Yesterday was the day that comes every fall in world literature class, the day we talk about Aristotle's POETICS and how its ideas are reflected in today's American culture. Look at the sum total of films that have won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, back from the beginning until now, we say. See how tragedy has dominated comedy. Then tell me that what Aristotle wrote in POETICS about tragedy's inherent superiority to comedy is not relevant in today's world. No wonder so few people have a sense of humor.
Of course, that one person who actually read the assigned pages raises her hand.
"But what about this CHORUS stuff he talks about? One thing you don't see much of these days is twelve men dressed all alike talking in unison like a bunch of cheerleaders with handmotions."
She looks around the room for support as if to further say AND THERE IS NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING IN THIS CLASS THAT YOU CAN CONVINCE ME IS REMOTELY CONNECTED TO ANYTHING AT ALL IN MY LIFE.
"What about musicals?" I offer. Action followed by orchestrated commentary. Comedies never win Best Picture and are lucky to even be nominated. Musicals fare better, somewhat. (Well, "Oliver" did actually win Best Picture.) But here is where I have to confess to the class and the rest of the world: for most of my life, I despised musicals.
For many of us growing up the 50's and 60's, musicals were shoved down our throats like cod liver oil mixed into orange juice. "Showboat," "Oklahoma", and "The Music Man" puzzled and frustrated me. Right in the middle of an already dull plot, the characters paused to sing about it. Badly. Wearing bad costumes. My frustration peaked with "Bye Bye Birdie" ( I may have been a pre-teen, but no matter how much I wanted to grow up to look like Ann Margaret, I knew the plot was stupid and silly with bad timing) before the volcano of my ire erupted with "The Sound of Music". I had just read "The Diary of Anne Frank" in school and cried my eyes out. Here the stupid Von Trapp family was, strolling across the Alps in a vague attempt to avoid the Axis power, stopping along the way to smell the eidelweiss and SING AND DANCE ABOUT IT. Gee whiz, people, I thought, get with the program. These Nazis have killed 6 million people and you think you've got time for four-part harmony?
My problem in my youth was that I did not understand that perfectly normal people can stop right in the middle of their daily lives and break out into song. I didn't understand that the plot of a musical does not require a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of most viewers.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Yesterday, a student sent me a YouTube link to a video snippet that takes less than a minute to watch. The student and three friends (one friend's little daughter is standing there with them) had just gone to a music performance, and while standing around in the parking lot afterwards they just felt like singing. Like slaves in the fields felt like singing the blues. Or Janis Joplin in the shower felt like belting it out. Like even I on some beautiful fall day drive out Gunwaleford Road with the car windows down, singing loudly and off-key along with a CD.
That's what living in The Shoals has taught me.
Somedays, right in the middle of everything, you just feel like singing.
Check it out. See for yourself what it sounds like to live in the certified boondocks, right between Nashville and Memphis.
My student's name is Joey. He's the one in the white shirt, shaved head.