Posted in book review

Living boys’ adventure tales: a-ha at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA, on April 8th, 2022

a-ha from left Magne Furuholmen (Keyboards), Morten Harket (Vocals), and Pal Waaktaar-Savoy (Guitars)

After the two years beneath the gray clouds of the pandemic, a-ha came to town with the halos of seasoned veteran wizards of pop music. They entered the world’s music scene like brilliant comets four decades ago with the catchy hit ‘Take on Me’ and continued to travel into the universe all the more brilliantly over time. Indeed, age could not wither them away, nor custom could stale their musical alchemy.

With the opening song ‘Sycamore Leaves’ with its characteristic guitar riffs and heavy drum beats, a-ha came on the stage. The fans were instantly enchanted by their charismatic appearances, like the Three Musketeers of Pop. Magne Furuholmen (Keyboards), Morten Harket (Vocals), and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy (Guitars) were now veterans of the music industry. They were all methodically professional and effortlessly entertaining to present what the fans wanted the most by coming to their concert after two bleak lockdown years. They gave all they got by mainly playing the songs from the first and second albums because those two albums were best known and loved by their US-based fans. The result was the touchy-feely, feel-good atmosphere of the concert. Viktor E. Frankl, the father of Logotherapy, acknowledged that the moments of pleasure in appreciating arts equal the happiness in finding the meaning of life. That night at the Wiltern, a-ha gave the happy moments of life to their fans as their music pleased our senses and sensibilities, allying our passion for what our existential life outside the concert hall had brought to us just for the moments.

Music is the most potent magic in conjuring up the memories in the phantasmagorical display of images of the misty past, vivid and vital, all adrift then aglow in condensed particular energy, becoming nostalgia in the sweet melancholy of romantic solitude manifested in the music of a-ha. Looking at the audience, I thought that we all came to go back to our days of innocence when the pleasure of listening to a-ha’s music on the radio and records required no dreadful existential worries of the world. That night at the Wiltern, a-ha transported us back to our memory lane in the soft sweet melodies of the past and then to the present, lingering in the heart’s windows and staying in its garden forever with the triumphant ‘Take on Me’ ending on a high note in the encore.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

still now and then

There is an excellent article in the newest issue of BBC History Revealed about how the Industrial Revolution has upended the fundamental social and cultural structures of the world as the French Revolution has changed political and economic systems of the world as we take for granted nowadays. Epochal changes are a juggernaut of our human civilizations as a process akin to a caterpillar turning mulberry leaves into fine silk despite seismic transitions ensuing from such transformation. A terse army motto of “No pain, no gain” rings true as a universal objective reality, whether or not you embrace it with open arms.

Yet, amid the mountainous waves of indomitable revolutions and a Levitan that dictates new norms and conventions in every aspect of life from clothing to parlance, one thing never changes, and that is a life of a worker, spending most of the day outside the home with strangers for livelihood. For instance, a person whose labor is paid is not entirely free from the whims and caprice of the employer for fear of losing jobs. There are still employers whose common sense is inconsistent with the progressive minds that today’s employees are not modern-day indentured servants or maids, if not those ancient slaves under Roman mastership. It would be anachronistic and unfair to compare the slaves with free citizens working for money, but a provision of service for subsistence puts the progeny on the same continuum.

Come to think of it, now I know why neurologist/psychiatrist/linguist Steven Pinker, aka the Rational Thinker, disagrees with Descartes’ dualism that the body and the mind are separable and Rousseau’s theory of the Blank State of the mind. We can’t be all workaholics without being personal, like cyborgs at work. Maybe that’s why nowadays, many self-checkouts have proliferated in retail and manufacturing sectors. Mind you, that the Luddites were not brute, ignorant anti-machinists destroying the factory machinery in 19th century England. They were somewhat naive angry workers who repelled against the sordid working conditions they were placed like human-like automation. The class distinctions demarcated by the types of work have become new social hierarchy even after the revolutions as aforesaid.

Posted in Miscellany

a league of their own

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Reading a section featuring a small, pleasant Q&A type of interview with a writer in The New York Times Book Review on restful weekends gives me a kind of voyeuristic fillip to be privy to the life of the writer; moreover, the usual question of whom to invite for dinner is the gist of such small pleasure. I’ve found it quite stimulating to think about my own list of people to have dinner with. Therefore, I have herein drawn up my own list of invitees to confabulate with. Here’s my list of guests:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: The paragon of the First Lady of the United States with Intelligence that ministered to her moral character, she put her philosophy into action by actively participating in social services. Besides, Mrs. Roosevelt possessed a polished but common sense of humor and wits communicative to people of all social strata with her timeless adage: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
  • Joan of Arc: The Virgin of Lorraine, The Patron Saint of France… Such are the epithets of this patriotic French maiden who was burned alive on the counts of witchery and treason, which was of course conspiracy concocted by the French ecclesiastical dignitaries collaborating with the English against whom Joan of Arc fiercely and courageously fought to victory. She was neither a religious fanatic, nor a hallucinated mooncalf, nor a certifiable schizophrenic. She might be a simple peasant woman but a courageous, headstrong, and smart woman of faith who did not even protect her face during battles with the English amid the attacks of sharp arrows, axes, and lances. No wonder did Mark Twain praise the Virgin Knight forthwith: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Besides, her simplicity of faith excelled the pomposity of ecclesiastical knowledge by saying thus: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing, and we should not complicate the matter.” I can learn many things from Joan as a True Model Woman who embodied Intelligence, Femininity, Courage, and Faith.
  • Marilyn Monroe: Born as Norma Jean Baker, she was not a blonde bimbo whose physical attractiveness belied her ceaseless pursuit of knowledge concomitant with her pursuit of the meaning of life she desperately wanted to ascertain. Monroe enrolled in evening college courses in New York City when she had no schedules during the daytime. Behind her pretty persona of a movie star, there was a profound shadow of existentialist. Also, Monroe’s down-to-earth personality and kind nature would make her a lovely company striking up a convivial conversation at the table full of strangers.
  • Jane Birkin: Her bohemian look – that effortlessly sensual but charmingly delightful facade with simple French Chic style is always timeless and boundless, appealing to Womankind imbuing with a sense of emulation of the style. In fact, such qualities of Birkin had one time convinced me that she was French. She seems to wear sexuality like she’s wearing her favorite set of perfumes, which is never vulgar nor degrading. Once a shy English girl is now a sensuous cosmopolitan woman demonstrating admixture of art and individuality in the most fashionable way. She will be a delightful addition to my lunchtime table.

In view of the above, my guests of honors are an eclectic company of women, past or present, surprisingly and strictly non-professional authors who make a living by writing only, although I did not intend it to be that way. Or maybe my preconception of professional authors – especially women – as highly volatile artists with inflated egos, dazzling intelligence, divine beauty, and impressive achievements might have played a vital role in excluding unconsciously any of them from my circle of companions. But so did Michelangelo; he was never befriended with his contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci, who in fact lambasted his untidiness as a sculptor in comparison with a baker. Nor did Michelangelo make friends with other famous artists. Instead,  he was a friend of some obscure artisan who helped around various artists by doing sorts of drudgery. It all boils down to the fact that having a good company of kindred spirits can do a favorable service to your soul, making you feel charitable and magnanimous, so much so that you can- to quote the swashbuckling Oscar Wilde- “forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”

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Posted in book review

‘Joan of Arc: A Life from beginning to end’ by Hourly History – review

Joan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to EndJoan of Arc: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

They condemned her as an irreparable heretic, apostate, idolater, and witch and then burned her at stake even though she saved them from their enemy. And yet, in spite of such egregious treachery of her own countrymen, she knew no surrender to fear with stalwart faith in the Cause she intransigently believed to be her divine mission from the greatest man above as the flame rose to her nose, and then engulfed her therein, turning her to ashes. She was no less a figure than Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, the Virgin of Lorraine, whose bravery and belief – be it ever spiritual or psychological- epitomizes existential will to meaningfulness to live a purposeful life, as is vividly and elegantly related in this book.

Each chapter draws up on the substantial aspects of Joan’s purposes, acts, and achievements rather than illustrates religious or spiritual overtones in anecdotes or legends to glow her in a halo. The narrative takes us to where Joan of Arc witnessed the English occupiers’ hectoring of her village folks, including little children by beating, and we feel her indignation at the perpetrators of such violence on her soil. We also come to know that the divine messages she received were not directly from God but through St. Michael, the archangel, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine as the messengers of God with the three divine missions. That Joan of Arc had three cardinal missions of (1) taking up arms; (2) rallying the French to defeat the English occupying army; and (3) putting the Dauphine Charles on the French throne betokens her guiding lights of her life, her purpose of life that constantly reminded her of a “why” to live for. So we follow Joan, a tall and lean girl with her raven hair cut in bob attired in shining armor that weighted about twenty pounds to the frontlines of hand-to-hand combats fighting against the English army without her helmet on to boost morale of the French soldiers and got her neck pierced by an arrow. Then the narrative puts us forward to the dark cell of Joan harassed by five lewd English guards and to the heaps of stake where her body was consumed to ashes.

The lucidly vivid descriptions of each chapter in cogently casual narrative are the elemental force of this book that brings the grist to the mill for the visualization of the whole story as though it were played on a screen. In fact, while I was reading toward the end of the book, a song called “Bigmouth Strikes Again” by the Smiths, in which Morrissey sings, “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt” was starting to being played in my mental stereo set with heightened emotions. It also illustrates the canonical facts that many of us may be unaware of: (1) that it was the French, including the dauphin who later became Charles VI wholly thanks to Joan, who sold her to the English; (2) that Joan, for none other reason than being only human, attempted at several escapes which ended in foils; and that (3) it was twenty-two years after her death on fraudulent grounds of treachery and heresy that the Trial of Rehabilitation exonerated her from such preposterously erroneous charges, thanks to the troubling conscience of Charles VI who belatedly endeavored to make it happen.

This is an excellent primer on further study on Joan of Arc with a comprehensive overview of the time as regards the relationship between the Church and the politics, the role of the Church, and its dominance over society, let alone people. It will induce you to look at Joan of Arc not as mythological French virgin whose legacy exclusively appertains to the French as their patron saint only, but as a human who tried to do what she believed was right despite any biological or social inhibitions that she had to rise above. In this regard, Joan is an emblematic figure of courage, hope, and self will to achieve her existential values as someone with purposes in life, someone whom we can identify with in one way or another in our daily struggles of contemporary life. Upon reading this book, you will come to understand what made the American humorist Mark Twain offer such approbation: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Indeed, her steadfast attitude toward her firm belief is something we can deem truly inspiring and remedial to apply to our own way of fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks in life.

Posted in Film Review

‘Ocean Waves’ (1993 film) by Tomomi Mochizuki – review

ocean-waves-49Some stories are better told in animation. The characters become vividly alive in a way that your imaginary world effortlessly conjures up before your very eyes by a witchcraft of wondrous imagination. It’s a world of fantasy, but it is also a realm of parallel universe where reality is poetically translated through the avatars living in the creator’s make-believe world without the alloyed feelings and crafted emotions by way of thespian performance. It also enables the characters to perform feats of wondrous physical motions and a wealth of emotions effectually, which real persons can hardly accomplish. That said, animation as an established genre of performing art deserves of legitimate artistic appreciation and merits its own place in the canon of cinematography.

“Ocean Waves” a 1993 Japanese anime television film directed by Tomomi Mochizuki and written by Kaori Nakamura based on the 1990 eponymous novel by Saeko Himuro is worth noting the beautiful cinematic qualities and elegant storyline that spreads through the mind and lingers there in alterations so deep that they are felt almost physical. The setting of the film is in the city of Kochi, located on the Japanese island of Shikoku. It tells of the first love developed by Taku Morisaki whose story flashes back to his high school years in Kochi as he catches the sight of a familiar woman whom he has fallen for on the platform opposite at a Tokyo subway station. It’s Rikako Muto, a bright and beautiful new girl transferred to his high school. At that time, Taku did not realize that he was besotted with her. However, as Taku narrates the events that have brought her into his life, Taku comes to know that for all these times, he has been crazy about her. It’s a moment of great awakening of love, an epiphany of adulthood, all in the calm recognition of meaning of love as to see the essence of another human being in the inner most core of who the person is. Taku and Rikako has known their own faults and frailties since they first met in school, and now they see one another’s innermost core of their personalities, which are the essential traits and features of the beloved person to actualize their potentialities in love with awareness and understanding.

The emotions are elegantly nuanced in the narration, but we know that the feelings are all present in the ways that the characters move and talk. That is the beauty of this animated film that renders no less visual and dramatic effects than other genres of film. Director Mochizuki is a young, ambitious director whose punctilious attention to details and the authenticity of the ambiance and theme of this film speak to our lost days of innocence in this world of collapsed grand narratives, gratuitous sensual expressions and super abundance of raw, unbridled charge of emotions that are hard to be empathetic to the minds of those who are likely to find solace in quietude. Walt Disney said animation offers an effective medium of story-telling and visual entertainment which produces pleasure and story that people of all ages everywhere in the world can enjoy and relate to. For these reasons, this film is worthwhile to be noted.