Mother’s Day in a geek house.
First of all, let me set to rest your concerns about my headline. Yes, everyone can sing and everyone should sing. The health benefits of singing have been exhaustively researched and universally lauded. (In case you didn’t know, even singing badly is good for you: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/singing-happy1.html )
But I’m not here to discuss recreational singing, karaoke singing, singing in the shower or even singing around the campfire. I want to talk about professional singing, ie., singing for which one is paid and which people pay money to enjoy. And because he’s powerful and rich and famously not prone to anger (!), I’m going to use Russell Crowe as my example.
Russell Crowe’s singing is awful. On a purely technical level, it’s laughable; on an aesthetic level, it’s horrendous. In the Les Mis montage last night at the Oscars, the cast appeared on stage singing the stirring anthem “One Day More” to great effect and I was moved… until Crowe entered and nearly ruined it. It was as if a foghorn had started blowing in the middle of a Sousa march and was as distracting as the cowbell in that classic SNL skit. (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/digital-shorts/video/recording-studio-more-cowbell-excerpt/1374012/) Crowe’s voice at the Oscars had the same effect that it had in the movie: the fourth wall came crumbling down and I was no longer carried away by the moment.
Russell Crowe is a fine actor, a distinguished craftsman and an attractive man. He looked the part of Javert and his dramatic portrayal was pitch perfect. If only I could say the same about his vocal performance. Because Les Miserables is not just a movie; it’s a musical. Who on earth would choose this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8WSysB5vKM over this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFr6nk4ry4Y ?
The man in the second clip is distinguished actor Philip Quast, an Australian who has won the Laurence Olivier Award three times. Go back to that clip and skip ahead to about 2:30. Listen to that tone, that intonation, that inflection, then take note of his high note at about 3:20. His voice soars with the orchestra and I get chills, no matter how many times I hear it. Now skip ahead one last time, to about 4:00. This is the most important moment of the song, when the hopelessness of Javert’s position has begun to dawn on him, when the actor/singer has to convince the audience that committing suicide is better than living with the knowledge that his long-time nemesis is a good man. Quast makes it believable, compelling, and beautiful.
If there are actors in this world capable of singing like this, why on earth would they hire Russell Crowe instead? (Oddly enough, in this live clip released in December, Crowe sounds a bit better, but it’s unclear if the muddy sound quality is helping him: http://www.hypable.com/2012/12/10/hugh-jackman-and-russell-crowe-sing-the-confrontation-les-miserables/) While researching for this blog, I went to iTunes and listened to every snippet of music from Crowe’s band(s); in performing pop music, he sounds fine. Uninspired, but perfectly passable for the kind of music he’s writing. That music, though, is infinitely easier than “Stars,” Javert’s big number in Les Mis.
The truth is, singing in a musical or opera is not easy, and it’s not the same as singing a pop song. Frankly, musicals are unrealistic and slightly ridiculous. It is absolutely unbelievable that someone would suddenly break into song during the course of every day life. In order to push the dramatic action forward through music, it requires training and careful preparation. Not every actor is suited for it or has the natural gift. But judging from the casting in any number of big budget Hollywood musicals, movie producers seem to think that anyone can learn to sing.
Let me be clear: if Russell Crowe were sitting at home singing along with his double CD set of the original Les Mis production, I would cheer him. But he was paid millions to play a major role in a musical and I would argue that his inability to execute the vocal lines skillfully made the movie weaker and less effective. If you don’t believe me, imagine it with Philip Quast in the role of Javert instead of Crowe. No comparison.
Marni Nixon, the woman who sang for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” says “If you’re making a musical, you should hire singers. Singers who can act. In a musical, you want singing that’s technically good. It’s cruel to make people who can’t sing, sing.” Nixon feels Hugh Jackman could have sounded stronger, but adds that Crowe “was nothing. It wasn’t that he was choosing to sing like that, he just couldn’t do anything else.”
Granted, I am biased on this issue. I am a professional singer myself, with an advanced degree in voice. But after spending years learning how best to faithfully translate the printed notes into compelling drama, it irks me that a movie producer thinks anyone can “pick it up” in a few months with a few voice lessons. There must be some natural talent there at the very least and if there isn’t, they should find another actor.
Of course, there’s an argument to be made that Russell Crowe is a big name and brings people to the box office. But they already had Jackman and Hathaway and I think the clips of Crowe’s singing probably dissuaded as many people as his name attracted.
The underlying point, though, is that Les Mis is a musical. If director Tom Hooper truly respected the material, then he would have seen that the musical line was just as important as the words the actors were saying or the cinematography. If he wanted to do it without music, he could have remixed the 1998 version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. I suspect that Rush can’t sing well and it doesn’t matter because the 1998 version wasn’t a musical.
But Hooper chose to do the music and so he should have hired real singers. That’s what the score demanded and it’s what audiences had every right to expect.
Homemade library on Beaconsfield Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. Leave a book, take a book.
Dupont Circle this afternoon
On this day in 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person (not first woman) to fly solo from Hawaii to California. Others had attempted the trip before her. Seven years earlier, the pineapple tycoon James Dole had offered $25,000 to the first team to fly from Oakland to Honolulu. Tragically, ten people died before the race was over.
But when Amelia took off, going the other direction, she had an uneventful flight. She was so relaxed that during the last few hours, she listened to a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.
As is so often the case, the lesson is that women have been striving and achieving for centuries; feminism is neither recent nor unique to the U.S. Although Amelia Earhart was besting male pilots in the air nearly a hundred years ago, today only 5% of the members of the Air Line Pilots Association are women.
I’ve included the link to a CNN article below titled “Why aren’t more women airline pilots?” I found the article slightly disingenuous in its wide-eyed confusion. Check out the other link, an article from Mireille Goyer forAVweb. She writes:
And why, when women constitute more than half of the total U.S. population, hold 60% of the wealth and have veto power over 95% of family purchases, is there virtually no aviation industry advertising directed at female consumers? …
Let’s take a look at how women are treated in another traditionally male sector, the motorcycle industry. Did you know that Harley Davidson reserves an entire section of their Web site to women riders with subsections such as riding courses, mentoring, the right bike, and, oh yes, riding gear and apparel? Were you aware that there is also a Women Riders’ Month? It is actually just good business practice. From 2003 to 2008, Harley Davidson saw a whopping 29 percent increase in the number of female motorcycle owners.
As far as we’ve come to level the playing field, women are working against thousands of years of patriarchal bias. Most of the men I know aren’t chauvinistic, they’re simply unaware of the subtle ways in which life has been tailored to accomodate men and not women.
I should mention that this date may mark another first for women, although I haven’t been able to verify it. On January 11 in Maine, Frances Moulton took over the reins of a national bank, probably becoming the first woman in America to do so. Today, only 16.7% of our bank executives are women and out of 13 executives who report directly to Citi CEO Michael Corbat, none are female.
The Golden Rule:
“Do unto other people’s kids as you would have them do unto your kids.” (From participants of “Children, Families, and Social Issues Seminar”-The Poynter Institute 1998)
Yesterday was a tough day for the nation, but it was excruciating for the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School. 28 people are dead today that were alive on Thursday, including 20 young children. That kind of loss is unimaginable, unnecessary, and unforgiveable. But the number of victims is much higher than 28. As President Obama pointed out, “Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.”
As the police were gathering the terrified kids and rushing them out of the building, the officers told the kids to close their eyes so they wouldn’t see the blood and the bodies. It was a small thing, but if it prevented the kids from seeing something they wouldn’t ever be able to forget, it was worth it. And that makes it one hundred times more despicable that when the children emerged from the building, traumatized and confused, they were met by reporters and cameras snapping pictures and shoving microphones in their faces.
I eventually turned the TV off because I couldn’t bear to watch these kids and their parents being questioned. One reporter said to a child, “You weren’t scared, were you?” Of course the kid was scared and how dare you in any way imply that he shouldn’t have been.
Is there evidence that being questioned by reporters increases the trauma for young kids? How about the personal experience of blogger Kim Simon, who was 14 when her friend was murdered at school. She says she remembers very little about what happened except, “YOU were there. YOU, with your enormous video cameras. YOU, with your microphones poking into the bubble of grief that grew bigger as we waited for our parents to find us. YOU, with your horrible questions about what had happened, had we known Mike, had we seen anything? No parents there yet, just children. No teachers, just children. And you.”
There is no journalistic value in the information an 8-year-old gives you when he or she has just gone through a horrifying experience, but there is a great deal of harm that you can do to both the child and the parents. What they say in the moment while still confused and hurt may be regretted at a later time. The Central Union for Child Welfare has this advice for reporters: “Children are also more vulnerable to publicity than adults, as children are not necessarily capable of evaluating their own privacy or knowing what should be kept secret about their own lives or the lives of those close to them. Nor are they necessarily capable of evaluating the effect of what they say on their own lives and those around them.”
I assume that all of the reporters got permission from the parents to conduct these interviews but I don’t think that makes a bit of difference. In a situation like that, where the parents are likely in a state of shock as well, the only person who is thinking clearly and making reasonable decisions is probably the reporter. So it is the journalist’s responsibility to choose not to interview those suffering families.
These kids just got a horrifying lesson in how little the world can protect them if someone is determined to do them harm; the last thing they need is to then be exploited by professional journlists who are hoping to get every last ghastly detail. Asking a grade school kid to relive the moment when bullets were flying by his head does not add to my understanding of the situation at all. It’s not useful information for me, it’s voyeurism of the worst and most exploitative kind.
As James Poniewozik wrote at Time.com: “Reporting tragedy is terrible business, awful and necessary. Unspeakable things have happened, and it’s a journalist’s job to find out about them and tell the world… But there are much better ways to do this.”
So yes, please, turn away the cameras. Better yet, turn them off until you’ve moved away from the children. We are professionals. We can do our job professionally and ably, but we must also do it ethically. There should be a higher standard than “juiciest soundbyte, damn the cost.” And that standard should always protect the most vulnerable among us.
On December 14, 1980, the CIA issued a warning to lame duck president, Jimmy Carter. The agency said the Soviet Union had sold billions of dollars in weapons to Third World countries and installed its own advisors, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. Three of the countries that got the most military assistance? Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.
One can see how this arrangement was beneficial for the former Soviet Union, both diplomatically and economically. History.com writes this: “Soviet trade with the Third World increased from just over $250 million in 1955 to over $13 billion in 1978. In addition, the Soviets were able to obtain sources for natural gas (Afghanistan), oil (Iraq and Syria), and aluminum (Turkey).”
At the time, the US was also selling arms worth billions to Third World countries. That detail was not included in the CIA report, although the spooks did say the USSR’s arms deals were destabilizing the region and could result in war.
Not hard to find the parallels here, especially after reading reports of Egyptian police deploying tear gas against civilians protestors, using canisters labeled “Made in U.S.A.”
On December 13th, 1862, the Union Army suffered a crushing defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Confederate troops entrenched on the high ground while Gen. Burnside of the Union repeatedly tried to pry them loose with fruitless full-frontal assaults. The battle was devastating to the North, and a major morale boost to the South. Casualties were heavy: more than 12,000 for the North and more than 5,000 for the Confederates.
Senator Zachariah Chandler wrote of it: “The President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion, and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays.” Below the Mason-Dixon line, of course, the mood was jubilant. The Richmond Examiner reported Fredericksburg as a “stunning defeat to the invader, a splendid victory to the defender of the sacred soil” and added that ”General Lee knows his business and the army has yet known no such word as fail.” On December 16th, Lincoln remarked, “If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.” Burnside was relieved of his command a month later.
There are many parallels here. First of all, Burnside’s original plan to rush across the Rappahannock River and reach Richmond quickly was sidelined by bureaucratic delays. It took too long for the red tape to be cleared so the floating bridges they needed could be transported to the front lines. By the time the pontoons arrived, it was too late.
But what I wanted to point out was something entirely different. 150 may seem like a long time, but it has only been a few generations since fellow Americans were fighting each other to the death.
In this case, analysis of the battle in the media was relatively similar: the Northern army got crushed and the Confederates won the day. But the emotional reaction was obviously very different: joy and increased confidence in Richmond, despondency in DC. (I should also note that Lincoln’s political opponents were very quick to try and use the defeat to their advantage and make the president look bad, despite the fact that he was the Commander in Chief during wartime.)
This was not the first time that important news got a very different reaction in the North than it did in the South. The demarcation between Maryland and Pennsylvania may be intangible but the Mason-Dixon line is all too real in our country’s heart. The Civil War was not the beginning of the division in this nation and we all know that it wasn’t the end. The Pew Research Center issued a poll this week that shows polarization at a new high: 80% of those polled think the country is more divided than ever before. And on many issues, including the recent presidential election, there are still marked divisions between former states that once supported the Confederacy and those who opposed it.
Only during the Civil War was it so severe that people in Massachusetts cheered when Virginia boys died on the battlefield and vice versa. Thank heavens we have left those days behind and are once again all countrymen. But that doesn’t make the philosophical chasms between both sides any less stubborn. Was there a better way to heal the wounds of the war and reunite the nation? Undoubtedly. Is it too late to try something else? I hope not.
This is the day. Standing in a long line this morning at 6:40am, a man ahead of me was grumbling that he was going to be late for work. (Too bad he doesn’t work for Chrysler; they’re giving employees the day off to vote: http://www.politico.com/politico44/2012/11/chrysler-gives-workers-day-off-to-vote-148617.html)
Anyway, I said, “Look at it this way, this is it! After today, all the ads will go away.” And a smile slowly spread across his face as he imagined watching The Walking Dead without an ad warning him that Barack Obama will kill jobs, or that Mitt Romney doesn’t care about poor people.
People say this election is one of the most important of our lifetime, and I think that’s true. Not because of who’ve living in the White House on January 20th, 2013, but because this is the first election since Citizens United. This is the election in which money was allowed to run amok.
Spending by the candidates is high, no question. But the election of 2012 is expected to cost only 7% more than 2008 and while the total is high (nearly $6 billion), it’s not a big enough leap to be notable.
What’s different is the outside money, the funds spent on billboards and radio spots and TV ads by Super PACS and other groups that don’t have to disclose their donor lists. That’s a tremendous change in the way that politics is done in this country, and we really have no idea how it will effect the election. The Center for Reponsive Politics estimates that outside groups may spend as much as $750 million dollars in this election cycle. That’s just a massive amount of money influencing the future of this country, and the Citizens United decision makes it nearly impossible to track where it’s coming from.
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with Sheldon Adelson. He wanted Newt Gingrich to be president so he threw a ton of cash at him — fine. When it became clear that Gingrich would only ever be president of the moon, Adelson dumped buckets of cash on Mitt Romney — that’s also fine. It’s not Adelson’s fault that he’s allowed to use his money to influence the electoral process; it’s the fault of our system.
You know, one of the best cures for an obsession with tacos or cookies or any other kind of food is to gorge yourself on it until you’re sick of it and don’t want to see another cookie as long as you live. Well, the US is gorging on campaign money right now. Let’s hope our resulting tummy trouble turns us off of cash for good.
As a result, spending by outside groups will make up a far larger proportion of the total spent in the 2012 election than in previous cycles and will add up to, at a minimum, $750 million, the Center forecasts.
Out on the trails with my hound.