Blind Willie Johnson’s Music Authentically From the Soul

Music Reviews

Blind Willie Johnson, 1927

Because of my love for learning, over the years, I’ve taken as many free online courses as possible through various sources. Several years ago, “Listening to World Music” was a free course offered through Coursera and taught by University of Pennsylvania instructor Carol Muller. Surprisingly, the first week covered an enormous amount of information. Being that music isn’t my field, I found it a bit challenging. (I don’t play any instruments, but I do play the radio.) 😉

A portion of the course introduced us to Blind Willie Johnson, a 1930s era gospel/blues musician with a voice from the depth of his soul and talent like no other. As a small child, he’d been blinded by lye thrown on him when his parents were in a fight. (More about the life of Blind Willie Johnson can be read on Britannica.) 

I found that Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” displays all three forms of authenticity. Historically speaking, this piece is true of its kind from the originating from an African American who had been known for singing and preaching in the streets since childhood. Exhibiting pure emotion in cyclical form, “Soul of a Man” was one of few songs to be produced by Columbia records while Johnson was still alive. The listener can hear the obvious “from-the-heart” tone in Johnson’s voice fluctuations, unlike the copycat versions that are clearly from those who have not experienced the tragedies Johnson faced throughout his life.

In the early 1990s, guitarist Bruce Cockburn recorded “Soul of a Man.” Although a great guitarist that added melody to the original song, nothing beats the raw primal authenticity of Blind Willie Johnson’s version, because only Johnson could relay the true emotions of his people. 

Which version do you prefer? 

Cloth & Rag Dolls – History and Facts

Dolls

I have always had a fascination with dolls of all kinds. When I was a child, I had a few rag dolls, one of which I know was Raggedy Ann. I had her until I was in my 30s and sold it to a vintage collector. There were a few other rag dolls in my childhood collection that I’d sold off, including a handmade one. My dolls were my friends and my students for when I played “teacher” after school. Eventually, I grew out of playing with my rag dolls and baby dolls, and grew into Barbies. Even so, the memory of playing dolls in early childhood is something that makes me smile.

Anne Norman – Flickr/Wikipedia

Later in life, upon doing some research on doll-making, I decided to write a paper for a college class about rag dolls. Here are some facts about rag and cloth dolls I compiled for a college class.

1. Rag dolls made of rough cloth and calico clothing were found in hideouts on the Underground Railroad during the late 1800s.
(Woodruff, V. (1996). Childhood companions. Country Living, 19(8), 42. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

2. The name Raggedy Ann, probably the most recognized rag doll, comes from a combination of two poems, “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. The doll was named by a cartoonist named Johnny Gruelle, who entertained his dying daughter with stories, using a handmade doll found in the attic around 1915.
(RAGGEDY ANN. (2005). From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century, 390. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

3. During the 1930s, several high-priced wooden factory dolls were being produced by men, so women bonded together to make their own affordable rag dolls.
(New England Cloth Doll Co. gives rag doll its comeback. (1995). New Hampshire Business Review, 17(12), 6. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

4. The “Popsi doll” was created in 1994 by a California woman named Geraldine McCains. Popsi is made from recycled materials, including soda bottles, and other environmentally friendly goods. The doll’s packaging? A recycled two-liter bottle.
(Block, D. (1997). Doll spreads recycling message. In Business, 19(6), 25. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

5. In 1997, the White Plains Public Library in New York held an exhibition of 17 rag dolls made by homeless men and women.
(LYNNE, A. (1997, June 22). Dolls Made by Homeless on Display. New York Times. p. 7. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

6. Miss Columbia, a 19-inch rag doll, has been traveling all over the U.S. and around the world since 1902. The doll carries a journal for guests to sign, and she helps raise money for children’s charities.
(A Doll’s Big Adventure. (1999). Time for Kids, 5(11), 7. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.)

7. Cloth dolls may have painted or sewn faces, wool or human hair, and may consist of a variety of found materials, such as wood, fur, leather, beeswax, and soap.
(Canadian Museum of Civilization. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/dolls/doinu01e.shtml
http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/dolls/dofir01e.shtml)

8. Ancient dolls made of wool have been found dating as far back as 3000 BC, some found in children’s graves.
(doll. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/168246/doll)

9. For some doll makers, felt is the preferred material for rag dolls, due to its ability to stiffen and press over a mold if needed.
(The V&A Childhood Museum. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc/collections/dolls/ragdolls/deans_rag_book_doll/index.html)

10. A poppet is another type of doll – “small human figure used in witchcraft and sorcery,” c.1300, early form of puppet (q.v.). Meaning “small or dainty person” is recorded from late 14c.; later a term of endearment.
(poppet. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 13, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/poppet)

Salvador Dali’s Hallucinogenic Toreador Meaning in Symbols

Art Reviews, Symbolism

This is a piece I wrote in college. I cited where appropriate. Please use this page as a reference if you are quoting any of my work.

Hallucinogenic Toreador’s symbolism

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, an art movement called Surrealism began that would shape an entirely different view of the world of art. Taking on dream-like images and transferring them onto canvas was mastered by Spanish artist Salvador Dali. While the artist painted literally hundreds of surreal paintings during his lifetime, it was during the height of his career that Dali painted The Hallucinogenic Toreador in 1969-70. The painting itself reveals images tied to the artist’s childhood, his culture, and other aspects related to his life. Perhaps one of Dali’s most complicated pieces of work, The Hallucinogenic Toreador is a double-image painting, truly worthy of praise for its genius quality. Incorporating the grandiosity of past masters, such as Caravaggio and Rembrandt, the dream symbolism of Freud, and a talent unlike no other, The Hallucinogenic Toreador is considered one of Dali’s most successful pieces.

While staring at The Hallucinogenic Toreador, the viewer may not even notice the double-image quality in the work at first. The painting is so cleverly finished that even those of the highest impressions may “look through” the work without even noticing the double-image at first glance. Most likely, the eye of the viewer would probably first see the repeated images of the Venus de Milo, being that it is the largest icon within the painting. The famous Greek goddess statue made by Alexandros of the Hellenistic period is included in the foreground, background, and middle ground, each time standing in her modest pose. Even spread throughout the painting are heads of the Venus. According to The Salvador Dali Museum, the Venus image is “one of the many statues found in the Greco-Roman ruins of Ampurias near Dali’s home.”

In the upper left-hand corner of the painting stands a figure with raised arms, outlined in yellow, apparently of Dali dedicating his act to Gala, his wife, whose frowned face sits above, also hi-lighted in yellow. It is said that Gala is painted as unhappy “because she disliked bullfights” (DaliWeb). In the right foreground of the painting, plainly seen, stands a boy “holding a hoop and fossil bone [and] is Dali himself in a familiar outfit from childhood – a sailor suit” (Daliweb) on a beach. In front of the boy, diagonally crossing the painting, is a row of flies that lead to a “rocky terrain of Cape Creus” (Daliweb) which also makes up the head of a bull, one of its eyes being a fly. Below the bull’s head is a body of water in which a woman in a yellow raft is floating. Not only is this an apparent body of water, but also the blood shed from the bull. According to the Dali Museum, this is a scene from Cape Creus, where tourists are likely to flock. Surrounding Venus in the background is an arena with carefully aligned flies. The “flies suggest the small black balls of thread that were once sewn to the hair nets worn by toreadors in the time of Goya” (DaliWeb). There is also a legendary story related to the flies. It was said that from the tomb of Saint Narciso came flies to keep away foreigners (DaliWeb). This is another example of Dali’s reference to his native country within the painting.

Made up of water reflections at the center foreground is a Dalmation. The image was taken “from a photo that appeared in Life magazine in the 1960s, of a Dalmation in a spotted room, which illustrated the visual game ‘find the hidden image’” (DaliWeb). The dog image also demonstrates Dali’s fascination with visual illusions, tricking the eye of the viewer by taking one common image and incorporating it into another image so that the entire area appears to be a separate image altogether.

Another example of optical illusion in this painting are the colorful dots painted just above the bull’s head, read as a 3-D cube, and perhaps taken from the “spheres of the cathedral Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi” (DaliWeb). Also in the painting are roses, almost centered on the right-hand side. While two of the images are actual roses, probably symbolic of Dali’s love for Gala, one of the other images is a faint head of Venus. The other images near the roses, though faint, appear to be self-portraits of the artist himself. Undetermined whether the moon is waxing or waning, its crecent appears on the left-hand center of the painting, and its symbolism probably refers to cycles and femininity, as the painting is littered with feminine qualities.

Once the specifics of the painting and its contents are realized, the viewer must step back to look “through” the entire piece in order to see one of the most brilliant double-image illusions probably ever made. The face of the toreador appears within the larger images of the Venus de Milo. Looking carefully, the viewer can see a nose made from the left breast of the second Venus, a mouth in the torso area, and a chin in the abdomen. Venus’s white draping makes up the toreador’s shirt; the red draping of the first Venus is his red cape. The arena and rows of flies make up the bullfighter’s hat, and according to the Dali Museum, the toreador sheds a tear just below the neck of the second Venus, symbolic of the bull’s death. In the first large Venus figure, the image of the toreador is repeated, as it is again in the multiplied Venus at the lower left-hand corner of the painting with added geometric shapes. Each of the toreador’s heads is slightly tilted, signifying the gracefulness and mastery of the bullfighter’s career, as well as the artist’s.

Salvador Dali got the idea for The Hallucinogenic Toreador while he was shopping in an art supply store. He saw a box of pencils with the brand name “Venus”, and within it, he saw the face of the toreador. Only Dali could come up with a masterpiece such as this from a box of pencils. The Hallucinogenic Toreador measures an incredible 157×118 inches, much larger than any textbook picture could do justice for. The full scale of the painting is magnificent, standing over two people in height, with its carefully chosen images towering above. A painting this size is sure to not only gain attention, but to also entice the viewer to get both near and away from the picture in order to view the images as the artist planned. In order to fully appreciate the true quality of this painting, the viewer must see it in person.

The psychology and dream analysis of Sigmund Freud had great influence on most of what Dali painted throughout his career as an artist. Freud’s view of dreams included that the purpose of dreams was to satisfy the repressed urges and fantasies of the waking day which are unacceptable to society’s standards. Symbolism in dreams, to Frued, is the use of different symbols that replace the repressed urge. Dali’s dream-like paintings are all composed of symbols meaningful to the artist. “It was said that Dali used to go so far as to purposefully ‘induce’ his own dreams by falling asleep in a chair, chin propped in the cup of his hand. He would jerk awake just as he entered the dream state and capture the surreal imagery in his own art.” (Lewis 20)

Also influencing Dali’s work are master artists of the past, especially those who painted grandiose works, such as Caravaggio of the Baroque period. Like Caravaggio, Dali’s grandiosity conveys the message that the viewer is almost in the painting, along with the toreador and Venus images. Another of Caravaggio’s features in this Dali work is the chiaroscuro used on the right-hand side of the painting. Just as Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin has only a faint light source, the dark and shadowy features of Hallucinogenic Toreador help to lure the viewer closer to the painting, giving the feeling that the viewer is participating in what is going on in the picture. Although maybe not actually participating in the painting, the viewer is sure relate to the dream state.

Rembrandt van Rijn of the 1600s was another of the masters to influence Dali’s works of art. Just as in Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, Dali’s Hallucinogenic Toreador, even with the many things happening within the painting, contains a spiritual stillness and psychological contemplation. Like Return of the Prodigal Son, The Hallucinogenic Toreador shows the chiaroscuro slowly merging together on the left-hand side of the painting, leaving a tranquil feeling.

Salvador Dali is a certain master of the twentieth century. His dreamy works were a first to the art world, making a mark in the world of painting. Like his master predecessors Caravaggio and Rembrandt, Dali took a chance at creating something new, something unfamiliar, and something most certainly unspoken of during his time and made it into what we refer to today as Surrealism. Unlike other surrealists, it was Dali who broke the mold and started a new phenomenon with the symbolism of reknowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. The Hallucinogenic Toreador is only one of the hundreds of fine works produced by Dali, but is one of the few paintings ever with a double-image.

A Hypothetical Conversation With Sigmund Freud About Art

Interviews

Sigmund Freud’s dictation of symbols became apparent in literature, poetry, music, and art in the early twentieth century. His psychoanalytic theories on dreams helped abandon the conventional ways of the arts. Bohemian author Franz Kafka’s use of symbolism in Metamorphosis, e.e. Cummings’ transformation of poetry into analytic pieces, and musician/composer Richard Strauss’s symbolic representations in his dramatic works are all examples of Freud’s influence. World War I also influenced visual artists at this time, inspiring the Dada movement in protest of the war, while surrealists Joan Miro, Frida Kahlo, and Salvador Dali were creating new symbolic works that reflected Freud’s theories.

Sigmund Freud

Setting: Freud is surrounded by neatly organized bookshelves against three walls. He sits in a tall, brown leather cushioned chair to the side of his desk closest to the interviewer. In the center of the large den is an oversized mahogany desk. The interviewer is perched on a small orange love seat across from the psychoanalyst.

Interviewer: I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity, Mr. Freud. I am quite interested in your theories on dreams and their associations. Tell me, what exactly is it that you believe about dreams?

Freud: I see dreams as the “royal road to the unconscious” (Thomson 28). I believe that dream images are linked with subconscious ideas, similar to the idea of free association.

Interviewer: Do you mean dreams are repressed ideas?

Freud: Precisely. Dreams are a way of “secondary thinking” about something that has “societal unacceptability” (Thomson 24). In effect, the “mind is deceiving itself” (24). Not only ideas, but especially desires that are repressed. The desire is the id, and the ego prevents the desire from happening. For example, a woman artist may have repressed ideas about sex. She may desire sex, but because it may be unacceptable to society for a woman to desire sex, her mind substitutes other things in her work that represent her suppressed desire instead.

Interviewer: Interesting! How do you feel about changing the world of the arts?

Freud: Influencing, maybe, but not changing. It was the artists themselves that are responsible for the work. Are you referring to anyone in particular?

Interviewer: The musician and composer Richard Strauss used “abnormal sexuality and corruption… female obsessions,” (Grove) and violent deaths in his operas Salome and Elektra. Both were written just after you published your Interpretation of Dreams in 1900.

Freud: Both Strauss and myself received negative criticism for these works. Strauss used symbolism in many of his works, and he liked to use females in these violent roles. Die Frau ohne Schatten is one of his most highly regarded symbolic pieces. I am unsure of his relationship with his mother, but I gather that he had some repressed anger issues with her.

Interviewer: Do you think Kafka’s literary works deal with repressed issues?

Freud: Most definitely, but with Kafka I believe he had issues with his father. In his most recognized work, The Metamorphosis, the son literally metamorphosized into an insect. The bug is symbolic of Kafka’s feeling of worthlessness to his father (Nabokov 53). Kafka seemed to have odd sexual beliefs. He thought that intercourse was “punishment for being together” (Nabokov 55). His “sex in writings is frequently connected with dirt or guilt and treated as an attractive abomination” (Nabokov 55).

Interviewer: What are your thoughts about e.e. Cummings’ use of symbolism in poetry?

Freud: Cummings played with words and grammar. At times he used individual words in his poetry, a hint of being alone, perhaps. His lack of capitalization could indicate that he felt small. I feel that his grammatical mutations were symbolic in themselves.

Interviewer: What about the visual artists? For example, Dali painted dream images that clearly reflect your theories.

Freud: Indeed, they do. In 1936, Dali painted The Anthromorphic Cabinet. In it, a human figure lies twisted with drawers opening from its torso. Dali related the drawers to my theory as “a kind of allegory destined to illustrate a certain forebearance, to scent out the countless narcissistic smalls that waft out of all our drawers” (Neret 44). To sum it up, he meant that “the human body… is today full of secret drawers which only psychoanalysis is capable of opening” (44).

Anthromorphic Cabinet

Interviewer: Joan Miro is an abstract surrealist. What do you see in his paintings?

Freud: Miro was quite different from Dali. His landscapes were unrealistic, but abstract. In Carnival of Harlequin, “much of Miro’s imagery suggests a cheerful sexuality, as though the whole space of the universe were occupied with lighthearted erotic play and reproduction” (Gilbert 468). The abstract forms – which have obvious faces – all appear to be moving, working, playing. They all have a personality. There are musical notes in the painting, which indicates joy. Miro’s use of lively primary colors give the work a feeling of play. A closer look at the images will reveal phallic shapes and suggested reproduction.

Carnival of Harlequin

Interviewer: What do you think Frida Kahlo’s images represent?

Freud: I’m sure you agree she’s an intensely emotional artist. Most of her paintings reveal some kind of pain, although she paints her self-portaits without emotion on her face – never smiling or hinting at any expression. Kahlo is telling everyone that she is in pain inside and out. She’d had an accident that left her injured, then later contracted polio that affected her legs, which she indicates in several of her paintings (Frida). I am sure her husband’s infidelity contributed to her many emotional issues as well.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait

Interviewer: How do you feel about the Dada movement?

Freud: The Dadaists were very symbolic, as well. The Dada movement was a reaction to World War I as an attempt to protest all brutality, including conventional art (Gilbert 467). Duchamp drew a moustache on a Mona Lisa and wrote a French word that translated to “nymphomania” at the bottom of the portrait (467). It outraged people, but he was trying to make a point.

Interviewer: I’d say that was a pretty powerful way to protest. In a nutshell, what is your view of artistic creation?

Freud: I believe that “unconscious impulses resulting from unresolved childhood experiences can trigger the artist” (Addiss and Erickson 65)

Interviewer: Thank you again for your time, Mr. Freud.

Freud: You’re welcome. Sweet dreams!

Works cited:
Art History and Education by Stephen Addiss and Mary Erickson
Complete Poems 1904-1963 by e.e. Cummings
Frida Kahlo
Living With Art by Rita Gilbert
Grove Concise Dictionary of Music
Lectures on Literature by Vladimir Nabokov
Dali by Giles Neret
Cloud Nine by Sandra Thomson

Recipe: Love Spell Yogurt Cups

Recipes

Whether looking for love, working on self-love, or wanting to rekindle love in a relationship, eating love-based food could be part of the answer to finding true love! It’s taken years for me to experiment with the right foods to put in my body, and it seems to change over time. If you have food allergies and/or sensitivities like me, it’s important to mainly eat whole, non-processed foods prepared at home. For one, it’s easier to detect which foods may be causing issues, because we can eliminate things that bother us. More importantly, we know exactly where our food is coming from.

When I falter from healthy eating habits (usually out of tiredness or strange cravings), my body pays the price big time with fatigue, pain, brain fog, and general discomfort. If we truly are what we eat, then eating nutrient-rich foods with energy is something that we should aspire to. Clean eating is a form of self-love by treating our temples with good vibes.

Before Valentine’s Day, my local grocery store had a sale on one of my favorite morning treats – So Delicious brand coconut milk yogurt – so I stocked up on it. With plenty of yogurt to cover my morning snacks over the next couple of weeks, I decided to be a little creative, adding some things with intention that are high on the love scale. That’s how I came up with this Love Spell Yogurt!

Love Spell Yogurt Cups
©2021 Shannon Hart

I prefer plain yogurt as opposed to flavored, because I can add my own sweet ingredients with natural sugar from a local raw honey farm. Honey is one of the perfect ingredients for a love spell, because it represents sweetness, fertility, and prosperity, which covers some of the foundations we want in a true-love relationship.

Fruit holds different symbolic connotations in various cultures, but overall, strawberries, a somewhat heart-shaped fruit, are all about rebirth and love. When it comes to nutrition, bananas are a source of energy, rich in potassium – an essential electrolyte; therefore, adding bananas to the yogurt increases the spell’s energy.

Chia seeds symbolize strength, another important aspect of love. Best of all are sunflower seeds, representing both love and happiness! Now you have everything you need for the perfect Love Spell Yogurt!

Follow the recipe here:

4 yogurt cups of So Delicious coconut milk yogurt
8 large strawberries, chopped
1 small banana, sliced
2 Tbsp Chia seeds
3 Tbsp Sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp Honey

Open and scoop cups of yogurt into large bowl. When opening yogurt cups, pull back on foil, but don’t remove it. You will be using it later.

Love Spell Yogurt
©2021 Shannon Hart

Add chopped strawberries and stir with a large spoon. Add banana, stir.

Add seeds, mix well with spoon.

Chia & Sunflower Seeds
©2021 Shannon Hart

Add honey.

Raw, local honey
©2021 Shannon Hart

Mix well until “potion” looks even.

Love Spell Yogurt
©2021 Shannon Hart

Scoop mixture back into cups. Cover with foil and refrigerate as normal.

Love Spell Yogurt Cups
©2021 Shannon Hart

I kept these cups for over a week without any issues of anything going bad. It also gives the chia seeds time to expand, which will aid in digestion. You can try experimenting with different ingredients that appeal to you, such as using dairy yogurt instead of vegan. Just remember to set your intentions for the type of love you want while you’re creating and eating it!

Number Puzzles and Symbolism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Book Reviews

I have never been a fan of vampire books or movies, so when I found out that I had to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula AND write an essay, I cringed. How was I going write a paper about something I don’t enjoy reading? That’s when I had to pick a creative straw and noted the amount of numbers used throughout the story. Since the word-count limited me to less than 350 words, I chose to write about the number symbolism in the story’s first chapter using Avia Venefica’s wonderful site as a resource for symbolism. If you’re familiar with number symbolism and the original story of Dracula, you might understand what I’m about to explain.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan Harker is traveling to fulfill a real estate transaction when he begins his journal on May 3rd (May is the 5th month, so I will refer to it as the number five.) Going by Avia Venefica’s symbolism website as a reference, the number five indicates travel, which is what Harker’s journal entries tell the reader he is doing. The number 3 indicates intuition and magic – all of which are coming into the near future. He had already stated his internal fear. Five and three (May 3rd) gives us eight, a number meaning business and wealth – again revealing to us what Harker expects from the transaction.

“3 May. Bistritz.— Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late…. I feared to go very far from the station, as we had arrived late and would start as near the correct time as possible.”

Harker had left Munich on the 1st of the month. With the number one representing new beginnings, this correlates with Harker’s real estate deal he is attempting to encounter and also kind of a foreboding that this is certainly a new beginning of which he is completely unaware. May 1st is a five and a one, added together making a six, with 6 meaning balance. Not only is this what Harker had in mind, but also could represent the balancing forces of good and evil.

Harker states that the train should have arrived at 6:46, but arrived an hour late instead. Six shows up twice representing balance, but could it mean that twice of it is an imbalance? And the number 4 represents stability. All of the numbers added together (6+4+6=16; 6+1=7) show us that seven’s generalized symbolism are magical forces and mystery. The journal entries hint that something is going awry or odd with the trip, especially with all of the mysterious whispering and strange reactions from the people around Harker. Since the train arrived an hour later (7:46), the number seven appears again. Adding those figures (7+4+6=17; 1+7=8) shows us that Harker is still expecting a business transaction.

On May 4th, Harker’s diary indicates that his landlord received a letter from the Count concerning the trip, repeating the notion of travel (five) and stability (four). Harker arrives at the castle on May 5th, the fifth day of the fifth month. Being that 5+5 adds up to 10 in numerology, this reinforces that Harker is facing a new beginning. Harker, having no idea what is in store for him, will experience the beginning of the end of his life.

Taxi Driver – An analogy of Travis Bickle

Movie Reviews

Taxi Driver’s script reeks of loneliness, and so does the protagonist, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro). When Bickle is being interviewed for the cab driving job, the personnel officer immediately points out that “we don’t need any misfits around here, son,” so right off, it’s a foreboding that Travis is probably a misfit. An indication that Bickle lacks communication skills is also hinted in the fact that he doesn’t have a phone. The inciting incident happens when Travis goes to the porn theater and starts talking to the girl at the counter as if he’s interested in dating her. This is where it is confirmed for the first time that Travis is a serious loner, a reject with little social skills. (The amount of time he spends at the porn theater could be used reading self-help books.)

The antagonist is Travis’s own self worth. Travis wants to be a person, but a few times he said that he wasn’t even a person. He is a pitiful character that makes the viewer feel sorry for him, standing in his own way of getting what he wants, because he thinks that being a person requires being accepted by society. Travis also wants a woman, particularly Betsy, but his social skills are a hindrance. What Travis “needs” is to learn acceptable social skills and acceptance by society.

On their first date, Betsy tells Travis about a song by Kris Kristofferson that is about a walking contradiction – which is exactly what Travis is. He views everything in the city as trash, yet his own apartment is littered with garbage, dirt, old furniture, and porn. Throughout the script, he talks about cleaning up the trash, the scum, the filth, yet he has created it in his own living space. Everything that he despises is exactly the way he lives.

On their second date, Travis takes Betsy to a movie – but to her surprise, it’s at the porn theater – another indication that Travis is clueless as to what is acceptable behavior in the real world. This is Plot Point 1, because then Betsy leaves and doesn’t want anything to do with Travis anymore. Boy loses girl, so this sets up everything for Act II.

One of the symbols I noted in the script was the Venus de Milo on the purple cloth at the counter of the porn theater. Venus de Milo is a representation of beauty and the color purple often represents royalty, which completely contradicts the way the women are treated in the movies shown at the theater. But the Venus de Milo is also armless, which could indicate that Travis does not getting any intimacy from women. He does, however, seem to view Betsy and Iris (played by a 12-year-old Jodie Foster) as goddesses (and Betsy as an angel), even though he exhibits stalker-ish behavior.

Before Betsy and Travis’s date, he has a couple of bottles of pills on the table. After the date, he has a “giant bottle of aspirin,” which clues us in that not having a woman in his life is hurting him. In both scenes he has a bottle of apricot brandy. Apricots are often symbolic of women and beauty, and brandy a sweet liquor.

At the very beginning of the script, Travis is wearing an Army jacket with a patch that reads “King Kong Company”. That in itself hinted to me that Travis is still at war, at least within himself. Around page 50, Travis buys guns and then changes his apartment and puts up newspaper clippings about Palantine, who is running for President. Travis also begins working out and going to the shooting range. It is obvious he is planning something, but it seemed to me like he was preparing for war. There is even a hint of it when he drives around and sees a gang of punks throwing a wine bottle at him. Then he goes into a store, sees a guy robbing it, pulls out a gun and blows his face off, and then after that he goes to the porn theater like nothing ever happened. This is Plot Point 2, because now Travis has killed someone and there is no going back.

Travis “kills” his own television set when he rocks it and tips it over during a soap opera scene in which a female actress is rejecting a male. Now he is really beginning to lose it and feeling loneliness. He shaves his head as if he’s still a soldier and shows up at a rally for Palantine, appearing to have a plan in mind, but never goes through with anything. But in the next scene when he’s back in his apartment, he says, “The time is coming,” referring to another rally.

Travis briefly meets Iris, or at least her pimp, who hands the cabbie a $20 bill. Travis is ashamed to use the money, because he knows what the young girl does for it. He later pays to see Iris, but not to have sex. He wants to rescue her, but she doesn’t seem to want to be rescued. Like him, she lives in her own world. When he hands the same $20 bill back to the old man before he leaves, he makes a big deal out of it, and I think it’s because he probably thinks that the money belongs to Iris. He doesn’t view her as scum, because she’s a child, but he does about the pimp and the old guy.

At the end of the script, the voiceover of Travis is all about his loneliness, how he is “God’s lonely man,” cleaning up his apartment in much the same way he’s planning on cleaning up the street trash. He ends up back at a rally and gets chased away by the Secret Service, so he goes to see Iris again and shoots her pimp, the old guy that takes the money, and her customer. Travis also gets shot, but he lives and becomes a hero with his name in headlines for shooting a pimp, and Iris’s parents can’t thank him enough for having their daughter back. Had he shot the candidate, he’d have been labeled a psychotic killer. But since he shot a pimp, everyone viewed him as a hero.

The script’s weak ending is cliché, with Betsy in Travis’s cab saying maybe she’ll see him again, hinting that boy gets girl back. Perhaps the ending meant that Travis is a real person now that he’s a hero and that he’s no longer “God’s lonely man.”

The Sweet Hereafter – Series Bitterness and Greed

Movie Reviews

The Sweet Hereafter is a terribly poignant movie. There are several underlying themes of the script, including transformation, guilt, regret, blame, revenge, and deceit. The entire script is an awful cycle of deceit and blame that is generally about a school bus crash, yet goes much deeper into the lives of each character.

The inciting incident occurs when attorney Mitchell’s phone rings while he’s in a carwash, and his drug-addicted daughter, Zoe, is on the other end. Incidentally, the blues song that plays at the end of this scene transfers over to the next father-daughter relationship between Nicole and Sam, another father and daughter. The following scene takes in an airport bathroom with yet another father diapering his baby girl while Mitchell observes. I believe the writer purposely chose to connect these three things to demonstrate the dynamics of father-daughter relationships, also showing us three different lapses of time.

Billy, father of a deceased disabled son resulting from the bus crash, and Mitchell speak at the gas station, but Billy refuses to join in the lawsuit. This gets in the way of Mitchell’s case. He needs Billy to testify, because he is the one that followed the bus that morning, and he is a critical witness. Mitchell gets desperate and even goes as far as blaming television and shopping malls for paralyzing children. (Billy is the only one in the script that points out that the whole town is blaming each other for an accident.)

Each character seems to blame someone else for something. Risa, mother of one of the deceased who has an affair with Billy, told Mitchell of a drunk man named Kyle feeling trapped by his life and blaming his wife. Later, Mitchell convinces Wanda and Otto (parents of one of the children) that there is no such thing as an accident, that someone is to blame. Wanda, even after dismissing the thought of a lawsuit, begins to look for someone to blame, to go to jail, and then agrees that a lawsuit is the right choice.

Mitchell blames himself for his daughter’s condition. His constant thoughts about the past and his conversation with Alison on the plane shows that he feels regret, and his constant talk about how all of their children are dead reveals that to the audience that his daughter died a long time ago. He had the opportunity once to allow Zoe to die when she was a baby, but he was determined to save her from a spider bite, and he keeps daydreaming about that incident. Is he feeling guilty that he didn’t allow her to die then instead of watching her slowly kill herself with drugs later? Or is he feeling guilty that he no longer has control over helping “keeping her calm and relaxed so that he doesn’t let her little heart beat too fast and spread the poison around”? Zoe blames her father for having to sell her own blood to make money, because he refuses to send her anymore.

Early on in the script, Nicole – one of the survivors – observed that children made Delores, the bus driver, happy. During her deposition, she lied and accused Delores of speeding and causing the crash. On one hand, it seemed as if Nicole viewed Delores as the Pied Piper, taking the children away to a faraway place, some place “strange and new” over the mountain. Nicole was the lame one left behind in a wheel chair, and all of her playmates are gone, just like the poem. On the other hand, it seemed like she did Delores a favor by forcing her to leave town. Nicole also seems to blame herself that she is the only child that lived.

Nicole’s purpose for blaming Delores was also revenge for her father Sam’s abuse. She knows that Sam wants money, so lied in order to punish him. As Nicole reads the Pied Piper story to the children, she is symbolically reading about herself. As the Pied Piper plays his flute, her own father is robbing his daughter with his incestuous relationship, making promises that he never kept. She ends up using this to her own advantage in the end, taking control of her own life by demanding what she wants and placing blame on both of her parents for what they did or didn’t do. At the same time, Nicole also sees Mitchell as the Pied Piper, misleading the town into believing his lies. Mitchell blames Nicole for screwing up the entire lawsuit. Just as the bus went downhill before the crash, so does the lawsuit. Mitchell argues with Sam over Nicole’s testimony and blames him that something isn’t normal about a child that would do such a thing.

The script also hints that Nicole blames herself for allowing a child, Sean, to sit next to her on the bus on the day of the crash and making another student, Mason, moved to the back. Could Mason have also lived if she hadn’t made that choice? Risa also seems to blame herself for not allowing her son, Sean, to stay home on the day of the crash, even when he begged her. Coincidentally, Risa was almost run over the same day, and Sean glared at Doris as if she was to blame.

There are a lot of symbolic references in the script. For example, Risa’s husband Wendell’s application of enamel on the crack in the tub correlates with the crack in his relationship with her. Billy’s shower washes away the enamel, in much the same way he’s taking away whatever it is Risa once had with her husband. Risa replaces the enamel over the crack when Billy leaves the motel – symbolically covering up their affair.

Another symbolic reference is when Sam paints the wheelchair ramp green. He is looking for money, and the ramp is symbolic of what he is looking for in the lawsuit. He later paints it red, which is symbolic of blood – or life – as his daughter was the only child spared in the accident.

Delores equated the children as berries. Children were the fruit of her happiness, and she genuinely cared for them, referring to them as “my kids”. At one point, she even doubts herself and begins to blame herself that perhaps she could have been speeding on the day of the crash. (Ironically, her husband Abbott and Delores both say that a true jury are the peers in a person’s town.)

By placing the events in a non-linear fashion, it shows the parallel events in each character’s lives. In the end, it all fits together beautifully. The viewers want to know what really happened in the crash, so by placing it at the end of act two, not only does it cause suspense, but it allows the writer to place the miscellaneous twists and turns surrounding the crash in different perspectives. Each character, even if they don’t leave the town or physically die, ends up in “someplace strange and new”, leaving behind the life they once knew.

Being High is Okay in Emily Dickinson’s ‘I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed’

Poetry Interpretation

Bee – Getting drunk on nectar

Deciphering the meaning of poetry has been something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a teenager. My English teachers often called on me to read aloud and interpret readings while everyone else was either bored or wondered how I knew this stuff. For me, it just came natural, because I love metaphors and the hidden meaning and symbolism; it’s like finding pieces to a puzzle that solve a mystery.

Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed” poem is a metaphor about being intoxicated on something natural. In this case, it seems that Dickinson is high on nature but compares it to be drunk on alcohol. I particularly enjoyed the symbolism of this poem, because I am also very much into “getting high” on nature. These are my interpretations of each line:

“I taste a liquor never brewed”
The author ingests something that makes her “drunk” so to speak, but since it hasn’t been brewed, Dickinson figuratively tastes it in much the same way someone might say, “I can taste success.”

“From Tankards scooped in Pearl”
Drinking alcohol from a tankard (like a small stein) made from pearl – a luxurious item and highly valued, perhaps giving a high value to her experience and being drunk/high a luxury.

“Not all the Vats upon the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol!”
There is nothing that can compare to what she is experiencing, as the vats in the Rhine are known to have very good wine, inferring that what she has is better than even the best alcohol.

“Inebriate of Air am I And Debauchee of Dew –“
The air and dew she is breathing is what makes her “drunk.”

“Reeling — thro endless summer days –
From inns of Molten Blue –” With “Molten Blue”
Capitalization here puts emphasis on something large and important to her. An inn is a bar. So her “bar” is the outside world and “molten blue” is the sky.

“When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –“
Foxglove is a flower poisonous to humans and animals, but beneficial to bees. However, what is interesting is that foxglove is very poisonous to humans, so why she chose this particular flower is another mystery. And who are these landlords? Are they the hummingbirds that also feed from the flower, or are they the flowers themselves?

“When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” –“
A dram is about the size of a shot or two. But why would a butterfly renounce its dram? It gets full or has had enough in the same way someone who drinks would stop at some point.

“I shall but drink the more!”
She will outdrink the butterflies and bees, being one with nature.

“Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –“
Here is an angel and cloud reference.

“And Saints — to windows run –“
Saints run to see the commotion outside.

“To see the little Tippler”
Tippler = drunk person.

“Leaning against the — Sun –“
The Sun is capitalized, so again it’s very important here. It’s huge, it’s warm, it gives life, and the sun is often regarded as “God.” In other words, being high on nature is acceptable, as high as the angelic realm and equal to perfection.

An Interpretation of Huun-Huur-Tu’s Throat Singing Concert Series

Music Reviews

The purpose of taking a World Music class is to learn about something I hadn’t yet been exposed to. Tuvan “throat singing” is definitely new to me, and I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate it at first; however, I actually came to like it so much that I am listening to the concert again as I blog. The instruments remind me of the music I’ve often heard at Renaissance Festivals. The throat singing isn’t anything I’ve ever heard before or could possibly begin to explain, but the experience felt spiritual. The entire concert can be viewed here:

This is my personal interpretation of this particular Huun Huur Tu concert:

When I first began viewing the Huun Huur Tu live concert video, I was unsure of how long I could sit through listening to what seemed to be the “same” thing for an hour and a half. However, I quickly learned that it was far from my expectations, and I felt that overall, the concert was more like a musical play that told the story of a spiritual journey. The concert sparked my imagination, as I pictured the images of the music in my mind.

The orchestration begins with a prayer that sounds much like a meditation or chant (think “Om”), then switches to a more fun and freer rhythm. I pictured a boy on a mountain praying and then getting ready to set off for something new. In the third piece, Sygyt, I imagined a boy standing on a mountain and speaking to it (this is taking into the consideration the Tuvan history and relationship with mountains and nature). When he finishes this, the Chiraa Khoor begins, and he sets off on his horse for an adventure. The clopping of the horse hooves and the neighing of the horse are merely instruments being played by the musicians, but add a significant purpose to the piece. Karyraa “spirit of mountains” begins and it seems as if the mountains speak directly to the boy or somehow guide him.

Then comes the love story – Saryglarlar. It speaks of sadness, and typical of Tuvan music, the winds appear and seem to blow away the memories, sadness, and tears. The mountain (the deeper tones) speaks, the boy answers (higher tones), and the mountain seem to somehow join in the sorrow while the winds join as the song ends.

Kozhamyk seems to be a more joyful adventure, as the mountains (deeper) and winds (higher) seem happy. Something changes with Kongurei, a song about people migrating and loss after war. It is sad, as if people are longing for something (their homes, their livestock, their lives in general), and the following Camel Caravan Drivers speaks of homesickness.

Time passes and the “wind” (mouthpiece instrument) blows again in Sagly Khalaun Turula Boor, as if it is moving onto the next journey, another love story. Eerbe Aksy is comprised of horse hooves with both high and low tones that represent mountains and wind but then suddenly stops. What happens? Does the boy meet the love of his life and settle down? Or is it another sad ending? Is the Orphan’s Lament what this story is all about?

When the woman sings at the end, which is unusual for Tuvan music, the musicians play animal calls, particularly the crane and perhaps an elephant. An electric guitar collaborates with this piece, bringing together a sort of oneness with the boy’s adventure.

The concert ends with Aa-shuu Dekei-oo, a song about the lifestyle of the Tuvans, bringing happiness back into the images once again.

Their concert CD can be streamed or purchased here on Amazon.