Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Not the Point

The following thoughts have a point.

That point is not that ABC’s decision to include former White House press secretary Sean Spicer in the cast of the upcoming season of “Dancing With the Stars” has rubbed a great many people the wrong way.

I have my own feelings about Mr. Spicer’s time as press secretary, but they’re not the point either.

I have my own feelings about the suits in the ivory-tower offices that thought it would be a great idea to reward Mr. Spicer with pop culture celebrity status, when his single claim to fame was accepting a White House paycheck to defend the indefensible … but those feelings aren’t the point either.

The point has to do with Spicer’s own assessment of his likely success, or lack thereof, on the dancing competition show.

Spicer admitted Wednesday [August 21, the day his gig was announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program] that he’s not much of a dancer. He revealed that he was kicked out of the school band in sixth grade for having ‘the sense of beat of a steamroller.’”

I don’t know Spicer’s sixth-grade band director. I’ve never seen that teacher teach. I have no idea whether this quote is even accurate, although during this attempt at self-deprecation, Spicer insisted that the steamroller metaphor was indeed a direct quote from his teacher.

(The point of this blog post isn’t even to raise an eyebrow at the steamroller metaphor, since I’ve heard steamrollers that chug along quite steadily; maybe this band director said or meant some other piece of construction equipment, or some other noun entirely. I guess I get the gist, nonetheless; but man, the English language has taken a beating lately.)

But over the course of my time as a public-school music teacher and church choir director, I’ve heard more stories about music teachers of a bygone era dissuading students from continuing their musical interests on account of their alleged musical liabilities than I care to.

Just move your mouth along with the words,” said the elementary school chorus teacher in stories told by church choir members or (worse) wistful grown adults who subsequently never participated in any musical activities again because a music teacher told them they couldn’t sing.

As a high school band director, I encountered students at lots of different levels of musical ability. Some were truly spectacular natural talents; and some worked really hard just to keep pace with “average”. I can think of one or two whose contribution to our high school music program was one part musical skill to about seven eight parts hard work and (occasionally reckless-abandon-level) enthusiasm. They probably know who they are; they might be surprised to know how important they were to my experience as a teacher. I learned more from them than they might have learned from me.

For a truly inspiring concert experience, I will revel in the relatively humble achievements of a pack of music students who are not all Wynton Marsalis or Kathleen Battle and never will be … but who find some success and decide they want to experience it again and so they keep after it.

For all I know, Sean Spicer might not have been a troublemaker, a misbehaver, a disrupter, a hindrance. For all we know, he might have been an earnest “good kid” who tried his hardest and wanted to be a band musician so badly it hurt.

Who knows where Sean Spicer could have ended up, how different his life might have been, had his band director understood that “band is a place for everyone”, and figured out how to keep him around and get him a taste of success … rather than just badmouthing him and then “firing” him at the first sign of weakness.

Hmm. Ain’t that a familiar tale … I can think of another guy who treated Spicer that same way …

but again, that’s not the point.

August 26, 2019 Posted by | band, celebrity, current events, education, entertainment, Famous Persons, music, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, television | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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