Reviews: Respect; Genius: Aretha

Take care, TCB

Respect PosterIn another rare sojourn into normalcy, my wife, our daughter, and I went to the nearby Madison Theatre to see the new biopic Aretha. Where else would one want to wait out the remnants of Tropic Storm Henri, which wasn’t as bad here as we feared?

Respect is a serviceable film. That’s damned with faint praise, I suppose. We thought Jennifer Hudson was excellent as the Queen of Soul. At times, I forgot it wasn’t Aretha herself on the screen. The creation of the title song I found particularly moving.

Quite probably, part of my difficulty sorting things out stems from having seen Genius: Aretha, a National Geographic eight-part miniseries back in March and April. Cynthia Erivo was equally good as the title character.

Genius: Aretha was long and occasionally unfocused, bouncing around chronologically. This NPR review notes that it “too often unfolds like a predictable biopic burdened by ham-handed storytelling.”

But it put to good use the young Re, played by Shaian Jordan, with a very fine voice, at all of those revival tours her father C.L. put her in. There was little for young Skye Dakota Turner to do in Respect.

Control freaks

genius-aretha-posterGenius’ C.L. (Courtney B. Vance) was oilier than respect’s C.L. (Forest Whitaker); that’s a compliment to Vance and/or how he was written. My wife wondered how the young Aretha got pregnant a second time in Respect, which is more explicit in Genius.

Both portrayers of Aretha’s abusive first husband Malcolm Barrett (Genius) and Marlon Wayans (Respect) were solidly villainous. It’s clear in both iterations that Aretha left her controlling and occasionally abusive father for her likewise disposed spouse.

Each story touched on her ultimately frustrating time with Columbia. And her first session for Atlantic at Muscle Shoals is told. It would be namedropping if it weren’t the case that the Franklin family really DID know all these folks who appear in one or both films: Sam Cooke, Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, Dinah Washington, King Curtis, Smokey Robinson, Rev. James Cleveland (of course), and in particular, uncle Martin, that is to say, MLK, Jr.

I think the real flaw in Respect is that Aretha’s mother Barbara (the great Audra McDonald) did not get the screentime required for the payoff of her last appearance. The Barbara in Genius is present enough that the feeling of loss is stronger.

Amazing Grace

The last major scene in Respect, a part also in Genius, is her Amazing Grace performance in Los Angeles. You’d be better served by seeing that documentary, or at least segments of it.

At least, Respect had the sense to end on that triumph. The storyline of Genius after that point wasn’t nearly as compelling. My bottom line is that they each had their strengths. Genius with the young Re. Respect with its shorter running time, although at two and a half hours (!) it was not compact.

The week after we saw Respect, my daughter and I were watching the 2004 biopic Ray, with Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Though I recorded it over a year ago, I had never seen it. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records was a character in all of them, working with Ray in the 1950s before his time with Aretha in the late 1960s. The remembering his mama in Ray worked better than a similar scene in Respect.

If you don’t know the stories, see one or the other, but probably not both.

Aretha, QoS has died. Condolences to the world

“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience.”

ArethaInitially, I wasn’t going to write anything about Aretha Franklin, who defined an era as the Queen of Soul, dying of pancreatic cancer at the age 76 on August 16. But there were SO many tributes, some of them very interesting.

This piece recommends a specific playlist. But it also shared biography I didn’t see over and over: “Aretha was quirky. She was afraid to fly. She wouldn’t stay in a building over eight stories high. On stage, she was the epitome of power and confidence, but she wrestled with personal struggles that could have felled a lesser oak.

“Her mother died when she was 10. She had her first child at the age of 12 —and we can only imagine what sadness hides behind that story. She ate and starved and fought with body issues and insecurities for decades, and suffered through emotionally and physically abusive relationships and marriages. Yet, like all great artists, somehow she channeled all that pain and passion into something the world has never heard before and will never experience again.”

If you didn’t know before her death, you probably now know Aretha she was born to a musical family. She had more than 100 singles on the Billboard charts. She’s one of the most decorated Grammy winners of all time, nominated 44 times, winning 18. She was an underrated pianist. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And she was a civil rights activist.

Barack Obama said on his Facebook Page:
“America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin grew up performing gospel songs in her father’s congregation. For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine.

“Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.

“Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. Michelle and I send our prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and all those moved by her song.”

The New York Times notes:
“Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ is the most empowering popular song ever. Could we have shown her more? Just a little bit, our critic writes.” I felt a little sorry for Otis Redding who wrote and recorded the song. But like no one, except maybe Johnny Cash, she would take an existing song and transform it to her own, making it anthemic.

Listen to:

Daydreaming

Let It Be

Aretha Franklin & Hugh Jackman – Somewhere – 59th Tony Awards – 2005

Obama’s Inauguration (2009)

Legendary Live Performances

Sweet Bitter Love, which was the first thing I played after hearing of her passing

Coverville 1230

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – “Murphy Brown” and Aretha Franklin

What’s My Line? (taped 9/9/1974) Mystery Guest Aretha Franklin (at 12:30)

Dustbury wrote: “We are honored to have been alive when Aretha was in her prime, and centuries from now, people will envy us for having been so fortunate.”

Music and communication

I do have affection for Chester A. Arthur.

cher-dyingMore Ask Roger Anything questions from Chris:

How do you explain to your daughter how to vet sources?

It must be from an example. Just recently, my daughter said, of a tabloid cover in the supermarket, “Cher isn’t really dying, is she?” We watch a couple of news networks, plus Comedy Central, not every day, but often enough, so she can clearly see that shows often offer different emphases.

In your opinion, is Wikipedia a reliable source?

Depends on the topic, and the compiler. There’s an old cliche about a newspaper providing perfect information for topics I know nothing about, but less so for things with which I am familiar. I recently linked to the Wikipedia for the band Blotto, and I noticed that it NEVER mentioned the band members’ actual names. This was a failing.

Some posts are frozen in amber, perfectly accurate as of November 2013, e.g., but not so much today. Whereas other posts are updated regularly to reflect new music released or films made. Deaths are often, but not always, caught.

I specifically remember that back in 2004 or 2005, I corrected a mention that the next Presidential election would be in 2007, when, of course, it was 2008.

Still, when I’m doing research for a topic about which I know nothing, Wikipedia can be very useful, ESPECIALLY the links to the various footnotes.

What’s one area of scientific research that you think we should be funding more (other than medicine and climate change)?

Well, climate change is huge and would include the potential for everything from island nations flooding to the future loss of the maple syrup industry from the continental United States. Once you’ve eliminated climate change and medicine, what I think you have left is space exploration. It has very often answered many questions for answers here on earth, including those two topics.
man-reading-newspaper
What’s been the most surprising world change in your lifetime?

Communication, for good and for ill. You make friends on Facebook with people around the world, you have fights with total strangers on Facebook, often about really stupid stuff. You text your friends, while you ignore those physically around you.

I’ve been the guy reading the newspaper, maybe only a dozen years ago, and someone, as often as not, would comment on a story, or maybe just quietly read over my shoulder. Or I’d read over someone else’s shoulder. Those electronic devices don’t seem to open one up to one’s immediate environment, even as one can learn about the most recent terrorism in Turkey.

The Internet allows for more information, but also misinformation, disinformation, satire, lies. We can see Arab Spring or police misconduct, but also LOL cats and Stare-down Sammy, which got 34 million views on Facebook, and was shown on the CBS morning news; I thought it was a waste of air time.

There have been conspiracy theories for a long time, but they can propagate far more freely these days. Even objective facts will be disputed, and as a person dealing with, ideally, objective information, this can be both frustrating and exhausting. (See also my answer about Google.)

I’ve actually had this conversation about an article someone read. (I’m a librarian; a variation of this happens a LOT.)

Her: Is it true?
Me: Where did the information come from?
Her: Facebook!
Me: But what was the ORIGINAL SOURCE of the information?
Her: I TOLD you, Facebook!

Who is your favorite president and why?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was rich and rather pompous and arrogant. His ailment thought to be polio at the time, but now believed to be Guillain-Barre syndrome, humbled him, and made him a champion for those less well off. And he had a great partner in Eleanor, with whom he seemed to have achieved an understanding regarding his infidelity.

He was imperfect, the Japanese internment being chief among his failures. But he initiated a lot of useful programs, some of which are around today, such as Social Security and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

I do, though, have affection for Chester A. Arthur, a product of the spoils system who became a reformer for civil service.

Tom the Mayor queried:

What is your Favorite Beatles song?

The last time I made a list, it was 3. Help 2 Got To Get You Into My Life 1 Tomorrow Never Knows. Re: TNK, I recently saw Paul, Ringo, and Georges Harrison and Martin discuss its intricacies. But Help! is something I can sing with my daughter.

What is your Favorite Aretha Franklin Song?

The last time I made a list, it was 4. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone 3. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman 2. Sweet Bitter Love (1966). 1. Respect
Of course, Respect is a great cover. Since You’ve Been Gone has always been a favorite because it stifled deejays. But Sweet Bitter Love was in a quartet (or more) of songs that I played when romance went south.

What is your Favorite Joni Mitchell song?

The last time I made a list, it was 2. A Case of You 1. River. River reminds me of my late friend Donna George. But the poetry of A Case of You touches me too.

January rambling #2: JEOPARDY!, and recess

‘I feel like a dime among nickels.’

Abe Vigoda.Spidey

I received one of those recorded scam IRS phone calls this month, threatening to put me in jail. Mine came from the Syracuse, NY area from a known scam phone number.

2015 Was Hottest Year in Recorded History.

No boots on the ground… What does it mean?

Abortion Is as Old as Pregnancy: 4,000 Years of Reproductive Rights History.

No relation: The Green brothers explain January 1 and Oregon “militia”, the latter before the recent arrests.

Fiscal Woes Drowning Clearwater: Iconic Festival May be Scrapped.

I saw this moving piece (90 seconds) on CBS Sunday Morning: The Man and the Dog.

The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues. Conversely, Recess four times a day is good for learning.

Now I Know: Behold the Power of Cheese and One of These Things Just Isn’t the Same (about twins).

WHATEVER happened to the laptop computer? (1985).

Rejection: A Wilderness Guide for Writers (Evanier) and Jaquandor.

Sharp Little Pencil: Bright Brit (For Alan Rickman).

Frank S. Robinson: Joe Krausman, Monkeyshines, and heightism. Joe writes on Facebook: “Carlos Rommulo, once president of the General Assembly of the UN, was very short. He went to Texas, and when asked how do you feel being short among so many tall men, he said, ‘I feel like a dime among nickels.'”

Watch Bill Nye Weigh In on ‘Star Wars’ vs. ‘Star Trek’ Debate.

Yankees without number (1.9999…).

Dustbury’s Six Degrees of Separation.

Tweets from Gettysburg.

The strange life of Q-tips, the most bizarre thing people buy.

Don’t believe that splashy finding that 10 percent of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.

A Venezuelan beetle named for SUNY chancellor.

Celebrity anagram illustrations from illustrator Steve Rampton and Decluttr.com.

RIP, Abe Vigoda

Mark Evanier, and Abe Vigoda’s Dead (Premortem Mix).

The Godfather – Tessio is taken away to be killed.

The graphic above is from here.

JEOPARDY!

3-day winning streak on ‘Jeopardy’. Not only is Amelia Hershberger from Albany, NY, reason enough to root for her, she attended Greenville Central School (as did my wife), she graduated from SUNY Albany (as did both my wife and I, albeit us in grad school), and she was a political science major (as was I).

Final ‘Jeopardy!’ clue stumps all 3 contestants, who all bet everything. The two people tied for first bet rationally; the woman in a distant 3rd could have bet nothing, or $5,999, or anything in between, and won. (Some really uninformed comments here.) BTW, would you have gotten the Final? I did, but I am of a certain age.

This has passed, but ‘Jeopardy!’ hopefuls can try out online features quotes yours truly.

Loo

I was looking through my draft posts. From 2008, and the original source is lost to me:


And to that end: IllumiBowl is a night light for your toilet.

Music

Coverville 1109: A Tribute to David Bowie. Plus David Bowie on Extras, and SamuraiFrog has some Bowie links; he’s right re: Kayne.

Renaissance Geek: Music for MLK Day.

Chuck Miller: Shane Howard and Lawrence Welk.

Of course, you can do mashups of classical music.

Muppets: She Loves You.

I linked to this before, as part of the Kennedy Center Honors, but it’s Aretha, FCOL.

HuffPo: A Shade of Jade: Interview With Rebecca Jade. That would be niece #1.

In Defense of the Eagles, and Not Being a Jerk About Recently Deceased Musicians.

Old music is outselling new music for the first time in history.

Google alerts (me)

Shooting Parrots: Sunday round-up and The Art of a Scammer.

Chuck Miller: Where rejection is growth.

Google alerts (not me)

Top teams win as Hucknall Wednesday Pool League heads for a tight finish. “Station B’s winners in their 8-0 romp at home to Chequers were George Roy, David Butler, Jason Smith, Danny Butler, Roger Green and PJ Singh on singles and the pairings of Andrea and Roger Green and Danny Butler and Jason Smith.”

Regional journalist turned TV wrestler dies aged 76. “Tributes have been paid to Roger Green…, who started out at the Portsmouth Evening News before working simultaneously Fleet Street and as a grappler in the ring.”

Melancholy Quintet of Songs

All you people who complain about all those sappy, romantic songs, these are for you

On Valentine’s Day, people are always playing these lovey-dovey songs. It being roughly six months from that holiday, I thought I would link to some of those songs I used to play when I broke up with someone. Haven’t done that in well over a decade, fortunately, yet the songs themselves still make me melancholy. It’s strange how music still holds its sway.

The Supremes – Remove This Doubt. You may know this from the Elvis Costello cover, but the original is from one of my favorite Motown albums of the 1960s, The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland. Funny thing that most of the time in their hit period, they WERE singing H-D-H.

Aretha Franklin – Sweet Bitter Love. From Aretha’s Columbia Records period. I also have the Roberta Flack version, but QoS’ version is better.

Jane Olivor–My first night alone without you. Also, have the Bonnie Raitt version. Got the Olivor version by accident, with someone giving me the “wrong” birthday present. But I never corrected it.

Roberta Flack – Gone Away. On my top 10 song list.

Lorraine Ellison – Stay with me. Among others, Bette Midler recorded this. The Ellison version I found on a Warner Brothers lost leader album, though memory suggests it was first recorded on Mercury Records.
Description; lyrics; recording.

So all you people who complain about all those sappy, romantic songs: these are for you. And here’s some advice on how not to get your heart broken.

Picture courtesy of The Bad Chemicals.