Sweet Caroline (Kennedy)

I don’t often make this type of blanket statement, because even BFFs disagree every once in a while, but I am fairly confident that a requirement for truly getting along with me is enjoying—at least a little bit—watching The Kennedy Center Honors.

This annual televised celebration of the arts was on last night, and I meant what I said when I tweeted about “Artsy-kid Super Bowl.” It’s one of those TV events I look forward to every holiday season, nestled snugly between Christmas and New Year’s, one last confetti-bomb of inspiration before we call it quits for the year and set creative goals for the new one.

This year (honoring Meryl Streep, Neil Diamond, Yo-Yo Ma, and, new to me, Sonny Rollins and Barbara Cook) was maybe the best yet (although last year’s Oprah / Paul McCartney one-two punch was pretty unbelievable). I love, but love the Kennedy Center Honors. When else do you get to see the President and First Lady all tuxed-up and rocking out to a lineup of tributes featuring Elmo, Stephen Colbert, James Taylor, and Anne Hathaway in all her plucky, song-belting glory?

Star-studded tributes, be in my LIFE!

The KCH has just absolutely so much that I love in one 2-hour block of television:

  • Awards-show atmosphere
  • Fancy dress
  • The President & First Lady valuing the arts (and lookin’ good)
  • Lifetime achievement montages (it’s an entire show of moving bio footage & tribute performances. it’s the best.)
  • Dance numbers
  • Surprise celebrity appearances
  • Dreams earned and honored
  • A general sense of overcoming-your-foibles-to-create-something-meaningful
  • The pure celebration of artistic greatness. No cynicism or irony or snark. Just joy.

The pure joy of a long life well-lived. Creativity and art and music and performance and literature. These are things that people do. We’ve invented a lot of shit, collectively: Nuclear weapons. Acid wash jeans. Nicholas Sparks novels… But we also come up with greatness, sometimes. And when we do, it’s really really great.

One of my favorite, favorite things is being completely surprise-inspired by an artist of another field. Totally happened tonight with the music people:

‎”If you can get to the point where you are ready to use every joy, every death, every lover who left you…if you’re willing to explore that within the song…you cannot be wrong.”  —Barbara Cook

“The very place where safety lies for us is the place that seems most dangerous: that is having the courage to let people into what life has really done to us.”  —Barbara Cook

“Every day I make an effort to go toward what I don’t understand.”
—Yo-Yo Ma

“Mister Yo-Yo Ma taught Elmo that music is like a playground.”  —Elmo

Yo-Yo(ba)ma -- (does that work?)

So let’s go back to the no-snark idea. This thing is #hashtag-proof, or at least it should be… (I was tweeting favorite #KennedyCenterHonors moments myself last night, alongside fellow nerds…)

Googling around for quotes and info just now, I found that the AV Club review gave the show a “C-”, criticizing the over-the-topness of it all. My point exactly, blogosphere. The writer’s tone is this snide “well, as if people ever really feel honored or excited or moved…” over-analyzation that leaves me feeling sad. For him. (Poor Phil Nugent, have you ever enjoyed something, purely, without pausing to mock it with your clever observations, in your life? Have you ever experienced anything beautiful or true without lifting your leg on it immediately afterwards? I bet you don’t think that beautiful or true things exist. Poor, poor Phil Nugent…)

My generation is afraid to celebrate anything unironically. We have got to just stop that. Stop it, now. Somebody has to keep believing in the arts so that in decades to come, we’ll still have musicals and jazz and well-acted movies with scripts that rise above Stephenie Meyer adaptations written to fill seats with tweens.

We can do it, guys. We can give a shit about something for a change. C’mon! It’s a new year!! Let’s do it! (Does splits like Anne Hathaway. Unironically.)

Frank Sintra Has a Cold

First of all, purely coincidental, Monday was Frank Sinatra’s birthday, a fact I encountered over Old Man Drinks at the Mudlounge (a Manhattan for me, an Old Fashioned for my companion).

That’s kind of perfect.

See, I acquired a stack of vintage magazines this semester, and they are prized possessions. I remembered tonight that a few of them are Christmassy. (The December 1961 Esquire is so very Mad Men, it’s dumb. You guys. I just want to have a party and invite you all over to look at the ads. SO good.)

I flipped through the whole stack looking for holiday issues, and saw that the April 1966 Esquire has Frank Sinatra on the front. “Oh, that’s cool,” I shrugged to myself, as I flipped to page 50 to discover:

“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese

At that, I took in my breath in a sharp, cartoonish gasp: “I have an original copy of one of the most famous pieces of creative nonfiction ever written IN MY HOUSE!”

And I had no idea.

My former boss once told me, during one of his advice-giving chats about the good old days, that he’d interviewed Gay Talese about writing interviews (a bit like saying you talked to Lady Ga Ga about meat dresses—going to the source). I didn’t realize how impressive that was at the time, which is sometimes the best way to learn.

As the story goes, Talese was assigned a profile of Sinatra—who refused to give an interview. Not one. But the writer was determined to get his story, and he spent three months building the piece by talking to every other person in Sinatra’s world. Ultimately he wrote one of the best celebrity profiles ever…without ever interviewing the celebrity himself. It’s the kind of writing we’re used to reading now in good magazine journalism, but Gay Talese kind of did it first.

Because he refused to give up on the task at hand. And he knew that sometimes the best way to draw an accurate picture of a thing is to draw its negative space.

(And it’s in my house. This makes me so very happy.)

You can read the whole article on esquire.com, though there’s nothing like the oversized pages of a real, live 45+ year-old magazine…

Momma’s got a squeeze box

this is exactly how i look, you guys.

Breaking news: I’m learning the accordion. Facebook friends already know this (some of you know I’ve been talking about this since June… / since childhood). Well, it’s happening. Upside: my new musical hobby gives me something new to do on sleepless nights (the mind can take only so much Pinterest and Comedy Central…). Downside: it’s hard.

< pause for laughter re: my obvious discovery >

Last week was my first lesson, and I have these adorably old school photocopied homework sheets to help me with basic bellows-maneuvering. (My accordion’s bellows are red, ps, which I love.)

I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten, so I don’t remember exactly how it felt to learn it all from scratch. Besides, I was learning everything from scratch back then, so I was used to the feeling. Now, as a big girl, there are fewer things in my life that are brand new. And, when there are, if they are difficult, I might run away. See: Accounting. Holy eff. Contrariwise, see: running. Holy eff!

The accordion is 100% brand new to me, and as such, I kind of suck at it. (My particular accordion is in fact quite retro…and came from Italy and smells like a flea market in the best possible way.)

I am in kindergarten again.

And I kind of hate it.

But I love it too much to even think about stopping. (I love that feeling.)
When I practice, my perfectionism is at war with my persistence. I felt compelled to blog about this tonight, mostly because I don’t often get the chance to observe myself at the start of something. And, since I plan to become The Greatest Living Accordion Player of Our Time, I’m a little bit fascinated at the fits and starts of the start. How awkward it is to be a beginner. It’s hilarious, really, when I’m not groaning at myself in frustration. Tonight I leaned back on my couch—my accordion still strapped to me like a big, black backwards-backpack, resting on my chest like a boxy toddler—and just laughed at myself. (The sad, near-whimpery laughter known to the very tired but very determined.)

If you’ve never held an accordion (and, well, you probably haven’t, right?), you may not know that these mo-fos are heavy. (20+ pounds) And they breathe. If you don’t get the balance of keys + buttons + bellows just right, it just sort of sighs at you instead of making pretty accordion sounds.

And I sigh right back.

And I try again.

Because I learned to ride a bike and swim and drive and kiss and improvise and run… and a whole longer list of everything good that was scary at the start. Those things all taught me that if you want to make beautiful music, you have to make it through the sighs.

< pause for groans re: my Hallmark ending >