Book Commentary/Review – MAKING YOUR CREATIVE MARK: NINE KEYS TO ACHIEVING YOUR CREATIVE GOALS August 1, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, creative people, creativity, Eric Maisel, Making Your Creative Mark, non-fiction books.
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, creative people, creativity, Eric Maisel, Making Your Creative Mark, non-fiction book
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As someone who self-describes himself as a “creative eccentric,” and offers a blog of that name, we can expect that I will post on creativity. Commenting on Eric Maisel’s book Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys to Achieving Your Creative Goals gives me the perfect opportunity.
The bio on the book cover describes Dr. Maisel as “America’s foremost creativity coach and a prolific creator who has written over forty books.” I learned about this book as a result of my subscription to Publishers Weekly. (I look at the reviews to get an idea of what is coming out—mainly fiction, with an emphasis on historical fiction—but the non-fiction reviews often tip me off on intriguing releases as they did on this occasion.) I have since then ordered two more of Dr. Maisel’s books based on the helpful material I received in this one.
What I love most about Dr. Maisel is that he offers practical, no-nonsense, reality-based insights, not platitudes and mushy-gushy pats on the back. His advice and counsel pertains to just about any creative activity. He shifts easily from painters to authors to musicians as he provides is down-to-earth examples and discussions. We get the sense that he’s “been-there-done-that,” or that his patients have. Sometimes his insights will hit so close to home that readers will look around and ask “has he been hiding in my home—is he following me around?”
As the title promises, the book is arranged to offer nine “keys”:
- The Mind Key
- The Confidence Key
- The Passion Key
- The Freedom Key
- The Stress Key
- The Empathy Key
- The Relationship key
- The Identity Key
- The Societial Key
Different readers will undoubtedly find themselves more drawn to different keys. I found food for thought in all of them. But for me, the three that stood out were “The Mind Key,” “The Stress Key,” and “The Relationship Key.” “The Mind Key” addresses quieting an overly busy mind, how to calm that busy mind and focus it (lack of focus has been identified as one of my own “issues.”) “The Stress Key” is a nuts-and-bolts chapter about the uncomfortable, yes—stress inducing—aspects of being a creative person. This is one of the chapters where we know he is been there and done that as he goes into the specific stressors: “economic stress,” “marketplace stress,” “relationship stress,” “world stress,” “creative stress,” “existential stress,” “physical stress,” and “psychological stress.” “The Relationship Key” gives us “fifteen sensible rules for marketplace relating.” Rule number one—“you can’t succeed in the marketplace without the help of others.” The rules build from there, with practical suggestions on how to establish and nurture the relationships you develop a creative person.
From Dr. Maisel’s background, it is evident he is one of the creative types he is trying to help. We can imagine he has grappled with these issues himself. As one of us, he has a lot to offer, and he has with Making Your Creative Mark. If you are a creative type and feel that no one understands your peculiar challenges, Dr. Maisel will give you the empowering realization that you are not alone, and that you can overcome those challenges that come with being a creative human being.
By the way, feel free to contact me (RichardWarrenField@RichardWarrenField.com) if you are a creative person and you want to swap some thoughts and ideas with another creative person!
Recent blog post about Creative Attention Deficit Disorder.
Commentary on Music – Conclusions (For Now…) June 1, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in classical music, harmony, mathematics and music, modes, music, music commentary, nature of music, religion and music, scales, spirituality and music, tonality.
Tags: classical music, harmony, mathematics, modes, music, overtone series, religion, scales, spirituality, tonality
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(This is the final post—for now—of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).
So here I am, at the end of a longer journey than I expected, a journey of exploring music at its most basic level. With this post, I will draw together the comments I have made in posts spanning just over a year about this topic and offer some conclusions—some of these will be personal, as they will be oriented toward what this means for me as I approach my own music. But I also believe there is value in the general conclusions I will draw, conclusions I hope will enrich the music-listening of visitors to these pages.
Well, let’s take a deep breath, because I will start out with the metaphysics/physics/music portion of my conclusions. On the frontiers of physics, we are learning that all matter consists of elementary particles and these particles are points of energy that radiate fields. So, existence is a heavily populated cauldron of overlapping, interacting energy fields. We humans have evolved to sense those energy fields within our finite portions of what we perceive as a three/four dimensional space/time continuum. We ourselves are a complex set of interconnected energy fields interacting with many other complex energy fields, guided through this reality by our senses. Energy—that is existence; that is life.
Music is the only art that involves a direct transmission of energy from one intelligence to another. Painting/visual art is created as imagery and experienced by looking at and absorbing the photons from those images, but not through direct energy. The images undergo a great deal of editing and processing before human beings absorb their content. Story-telling involves transmitting words or actions, again to be witnessed visually, or heard and then translated into ideas in the recipient’s mind. Sculpture/dance/books/poetry are also indirect arts. Music is direct energy. It is a series of vibrations through a medium, but the music is not the medium itself; it is the energy that courses through the medium. The music is not the molecules of the medium that are vibrating, it is the flow of energy generating those vibrations. It can be measured by an oscilloscope as energy waves. Linked with words as song, it can be extraordinarily powerful and affecting. Visual arts (like movies) use music to inject emotion—using the direct energy of music heightens the experience of other arts.
Music takes energy and puts order to it. This musical energy supplies an organized tension and release at a visceral level, a level without words or explanations needed. In a sense, it resembles at a manageable level the occurrence of pain, of pleasure, of longing and longing fulfilled. Music can be said to duplicate the experience of a want or need—fulfilled through tension and release, through a dissonance resolving to a consonance.
So music is energy, sound communication flowing directly into the brain, to be processed by the mind. What is the nature of this energy we call music? What can we say about music—what common denominators can we find for humans, or any other sentient creature? Do all sentient beings experience music the same way? Would Bach make sense to intelligent extraterrestrial creatures? There really isn’t enough information available to us now to answer this question because we have no other intelligent creatures to compare ourselves with. Some thinking is still possible despite this knowledge gap. Again let’s reduce this to the basics. Existence is a set of interacting, overlapping energy fields. Our senses filter the information coming from those fields to allow us, as conscious entities, to function. Our senses evolved for the purposes of survival. The ability to sense sound is one of those senses. The question then becomes whether the phenomenon of sound, energy vibrating through a medium (usually air), would evolve for other conscious intelligent beings, and if so, would it evolve the same way? In looking around at Earth’s life forms, we know other creatures see and hear differently than we do. They might hear a different part of the frequency spectrum. Some senses are more acute for other creatures, and not every creature has every sense. So we can probably conclude that intelligent creatures will vary in the way they experience sound, and Bach will sound different to different intelligences.
However, there is an argument against that idea. Sound appears to have some universal characteristics, characteristics experienced by intelligent creatures in the same or similar ways. Here, at this part of the discussion, we will look at the basics of music, and how those vibrations, that sound energy, appears to humans (and may appear to other sentient creatures).
Music is sound organized by pitch, or rhythm—usually by both. (If just one is present, the experience may seem musical, but incomplete). Rhythms are built into the human body and into the fabric of existence. In music, rhythm involves patterns of sound focused around a pulse. Rhythm involves the passage of time, the meticulous control of time. Rhythm resonates with humans, and potentially with other conscious creatures, because rhythm is so inherent in life—in the heartbeat, in breathing, in sexual activity, in simple movements of walking or running, in countless other aspects of the universe. Pitch involves sound at a clear frequency. Both rhythm and pitch are discernible enough to be duplicated, making music possible.
There are three inherent characteristics of pitch that give music a universal commonality across human cultures. These are 1) the overtone series, 2) the ratios of vibrating strings and frequencies, and, 3) partials for wind instruments.
All pitches generate an overtone series. That series of overtone pitches is the same for any clear-pitched musical note—first an octave higher; second, a perfect fifth; third, a second octave higher; fourth, a major third (two octaves and a major third higher than the original pitch); fifth, another perfect fifth (two octaves and a perfect fifth higher than the original pitch); sixth, a strange note between a sixth and a flat seventh—like a “blue note” (two octaves from the original pitch plus that strange interval); seventh, three octaves higher than the original pitch. The overtone series gives us a basis for the universally perceived consonant harmonic intervals—the octave and the perfect fifth. It also gives us a basis for the widely accepted as consonant intervals—the third (minor and major), the sixth (minor and major), and the perfect fourth (the distance between the perfect fifth and the original pitch fifth raised an octave). The fundamental notes of the overtone series are more likely to be perceived by a particular musical culture as consonant intervals. The nearly universal pentatonic scale also can be explained as consisting of the pitches from the overtone series. Even the “blue” note, found in some cultures, has some basis for explanation from the overtone series (the note in the overtone series that occurs in between the sixth and the flat seventh of the conventional twelve note scale). So though we aren’t sure if Bach would be comprehensible to all sentient beings, we can see how humans recognize music cross-culturally, and within cultural familiarity, can appreciate music generated cross-culturally. This cross-cultural music appreciation is much easier translated among human beings than different languages.
Another universal aspect to pitch is the characteristics of vibrating strings. The pitch of a vibrating string goes up an octave when the portion of the string vibrating is halved. Intervals can be derived by simple mathematical ratios and the simplest ratios generate the fundamental intervals of the overtone series. (Here are some ratios/these can vary the farther we get from the fundamental intervals of the overtone series—2:1-octave, 3:2-perfect fifth, 4:3-perfect fourth, 5:4-major third, 6:5-minor third, 5:3-major sixth, 8:5-minor sixth, 9:8-major second, 9:5-minor seventh, 15:8-major seventh, 16:15-minor second, 10:7-tritone.) These ratios seem to confer a mathematical rationale for consonant and dissonant intervals. Mathematics is well-established as the vocabulary of physics, of existence. Mathematics would be the best option for communications between us and intelligences from other worlds. Music is wrapped up intimately with mathematics. This is another indication of music intertwined with reality at a very basic level.
Pitch can also be measured with numbers, with the frequencies of a given sound. The number pertains to measurement of the wave of the vibrations. Double a frequency and the pitch moves up an octave. This is equivalent to the vibrating string phenomenon. The ratios between the frequencies operate the same way as the ratios of the vibrating strings. The simplest ratios yield the most consonant intervals.
Earlier I described music as a mini-drama, of controlled longing transitioning to longing fulfilled represented by the resolution of dissonance to consonance. Here, we have evidence of a physics basis for a universal nature of dissonance and consonance, meaning that within cultural variations, there is a universal basis for a given piece of music resulting in a similar music experience for humans and maybe even for other sentient beings.
A third aspect to music that also overlaps with the overtone series and the ratios of frequencies and vibrating strings is the intervals of open notes for wind instruments. Most conventional wind instruments use valves or holes or keys to change the length of the vibrating air column to change the pitch. But wind instruments have natural intervals that occur from bottom to top. A bugle, with no valves, delivers those natural intervals. (Other wind instruments without keys or valves have the same characteristics.) And the intervals are the same as the overtone series! This is clearly not an accident. There is undoubtedly a physics reason for this convergence that I have not come across during my study of these issues. (I invite any reader to offer a comment on this issue if you can bring more insight to it.) For now, I’ll just call this more corroboration of the inherent universal nature of pitched sound, and its mathematical character.
As we continue our look for universal characteristics of music, we come to a characteristic of most music—scales. Scales are a series of pitches, rising (or falling) between octaves that create a “mode” or “key.” They can be found in music all over the world, in locations where they have separate evolution and development. I have mentioned pentatonic scales, the most common scale among the musics of humans. The five tones of a pentatonic scale would likely be considered the minimum number to constitute a scale. What is the maximum number? A diatonic scale has seven tones (not including the repeat of the octave at the end of the scale). A chromatic scale has twelve tones. Western music (and so the music that is my cultural comfort zone) revolves around a twelve-tone chromatic scale. Western composers and musicians have played with quarter tones, but it really hasn’t caught on to Western ears. Other cultures have microtones built into their musics, tones that seem to exist out of the twelve-tone chromatic scale. But in my (admittedly limited) listenings to that music, the microtones seem like either embellishments of one of the twelve chromatic tones, or tones existing out of the equal temperament scale, but still with a twelve-tone feel.
Is this twelve-tone chromatic scale a universal characteristic of music, or are my Western ears accustomed to my own culture’s music? Is there a mathematical explanation/rationale? I believe twelve tones constitute the upper limit on discernible scale pitches, with microtones serving as ornaments to the twelve tones. And there is a mathematical explanation for this upper limit. The first non-octave note of the overtone series, and the simplest non-octave ratio interval of the vibrating strings, is the perfect fifth. The perfect fifth gives us the dominant-tonic move in Western music. The dominant-tonic move, V to I, can be found in almost any music that uses scales. The explanation is easy—we can just look at the overtone series to see how prominent the perfect fifth is, built in to any pitched sound. The V to I move can also be a I to IV move—the I in the first scale becomes V in the next scale, with the IV of the first scale becoming the I in the second scale. This gives us the so-called circle of fifths, or circle of fourths. And if we pursue either one, we derive twelve tones—no more, no less. Taking both from C—Circle of fifths: C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#/Ab-Eb-Bb-F-back to C. Circle of fourths: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db/C#-F#-B-E-A-D-G-back to C. Admittedly, this relies on an equal temperament tuning. Pure cycling through those intervals would lead to some frequency numbers that do not add up. Equal temperament tuning, slight adjustments in the frequencies of the twelve tones, allows the circle of fifths/circle of fourths to work. Equal temperament tuning is technically an innovation recently in Western music. But it is an approach to tuning, to scales, to keys, to harmonies, that I think resonates with nearly every musical culture, and this is because of the universal nature of the twelve-tone scale derived from the circle of fourths/circle of fifths. The microtonal variations found among musical cultures can be explained by the slight adjustments to create the equal temperament scale, and the fact that not all musical cultures make those adjustments.
Different cultures use the twelve tones of the chromatic scale differently (and approach tuning of their scales differently). Here, we start to drift from a universal music. So the universal aspects of music, to review, appear to be rhythm and pitch, with octaves and perfect fifths as consonant intervals, with scales using some combination of notes from a twelve-note chromatic scale. From here, deviations and varieties occur. Aspects are shared among the musics of the world, but not shared by all. While the use of scales seems universal, scales of five to seven primary tones (from a twelve-tone chromatic scale), the notes in those scales vary extensively. The so-called major scale, a fundamental element of Western music for the last five or so centuries, is not at all universal among human musics. Exotic scales (to my Western ears) with augmented seconds occur cross-culturally. For me personally, the variety of scales and modes is one of the true joys of music, one of the variations among musics that keeps music fresh and exciting. In my own music, I like to look for fresh ways to approach scales, and harmonies deriving from those scales.
Not every musical culture has harmonies, and by harmonies, I mean a deliberate scheme of chords, of sounding different notes simultaneously to create compelling combinations of sounds. We can certainly argue that scales imply harmony, and they do. It is a slight step from scales to harmony. Harmonies are built on scale steps, usually in stacked triads. Contrapuntal schemes, also not found in all musics, but found in many, look at harmonies, how the lines of the counterpoint land at any single point to create chords.
When we speak of harmony, we now come to the concepts of consonance and dissonance. These concepts vary from culture to culture, and vary widely. For Western music, consonance and dissonance have changed within the culture over time. What was considered dissonant last century and the century before has now morphed into acceptable consonance. Octaves and perfect fifths are consonant. Half steps and microtones in clusters are usually considered dissonant. Schemes to design fixed rules for dissonance and consonance have been attempted, using the overtone series or other aspects inherent in music. They generally fail because cultural familiarity and even musical indoctrination contribute significantly to the way we humans evaluate consonance and dissonance. And, music without dissonance would fail miserably. Music plays like a controlled drama (as I mentioned earlier). Dissonance begs for a resolution to consonance. Even a V to I move sets up a feeling of anticipation, of tension as V wants to move to I. This, it can be argued, is dissonance to consonance even though it involves fundamental intervals. So a huge number of choices are available for the sonic dramas that are music. This is another reason that music creators will never “run out of material.” Cultural norms are constantly evolving so new combinations of consonance and dissonance, and of rhythm, are constantly available.
“Tonality” also appears to be universal, despite the efforts of some Twentieth Century Western music composers’ and music theorists’ efforts to render it obsolete. “Tonality” is the idea that music is experienced as revolving around a given pitch. That pitch center can shift. I heard some form of tonality in all the musical examples from around the world in my study as detailed in previous posts. It is true that celebrated Western composers of the Twentieth Century invented schemes that attempted to obliterate any trace of music revolving around a pitch, or key, or tonal center. But when actually listening to the music, the ear gravitates toward a tonal center; the ear searches for a central pitch to orient the musical experience. One of the most successful of the “twelve tone,” “serial” composers, Alban Berg, designed his twelve note “tone rows” around triads and other musical devices of tonality. This gives his “atonal” “serial” music a tonal feel. The “twelve tone” or “serial” composers expanded music, giving music creators another tool in the music-generating toolbox. But they did not, in my opinion, succeed in eliminating tonality because humans naturally look for tonality when they experience music. I suspect this would be part of the musical experience for any sentient creature as well, or the sonic experience would be something other than music.
Another more controversial consideration, controversial in our day and age, is the relationship of music to the religious/the spiritual, to metaphysics. In my opinion, music factors heavily into the human attempts to interact with the Divine, with what humans call God. Music brings order to the world. Religion/spirituality/metaphysics brings an explanation to existence. So music parallels that metaphysical search for spiritual answers. For me, the search for a universal music parallels my search for a universal spirituality, for a convergence of physics and metaphysics.
It is possible that music acts as a conduit to the Divine. Right now, it is difficult to be certain in drawing conclusions on this issue. But I believe as we become more attuned to a convergence of science and the spiritual, we will see more connections between music and the Divine, and perhaps even seek music as a way of communing with the Divine. After all, music is energy, and existence is energy. So it is not a huge jump to relate music to the Divine and consider that it could offer a channel, a route to the Divine.
In reading scientific discussions about music, I was struck by how thinkers seemed to want to avoid the possible metaphysical/spiritual aspect of music. We live in an age when science is supposed to bring us more knowledge of the world, when science is supposed to render faith in God, or consideration of spirituality, as something for less sophisticated thinkers. But when fair-minded music historians and ethnomusicologists discuss the issue, they admit that music was used by early man as a way of interacting with the Divine. Developments in human abilities are often explained by pointing out the evolutionary advantages those developments bring. I think we should consider that there could be an evolutionary advantage for intelligent beings who can access the Divine (though when religious fanaticism becomes destructive we are left to wonder if this evolutionary advantage can have a downside). If we are going to be fair, if we are really going to be scientific, then we shouldn’t be excluding any line of inquiry including the possibility that music, with its affinity for the universal language of mathematics, with its existence as energy and vibrations as a part of our universe of interacting energy fields—that music could be a gift from the God force, whatever it is, a gift aiding human communion with the Divine. So my searches in both of these areas overlap. As I create music, and find myself in a zone where something outside of me seems to take over, I’ll be looking for that spiritual connection to music—that is part of what my music is about.
On the more technical side, this study brings me to some approaches to music that will influence what I will do in this arena with whatever time I have left:
1) I am looking to create accessible music that has a universal feel. It will be unapologetically tonal, though I occasionally will flirt with atonal techniques like tone rows and clusters. (Technology allows me to control the music—time and pitch—in very precise ways. I’d be crazy not to see what can be done with it.)
2) I will look for exotic scales from different cultures and attempt to create exotic harmonies from those scales. This will include combining those with pop and jazz mediums popular today, as well as drawing from the rich heritage of Western “classical” music.
3) I’ll be looking for sounds from different cultures to juxtapose in unique ways. This includes electronically generated sounds that may not sound like any naturally occurring sound.
4) I’ll continue combining different styles—no combination will be out of bounds—multi-cultural sounds and approaches with popular music/rock-pop as well as jazz and even concert music as time and opportunity allow.
I’ve already started this. “Issa Music,” my CD released in late 2011, certainly does all of us. My upcoming CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook” at this writing consists of thirteen songs with the basic tracks recorded. This CD includes a cover of “Hotel California” with log drum sounds and a flute duet in the instrumental section. The CD also includes a cover of Miles Davis’s “All Blues” with sitar and African flute sounds, as well as a big Fender Rhodes solo. The basic tracks for my original songs on the CD include everything from big strident guitar synthesizer sounds to gentle choral clusters. But this CD barely scratches the surface of the possibilities. Stay tuned at this blog for more on this topic and for details on my upcoming music.
Previous posts on this topic:
Books-Into-Movies: “The Great Gatsby”/2013 and 1974 (based on the novel THE GREAT GATSBY) May 26, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in A and E Network, book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, F Scott Fitzgerald, Granada Television, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mira Sorvino, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, The Great Gatsby, Toby Stephens.
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This Books-Into-Movies post is obviously triggered by the recently released movie version of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, The Great Gatsby. I will compare the book to this recent effort, and also reach back to the 1974 movie starring Robert Redford. I will compare the different movie approaches where that makes sense. There will be some redundancy, as I know some visitors to this post will be interested in a comparison to just one of the movies. I will end this post with a synopsis of the novel (allowing readers to make their own comparisons).
The 2013 Movie
This movie version was faithful to the basic story, with some dialogue and narrative taken directly from the book. The filmmakers took the novel’s elements and ratcheted up their intensity, not changing the basics of the story, but adding more edge, and more drama, to some of the elements. There is one large addition—Nick Carraway at a sanitarian telling his story. There is nothing like this in the book. So there is no doctor to tell the story to, and no moment when Nick Caraway writes “the Great” in front of “Gatsby.”
Other points of comparison:
- The green light across the bay is mentioned in the novel, though the film gives this more emphasis.
- Nick’s home, a small rental shack sandwiched between two mansions and next door to Gatsby’s mansion is from the book.
- Except for writing a few “obvious” editorials for the Yale News while in college, there is no indication Nick Carraway has ambitions of being a writer in the book.
- Daisy lives directly across the bay in the more prestigious East Egg—straight from the novel.
- Tom Buchanan, the wealthy, ex-athlete womanizer as Daisy’s husband, is also directly from the book.
- Jordan Baker, the golfer-friend of the Buchanans also comes directly from the book.
- Daisy’s reaction to hearing Gatsby’s name during Nick’s first visit is also depicted in the book.
- Tom Buchanan reading a book warning of the rise of non-whites against whites as a threat to civilization is also described in the book. Daisy thinks the book is making Tom depressed.
- Ash-heaps on the route between Long Island and New York, including the imposing billboard of the doctor staring down at the road are also vividly described in the book.
- Myrtle Wilson getting a dog for her apartment away from her husband is also directly from the book.
- Nick’s day at Myrtle Wilson’s apartment seems more intense, more physical, more depraved, than it is in the book, though the basic elements are consistent with the book. Nick does get drunk and lose track of time in the book. And at the end of the evening, Tom breaks Myrtle’s nose with a slap when Myrtle continues to say Daisy’s name after Tom demands that she stop.
- Nick’s first Gatsby party follows the book fairly closely. He has an actual invitation when no one else does. Jordan Baker joins him. Nick encounters a man with owl-shaped glasses in Gatsby’s library. And Nick meets Gatsby for the first time seeming to stumble onto him at the party, and talks to him before finding out who he is.
- Gatsby interrupted by phone calls from various cities is from the book.
- Gatsby inviting Nick to join him on his hydroplane the next day is from the book.
- “Old sport” as a frequent Gatsby expression—definitely from the book.
- As in the movie, Jordan Baker is called in to talk to Gatsby privately and says she has learned something “tantalizing.” But she does not say “this explains everything” (though that is the logical result of the type of information she is talking about). And she does tell Nick to look up her name in the phonebook, but calls out the name of her aunt to look up so they can meet for tea—as Gatsby has requested.
- Jordan Baker conveys Gatsby’s request that he invite Daisy over for tea—in the movie and the book.
- Gatsby’s big yellow car—right from the book.
- Gatsby’s initial boasts about his background are from the book, though in the movie he seems to add even wilder details.
- Gatsby’s encounter with the policeman where the policeman waves him by—directly from the book.
- Lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim is also largely from the book. But the decadent aura of the lunch establishment depicted in the movie is not explicitly from the book. Wolfsheim thinking at first that Nick has come for business is also from the book.
- Gatsby does say Wolfsheim fixed the 1919 World Series, which connects the Wolfsheim character in the novel to real-life gangster Arnold Rothstein.
- Tom shows up at the lunch in the book as well, and tells Nick that Daisy is furious he hasn’t called. But when Nick tries to introduce Gatsby to Tom, Gatsby disappears after they shake hands. No further contact takes place in the book. They do not exchange any words.
- Jordan Baker asking Nick to have Daisy over for tea so Gatsby can meet her there is from the book. Jordan tells the story of Gatsby and Daisy in Louisville before World War I—some of it word for word from the book. And Jordan tells Nick that Gatsby bought a house across the bay to be close to Daisy, hoping she might come to one of his parties—from the book.
- The meeting at Nick’s between Daisy and Gatsby is completely faithful to the book, including much of the dialogue. This also includes Gatsby’s desire to spruce up Nick’s property (though the movie adds a few extra touches) to Gatsby providing “a greenhouse” for the event. And Gatsby’s almost childish shyness, including leaving the house and returning drenched by the rain, is also directly from the book.
- The reconnection of Daisy and Gatsby and their going over to Gatsby’s home is faithful to the book, including the clippings Gatsby has collected about Daisy.
- James Gatz decides to become J. Gatsby—from the book. The Dan Cody story is also mostly faithful to the book, with Dan Cody helpful as a mentor to Gatz-now-Gatsby. In the book, Gatsby is cheated out of his inheritance from Cody by a woman, not by Cody’s family. I did not see anything in the book about Gatsby taking on the expression “old sport” from Cody.
- Tom and Daisy at one of Gatsby’s parties is right out of the book, including Gatsby calling Tom “the polo player” and Tom unhappy with the description.
- Daisy offering Tom a pen to take down addresses is from the book. (It is a great line.)
- I do not recall a “Mr. Slagle” waiting on the phone, or a man beaten up at Gatsby’s home, in the book.
- Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom that she never loved him, and then go back to Louisville and marry him—from the book. There is not a clear conflict in the book between what Daisy wants and what Gatsby wants from their relationship. But the line “of course you can” when Nick tells Gatsby he can’t relive the past is directly from the book.
- Gatsby ending the parties and firing all the servants is from the book. (Now that Gatsby has Daisy, the parties are no longer necessary.)
- The lunch with Nick, Jordan, Tom, Daisy and Gatsby is from the book. Daisy’s suggestion they go to town, and Tom’s suggestion that he drive Gatsby’s car is also straight from the book. Tom conveys the findings of his “investigations” of Gatsby to Nick and Jordan as they ride into town. (The implication is that Tom wanted to share this information with Jordan and Nick out of Gatsby’s hearing.) Also, Gatsby’s pink suit is explicitly described in the book.
- The scene with George Wilson at the gas station, with him saying he and his wife are moving, as well as his ominous declaration that he has “wised up,” is all from the book.
- Much of the action at the Plaza Hotel is from the book. Gatsby’s admission that he had been to Oxford, but had not been educated there, is from the book. Much of the dialogue is word for word, including Gatsby’s declaration that Daisy never loved Tom, with Daisy seeming to agree, then hedging. As in the movie, Tom suggests Gatsby drive Daisy back in his yellow car with the assurance that “he won’t annoy you…”
- There are two differences from the book for this Plaza Hotel scene: 1) Tom does not use the explicit phrase that Gatsby is a front for Meyer Wolfsheim (though he describes activities of Gatsby with Wolfsheim) and, 2) there is no loss of temper by Gatsby—he does not physically accost Tom and then apologize for losing his temper.
- Yes, Nick does recall that this is his 30th birthday.
- Gatsby’s car hitting Myrtle is from the book. The initial scene from the movie cleverly hides exactly who is driving—we later discover Daisy was the driver.
- Tom Buchanan seems to have a more malevolent attitude toward Gatsby in the movie. He tells George Wilson immediately that Gatsby owns the yellow car and seems to goad Wilson into taking action. He deliberately misleads Wilson into believing Gatsby had the affair with his wife. In the book, he does not give this information until the next day, when Wilson comes to his home pointing a gun at Tom. Wilson’s knowledge evolves and accumulates as he walks to Long Island from his home and investigates the driver of the yellow car. For me, the book’s approach to this had more poignancy. Tom’s behavior in the book is cowardly and negligent—in the movie, there is a malevolent intent.
- Gatsby hanging around Daisy’s home and explaining events to Nick is from the book. This includes Nick checking at the window and seeing Daisy and Tom talking calmly over a snack.
- Nick going into work and promising to call is from the book. This includes his parting comment to Gatsby: “They’re a rotten crowd… you’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
- In the book, Nick and Gatsby’s gardener, chauffeur and butler discover Gatsby’s body at the pool. They find George Wilson’s body nearby. There is no telephone ringing at the moment Gatsby is shot (with Nick, and not Daisy on the line). We do not know Gatsby’s last words (so having him say “Daisy” at the end is not from the book).
- In the movie, we see Wilson putting the gun in his mouth. This is never explicitly stated in the book (but strongly implied).
- Daisy and Tom leaving town without communicating is from the book. In the movie, the tension is ratcheted up some by having a servant lying to Nick over the phone as the Buchanan family is leaving.
- Nick’s description of Daisy and Tom as “careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money…” is verbatim from the book.
- In the book, Gatsby’s funeral is also attended by very few—only a minister, Gatsby, and Gatsby’s father are there, joined by the man with the owlish glasses who had been admiring Gatsby’s library at one of his parties.
- The words that end the movie are the same that end the book, including the reference to the green light at the beginning of the second to the last paragraph.
The 1974 Movie
This movie version is also faithful to the basic story, with dialogue and narrative taken directly from the book. But this version is slower and less energetic compared to the 2013 movie. In these posts, I have generally refrained from much in the way of criticism or comments on reviews. But it is hard not to compare the two versions—too hard! I know critics have been tough on the 2013 movie for its excesses. But after watching the 1974 movie, which was routinely criticized for being slow and boring, we can understand that the 2013 filmmakers did not want to risk repeating those mistakes. In the 1974 movie, we also have a flat, sometimes wooden, statue-like performance from Robert Redford, who fits the part visually, maybe better than DiCaprio, but seems ill at ease with some of the lines he was delivering and the moments he was portraying. Also, Bruce Dern and Karen Black, for me, came off as creepy, instead of as a hulking athlete (the Tom Buchanan character) or a bored social-climbing housewife (the Myrtle Wilson character). Some of the music seemed to accentuate the creepy aspects of these characters portrayals. The 1974 movie was also slower to get us Gatsby’s back-story, with some of it not delivered at all. So, to sum up, the 2013 movie injects energy at every opportunity, some beyond what’s apparent in the book. The 1974 movie attempted a stylized version, with slow-developing scenes and lines delivered with a sometimes ponderous pace, attempting to bring out all the angst implied in the story.
Let’s take a closer look at the 1974 movie:
- The opening credits signal a quieter, slower, less frenetic pace for the 1974 movie. The music all appears to be from the time period of the book. In the 2013 movie, period-accuracy for the music is sacrificed to generate energy.
- The 1974 movie starts with the opening words of the novel.
- Nick Carraway drives to his initial meeting with Daisy and Tom in the book. He does not arrive on a boat as in the movie.
- Nick is a “struggling bond salesman” in both the book and the movie.
- Daisy’s reaction to hearing the name “Gatsby” during their first get-together, is depicted in the book and highlighted in both movies.
- Tom Buchanan’s reference to a book called The Rise of Colored Peoples is from the book.
- The green light across the bay gets more prominence in the 2013 movie. This movie certainly refers to it, and it is featured in the book as well.
- The extravagance portrayed in the film is certainly described in the book. The 2013 film takes this element of the novel to more extremes.
- The book also refers to few people being formally invited to Gatsby’s parties.
- The billboard with the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg staring out is faithfully portrayed from the book in both movies.
- Tom Buchanan’s shameless flaunting of his mistress in front of Nick—“I want you to meet my girl”—is word-for-word from the book.
- Myrtle’s dog and the episode at the apartment is largely from the book, with some dialogue in the movie word-for-word. The episode that ends with Tom hitting Myrtle is a little different than the book. There is no door-slamming or other event preceding Tom’s command for Myrtle not to say Daisy’s name. The hit is described as “a short deft movement.” This movie’s Tom Buchanan seems to put more effort into the blow. Afterwards, Myrtle’s broken nose is tended to with the help of the other women present. Tom seems uninvolved with the consequences of his actions in the book.
- In the book, Daisy Buchanan does say she will try to arrange for Nick and Jordan Baker to get married. But there is no comment about Nick having no money so it will have to be an affair. Nick does say “I’m too poor,” but this is in relation to being engaged to a woman back where he came from.
- Daisy saying she hoped her daughter would be a fool, that it is best for a girl to be a fool, is from the book.
- Jordan is described as a compulsively dishonest person in the book—Jordan moving her golf ball in the movie reflects that description.
- Gatsby’s chauffeur delivering an invitation to Nick is from the book.
- Jordan Baker does not say to Nick in the book: “Daisy has a craving for you.”
- The speculation about Gatsby’s background at the Gatsby party is from the book, some of it word-for-word.
- Nick’s first meeting with Gatsby is different in the movie than in the book. In the movie, Nick is summoned by a tough-looking, unfriendly man and silently brought to Gatsby who is observing the party alone. In the book, Nick has a substantial conversation with Gatsby before finding out who he is. This occurs during the party, with Jordan Baker next to him. In the book, it is Jordan Baker who is summoned to meet with Gatsby alone, to ask Nick to set tea with Daisy.
- The constant use of “old sport” by Gatsby is in the book and in both movies.
- Gatsby’s yellow car is in the book and both movies.
- Gatsby asking “what’s your opinion of me” is from the book. His untrue story of how his wealthy family is all dead and he has been educated at Oxford is also from the book.
- The Wolfsheim character, to me, in this movie, is more consistent with the way I pictured him from the book. The second movie has him swarthier, with more over-the-top traits. Much of the lunch scene in this movie is consistent with the book, including the description of Wolfsheim as a “gambler” who “fixed the 1919 World Series.”
- Tom bumping into Nick at the restaurant and telling him Daisy is furious that he hasn’t called is from the book and in both movies. Gatsby disappearing before he speaks to Tom is consistent with the book (and not with the second movie).
- Gatsby sprucing up Nick’s home and bringing in flowers before the Daisy/Gatsby meeting is in the book and both movies. So is Gatsby fleeing just before they meet, and then coming to the door after Daisy has entered and greeted Nick.
- Gatsby telling Nick his occupation is none of Nick’s business, then relenting after realizing he’s been rude, is from the book.
- Jordan Baker admitting she is a careless driver, but saying she will be fine because others are careful, is from the book.
- This movie makes no reference to Dan Cody, the wealthy yachtsman who is an important influence in Gatsby’s early adulthood.
- Gatsby commanding Klipsringer or to play the piano is from the book.
- I do not recall any scene of Nick Carraway and Jordan Baker at the Wilson gas station in the book.
- There are a few scenes in the movie where Gatsby challenges Daisy, asking why she married Tom, telling her he had promised to come back, reminding her she promised to write, that are not in the book. There is also the line “rich girls don’t marry poor boys”—not in the book. The dialogue is more direct between the characters in the movie than in the book. In the book, Daisy and Gatsby reconnect, and there is little second-guessing of the past.
- Much of the scene of Tom and Daisy going to a Gatsby party is from the book, including Tom unhappy with being called “the polo player” and Daisy offering to lend Tom pen and paper to take down addresses.
- “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”—straight from the book and in both movies.
- I do not recall any incident in the book when Daisy asks Gatsby to put on his old military uniform.
- The lights not going on in Gatsby’s house, and the servants dismissed, is from the book and in both movies. (This occurs right after Gatsby is convinced Daisy did not like the party she attended.)
- I do not recall any point in the book were someone says to Gatsby “they say you killed a man” and he answers with the question “just one?”
- The movie has more scenes with Daisy and Gatsby than the novel as their relationship develops (and these scenes seem to add to the overall effect of a slower, less energetic story).
- The hot day scene with Gatsby, Nick, Daisy, Tom and Jordan is from the book, with a number of scenes word-for-word.
- The car arrangements to go into town, with Tom driving Gatsby’s yellow car, is from the book and is preserved in both movies (this is essential to the climactic events of the story).
- Myrtle stares out from the window of the Wilson home, but does not break glass and draw blood in the book.
- The scene at the Plaza Hotel is largely from the book. In the 2013 movie, Gatsby loses his temper and apologizes. Nothing like that happens in the book or in this movie. In the book, Tom tells Gatsby to take Daisy back to town. This does not happen in either movie (and does not really make sense in the book). In this movie, Daisy and Gatsby just leave.
- Yes, Nick’s out-of-place statement that this day is his birthday is in the book and in both movies.
- Myrtle calls out to George just before she runs into the street in the book—there is no other confrontation just before the accident.
- The discovery of the accident by Tom, Nick and Jordan occurs in this movie the way it occurs in the novel. As in the book, Tom hears about the yellow car and understands the significance. But he does not tell anyone at the scene (as in the 2013 movie).
- Gatsby hides at the Buchanan home, as he does in the book. In the book, he tells Nick more quickly that Daisy caused the accident. As in the movie, he will not leave until he sure Daisy is okay.
- The scene of Michaelis (not named in the movie) trying to get George Wilson to talk to someone from a church is from the book.
- Wilson walking from the ash-heaps and gas station out to Long Island is from the book. Going to Tom’s home and using a revolver to force Tom to identify the yellow car owner/driver is from the book.
- Nick’s final words to Gatsby as he leaves him for the last time—“They’re rotten crowd. You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”—is directly from the book.
- George Wilson killing himself after killing Gatsby is not explicit in the book, though strongly implied—and is depicted in both movies.
- Nick’s inability to reach Daisy after Gatsby’s death is from the book.
- Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz, coming out for the funeral, is from the book. This is the first time in this movie that we get this authentic backstory for Gatsby. In the novel, Fitzgerald offers this earlier.
- Only three attend Gatsby’s funeral—Nick, Gatsby’s father and the minister—this is from the book. In the book, a man wearing owl-like glasses arrives separately.
- Nick’s confrontation with Tom a few months later and refusal to shake Tom’s hand is from the book. Nick learns here that Tom pointed Wilson in Gatsby’s direction allowing Wilson to believe Gatsby had killed his wife and had been his wife’s lover (though Tom still seems unaware Daisy is the one who killed Myrtle Wilson).
- The reference to Tom and Daisy as “careless people” who “smash things up” is straight from the narrative in the book.
- This movie ends with a reference to the green light, but not with the word-for-word ending as in the second movie.
Synopsis of The Great Gatsby
We meet Nick Carraway, the first-person narrator of the novel. He comes from privilege, but we find out quickly, less privilege than others in the story. He has come to New York to make a living in bonds. His father has agreed to finance him for a year. He takes a house in the “West Egg” area of Long Island Sound, an $80 a month property between two mansions. One of these mansions is owned by a wealthy man identified as “Gatsby.” Nick Carraway is from the Midwest. His family is prosperous, involved in the “wholesale hardware business.” He visits his cousin Daisy, who lives with her husband Tom Buchanan and their three-year-old daughter. They are extremely wealthy; Tom Buchanan is a former football player area and we learn quickly that he has a mistress, and has read a book about how the white race, “makers of civilization,” is in danger of losing its dominance to “colored” races. Daisy feels this idea has “depressed” him. Despite Daisy’s material comfort, she is clearly unhappy, but does not seem inclined to change her circumstances. Staying with them is a young professional athlete (we find out later she is a golfer) from the Midwest, Jordan Baker. The Buchanans hint at matching Jordan with Nick. After the visit, Nick returns home. He catches a quick glimpse of Gatsby outside his mansion, and at first wants to greet him. But Gatsby seems to want to be alone, and Nick does not follow through with meeting him at this time.
Nick Carraway reluctantly accompanies Tom Buchanan to meet Tom’s mistress. She is Myrtle Wilson married to George Wilson, a small time car dealer. The Wilsons live above the car business. Tom believes George Wilson is oblivious to the affair—Myrtle tells George she is visiting with her sister during their liaisons. Nick, Tom and Myrtle go to an apartment, a place away from home for Myrtle. Myrtle seems to transform into a grand lady of the manor at the apartment. They are joined by Myrtle’s sister Catherine and the McKees. Chester McKee is a photographer who discusses photographing Myrtle Wilson. Catherine finds out Nick Carraway lives in the West Egg area and mentions going to a party at Gatsby’s estate. She mentions a rumor that Gatsby’s wealth comes to him as a result of being a cousin or nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm. She says: “I’m scared of him. I’d hate to have him get anything on me.” Catherine mentions that Tom and Myrtle are both dissatisfied with their marriages and should get a divorce. Myrtle Wilson declares that Daisy will not allow a divorce because she is Catholic. Nick knows this is false. At the end of the evening, “toward midnight,” Nick becomes aware of an argument between Tom and Myrtle. Myrtle insists she will say Daisy’s name whenever she wants and shouts Daisy’s named repeatedly. Tom Buchanan breaks Myrtle Wilson’s nose with a “short, deft movement” of his open hand.
Nick Carraway attends a party at Gatsby’s home after Gatsby’s chauffer presents Nick with a written invitation. The party is lavish, with a full orchestra, and lots of food and drink. Few if any of the people at the party appear to have been given formal invitations. At first, Nick feels out of place, not knowing anyone. But he comes across Jordan Baker and joins her. Nick still wants to meet the host. He continues with Jordan as he mingles with party-goers, trying to connect with Gatsby. A man slightly older than him says he thinks he recalls Nick from the war. They seem to have served in the same general area. Nick says he is looking for Gatsby. It turns out he has been talking to Gatsby. Gatsby addresses Nick as “old sport” (and uses this form of address throughout the novel). Gatsby invites Nick to ride on a new hydrophone the following morning. At the party, speculation continues about Gatsby. Some say he killed a man. Gatsby takes calls from cities that pull him away from his guests in the middle of the festivities. But little solid information about him is apparent. Nick works during the week at the Probity Trust learning the bond business. He gets friendlier with Jordan Baker, but recognizes her faults—among other things, she seems to be almost pathologically dishonest.
Jay Gatsby pulls up to Nick Carraway’s home on a morning in “late July,” and asks him to lunch. Gatsby wants a favor, but won’t say exactly what it is. He describes his circumstances—he’s the last of a wealthy family from the “Middle West.” He later clarifies—San Francisco. Nick finds this story difficult to believe, but the details seem to ring true as Gatsby has props to corroborate them. Gatsby refers to “something very sad that had happened,” but does not go into specifics. He becomes a war hero—he says “then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief and I tried very hard to die, but I seem to bear an enchanted life.” He tells Nick that he heard Nick was taking Jordan Baker to tea and that his request has something to do with her. Nick has lunch with Jay Gatsby and Meyer Wolfsheim. Wolfsheim is a middle-aged Jewish man with an implied financial connection to Gatsby. Gatsby tells Nick that Wolfsheim fixed the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series. This meeting seems to corroborate more of Gatsby’s story. As lunch concludes, Nick sees Tom Buchanan. Tom approaches asking “Where’ve you been… Daisy’s furious because you haven’t called up.” As Nick turns to Gatsby after introducing them, Gatsby has disappeared. Nick meets with Jordan Baker. Jordan Baker tells Nick how she knew Daisy as an older more popular girl back in Louisville. She tells of seeing Daisy with a lieutenant in a car, “so engrossed with each other” that they did not notice her until she was five feet from the car. Jordan later hears a rumor that Daisy’s mother stopped Daisy from going to New York to “say good-bye to a soldier who was going overseas.” After the war, Daisy marries Tom Buchanan from Chicago, but after being engaged to a man from New Orleans. Daisy gets drunk on her wedding day—she normally does not drink. She is reluctant to follow through with the wedding, but she does. It becomes quickly obvious that Tom Buchanan is a compulsive womanizer. Jordan Baker tells Nick Carraway that Jay Gatsby has acquired the mansion close to Daisy, hoping to become reacquainted. He has been hoping she would drop by for one of his parties. He wants Nick to invite Daisy to his house, then have Gatsby come over. He wants Daisy to see his house. He does not want Daisy to know about him before the meeting. Nick is just supposed to invite her for tea. Nick does not address the request. He at this point is developing his own affection for Jordan Baker.
Jay Gatsby is waiting for Nick when he finally gets home. He wants to drive out to Coney Island. Nick says it is too late. But Nick agrees to ask Daisy for tea, and they agree on a date and time. Gatsby offers Nick a chance to make money—he does not specify how. Nick declines the offer. Later, when Gatsby says he earned enough money to buy his lavish home in just three years, Nick asks him how he makes his money. Gatsby at first says tersely this is his “own affair.” But he seems to realize the rudeness of his reply, and makes a vague comment about how he was in oil, and drugs, but is no longer in either one. The tea meeting, between Daisy and Gatsby starts out awkwardly. But the two reconnect at a deep level. Nick offers to leave them alone more than once—they decline. But he eventually does leave them alone; they have clearly rediscovered their previous attraction to each other.
We learn Jay Gatsby is James Gatz from North Dakota, the son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people.” Gatsby never feels they could be his parents, and develops grandiose ideas of who he should be. He leaves a college where he is working as a janitor to pay his way. He drifts around the coast of Lake Superior when he happens across millionaire miner Dan Cody. He spends five years as a sort of personal assistant to the man. They travel “three times around the continent” on Cody’s yacht. Cody dies suddenly (he is around fifty years old at the time), a week after a lady friend of Cody’s, Ella Kaye, comes on board. Gatsby is supposed to inherit $25,000, but “what remained of the millions went intact to Ella Kaye.” Gatsby never understands “the legal device that was used against him.” At this point, we are still not clear how James Gatz/Jay Gatsby has access to the wealth he expends so conspicuously at his West Egg mansion. Gatsby interacts socially with Tom Buchanan. Buchanan and some friends ride to his estate and stay briefly for refreshments (Daisy is not with them). Daisy and Tom come to one of Gatsby’s parties, but Daisy does not seem to enjoy herself. Gatsby refers to Tom as a “polo player,” though Tom is not a polo player and says “pleasantly” that he’d “a little rather not be the polo player.” Gatsby wants Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him. He wants to “go back to Louisville and get married in her house—just as if it were five years ago.” When Nick tells him he can’t repeat the past, Gatsby replies “why of course you can!”
On a Saturday night, Nick notices the lights at Gatsby’s house have not come on. He goes next door and discovers the servants have been fired and the place is a mess. New servants have been brought who are affiliated with Meyer Wolfsheim. He asks Gatsby if he is moving. Gatsby tells him he wants servants who won’t gossip—Daisy visits him “quite often” in the afternoons. Daisy invites Nick over to her home the following day for lunch. This turns out to be a brutally hot day, and turns into a dramatic confrontation. Nick, Tom, Daisy, Gatsby and Jordan Baker eat lunch together at Daisy’s home. Daisy suggests they drive into town, and baits Tom by stating her affection for Gatsby. Tom suggests he drive Gatsby’s yellow car while Gatsby takes Tom’s coupe. Gatsby reluctantly agrees. Nick and Jordan go with Tom; Daisy goes with Gatsby. On the drive, Tom tells Jordan and Nick he has investigated Gatsby. They end up at George Wilson’s gas station for gas. George Wilson is sick, and tells Tom he and his wife are going to leave town because he is now “wised-up” about something. Nick suspects George Wilson has discovered his wife’s affair, but doesn’t know who she is having the affair with. Nick, Daisy, Tom, Jordan and Gatsby all get together at the parlor of a suite in the Plaza Hotel near Central Park. After some chit-chat, Tom confronts Gatsby. Gatsby acknowledges he visited Oxford and that he was never a student there. When Tom asks if he is an “Oxford man,” he replies “not exactly.” Nick views this as favoring Gatsby’s credibility. Tom calls Gatsby “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.” Gatsby tells Tom he has something to tell him. Daisy suspects what it is and tries to deflect the discussion. But Gatsby tells Tom that Daisy has never loved him. Jordan and Nick try to leave, but Tom and Gatsby ask them to stay. Daisy reluctantly admits Gatsby is right, but then, with some prompting from Tom, says she did love Tom, that she loved them both at one time. Tom insists Daisy won’t leave him for a “common swindler.” He says his investigations have revealed that one of Gatsby’s businesses was Gatsby and Wolfsheim selling grain alcohol at “side-street drug-stores” in Chicago. Tom hints at another business that is much larger, that his source is afraid to talk about. Tom tells Gatsby and Daisy to leave in Gatsby’s car. He says Gatsby won’t “annoy” her, that Tom thinks “he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.” As Tom drives back with Jordan and Nick, they come upon a car accident near George Wilson’s gas station. They find out Myrtle Wilson has been hit by a car, a large yellow car, Gatsby’s car. George Wilson had locked Myrtle in their home until their planned move. She apparently saw the yellow car and ran out in the street trying to get someone’s attention, thinking she knew the people in the car and that they could help her. Nick returns with Tom and Jordan to Daisy’s home. Tom calls for a taxi for Nick. As Nick waits for the cab, Gatsby appears. He tells Nick that Daisy was driving the car, and Gatsby had tried to get her to stop, but Daisy had kept on driving after the accident. Gatsby seems to think they’ve gotten away. Gatsby is going to wait until Daisy and Tom go to sleep before leaving. Daisy has agreed to lock herself in her room and turn her light on and off if Tom tries any “brutality.” Nick goes to the window and sees Tom and Daisy in the kitchen sitting together having a snack and talking. He tells Gatsby the situation appears peaceful, but Gatsby insists he will stay.
Nick has trouble sleeping. “Toward dawn,” he hears a taxi bringing Gatsby home. He goes to Gatsby who tells him the light went out at Daisy’s home without incident. Nick tells Gatsby he should leave the area as someone is sure to trace the car back to him. But Gatsby won’t leave until he is clear on what Daisy is going to do. At this time, Gatsby tells Nick the true story of his background. He tells how a poor young man with a manufactured, phantom past, worked his way into Daisy’s affections under false pretenses, implying he was a man of means. He tells Nick how they fell in love and started a relationship. Daisy comes from money, and this is part of the attraction for Gatsby. He goes off to war and distinguishes himself. But after the war, instead of being sent home, Gatsby is mistakenly sent to Oxford. Daisy grows confused and impatient, and marries Tom Buchanan. Gatsby gets a letter from Daisy while still in at Oxford. He comes back to Kentucky, penniless, with Tom and Daisy already on their honeymoon. Nick does not want to leave Gatsby, but after missing a few trains into the city eventually does go into work. He promises Gatsby a call. Gatsby says “do, old sport,” and says he expects Daisy will call also. Nick doesn’t seem so sure: “I suppose so.” Jordan Baker calls Nick at work. Nick has clearly lost interest in her. Nick cannot get Gatsby on the phone—the line is busy. When he calls the phone company, they tell him the line is open for a call from Detroit. At this point in the narrative, Nick goes back to events that occurred in the aftermath of the accident. About 3:00 in the morning, George Wilson announces he has a way of finding out the owner of the yellow car. He mentions the time his wife came home with a swollen nose and bruised face. George Wilson concludes that the owner of the yellow car murdered his wife (and by implication was the one having the affair with her). Michaelis, a man who runs a nearby “coffee joint,” has been trying to calm and comfort Wilson, suggesting he contact a friend, or someone from his church, to help them. But Wilson seems more and more fixated on the man driving the yellow car. Michaelis finally leaves at 6:00 in the morning. When Michaelis returns four hours later, Wilson is gone. Wilson walks from his home to Long Island. Nick now refers to police reconstructions of Wilson’s movements. A few hours of his journey are not accounted for. But by 2:30 that following afternoon, Wilson is in West Egg asking for Gatsby. Gatsby is at the pool at his home, still waiting for a phone call from Daisy. His chauffer hears shots but “hadn’t thought anything much about them.” Nick arrives at Gatsby’s home and triggers “the chauffer, butler and gardener” going to the pool. They find Gatsby and Wilson dead.
Conclusions about the shootings seem to be that Wilson was a man “deranged by grief.” Nothing is said explicitly, but we’re left to conclude that Wilson killed himself after killing Gatsby. Nick finds himself actually sympathetic to Gatsby and seems to be one of the few who is. He calls Daisy, but finds out she and Tom have left town with no forwarding address. Nick calls Wolfsheim, but Wolfsheim evades the call. Nick sends him a letter. Wolfsheim responds saying he is shocked but “cannot get mixed up in this thing” because of “very important business.” Nick picks up Gatsby’s phone and takes a mysterious call referring to bonds, implying a scheme gone awry. When Nick says he is not Gatsby, that Gatsby is dead, the line disconnects abruptly. Henry C. Gatz, Gatsby’s father, sends a telegram that he is coming. The funeral is postponed until he arrives. Gatz has seen the news about his son’s death in a Chicago newspaper. The morning of the funeral, Nick visits Wolfsheim to see if he is coming to the funeral. We learn that Wolfsheim, an organized crime figure based on Arnold Rothstein (an obvious conclusion from the earlier “Black Sox” reference) got Gatsby his start and helped him attain his wealth. Wolfsheim declines to come to the funeral. Gatsby’s father tells Nick that Gatsby was always generous with him, and that from a young age, Gatsby seemed destined to accomplish a lot. Only Nick, Gatsby’s father, the minister, and a handful of servants attend the funeral, joined by one party-goer Nick recognizes, a man Nick saw admiring Gatsby’s library during a party. Daisy does not communicate in any way with anyone. Nick leaves New York and returns home. Jordan Baker and Nick break completely; Jordan becomes engaged to someone else. Nick comes across Tom Buchanan the following October. Tom tells him that when George Wilson came to visit him, pointing a revolver at him, Tom told Wilson that Gatsby owned the yellow car. Tom Buchanan says Gatsby “had it coming” because of the way he ran down Myrtle Wilson. It seems Tom Buchanan felt no obligation to correct the obvious implication that Gatsby was the man having an affair with Myrtle Wilson. Nor did he apparently feel any obligation to warn Gatsby that Wilson may be coming, or to call the police and let them know of the danger. So we learn Tom Buchanan put George Wilson onto Jay Gatsby, leading to Gatsby’s murder.
August 4, 2013 – Comments on the Made-for-TV “The Great Gatsby” Granada Entertainment/A and E Television
This is a quick addition to my previous Books-Into-Movies post on the two most recent theatrical releases of “The Great Gatsby” movies. What I’m adding is a few notes on the lesser-known television production of “The Great Gatsby,” released in 2000. I’m not going into a lot of detail here; just a few comparison comments. By the way, I think this production compares favorably to the others. I actually preferred Toby Stephens’ Gatsby to the boyishness of Leonardo DiCaprio and the woodeness of Robert Redford. And Mira Sorvino is more of the Daisy I pictured as I read the book—stunning and alluring enough to generate the Gatsby obsession that makes this story. My comparison comments will focus mainly on deviations from the story in the novel:
- We see the Gatsby murder at his pool at the beginning of this movie, like a stunning mystery foisted on the audience right away. (This is likely designed to grab television audiences and prevent viewers from activating their remotes.)
- There is a flashback to Daisy and Gatsby meeting for the first time, placed very early in the story, before Nick even goes to Gatsby’s home for the first time. This story-information comes much later in the book, and the exact details of their meeting are invented. There are numerous flashbacks to this part of the story—Daisy and Gatsby before Gatsby goes off to World War I.
- “Old sport” —it’s in the book and prominently featured in every movie version!
- This version dramatizes the developing chemistry between Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway more than the other two movie versions.
- As in the book, we see Wilson shoot Gatsby, and then hear a second shot offscreen. At first, we are left to conclude Wilson has killed himself (as in the book). Then we see Wilson’s body with a head wound to confirm the obvious conclusion.
- In this version, Nick finds bonds police investigators are looking for and destroys them, attempting to preserve Gatsby’s reputation. This is not in the book.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
I still have one or two posts from my old (and discontinued) Books-Into-Movies blog that I have not posted here yet. Look for them in September.
A Quick Note April 15, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in books compared to movies, books into movies, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa Legend, medieval period, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, The Swords of Faith, third crusade, writers.
Tags: books compared to movies, books into movies, Crusades, fusion jazz, historical fiction, Issa, Issa legend, movies based on books, music, music commentary, mystic jazz, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, Third Crusade, writing
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This is a quick update for my blog followers (or any other interested visitors) who are accustomed to seeing more frequent posts from me. The posts will be a little less frequent for a few months. I am at work on getting The Sultan and the Khan ready for publication. This is the sequel to my award-winning novel The Swords of Faith. The Sultan and the Khan will also be published by Strider Nolan Media (the folks who brought you The Swords of Faith). I’m also at work on the third novel of his trilogy, The Ghosts of Baghdad, set around the time of the Fourteenth Century “Black Death.”
I am also recording tracks for my CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook.”
The track list:
1 – Fishbowl 4:28 (original)
2 – Hotel California 6:23 (cover)
3 – Magic 6:20 (cover)
4 – Mystic Tide 4:17 (original)
5 – Up from the Skies 5:03 (cover)
6 – A Hundred Thousand Friends 5:35 (original)
7 – All Blues 9:48 (cover)
8 – Chase this Mood 4:22 (original)
9 – Black Hole Sun 5:47 (cover)
10 – Purple Haze 3:52 (cover)
11 – Shanghai Noodle Factory 6:01 (cover)
12 – Avalon 6:36 (cover)
13 – Live Your Dreams 4:14 (original)
I hope to have this ready for release later this year.
But this blog will not be without posts! Coming up during the first part of May will be my final post on the nature of music, concluding a series of posts that turned out to be a lot longer and more involved than I thought it would be. And, in mid-May, I will post a Books-Into-Movies on “The Great Gatsby”—I’ll compare the book to the new movie release and to the Robert Redford movie of 1974.
Thanks for stopping by. Drop me a line any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous “Personal Notes” Posts:
Tags: baseball, Bernard Malamud, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, Roy Hobbs, sports novels, The Natural
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The Major League baseball season begins today. In honor of the occasion, I am offering a bonus Books-Into-Movies post for “The Natural.” (If you’d like to read another baseball-related post, check out my Books-Into-Movies post on “Moneyball.”)
The movie “The Natural” is significantly different from the novel The Natural. The book is darker—the story is tragic not heroic. The Roy Hobbs appears to reader as a person hampered with unattractive flaws. I suspect the majority of people who will read this post have seen the movie, probably more than have read book. So I will address the movie chronologically. There are so many points of difference to comment on that this approach seems to be the most systematic and efficient way to approach the comparison.
The chronological structure of both the book and the movie are essentially the same:
- The opening scene of the movie shows a young Roy Hobbs coached by his father (flashing back from a glimpse of Hobbs on the train). The book portrays a difficult childhood for Roy Hobbs, with his mother cheating on his father, and Roy growing up essentially as an orphan.
- The story of the bat “Wonderboy,” complete with the musical instrument case, is from the book.
- Young Roy Hobbs’ romance before he goes to Chicago to try out for the Cubs is not in the book. The Iris character is very different in the book (which I will address in more detail as the chronology unfolds).
- Roy Hobbs’ doubts, expressed to young Iris, are not in the book. He tells people on the train that he expects to be the best baseball player there ever was.
- Max Mercy referring to a story about a woman shooting an athlete is from the book.
- Sam Simpson, the scout promoting Roy Hobbs and riding with him on the train, is from the book. Simpson is an old retired ball-player, a drunk trying to use his discovery of Hobbs to get him a regular scouting assignment with the Cubs. The initial encounter with Mercy, Simpson, and “the Whammer” is from the book, with much of the dialogue preserved.
- The match-up between Hobbs and “the Whammer” is largely taken from book. This includes the attention from the psychotic Barbara Hershey character Harriet Bird who shifts her interest from “the Whammer” to Roy Hobbs.
- In the book, Malamud describes Hobbs’ pitches as more than just fast—they have a quality of disappearing as they approach.
- “The Whammer” though clearly a Babe-Ruthish character, has blond hair in the book.
- Max Mercy’s push to get background information on Hobbs after the Hobbs-“Wammer” confrontation is from the book.
- Harriet Bird’s fixation on male heroes is from the book.
- In the book, Sam Simpson becomes ill on the train. The book implies he was injured while catching Roy Hobbs pitches during the Hobbs-“Whammer” test of skills. He is taken off the train on a stretcher after telling Hobbs to go to the hotel—“overhead the stars were bright but he knew he dead.”
- Harriet Bird shooting Hobbs in her hotel room is from the book.
The flash forward to the New York Knights dugout after the shooting is taken directly from the book:
- “I should have been a farmer” from manager Pop Fisher, spoken to his coach Red, starts the next section of the book. The New York Knights’ futility is also taken directly from the book.
- Hobbs’s arrival mid game is also from the novel, with much of the dialogue preserved including the line about the “Salvation Army band.” But Pop Fisher is not as harsh to Hobbs during this beginning contact as he is in the movie. He apologizes for his initial grumpiness and does not declare to Red shortly after their first meeting that he won’t play Hobbs. In fact, instead of being suspicious that Hobbs was sent by the Knights’ chief scout, this is a positive in Pop Fisher’s mind. Hobbs is signed as a replacement for a player who has been hit on the head with a flyball and “paralyzed in both legs.”
- In the book, Bump Baily is an egotistical jerk as in the movie—selfish, putting himself ahead of the Knights. But the book has time to fill out his character—he is a great individual player, leading the league in hitting, and he is a prankster who charms his teammates with this form of humor. He pulls some annoying pranks on Hobbs the first day Hobbs is there. Bump and Hobbs come to blows when Bump takes a hacksaw to Hobbs’ bat “Wonderboy.”
- In the book, Hobbs takes batting practice his first full day of practice with the team and hammers the second pitch out of the park. (The first pitch is at Hobbs head, sending him to the dirt, when Hobbs crowds the plate.) The next two pitches leave the park. Pop then takes the bat to check it, but he and Red are thrilled with the idea of Hobbs playing. “Pop suddenly felt so good, tears came to his eyes and he had to blow his nose.” Hobbs also looks good in the field during this first day of practice.
- The falling out between Hobbs and Pop Fisher occurs when Hobbs won’t cooperate with the hypnotist who comes in before the first game after Hobbs’ arrival. Pop orders Hobbs to participate—Hobbs refuses: “You signed a contract to obey orders…” “…not to let anybody monkey around in my mind.” Hobbs’ defiance has Fisher swearing Hobbs will never play for him. In my opinion, the movie’s scenario makes more sense. With the talent demonstrated by Hobbs right away, it seems difficult to believe a manager who wants and needs to win so badly would make such Draconian decision based on this incident.
- The book has a character Otto Zipp, a “dwarf” who is a fanatic fan of Bump Baily. Zipp roots less enthusiastically for Hobbs and turns on Hobbs during his slumps. There is no Otto Zipp character in the movie.
- Memo Paris, Pop Fisher’s niece, is described as a “sad, spurned lady.” She is Bump Baily’s girl, and Bailey treats her with casual disrespect. Hobbs is infatuated with her looks and waits for his opportunity.
- Hobbs’ introduction to the lineup occurs differently in the book. “On the morning of the twenty-first of June,” Pop tells Hobbs he is going to the minors. Hobbs tells Pop he is “quitting baseball anyway.” But the same day, the hypnotist comes in and suggests Pop should also be hypnotized to address his “hysterical behavior.” Pop blows up and fires the hypnotist. During that day’s game, Bump misplays a ball in the field (no reference to sun in the book). Pop orders Hobbs to pinch-hit for Bump during the next half-inning.
- “Knock the cover off the ball” is from the book.
- As in the movie, Bump Bailey now feels the pressure to elevate his performance and runs into a wall while chasing a fly ball. He breaks his skull and dies. Roy Hobbs takes his place in the lineup.
- Hobbs is instantly successful (as in the movie). Pop seems dubious—“I mistrust a bad ball hitter.” But Red calls Hobbs “a natural.”
- The conflict between Judge Goodwill Banner, part team owner, and Pop Fisher, team manager and part team owner, is different in the book. Banner has agreed Fisher can manage the team for life, but wants to maneuver him into quitting his management role so wants the team to be unsuccessful to make Fisher’s ouster easier.
- Hobbs’ low salary is an early issue in the book, with media writing about the injustice of it. In the book, Hobbs asks to meet with the judge and asks for a raise. As in the movie, the judge lurks in the dark. He not only refuses any salary increase, but tells Hobbs he owes the team for the cost of his uniform, replaced after it is destroyed by Bump Baily during a prank. In the movie, the judge asks to see Hobbs. The conversation is very different. The judge offers more money, implying Hobbs should perform worse to help the judge reach his goal of ousting Fisher. Hobbs turning on the light as he leaves the meeting is not in the book.
- Max Mercy poking around trying to find out more about Hobbs is from the book.
- In the book, Max Mercy introduces Hobbs to bookie Gus Sands at a “nightclub with a girly show.” Memo Paris is at the table with Sands when they meet. The initial meeting between Sands and Hobbs is similar to the book.
- In the book, Hobbs has a prodigious appetite for food. (This factors into key events toward the end.)
- The relationship between Memo Paris and Roy Hobbs is edgier, more complex in the book. Memo is more distant to Roy in the book. Hobbs chases her after Bump Baily’s death. She has some problem with her breast. When he touches her she tells him it hurts. He points out he was gentle and she says “it’s sick.” During an encounter between them, Memo drives a car at ninety miles per hour and appears to commit hit-and-run on a pedestrian (though this is not certain as they flee the scene before confirming Hobbs’ trepidations).
- There are no pitching incidents with Hobbs and the Knights in the book—no injury as in the movie when Hobbs extends himself to throw a hard pitch while showing off to his teammates.
- In the book, Pop Fisher warns Hobbs about getting involved with his niece: “She was my sister’s girl and I do love her, but she is always dissatisfied and will snarl you up in her troubles…”
- As in the movie, the Hobbs of the novel goes into a slump when he gets “snarled” with Memo Paris. In the book, Memo Paris seems to be avoiding him. She does get him to see a fortune-teller Bump used when he slumped. Pop benches Hobbs when he won’t give up using “Wonderboy,” which Pop thinks is causing the slump.
- The “lady in the red dress” (white in the movie), Iris, first appears in the book during Hobbs’ slump. She stands up and looks for Hobbs. The Iris character is totally different in the book. She has no relationship with Hobbs before he joins the Knights. She is young, but also has a grown daughter who has a child (her daughter is not fathered by Hobbs). The home run that brings Hobbs out of the slump does not shatter a clock in the book, but somehow rises through the pitcher’s legs to go over the fence. She develops a relationship with Hobbs after her presence reverses his slump. But Hobbs finds the idea of anything permanent with her repugnant—he is disgusted with the idea of a relationship with a “grandmother.” He seems inexplicably drawn to the troubled Memo Paris.
- All of the “Iris” interaction in the movie is obviously different from the book. There is no reunion and no discovery of a son.
- As in the movie, the pennant race comes down to the wire in the book, riding the roller coaster of Hobbs’ shifting performance, seemingly related to his interaction with Memo Paris.
- In the book, Hobbs imagines settling down with Memo Paris in a domestic, husband-wife type situation. He knows this is unrealistic because Memo does not seem suited to that sort of life, and he has only a small salary and a short career ahead of him.
At this point, the book diverges significantly from the movie:
- In the book, on the verge of an important end-of-the-season series, Hobbs overeats at a premature victory party hosted by Memo Paris and financed by Gus Sands. He ends up in the hospital where medical personnel find his damaged abdominal area. Roy finds out another season is not possible and even another game this season could be difficult.
- In the book, from his hospital bed, Roy proposes marriage to Memo. She admits she is afraid to be poor and suggests he buy into a company. She delivers a message from Gus—Hobbs can get money to buy into a company from Gus if he will “drop” the key game for the Knights. The judge visits him and offers him $25,000 to make sure the Knights lose the decisive game. Hobbs at first refuses. But he counters at $35,000. The judge balks, but accepts. Hobbs confirms to Judge Banner: “The fix is on.”
- In the book, there is no reference by the judge to the shooting years before as in the movie. And in the movie, Hobbs does not confirm the arrangement even though the judge drops an envelope of money on him in his hospital bed. In the movie, Hobbs returns the money before the key game, completely contrary to what happens in the book.
- Hobbs keeps his promise to throw the game in the book. He deliberately strikes out in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, he walks, keeping his promise not to “hit safely.” The third time up, he deliberately lines foul balls at Otto Zipp where Zipp sits is in the stands booing Hobbs relentlessly. One of the balls bounces up and hits Iris, who has been standing nearby. She’s taken away by ambulance. Hobbs strikes out after that but not before he splits “Wonderboy” when hitting another foul ball. (In the movie, “Wonderboy also breaks. But the batboy brings a new bat to Hobbs when he asks the boy to “pick out a winner.” With the new bat, with blood seeping from his old wound, Hobbs smacks the decisive homerun busting into the lights, to heroic fanfarish music—none of this is in the book.) In the book, on the last at-bat, Pop Fisher scans the bench for a pinch-hitter. Hobbs begs him to go into the game. The Iris incident seems to be changing his mind about keeping his promise to throw the game. But he strikes out again.
- Hobbs’ world falls apart at the end of the novel. Word gets out that Hobbs has thrown the game for money. Max Mercy also publishes pictures of Hobbs, shot “at nineteen.” Memo bitterly tells Roy she has hated him from the day Bump died, that she considers him responsible for Bump’s death. At the end, reminiscent of the Black Sox scandal, a boy implores to Hobbs “say it ain’t true, Roy.” And Hobbs looks in the boy’s eyes but cannot lie: “…he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.” This ends the novel. The movie’s the final scene has Hobbs with his newly discovered son and rediscovered Iris in a tranquil scene of quiet success and fulfillment, a dramatically different ending.
The Roy Hobbs of the novel The Natural is a tragic figure, talented but flawed—a man who makes poor choices in his love life and sells out his integrity. This is far different from the heroic character played by Robert Redford in the movie. The film-makers can be forgiven for making the changes they did to give the movie a more upbeat conclusion. It is doubtful this movie would have been an audience favorite if the story had ended the same way as the book did.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
Book Commentary/Review – STANCE OF WONDER by Mark Rodell March 24, 2013Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, climbing, Mark Rodell, novels, Stance of Wonder, Thailand, Yosemite.
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, climbing, Mark Rodell, novels, Stance of Wonder, Thailand, Yosemite
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Stance of Wonder by Mark Rodell is an engaging novel that tells the fictional biography of virtuoso climber Conrad Flowers. The book delivers authentic detail surrounding various climbing adventures reflecting Rodell’s own experiences and intimate knowledge of climbing. But like any good novel, Stance of Wonder is about more than climbing. It is about fascinating characters and their intertwined lives, and about ideas that provoke consideration of larger themes.
We meet Conrad Flowers in adolescence during the 1960s as he faces the consequences of losing his parents in a climbing accident. He joins his eccentric uncle in the mountains of eastern California where he comes of age moving back and forth between Bishop and Yosemite. He hones his climbing skills in Yosemite, building a reputation, and building friendships with a cast of characters whose stories also resonate with quirky details. This cast includes the ballerina from San Francisco, with a Bolivian father and Russian mother, who comes to Yosemite and falls in love with climbing. Rodell draws us into these characters, and has us wondering how they will come together, suspecting we will follow them into young adulthood and see how they will mature from their colorful teen backgrounds. But Stance of Wonder does not stay on that predictable course. Because successful novels are also about plot.
About two-thirds of the way through, Stance of Wonder takes off in a totally unanticipated direction. Conrad Flowers finds himself assaulted with a catastrophe that threatens to destroy the essence of who he is. At first he seems to succumb to the terrible blow life has dealt him. But from the verge of imminent death, with an apathetic Flowers far from the mountains he loves to climb, sinking into reckless self-destruction, he emerges with his core intact. Stance of Wonder then shifts back to where we suspected we were going in the first place, but taking us on a ride we had not anticipated. Conrad Flowers’ life concludes in the only way possible for this character, but with an ending satisfying for its eccentric flourishes and exotic setting.
There is an element of understatement, of sublime subtlety in Rodell’s style of narrative and story-telling that brings extra intensity and power to the events and internal lives of the characters. Rodell illuminates the Conrad Flowers character through the eyes of a narrator telling his fictional biography. Rodell also uses fictional journal entries and letters to delve deeper into the internal insights of the characters. Stance of Wonder will appeal to readers who like a good story dealing with life’s detours and the struggle to overcome the consequences those detours create. And climbing enthusiasts should have a hard time putting it down!
Full disclosure: Mark Rodell was a close high school friend of mine, but a friend I lost contact with for nearly forty years as our lives spun off in completely different directions. Through the connective power of the internet, we recently reestablished contact, though Mark lives over 8,000 miles away from me in Thailand. As Mark pointed out during our recent exchanges, we both ended up embracing writing—we apparently shared a common connection with this form of expression though neither of us hinted at this during our high school friendship. I am genuinely thrilled to spread the word about Stance of Wonder—though he is my friend, I would not write so glowingly about his writing if I did not mean every word.
Amazon link to the paperback edition:
Tags: book commentary, book review, books, classical music, Leonard Bernstein, music, tonality, Unanswered Question
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(This is the twelfth of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).
In “The Unanswered Question,” the famed conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein takes on ultimate conceptual questions of music. He frames his study in the context of what he calls a “crisis” in music, and takes the title of his study from the Charles Ives piece of the same name. The Ives piece reportedly asks a metaphysical question; Bernstein puts the question into a musical context. At the end, he decides he is not sure what this “Unanswered Question” is, but decides the answer is “yes”—yes to music, and yes to other arts (with an emphasis on poetry).
“The Unanswered Question” was a series of lectures delivered at Harvard in 1973. In 1976, Bernstein released these lectures in a book, slightly edited, with printed musical examples. There are DVDs available of the lectures full of musical examples including a complete performances of classical works played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Bernstein himself. I absorbed this study in both formats. The lectures address Bernstein’s perceived Twentieth Century “crisis” in music, a crisis over tonality—I’d say a crisis of accessibility to what might be called “concert music/serious music/classical music.” Bernstein looks for universalities in music, the subject of my own series of blog posts (see below). Bernstein finds parallels with universalities in linguistics, and refers liberally to the important linguist Noam Chomsky. At times, this comparison is strained (at times Bernstein even admits it), but some insights are developed. As part of his search for universalities, he goes into the physics of music, helpful material that reinforces much thinking about these musical conceptual issues. He spends a lot of time analyzing recent (within the last three centuries) Western “classical” music, using brilliant insights to frame the “crisis” he refers to.
Another thought about Leonard Bernstein before I look at the six lectures individually—Leonard Bernstein lectures in two to three hour sessions, consulting some notes, but clearly without a word-for-word text of the lecture. He speaks for long uninterrupted periods in perfect, often eloquent sentences, with only a very rare (maybe less than five in all the lectures) stammer or “uh” or “um.” He sprinkles in piano demonstrations with ease, rendering complex musical passages as if they are not much more than a shrug of the shoulders. This is a brilliant man—was a brilliant man. It is part of the crisis he speaks of—evidence of the crisis— that when I went to college and studied music (1972-1976) Bernstein was generally regarded as a trivial figure, a sort of pop-classical musician worthy of little attention. I realize now this attitude was part of the problem he himself was elaborating at the same time I was experiencing the effects of it as a young music creator! I was in the midst of this snobby elitism, of composers writing obscure, deliberately dissonant, unfathomable music for each other—the idea of wanting a larger audience was considered tasteless and banal. I must express my belated admiration for this talented man.
Lecture 1 – Music Phonology
- In this lecture, Bernstein gives us a heavy dose of linguistics, comparing the essence of language with the essence of music. He offers the concept that music is “heightened speech” as justification for the comparison. He describes this “heightened speech” that is music as universal among humans. I find the “heightened speech” idea compelling. Speech offers communication at one level—music cranks up that aural communication channel into something above and beyond language. Bernstein goes into universal aspects of music. He describes the tonic-dominant relationship as derived from the overtone series, from the first three notes (the first two being the fundamental—in C, it would be C, C an octave up, then G, the dominant of the scale). He uses the overtone series to explain the cross-cultural prevalence of pentatonic scales, found from Japan to Scotland, from blues to Gregorian Chant, and the summoning sometimes haunting motive of the descending major third. He even gives a convincing explanation of “blue notes,” that fuzzy major/minor third found in American blues scales, but evident in different ways in other cultures. This “blue” note derives from high up in the overtone scale, at a point not easily heard directly, with the actual note of the overtone series somewhere between a major sixth and a minor seventh above the fundamental. He also explains why there are twelve tones in the conventional chromatic scale, using the circle of fifths, the journey through dominant-tonic shifts until our arrival back at the original (the explanation requires an equal-temperament scale).
Lecture 2 – Musical Syntax
- Bernstein’s search for commonalities between music and language continues. He starts into what to me is a forced attempt to relate elements of music to elements of language: note = letter, scale = alphabet. He also relates triadic inversions to Chomsky’s ideas of linguistic transformation—again, this seemed strained to me. The triad itself is not found universally. This starts us down the path to Western exclusivity to a viewpoint that can only serve to make universal conclusions more difficult to reach. Bernstein does point out that music is more like poetry than like prose, and makes comparisons to poetry throughout his lectures. And when Bernstein makes broader comparisons and analogies between language and music, the ideas are more helpful for developing insights into the universal common denominators of music. Language has its universal elements—words, parts of speech, sentences; and music has its universal elements—notes, some form of scale or mode, and some form of harmony whether through chords or through a sense of unity in the way notes of a scale or mode interact. He ends this lecture with an analysis of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. He relates his analysis to the linguistic terminology, but we start to move into an examination of “Western” music, which will take us to Bernstein’s elaboration of the Twentieth Century crisis in music.
Lecture 3 – Musical Semantics
- Bernstein introduces the idea that “ambiguity” is the key to great art, especially music, though he includes the written word and even to the “Mona Lisa” painting as examples. I think this is an insightful idea for artists of all sorts, but especially for musicians—musicians using all styles of expression. It’s that ambiguity that allows the music to go one way or the other, so creates uncertainty, suspense—attention-getting, attention-keeping tactics. He discusses the use of “deletion” to keep music fresh, the idea of yanking out a predictable repetition to avoid the risk of tedium and to create more “ambiguities.” In this lecture, Bernstein also explains why the minor triad seems “sad”—the intervals are further out on the overtone scale. I’m not sure of this explanation, but I haven’t uncovered a better one. The minor mode permeates music all over the world. To me, there must be a better explanation. It could be that the major third is susceptible to that “blue note” idea mentioned earlier. But I’m not sure that’s enough of an explanation either.
Lecture Four – The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity
- Bernstein delves deeply into recent Western musical history, describing the growing development of chromaticism. I found the analysis of Western music fascinating, but drifting off the subject I am trying to study—the search for the universal nature of music, and how that might relate to the melding of physics and metaphysics. I felt the analogies to poetry were forced. I found Bernstein at his best and most helpful to me when he returned to the overtone system as an explanation of the attractiveness of tonality.
Lecture 5 – The Twentieth Century Crisis
- Bernstein links the “challenge” of tonality to historical events (again with a Western focus)—World War I and the coming of fascism. He describes music as becoming overly long, overly complex, overly chromatic—overly ambiguous. He indicates this crisis led to a potential “collapse” of tonality. He relates the issue again to linguistics, describing tonality as “syntactic clarity” and atonality as “syntactic confusion.” He describes Schoenberg, considered the originator of the system of atonal music, the twelve-tone row or serial music, as eventually concluding that atonality was not possible. Schoenberg even admitted his drive to return to tonal writing from time-to-time! Bernstein points out perhaps the most successful, most performed student of Schoenberg’s serial twelve-tone system was Alban Berg, and Berg appeared to deliberately design tone rows shaped in triads. Those triads were bound to create a tonal resonance with listeners even in the twelve-tone, equal-weight-to-each-note (that was the concept) system. Bernstein goes on to look at Mahler’s Ninth Symphony that he describes as 1) the death of Mahler (he did die soon after writing it) 2) the death of tonality and 3) the death of music. I’m going to describe his crisis in a different way. Music creators came to believe there was nothing new to say—no new direction to take music. There were only so many notes, only so many ways to handle a chord or a mode. As chromaticism spun into exotic directions, composers feared a loss of control as well as a loss of new creative terrain. So a new system of music composition needed to be invented to break new ground, to open new frontiers for music. Frankly, I’ve dismissed this idea previously. Cultural context is always changing, so there are always new avenues for music expression. This is one of the most definitive discoveries of my journey through different musical contexts, past and present. (I’ve discussed this in my previous post, “Book Commentary/Review – Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin.”) But this perceived crisis brought on the tone-row serialists, and other experimentation with atonality. In my opinion, this is now running its course, as music creators realize this perceived crisis was a giant collective illusion. Ironically, and gratifyingly, these atonal techniques are now available for every music creator to utilize in his or her musical vision. The door is open to yet even more possibilities. But tonality is ingrained and hovers over all of these musical avenues.
Lecture Six – Poetry of Earth
- Bernstein discusses “sincerity” in this lecture, whether composers mean to convey the emotions, the feelings, their music evokes. He mentions Stravinsky and his hostility to the idea that music conveys feelings. Frankly, I don’t care. I did not find this to be a useful tangent. I don’t see the intention of the composer as making any difference. The music creator can have the intention of conveying specific feelings or the music can just stand as it is. No feelings? “The Rite of Spring” conveys passionate feelings—a girl dances herself to death as part of a primitive religious rite—an attempt to connect to the Divine. Maybe Stravinsky created this music with a detached, unemotional heart. But the music is passionate—it conveys feelings—it would be absurd to argue otherwise. Bernstein spends much of this lecture on Stravinsky. He clearly considers Stravinsky to have the answer to the so-called “crisis”—and makes a convincing case. Stravinsky uses poly-tonality and poly-rhythms to bring new musical expression while maintaining a tonal concept. Stravinsky reaches around the world and into the past to meld many styles into his music. He is the embodiment of what I describe as the continually shifting cultural context that makes options for musical expression inexhaustible, even within a tonal, twelve-note, chromatic-scale setting. Bernstein focuses on Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex,” comparing parts of it to Verdi’s “Aida.” This is more highly “Western”-specific analysis. “Oedipus Rex” itself is an operatic composition—not normally my cup of tea. But some of the choral harmonies are breathtakingly beautiful. After presenting “Oedipus Rex,” at the end of the DVD, Bernstein offers a short statement. In the book, Bernstein goes on at length, expanding his original lecture, tying together semantics and music. At one point he even refers to “Along Comes Mary” by the Association and “the musical adventures of Simon and Garfunkel” as being more desirable to him musically than music written by so-called “avante-garde” composers. Bernstein ends the DVD saying “I believe a new eclecticism is at hand.” Bernstein goes on to express a list of beliefs deriving from these lectures in a solemn, serious tone, in a litany. “No matter how serial or stochastic, or otherwise intellectualized music may be, it can always qualify as poetry as long as it is rooted in earth.” He goes on to say “I believe from the Earth emerges a musical poetry, which is by the nature of its sources tonal. I believe that the sources cause to exist a phonology of music, which evolves from the universal known as the harmonic series.” After listing some further beliefs he concludes by saying “and finally, I believe that because all these things are true, Ives’ unanswered question has an answer. I’m no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is “yes.”
It is gratifying to me that this brilliant recent thinker about music drew some of the same conclusions I have, decades later. There is an ingrained, inborn tonal orientation in the way humans perceive music—a wired-in tonality. Even when composers attempt to muddy, obscure or even eliminate tonality, human ears will naturally search for a tonal center to orient them to the musical experience. Bernstein defends this idea using his incredibly wide knowledge of music and culture, and I believe his viewpoint, a viewpoint I’ve seen dismissed by some, will ultimately prevail. This set of lectures then will become a treatise for the years to come— particularly for music creators of Western “concert/serious/classical” music. (More of my thinking on this subject is in my essay “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”)
There is one last post to come on this admittedly huge topic that grew on me, exploded on me. In that post, I will attempt to tie all of this together, the universal nature of music, with human consciousness, physics and metaphysics. That’s all—not too ambitious…
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Tags: Crusades, medieval history, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Third Crusade
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(This is the final bonus post following the series of 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “Third Crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.)
820 years ago today the great Muslim Sultan al-Malik al Nasir Salah al-Din Abu ’l Muzaffer Yusuf ibn Ayyub ibn Shadi, commonly known as Saladin, passed away quietly in his bed after just under two weeks of severe illness. He was fifty-five years old. This followed his greeting of returning pilgrims from Mecca (Post “Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: “But for the Lack of a Cloak”). The imam Abu Ja’far was reciting the Koran. Saladin’s faithful adviser al-Fadil was at his side. Reports say that when Abu Ja’far reached the words “there is no God but God and in Him do I put my trust,” Saladin smiled and his life ended.
Saladin’s funeral was modest. He accumulated no personal wealth; all resources that came to him were utilized for the benefit of the empire he ruled and the religion he devoutly followed and fought for.
Saladin is honored by Muslims and Christians. This is not a result of revisionism or rose-colored glasses. Contemporary chroniclers, both Muslim and Christian, offer descriptions of this great man’s compassionate nature. This includes Christians who fought bitter wars against forces under Saladin’s command. Was Saladin perfect? No. Of course not. No human being ever is. Was he always gentle and forgiving? Again, no. But in the context of his times, he was extraordinary, even inspirational. He ruled during a time of vicious religious wars. He brought as much magnanimity to this set of circumstances as he could. He believed in the tenets of his faith as he understood them. No slaughter of defenseless innocents. Look for peace when it is available. He remained true to these ideals during most of his life.
Yes, I find Saladin inspirational and relevant today. We live at a time when these old religious divides have been exploited by much lesser humans than Saladin, with people on both sides of the divides willing to demonize others based on their religious faiths. (I write at length about this in “Demonizing Islam is Both Wrong and Foolish”.) Saladin shows us that Muslim leaders can act with moderation and compassion, and that when they take the Saladin approach, they need not be feared. It is my opinion that Saladin would have been disgusted by the actions of suicide bombers who deliberately set out to kill innocents. They are an affront to Islam, to humanity itself. It is also my opinion that Saladin would have been disgusted with Muslim leaders who use their religion to create scapegoats to mask their own ineffectiveness and greed. Billionaire terrorist Yasir Arafat, his family living in comfort in Europe, stands as a prime example. As a citizen of the United States, aligned by nationality with the Christian point-of-view, I see the Saladin inspiration as a call, a reminder, to reach out to moderate Muslims and enlist them in a righteous fight against religious fanaticism of any group. We need to reach out to honorable people of all faiths to unite against shedding innocent blood as a means to terrorize enemies. I hope one day that a united front against fanaticism can embrace the “more-then-one-path-to-God” concept I have written about before . Until then, Saladin’s life can serve as an inspiration for living together in peace, with compassion and empathy for our fellow humans regardless of what spiritual faiths they choose.
There is an ironic footnote to what history now calls the “third crusade.” Saladin fought fellow Muslims to gain power, and then fought Christians on behalf of Islam to remove Christians from Jerusalem and the eastern Mediterranean. His death shortly after negotiating a truce on this all-consuming conflict meant he never had time to complete one of the five essential pillars of his faith—a pilgrimage to Mecca. His chief Christian opponent in the “Third Crusade,” Richard the Lionheart, also never visited the city most sacred to his faith, Jerusalem. He came within twelve miles, and actually shielded his eyes when he saw Jerusalem in the distance—he vowed not to enter the city or even look upon it unless he had conquered it for Christendom. For those who consider God as a force that directly intervenes in our lives, could it be God had a message for these two warriors of their faiths? Was the fact that neither of these icons of this period reached their holy cities a Divine message that killing in the name of religion is not considered a Divine activity? Yes, there are lessons still available from this history for us today.
This will be the last 820th anniversary post, following the progress of the “Third Crusade,” including the two Saladin epilogue posts. My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells this story through the eyes of Saladin, Richard, and two fictional characters, a Christian and a Muslim.
Links to every single one of the 820th anniversary posts concerning the “Third Crusade”:
To review a comprehensive catalog of historical fiction set during the medieval time period, go to http://www.medieval-novels.com:80/.