Are You Not Entertained? Elvis, Foo Fighters, and John Coltrane

Here are some recent music documentaries that enthralled me.

This year, HBO released Elvis Presley: The Searcher in two parts totaling three hours of exploration of the complicated man behind the music and his checkered history. To those of us who listened to his records as they were released and have seen his corny films and watched many tributes to him, this doc might not provide enough insights that you didn’t already know. To those who barely remember him or have only heard the name but not his story, this is a fine documentary showcasing his influences in Memphis, his devotion to his mother, his suffocating relationship with the Colonel, his love for Gospel, and his rise to iconic stature with the outrageous costumes and over-the-top shows in the 1970s. I preferred part one and how his stamp of individuality helped black music to air on white radio. It was not a conscious civil rights decision on Presley’s part, but his voice and songs sounded black; his popularity soared and endorsed subliminally the acceptance of blacks in a white world. From the eyes of a social historian, it was a refreshing revisit of King of Rock and Roll and his importance in time. 4.5/5.

Foo Fighters Back and Forth (2011) by James Moll. My son and I listened to them on road trips in the 1990s. He bought me their albums through the 2000s and the 2010s. I’m going to see them in October when they play in Phoenix. So, with so much emotional baggage attached to the group, can I be objective about the musicianship and lyrics by the leader of the band, Dave Grohl? Why, yes I can. Especially Dave Grohl’s songs of heartbreak. He’s my age, and as he gets older, his albums get softer, and I like that, too. If you were never a fan in the first place, I doubt you would care about Grohl and his band or the background behind their albums. If you like their songs, you’ll enjoy the documentary. It’s a subjective thing. 5/5.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (2017) directed by John Scheinfeld is a remarkable documentary regarding the life and music of the legendary saxophonist. I didn’t know a lot about Coltrane other than listening to Giant Steps (1960) and A Love Supreme (1965). His childhood and troubles were foreign to me. His relationship with Miles Davis and how those in the industry who knew and played with Coltrane was fascinating. In particular, how do you explain the creative genius of the man? Color imagery to explain how he thought outside the box was a clever touch. Coltrane was magical. He takes one chord and maximizes the notes via improvisation. I’m not a musician, just a lover of it, so when those that know claim he invented a new language of music, I’m sitting forward to understand how. This documentary did that. 4.5/5. 

IMO: The Guitar

Dear Son,

I saw the movie Coco the other day, and a major theme of the movie was remembering your dead loved-ones so they wouldn’t be forgotten. While driving home alone, it was dark and the vivid stars flickered. I imagined the people I had loved and lost throughout my life were the brightest ones saying hello. I began with the first person I had lost, my best friend way back when I was seventeen, and I remembered the special days and the unremarkable ones. I recalled his goofiness, his serious expressions as his fingers tapped on the piano keys, and I thanked his star for introducing me to classical music. Then I recalled the next deceased person in my history and the next. I recalled their faces and told their stars what I had loved best about them until your Dad was next. Do I remember the bad or the good?

For years in my mind, it was too easy to recall the ugly times and feel righteous for my decision to divorce him. I see now, decades later, that it was an attempt to ease my guilt for the breakup of the family. In the beginning, when we loved each other, during our happiest times, it was so because of music. After a shift of work, we’d sit at the table playing a board game that simulated a baseball season while we listened to new artists.  He’d sing the lyrics he memorized with a clear pitch. We’d listen with speakers loud, and I remember dancing around the room to Genesis’s “Turn it on Again.” I always think of your Dad when that song comes on. We were stationed in Scotland at the time and visited the record store frequently. Every paycheck he’d pick out a new album to buy. We studied the groups he was obsessed with like The Beatles, Yes, and The Who. We both discovered new groups together and bought their albums as soon as they were released. Groups like: Tears for Fears, U2, the Police, Dire Straits, Depeche Mode, and a hundred others. His tastes were all over the place. I thought that was one of his best traits. That he shared his passion for music with me was the best gift of our marriage.

When you were a teenager and back from the military school, Lincoln’s Challenge, you sat up in your bedroom with your GED waiting for your friends to graduate high school. I’m so glad cell phones weren’t omnipresent then or the stimulation of social media that steals our time today. In the quiet, up in your room, you taught yourself how to play the guitar.  If there was a silver lining during the dark days of your teenage years, I’d say that was it. In college, you played your guitar and sang the songs you wrote and your album for your senior project reflected your ingenuity. How proud I was to listen to your songs. I still pull out the CD and listen to it from time to time. When you performed during your twenties and your guitar chords were precise and your voice conveyed feeling, and the audience clapped for you—did you feel that was the apex of your musical relationship with the guitar?

You are thirty-something now with responsibilities and different passions. A life to share with Laura. A new degree almost completed. Hopes and dreams for a better job. Children soon. I couldn’t be happier for you! I know making ends meet is difficult and the many moves and transitions precipitated your decision to part with your acoustic guitar a few years ago. This year, you did not want me to get you a birthday present because you have everything you need. However, I hope you will accept the guitar I sent you, even though I know it was a selfish move on my part. You see, when I think about your Dad’s love for music, I think of you, because you inherited that passion. As mother and son, we talk about music and share new groups and songs. I still have the many CDs you burned for me, and I listen to the bands you recommended. When you played the guitar at Thanksgiving because I insisted, it made me happier than I anticipated.

I am not suggesting you perform or record or do anything purposeful with the gift that is yours other than to play the guitar as a part of your life. It makes people happy. It is that unique, interesting side of your personality. Play to your family and friends and spread the love of music to the next generation, on behalf of your Dad, and on behalf of me, please, play. Happy Birthday.

L13FC: The Music in Animated Films

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. Traditionally, a co-host joins me, and we approach a topic of the film industry and talk to visitors all day on the thirteenth of the month. It’s great to hear from one and all, so add to the conversation. Would you like to lead a discussion you are passionate about? Let’s figure out a topic together and select a month that works for you. It’s easy and fun. Email me with your idea:  cbruchman@yahoo.com. 

For the last four years, I’ve been reintroduced to animation after a twenty-odd year hiatus. That was the time frame from when my kids were too old to watch animated films to when it took them to have kids of their own. Then I became a grandmother and started revisiting old favorites like Pinocchio (1940) and The Jungle Book (1967) and tried to catch up on the newer ones like the Toy Story set or Shrek. In fact, I watch more animated films than I do adult films these days. For example, I know every line in Frozen and Moana and Trolls is fast approaching the how-many-times-can-one-possibly-watch-a-film?

I’d like to introduce to you my co-host, Milly, who is the orchestrator of entertainment when we are together. While her articulation skills are developing, she has definite opinions about animation in films.

Shooting a bow and arrow after watching Mulan. Again.

Milly’s thoughts:

Grandma, Walt Disney cartoon movies are musicals and I like to sing. How can I sing the songs to you in the car if I don’t watch them over and over? They make me happy and you are my best friend like Pumba and Timon when they sing “Hakuna Matata”. I am Elsa because I wear my Elsa dress all day long. For two years and counting. I have magical powers. For example, I can sing all the words of “Your Welcome” in Moana. Not bad for a four-year-old girl. All the songs in Trolls are fun to dance in my socks. But Bridget the scullery maid cries because she loves King Gristle and he doesn’t love her yet, so not that one. Grandma, I know you would rather watch other cartoon movies, but they don’t have much singing. And you cry at the sad parts. I don’t like to see you cry, so let’s watch the ones I want. Over and Over. I will love them forever.

Grandma’s thoughts:

Some animation films these days are just too loud and silly for my liking. While Disney’s Cinderella is my all-time favorite princess, I like to remind Milly when she’s acting more like the step-sister Drisella, and she giggles at the thought. I must admit, some recent animated films have moved me to tears. I don’t mind watching them over and over.

Let’s talk about the two music styles in animated films. There are the Shrek films that have a great time with pop music, but I find I appreciate animated films that take advantage of creating a mood with orchestral scores like John Powell‘s How to Train Your Dragon 

and Michael Giacchino who has racked up beautiful scores for UP, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

Proportionally, I don’t hear sophisticated scores in adult films as I do in animated films, and that seems ironic that I have come to rely on a Pixar film take me away on a magical adventure or exotic location with music.

Do you like your animation with songs, or do you like your animation with a solid score? 

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