Nonfiction

Two very different uses of sighing

I’m for the moment just posting this because I find it an interesting example of how a single artistic gesture can be used to greatly differing effect in two different works. (Not that this should be surprising; but it’s nice to see it done so well and so differently.)

Anyway, listen to the two songs below:

 

 

 

Hear the sigh each singer uses? How do they make you feel?

Of course, a sigh isn’t just a sigh, nor is it sighed in isolation. The musical context contributes heavily, creating the atmosphere that the sigh breathes. In the case of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, it’s creepy and disturbing; even more so for the way it works with the whole song—thetremulous voice, the quiet, tender melody that worms into your head carrying the initially unremarkable and eventually deeply dark lyrics—to create something profoundly unsettling, and unsettlingly attractive.

Meanwhile, in Buckley’s rendition of “Hallelujah”, there’s a hell of a lot of sex appeal. Buckley notably trims down the lyrics to focus almost exclusively on those pertaining to love and desire. And the inhalation at the beginning, as if Buckley had just been touched for the first time by a long-desired lover…

Nonfiction

A Dime a Dozen

Even the most practiced writers make mistakes. Here’s one I found today, in Slashfilm’s piece “The 28 Best Movies of 2017 So Far“, in a section written by Ethan Anderton:

Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and most of them aren’t even worth that 10-cent piece when all is said and done.

Well, no, of course not. If they’re a dime a dozen, then one would be worth about eight tenths of a cent.

Nonfiction

What’s in a name?

Here’s a little something I posted on Facebook this morning after seeing Star Wars 7:

Ok, Star Wars 7 was awesome. I want to go live in that world again, and that’s quite an accomplishment after the failures of the prequels. But let us just acknowledge that “Snoke” is kind of a lame name given what the character is. It’s not puerile like “Dooku”, nor does it try too hard like “Sidious”, but it feels lackluster, wanting both mystique and menace.

The Bard, of course, asked the title question, and argued that the name doesn’t change the nature of the thing. But in the Star Wars universe, names are often onomatopoetic, giving a strong indication of how viewers are meant to take characters—or at least matching in sound what they are in personality and role. Chewbacca, for instance, may sound a bit like a loyal canine companion (or maybe that’s my retrospective interpretation). Ewok is appropriately cute with maybe a hint of bite. Han Solo, of course, is an independent, buck-authority, make-your-own-rules type. Yoda is appropriately bizarre and perhaps guru-like.

And others. Darth Vader echoes “invader” and thus threat. Darth Maul’s name mirrors how he is used. And for the most part, this seems to work well—Lucas and other writers have to balance this wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve aesthetic with appropriate restraint and taste so as not to go overboard and end up with something that undermines the audience’s ability to take the character seriously. Jar Jar Binks may be one example of such failure, or you might argue that his name fits almost perfectly his role in the story. (But don’t go bringing up that “Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord” bullshit. That’s fan retconning at its worst, an attempt to transmute flaws and gaffes into something more subtle and refined, a deliberate, secret crafting.)

Dooku is probably the strongest slip-up—rather than sounding sinister, the name resonates with “poopy”, “caca”, and “doodoo”, so that rather than some evil Force master, I think of a pile of crap (like those prequels) and imagine small children snickering and whispering “He said ‘dooku’!” Sidious isn’t as bad in that sense, but it and Snoke both lack imagination. He’s Sidious because he’s an insidious threat? Really? Why not just leave him as “Palpatine”, a name that sounds snakelike and sinister without directly pointing to a particular quality? And though Snoke echoes smoke, what does that give us? Smoke doesn’t carry any real danger in itself. And swapping “n” for “m” sounds faintly ridiculous, a character bearing a slightly silly pompousness, something out of Dickens or Rowling or maybe Susannah Clarke. Not what the towering alien figure onscreen evokes at all.

There is precedent for onomatopoetic and thematic naming all throughout literature, so that ain’t a problem at all. Shakespeare gives us Dogberry, Snug the Joiner, Bottom (the Ass), Touchstone, and more. Dickens does it, too, and so do many others, to great effect. It’s just that you have to hit that fine, sweet spot. Lucas messed up a number of times in the prequels, which added to their ridiculousness. Abrams and Kasdan, in 7, generally do an excellent job with interesting names that at the least fit well in the Star Wars universe (Rey, Maz Kanata), and at best resonate with interesting meaning (Poe). They just missed with this one character, who, unfortunately, needed to sound more significant and imposing that it ends up doing.

Nonfiction

Off-ramp

A short poem or snippet or thingy by Brian Andreas (source: Story People), which I like a lot, but which also needs a tiny bit of improvement. See that last little phrase there? Yeah, “& there are no words for that”, that’s the one. It’s nice because it calls up once more the opening lines talking about specialized cultural vocabularies. So it gives a sort of circularity to the poem. But what it expresses? That’s already included (and very strongly so) in the phrase immediately prior. 95% of what these last words do is already done and far better; they simply serve as a way to wrap up the piece—elegant, sure, but also unneeded, extra.

Here, try this: cover up that last, extraneous phrase with your hand, and then read the poem. See how the evocation of two lovers snuggling against each other in bed hits you, right in the solar plexus, knocks the wind out of you? That’s where the poem needs to end.

(The depiction also implies that that very snuggling is a language in itself, its own vocabulary—a suggestion that is not borne within the statement “& there are no words for that”.)

(Also, I am aware that I do not know the context for this snippet. Maybe it all makes sense in its original place. Maybe my critique is not valid. Maybe not.)