my favorite:

All hype and no substance makes you a fluffhead.”

There ya go.

So thanks a bundle, Band Whose Mascot Appears To Be A Tree: through your efforts, the concept of band is in the news again, and for the worst reason and in the poorest light. Happy New Year to you, too; but only if that happiness comes in the form of dispensing with the attitude and gaining a little perspective.

January 2, 2016 Posted by | band, current events, DMA, entertainment, football, GNP, marching band, music, news, social media, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments