Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler and Hundred Dollar Songs

To borrow the opening line of S. E. Hinton's great young adult novel, The Outsiders: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind . . . "

The two things on my mind, however, were not Paul Newman and a ride home, but the story of Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the main character in the beautiful and heartbreaking movie The Wrestler, and the haunting Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, used to stunning effect at the end of the movie. Blocks from the theater, the song's refrain ("Then you've seen me") was still playing in my head. I needed to hear the song again and I wasn't going to be satisfied until I did.

So I understood when a co-worker came to the desk with need in her eyes and said: "Laura, where can I find the Bruce Springsteen song from The Wrestler. What CD is that on?"

"Oh my God!" I said. I put my hand on my heart, my all too frequent reflex when someone mentions a Bruce song that I love, that I REALLY love, as if I'm pledging allegiance to the country of Bruce. "I love that song. It's on the new Bruce album, Working on a Dream! Oh my God, that's a great song!"

My co-worker nods--she understands--and her hand is on her heart now, too, and she sings the opening lines of the the song about a battered and broken wrestler who tries to make a life outside the ring:

"Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free
If you've ever seen a one trick pony then you've seen me."

I love that song," I repeat, helpless at the moment to explain why it so moves me, but happy to talk with someone else who loves it. And in trying to express the importance of the song to me, I make a goofy comment: "That's a hundred dollar song! I would pay a hundred dollars for that song! If someone told me I could never hear that song again unless I paid a hundred dollars, I'd do it.!"

My co-worker is nodding and laughing. And a few days later, I find a post-it in my box from another co-worker. It says: "Write about hundred dollar songs for the blog!" (I love that I have co-workers who indulge my Bruce fanaticism.)

Now, I'm a frugal woman, and I wouldn't want the folks at Columbia Records to start charging more for Bruce CDs. But there are songs, Bruce songs in particular, that I so love and need that their value trumps all else. If forced to choose between new winter boots, which would be nice, and the latest Bruce CD, Working on a Dream, which has the song from The Wrestler, well, you're just going to have to look at my grungy boots for one more year. However! Since the library owns almost every Bruce CD, you never actually have to choose between boots and Bruce. We own lots of rock CDs and just about every other kind of CD. And you can check them all out for free! (The CDs, not the boots. You wouldn't really want to check out used boots now, would you?)

I realize that referring to hundred dollar songs may sound crass. I've put a price tag on art when what I really want to express is my tremendous love and awe of songs that I can't live without. (And yes, I am calling "The Wrestler" art. Right about now I'm picturing a co-worker in another department rolling his eyes, but good-naturedly, I like to think.)

Mickey Rourke's performance is also a masterpiece--I can't think of another performance that has stayed with me or moved me as much as his portrait of an aging wrestler who finds life outside the arena more excruciating than the repeated and brutal blows he endures in the ring. And the Springsteen song is the perfect, haunting coda to Rourke's performance. At the end of the movie, before the credits start to roll, synth strings rise out of the darkness, faintly at first, but then swelling and joined by a few spare, well-chosen notes on the piano that sound so perfect and inevitable that the foolish will say--"I could have written that"--but they can't, because they're not Bruce and because selecting just the right notes is an art. I then hear the scratchy, familiar voice that is Bruce count out "1, 2, 3, 4," the synthesizer fades and it's Bruce on an acoustic guitar singing of a "one trick pony," a man whose only home is the ring and who has driven away some of the people and pleasures that could offer him solace. Like the best Bruce songs, it captures the humanity of a specific person in specific situation, and in doing so sheds light on those around us and ourselves.

Bruce once said: "The best music, you can seek some shelter in it momentarily, but it's essentially there to provide you something to face the world with." In spite of my reference to 100 dollar songs, music like that is really priceless, its worth immeasurable.

Is there a song that you can't live without? A song that makes you place your hand on your heart and say, "Oh my God, I LOVE that song!"

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oscars - This Guy's Perspective

Possibly the most asked question today might be "Did you watch the Oscars?"

In the past, if someone asked me, I would reply, "yeah, kinda". This year, I watched snippets of the 81st Academy Awards through commercials of the Blackhawks tilt against the Minnesota Wild then flipped over to it fully after the end of the Blackhawks game (to my wife's relief). Much as it is for my wife when she watches hockey, it was always difficult for me to stay focused on all the shenanigans going on during the Oscars. But through all the song and dance routines (I wasn't sure of Hugh Jackman's singing capability, but I thought he certainly hit the end of the show tune menagerie pretty well) and strange "homage to comedy" skits, there were a few things in this year's presentation that resonated with me.

Firstly, I'm always impressed to see people who can only speak a little bit of English brave the treacherous waters of the most difficult language while they are standing in possibly the biggest spotlight of their career. A great example of this was Kunio Kato accepting the award for the Best Animated Short Film (La Maison en Petits Cubes), plus his reference to the Styx song by quoting the line "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" reminded me that a good sense of humor transcends any language barrier.

This leads into something else that impressed me: in the good portion of the show that I saw, I did not notice anyone going on longer than the allotted time in their acceptance speech. For me, there is often an uncomfortability inherent in watching these speeches, much akin to when I watch ice skating once every four years in the Olympics. I always feel horrible for the skater when they fall, ruining all the long hours that they trained for this one moment, and I always feel bad for the individual(s) who run out of time recognizing those who brought them to this pinnacle of their enterprise (though I also recognize that sometimes people can take advantage of the opportunity). I thought Heath Ledger's family handled the situation perfectly as they accepted the award on behalf of Ledger's 3 year-old daughter, Matilda - they were grateful, yet understated; they let the achievement of their beloved family member speak for itself.

A quick note, I'm almost always impressed with Will Smith's charisma when he's forced to ad lib. Could we see him host an Oscar night sometime in the future, maybe?

I really enjoyed the personal recognition of the nominees for the Best Actress, Best Actor, etc. I thought this was an excellent way to recognize everyone who was nominated. You could see that even though most of the nominees didn't win the actual hardware (the statues are made in Chicago, by the way), many would take away fond memories of peer recognition from the ceremony - and in the film industry, peer recognition can be an excellent consolation prize. I realize all of the nominee blurbs were scripted, but the pathos that was lent to the situation by the words of the former winners and the nominees' reactions was touching (ie. Shirley MacLaine speaking to Anne Hathaway). On a personal note, I enjoyed seeing Ben Kingsley and Michael Douglas, two of my ageless favorites.

To sum up, I liked this year's Oscar presentation. I thought Christopher Walken looked a bit disheveled, but that's all part of the fun. I also really liked the clips showing winners of the past - a reminder that watching the Oscars is watching history in the making. Also, with the awards honoring everything from art direction to sound mixing to best director, plus the annual remembrance not only of the actors and actresses, but of all the publicists, camera operators, and other unsung heroes of the movie business that have passed on, it is a humbling reminder that hundreds, if not thousands, of real people have contributed hard work and valuable time to provide a 2-hour escape for the rest of us on a Saturday evening.

Oh yeah, one more comment from the show last night: I'm sure going to miss Paul Newman.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Laugh - Anytime, Anywhere

I love books that make me laugh and I'm always on the lookout for something new and different. You never know when or where you'll find that certain book that is LOL - Laugh Out Loud - funny. One little gem is Lon Emerick's You Wouldn't Like It Here: A Guide to the REAL Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I discovered this book on a revolving rack in the gift shop of the S.S. Badger while crossing from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I read it all (85 pages and great illustrations) during the crossing and laughed so much my friend grabbed it from me and read it after I finished. If you've ever visited the U.P. you'll understand and probably love this book. If you were born there... well, sorry.

The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne became one of my favorites after it drew my attention because of it's flashy cover. I could tell from the first page that it was my kind of humor. I highly recommend the audio version as the author reads the book with her southern drawl. Browne has many other titles about the Sweet Potato Queens, so you can keep right on laughing after the first book.

Both the title and the cover art attracted me to Bless Your Heart, Tramp and Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark. Both are LOL funny and this author has also written other humorous books.

So what books have you discovered that make you laugh? How did you find them? Come on, share the laughs.

Linda Knorr - Readers' Services

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kidnapped by Mr. Bartlett

Ahh, time. Scientists say it's endless, yet I never seem to have enough. Time is short, we are told. It also knows how to fly. If you're getting to a church, you'd better be "on" it. If you use too much, it will be "up." A good one can be had by all, but make sure you spend more of it with your family. It can run out.

Yeats thought there was no enemy but it. Shakespeare said love wasn't its' fool. With patience, Tolstoy wrote that it was the strongest of warriors. Longfellow, on the other hand, found it fleeting while Art was long. The Ancient Greek Aristotle believed it crumbled everything but the Ancient Roman Terence thought it healed all wounds. (The Romans were such an upbeat people!)

You can kill it. You can find it in corridors. You can get old before yours, die before yours or simply be a man of yours. You can fool all of the people with some of it and some of the people with all of it. If you're looking for it, it often hangs out with space.

The Walrus said it has come, which prompted a discussion of cabbages and kings. (Huh? What was in that hookah?)

It's money. It's a lag. It's of the essence, on your side, at hand and out of joint. Taking it is relaxing but don't ever waste it. Spending it with your friends is great too. We always seem to want one more of it - maybe that's why there are so many books written about managing it.

Carly Simon's pain couldn't be bothered with it. Jim Croce wanted to bottle it. The Byrds (and the Old Testament) said it has seasons which turn, turn, turn. When it's about business, the Flight of the Conchords get amorous. You'll be rising when Glen Campbell uses it to get to Phoenix.

H.G. Wells made a machine out of it. Proust remembered it. Madeleine L'Engle saw a wrinkle. Stephen Hawking wrote its' short history and Henry Luce named his magazine after it. It traveled with a wife, says Audrey Niffenegger and on a wheel according to Robert Jordan. Sidney Sheldon thinks it has sands.

Well, I've taken up enough of yours so it's about time I end this blog.

P.S. Blame John Bartlett for this. I consulted his book on Familiar Quotations in the reference section, thinking I wanted an opening quote for a column about short stories. As it happened, I couldn't put it down and spent days in the reference section at 808.882. My meals and mail were being sent there. I am alright now, thanks for asking.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When it Sizzles

The Romance Pavillion has been at my side for a few weeks now and it has me thinking about....Paris. Everyone knows there is a connection between Paris and love, thus the structure is adorned with Parisian themed gossamer and a glittering miniature Eiffel Tower. But what is that connection? Where did it come from and when did it start?

While on my search for answers, I meandered and found some love-ly detours.

The last time I saw Paris
Her heart was warm and gay
I heard the laughter of her heart in ev'ry
street cafe.
Oscar Hammerstein II, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1941 song)

46 years later in 1987, British author and critic John Berger wrote this in the article,"Imagine Paris" Harper's Magazine.
Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and in this, hasn't changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.

And in between those years, there was Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, 1964.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Who can forget the famous line in Casablanca spoken by Rick to Ilsa, "We'll always have Paris." And, of course, Cole Porter's song "I love Paris." The 20th century has clearly embraced the love and Paris connection.

In the early 1800s, Paris was a dark place, literally and figuratively. It was troubled by dissension and crime amidst the salons and cafes. The invention of gas street lighting at the end of that century allowed the physical beauty of the city with its winding streets, curious alleys, the Seine and magnificent monuments to be explored and enjoyed at all hours. Thus, the City of Light moniker was born to represent the physical glow and a new openess of ideas.Alas, Paris and love became a world famous couple.

Meander to the 3rd floor Romance Pavillion and find your detours here at the library.


Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation

You're Sensational

Monday, February 9, 2009

If Mitch Rapp and Jack Reacher got into a fistfight, who'd win?

For those of you who don't know, Mitch Rapp is the supreme counter-terrorism agent and ultimate tough guy in Vince Flynn's thrillers. And Jack Reacher is the former military police officer, now wanderer, hobo and also ultimate tough guy from Lee Child's books. Anyone who reads these would probably think neither would win, or whoever gets in the first punch (which would be neither since both of these guys are too guarded to allow it).

This brings up the question, how real do you like your characters? Both of these guys are almost superheroes. They can do things you and I can't. They are smarter than anyone I know, and tougher too. But I love them. When I finish one I can't wait for the next. I'd have a hard time saying who I liked better. The books are equally good in my mind. I would probably perfer to have lunch with Jack Reacher since I think Mitch Rapp can be kind of a jerk at times. But they are both better than real. That's why I can't stand the "normal guy" characters of Harlan Coben. Even though I can't put his books down, I always feel a little disappointed at the end.

On the flipside, when I am reading more literary or dramatic books, I prefer my characters to be more real. You know that feeling of sadness when you finish a great book and you are suddenly overwhelmed knowing that you won't ever see those characters again. I still think about Fos and Opal from Evidence of Things Unseen and it has been several years since I read it. Holden Caulfield and Phoebe from Catcher in the Rye still talk to me as well.

Who are some of the characters you have loved?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

March Coming Attractions

Bestsellers arriving soon! Place your reserves now!

Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer

Still Life by Joy Fielding

True Detectives by Jonathan Kellerman

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Execution Dock by Anne Perry

The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine

Monday, February 2, 2009


Yup that's right! For those who don't know my personal reading tastes, I prefer mysteries, YA or High School fiction, non-fiction that reads like fiction, and cookbooks. For all of the above, I prefer them to be funny.

That's why I jumped at a chance to do a reading project with my friend Jeanne. Jeanne used to work here (you can still read some of her book reviews on our Staff Picks page) but has moved on to another library. She's done some pretty ambitious reading projects in the past. For 2008 she read all 14 Charles Dickens novels! Extremely impressive. So when she was entertaining the idea of reading westerns, I was totally up for it. I had never (well, that I can remember) read a western in my life. Now I could get a chance to discover a new genre!

So together we're reading a different western each month. Jeanne has selected the titles which include:
January's pick was Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker. I loved it. It's the story of two men- Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch- who are hired by the town of Appaloosa to stop Randall Bragg. Bragg has no regard for the law, and killed the previous marshal who tried to take him in. The story went in a direction I didn't expect, and the ending surprised me as well.

Why don't you start a reading project of your own? You don't have to read all of Dickens, or even reading 12 books in a year. Try reading 3 different books then you would normally choose. It could be westerns or romance. Thrillers or historical fiction. Since it's the start of a new year try getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new. You just might surprise yourself and discover a new favorite!