Sunday, January 10, 2010

It's A Bull Roaring Sunday!

So, I created an account with Formspring. For those of you who don't know, you can ask me a question and I receive it in my email totally anonymously. I have no idea who asked me the question. And I thought it might be fun to, every once in a while on this blog, answer the questions that I receive. We might make it a weekly thing or so depending on how quickly the questions come. But bookmark this link and, as questions come to you, just spit them into that box and I will answer them. It'll be fun:

What are your favorite books for children?

I think I would feed my hypothetical child Ray Bradbury as young as possible. The Little Prince certainly, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Actually, any of Neil Gaiman's children's works are lovely. Believe it or not, I'm actually really fond of the Lemony Snicket books. D'Aulaires' Book of Illustrated Greek Myths is a must own for every child. I'd get the child into Middle Earth, Narnia, Wonderland, Toad Hall and Oz. Jules Verne is wonderful for people of any age. When they're a little older, needless to say Dickens, Twain, Dumas and Poe.
You really want to fill a child's head with fairy tales. I imagine that's largely why one would have children in the first place. The tried and true standards are great (Grimm and Andersen) but there are also many wonderful geographic specific collections of fairy tales. Above all, I would advise any parent, do not neglect the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde. I think that they are some of the most underrated works of children's literature.
I grew up on Carl Barks' and Don Rosa's duck adventure comics. I think my child would know the inside of a comic book store. Jill Thompson's Scary Godmother series is one I would for sure get for my hypothetical child. They come in both comic and storybook form. The art is delightfully whimsical, the stories good fun, and come with cooking and craft projects within the story, so you get kind of an interactive aspect to the story. Highly, highly recommend them and if you don't want to go to a comic book store, I won't think any less of you. That's why the Good Lord gave us Amazon. As for other picture books, they're kind of easy and abundant.
Poetry for children is an embarrassment of riches as well. Certainly I'd go with Ogden Nash, Edward Lear and without a doubt Shel Silverstein.
As soon as my hypothetical child is old enough to sit through a movie in a theater, I would start taking the child to the live theater, the symphony and the opera. I know you asked about books, but theater is literature. Expose them as soon as possible to A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Peter Pan, and musicals. Lots of musicals. You might be surprised at how affordable it can be with a subscription or keeping an eye on "pay what you will" nights at live theaters. How awesome must be the vicarious thrill of a child's first Into the Woods, The Music Man, Peter and the Wolf, Fiddler on the Roof, The Mikado, Swan Lake, and so on (although, as with everything, I would also advise you to do your homework. Don't come crying to me if you accidentally take your 6 year old to Sweeney Todd or Hair.)
Although that does bring me to a larger point. Much like with developing a taste in food, I think a child should be encouraged away from crap and toward real nourishment (don't get me wrong. I love both Sweeney Todd and Hair. You'll notice that this is an entirely new paragraph.) In books as in food. And in music as well, while I'm thinking of it.
I know Jeanette Winterson has written at least one children's book. I haven't read it, but I love her work, which brings me to another wonderful point on the subject of children's literature. You get to explore with your child! You get to learn and experience new things too.

What would you say you listen for in music more than all
else? Your primal sense of "resonance" or "taste" - what do you find
it connects to? Musicianship, skill, prowess? Culture? Intelligence? Some sort of raw,
undefinable quality?

I think I like the resolution games composers play, be they elegant or clever. I do enjoy complexity and certainly enjoy a good puzzle, but I can also be dazzled by simple perfection. One thing I've often been accused of by so many and diverse a group of observers, enough to make me think there's probably some truth to it, is that I tend toward music that ratchets up the raw nerve emotion to a fever pitch. Be it Tom Waits or Nicki Jaine or Richard Wagner or even, in a completely different way, Glenn Gould interpreting Bach's Goldberg Variations. I appreciate music that successfully, in my estimation (let's not kid ourselves, it does boil down to personal taste at some point), aspires to the highest yearnings of humankind. This is also why I prefer hymns, music that is well composed, lyrics that have levels and depth and reveal theological lessons.
Although, let me also add that this doesn't mean everything I listen to demands the attention of everyone in ear range. Brian Eno's Music for Airports also falls into this category for me.
I should also add that talent and ability are aspects of musicianship I've come to greatly appreciate, especially since my young, punk rock, garage band years. There is a lot to be said about something that is lovely, something that is well done, and something that others might not be capable of at the very least without unattainable hours of practice.

I also am very much a sucker for two things in lyrical content: cleverness and subversion.

Although, as those around me well know, when I'm in a hair-letting-down mood I tend toward music that sounds like a raucous drunken Eastern European party for some reason. The Poxy Boggards, Jason Webley, Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly, even the tamburitza music I love so much. Although I lead a very sober and focused life now, something about that sound, the accordions and violins, appeals to some weird kink in my DNA strand. I'm also fond of zydeco.
As to what it connects to, I think one of those ancient, visceral, hip-shaking appeals. Music is a language which, like other art forms, are used to express things that can only be expressed (or, maybe let's be generous and say can best be expressed) through that medium.

What was the first thing that attracted you to your wife?

Well, it depends to what you are referring by attracted. I know I've struggled for years with feeling like an alien in my own religion and when I first met my then future wife at a church function she was wearing leopard print gloves. For some reason when I saw that I thought "Hey, here's someone I might be able to talk to!"
We were only friends for a while and, although she is a magnificently attractive woman, I kind of had her in the "friend" category where one does not look at a person in that manner. When she helped me move, we became very close that week, spending a lot of time together. She quickly became my best friend and it became clear to me that I didn't want to spend another day of my life without her. It would therefore be necessary for us to marry. In essence, I proposed to her that night although the ring came a few weeks later.
At the risk of grossing out my step-kids who may or may not read this, at the same moment that the fact that I must marry this woman became evident to me, it also became evident that the category of "just friends" had been shut off sometime when we weren't paying attention and mutual attraction had developed. So the shift into romance was kind of an organic process. She was and remains my best friend.

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