What is your favorite reference book?
I don't rely on reference books as much as I once did these days, but I do have some on the shelves. There is the Merriam and Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, which is wonderfully useful for a reader, in looking up literary terms and small entries on various literary works. I have a full-sized Rand McNally World Atlas, as well as a smaller, abridged one that's useful for quick checks of locations. I greatly love my Historical Atlas, which is actually a old volume that I liberated from a discard pile years ago when I worked at the library at St. Bonaventure University. Historical atlases are wonderful things: maps of old national boundaries, maps depicting various military campaigns, maps of ancient kingdoms and empires, maps of the spread of human society across the world. If you like history at all, get yourself a Historical Atlas!
Somewhere I have a dictionary of musical terms that dates from my college years. David Dubal's Essential Canon of Classical Music is an amazing reference work, not just for those looking for something new to hear, but for those looking for quick information about the history of classical music.
There are lots of reference works relating to genre-specific subjects as well. I have the Star Trek Encyclopedia, as well as a Star Wars Galactic Atlas. These kinds of books are so much fun to thumb through -- as well as a couple of reference books pertaining to The Lord of the Rings, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, Jess Nevins's Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, an Arthurian Encyclopedia, and the like.
Stretching the usual notion of a "reference book", there is also my study Bible (TNIV), two copies of The Oxford Book of English Verse (printed sixty years apart, so the contents are different), and various other large collections of poetry. I consider these to be reference books.
So which is my favorite reference book? Ummmm...Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare. At least, that's the answer I'm giving today.
What is your favorite biopic about a musician? (Singer, instrumentalist, composer.) In fact if you made a list, that would be grand.
I don't see very many musical biopics, because a lot of them tend to fall a bit short. (Dennis Quaid's Great Balls of Fire was painful.) The line to tread is a fine one indeed: lay off the bad stuff in the person's life and the movie feels too reverential, but dwell too much on the bad stuff and it just seems like a tell-all expose. It's hard to strike that right balance.
Some films do, however, get it right. Chief among these is the utterly magnificent Amadeus, which is not only brilliantly made just in terms of craft (the acting, photography, and musical direction are all first-rate), but also wonderfully done in terms of story. The film actually manages to make the enmity between Mozart and Salieri into a compelling story. Of course, in order to tell that story, the film (and the play it's based on) must take a number of liberties with the real history. But so be it.
I've always liked La Bamba a great deal, although it's somewhat flawed, in my view, by the constant fatalism that hangs over the movie, by way of very foreboding airplane imagery throughout. We all know how Richie Valens's life ended, but the film treats the plane crash as a constant motif. I think it was Roger Ebert who described the film's tone by saying, "Watching the movie you almost get the feeling that Richie Valens would have been shocked to die in any way other than a plane crash."
One biopic I loved -- and haven't seen in years -- is Coal Miner's Daughter. I saw it with my mother when I was eight years old; I recall actually wanting to see it, which some might find surprising. ("What's the movie about? A country singer who grew up in poverty in Kentucky? Sure, I'll go!") I can't really say anything about the movie right now, because it's been a long time since I last watched it.
I only saw Shine -- starring Geoffrey Rush as a pianist with some mental problems -- once, but I recall finding it enjoyable.
Again stretching definitions a bit: Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is totally fictionalized, but it's also heavily drawn from Crowe's own experiences as a young journalist writing about rock music in the 1970s. There's a wonderful British comedy called Hear My Song, which is also a fictionalized story based on a real event, in this case an Irish tenor who had to flee his country due to tax problems, and the young and brash and nearly penniless owner of a failing nightclub who decides to save his business by bringing that tenor back. And for totally fictionalized music movies that don't seem entirely fictional, there are Tom Hanks's underrated That Thing You Do!, Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap, and the effervescent Once, featuring Glen Mansard and Markita Irglova.
Biopics I need to see? Ray, Walk the Line, Backbeat, The Doors. Oh, and Dreamgirls.
And Roger didn't ask this, but musicians who should have movies about them? In classical music: I know he's my beloved favorite composer, but Ye Gods, there's a great movie to be made about Hector Berlioz. Maybe I should write it. And I also think that there's a wonderful film waiting to be made about the romance of Robert and Clara Schumann. Rock musicians? Well, I don't really know a whole lot about the lives of many rock figures at all. Neil Peart of Rush, maybe. And Celine Dion. (OK, I'm kidding about Celine Dion. I think.)
What are your top 10 (or 5 or 20) favorite Beatles songs as performed by the Beatles? As performed by someone else?
OK, a random list. But I'm now thinking of a regular series of posts devoted to exploring Beatles songs. Hmmmm...good idea? Bad idea? Anyway, the list of songs that I like a lot:
Across the Universe
Let It Be
Don't Let Me Down
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
In My Life
With a Little Help From My Friends
And more. (I've never been a huge fan of "Yesterday", although I have warmed to it more of late.)
For years it was my general stance that I liked the Beatles as song writers more than as performers, because I tended to like cover versions more than the originals. I actually can't think of too many cover versions off the top of my head, except for Judy Collins's wonderful take on "In My Life". And the film Across the Universe is just one amazing Beatles cover after another.
And now, the final question, which is a pretty serious one. From Redsneakz:
With your losing Quinn, is it still hard (five years later) to read of babies and such?
Sometimes, very occasionally. It's nothing predictable, but once in a while, there's the "Where the hell is our happy ending?" reaction. I must admit that I have fairly strong internal reactions when I hear about some young guy getting a young girl pregnant, and then she has a gorgeous healthy baby, and I wonder about that. We did things the way they're supposed to be done; they did not. So why do they get the healthy baby, when we got fifteen months of medical struggle followed by death?
I'm almost always happy for people when I see them with their beautiful babies. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that, once in a while, my reaction to seeing a baby is to think, "Hey, God? What the F***?!"
One thing that happened as a result of Quinn's life and death was that my tolerance for a lot of standard religious platitudes is now nonexistent. When I hear things like "God has a plan, and sadly, his plan for you doesn't involve more than one child", I immediately think, "What kind of God is it who comes up with plans that involve making a baby suffer a life where he never eats and he has to fight for every breath and then dies at fifteen months?" And then I think, "Gee, if God's got his plan, then what's the point of all this prayer I'm supposed to be doing?" Because I imagine God saying: "Hmmmm, this fellow wants his son to be healthy. Let me check the plan. Hmmmm...oh dear...sorry, dude, I'd help if I could, but see, I've got this plan." One well-meaning person said something to the effect of, "Well, maybe God knew that Quinn was going to have serious problems and wanted him to have parents who could love him." And I'm thinking, "That's his only option? He's God. How about fixing the health problems?!"
I still struggle with those questions. In fact, I suspect I'm likely to be struggling with those questions for the rest of my life. The main consolation is that I'm sure I'm not alone.
And with that, Ask Me Anything! August 2010 draws to a close. We'll play again in February! Thanks for participating, folks.