Light and Dark in the Arts: What’s Your Pleasure?

A small group of us was discussing possible movie choices for the upcoming weekend a few nights ago when one person floated the possibility of “Chesil Beach,” the adaptation of a dark Ian McEwan novel about a rapidly failing, misbegotten marriage, almost shocking in its misery. Someone else, a psychotherapist who spends his days listening to those and many other such woeful tales, brightly asked, “Why would you want to subject yourself to that?”

Now, the therapist can most certainly be excused for abstaining from the prospect of extending the rigors of his day job into his leisure hours. (And paying to do so, no less.) But his question reflected a kind of fundamental “There are two kinds of people in the world…” issue that has always been of great interest to producers of art and entertainment.

Dark or light? Sweet or sour?  Frothy or strained?

Serious and sober or witty and weightless?

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Absorbing Trump’s Blows

I’ve noticed a certain weariness setting in among friends, associates, myself. Gotta get on with life, maintain our joy, equanimity, hope. Can’t live in a state of permanent apoplexy and indignation. Please, can’t we enjoy just an hour’s, an evening’s, a day’s activity and conversation without alluding to HIM and all the things that he touches and disparages and tries to ruin?

 

So we quietly avoid the whole subject, or hold our hands in front of our face in mock horror when someone mentions his name, and we proclaim only half-jokingly, “Nooooo, I can’t take any more, please!”

 

And we understand, of course we do, often feeling the same sense of resignation and suffocation ourselves, denied any nearby window that might let in some precious air and light.

 

So we want out, desperately, no longer willing to weigh down our bruised hearts with thoughts of the awfulness that abides.

 

W...

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A Visit to Duke Gardens

Like a lot of aphorisms, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has such perfect pitch and rhythm that we rarely question whether it is altogether true. It is no doubt partially true, given that cultural constructs of the beautiful vary as dramatically as they do in this world. Not to mention the individual sensibilities that can see two people focus on the exact same thing and leave one swooning and the other cringing and backing away.

But whatever one’s unique tastes, some things seem to strike a universal chord of sensory appreciation, causing us to dreamily exclaim, “Oh, that’s beautiful!

Sunrises and sunsets, swans afloat and geese in flight, a perfect plump strawberry.

Ecclesiastes 3, and when it was set to music.

All these seem to elicit universal agreement that they are good and beautiful things.

And, of course, gardens.

“God Almighty first planted a Garden...

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The Maelstrom of War: Louis Simpson’s “Carentan O Carentan”

In June, 1944, Carentan was a French town of some 4,000 people that tourist guides might have described as “bucolic” just a few years earlier. But following within days of the Allied Forces’ invasion of Normandy on June 6, it became the scene of a pitched, frantic battle between German and American troops that took place from June 10-15. The prize was access to high ground and ultimate control of two beaches—codenamed “Omaha” and “Utah”—that flanked Carentan and would prove pivotal to the invasion’s success and the final vanquishing of the German military machine less than a year later.

Among those American troops was Louis Simpson, a 21-year-old immigrant from Jamaica. Simpson had been studying poetry and literature at Columbia University but left to join the war effort.

Born to an upper crust attorney father of Scotch descent and a Russian mother, Simpson endured the sudden, unexplai...

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Brilliant Songs No. 2: Dawes’s “A Little Bit of Everything”  

With his back against the San Francisco traffic
On the bridge’s side that faces towards the jail
Setting out to join a demographic
He hoists his first leg up over the rail

With those first four lines of plaintive scene setting just above a simple piano riff, songwriter Taylor Goldsmith of the folk/rock/indie band Dawes places listeners right there behind yet another Golden Gate Bridge would-be suicide jumper, perhaps reflexively reaching their arms out or emitting an involuntary and horrified, “NooooooDON’T DO IT!”

Talk about the power of words to imagine, to relate, to respond.

I am indebted to reader and friend Randall Chet for bringing “A Little Bit of Everything” to my attention in the Comments section of the inaugural entry in this “Brilliant Songs” series. I had never heard of Dawes nor this song, but I have found it staying with and accompanying me on my walks, my garden-tending, ...

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