The Pleasures of Growing Old

Old People in NaplesI thought that I should check in, what with my last post being all about death. Not that one should mistake me thinking of death as a bad thing. Death is our victory over the evil will. But many people do think of it in negative terms. That post wasn’t really about death anyway. It was about pain, which I do think the ultimate evil. That’s why the will is so awful: it makes us continue to accept pain. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about growing old.

I just spent three wonderful hours watching A Passage to India. It wasn’t my first viewing. I saw it roughly three decades ago and I recall liking it — but not like this. I’m going to write about the film tomorrow (most likely). Now I just want to mention how one needs to grow into a lot of works of art. That’s definitely the case here. What I suspect I appreciated then was the nice story where things turn out well for all the characters we care about.

This time, I more appreciated the film’s visual style and its formal elements. I’ll discuss that later — or at least some of it. But it’s interesting how I have to learn to appreciate things. It was the same way with writing. I was probably 30 years old before I even started to hear the language. I think for a mind like mine, math is easier because it is deductive. The beauty is pure. But the beauty of English requires far greater knowledge.

Last night, I was reading an article by Alex Nichols. He wrote something that quite amused me that would have left me cold 30 years ago:

JRR Tolkien said that “cellar door” was the most beautiful phonetic phrase the English language could produce. “BuzzFeed Hamilton Slack,” by contrast, may be the most repellent arrangement of words in any tongue.

It’s nice to grow older. Your body may fail you. You aren’t the quick wit you used to be. But you’ve marinated for so long that you can appreciate more things in life. It’s a very good thing. It makes the will seem not quite so evil.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

11 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Growing Old

  1. I’d seen the Nichols article before. My reaction to it was, well, ban ticket scalping. In Minnesota for years we had no legal ticket scalping, but police would permit hawkers outside ballgames to buy/sell tickets if there was no price gouging. E.g., if you bought four $30 tickets to the game and somebody got sick at the last minute, you could recoup your loss a bit by selling that extra ticket to a hawker for $15. Who’d then sell it for $20. Everybody wins! The person with the extra ticket doesn’t eat the full price, the hawker makes a little profit, a fan who shows up at the last minute on a whim gets a discount seat, and the team gets full price for the ticket (which was purchased at full price). I used to always buy my tickets from hawkers.

    Corporate scalping became legal, and now, forget it.

    As for Nicholas’s other complaints, they basically amount to “I didn’t like this hyped musical.” Fine! Criticize the songs, vocals, offer others you like better, etc. I think it’s perfectly fair, for example, to say “Hedwig” better deserved “Hamilton”‘s success among young people. The strengths of both are similar (highly emotional story with fun music introducing the joys of musicals to people who thought Lloyd Webber was fucking dull), while each has different problems. (Hedwig’s pursuit of the rock star is uninvolving, and Hamilton was far more a cold, calculating dick than the musical suggests).

    Instead, Thomas focuses on the musical being bad (his taste), too expensive (ban scalping), overhyped (every financially successful musical, ever, has been), and co-opted by uninspiring political figures. Um, how old are you, sir? In 2000 Gore joked on the campaign trail that he’d convince OutKast not to break up. In 1984 Reagan used “Born In The USA” as a campaign song, and George Will (who hated rock) gushed over it. Well, I still think that’s a terrific song, and I still like OutKast’s albums.

    Thomas accuses the press of jumping on a bandwagon (they are) that he considers wrong because StubHub is selling tickets for outrageous sums. Of the latter, we can ban this; the writers and actors of the musical cannot. It’s owned by the producers.) As regards the former, Thomas is playing the same game. Reporters on the bandwagon are saying “I’m cool because I saw this It thing rich people love.” Thomas is saying “I’m cool because I reject anything those assholes enjoy.”

    This shit is always selective. Unless you have the only copy in existence of a book, album, whatever, there are going to be people who like it or hate it as much as you do, and these loves/hates tell you absolutely nothing about those other people or the work itself. If Paul Ryan said he liked Steve Goodman songs, it wouldn’t affect how I feel about Ryan or Goodman.

    Carping about the historical stuff is appropriate, but I still like “1776,” even though Adams was no flustered dreamer hero and Jefferson did not burn with lust for his wife. (“Hamilton” actually mentions Sally Hemmings.) I like the songs and the heightened emotions, which is what musicals are.

    And the people who aren’t in the press who enjoy the show do so because of the soundtrack album. This might seem odd to Mr. Thomas, but it’s how my parents got into musicals. They couldn’t afford trips to NYC to see the latest thing. They bought the soundtrack albums. And as a kid I listened to them all. “Fiddler,” “Music Man,” “Guys & Dolls.” It was actually disconcerting for me to see the movies because some voices were different!

    To me his argument is reverse snobbery. Because I’m less of a snob than these snob reporters, I’m cooler than the ignorant masses who enjoy the soundtrack because it’s a damn emotional musical. I Know Better. Aw, hush it.

    He’s right about Slack, though. It’s worthless. The other blog I write for insists we use it as an “idea-sharing platform” and it’s like, huh? You can do this with e-mail. Plus, it’s creative writing, my ideas are my ideas. I want editing, not ideas.

    • Somebody got sidetracked! But since you started it, I think his analysis is okay. He doesn’t say he hates the show. He says the show is so successful with these power elites because it tells them what they want to hear. And I think this is generally the case with theater, which I still think can be vibrant. I thought his idea that people like it because it turned Hamilton into a Horatio Alger character was quite interesting. Remember: he’s very clear that he hasn’t seen it. His “review” is not of the musical but of the powerful people who have made it into a phenomenon. The music can still be fine and the book serviceable.

      But that wasn’t what I was writing about at all. Married men are so serious! ;-)

      • Well, for about 72 hours I was running on pure adrenaline and virtually no sleep, so by last night I could have typed 2000 words on navel lint. My apologies for the bloviage.

        Most of what Mr. Thomas says is quite justified. What he doesn’t add, but I will, is the writer/star is at the point of seriously overplaying his media exposure. That leads to an inevitable backlash; to wit, early Quentin Tarantino. At least he’s openly pitching for Hillary, which is good.

        I’m a little touchy about this, as me & the spouse celebrated my last night in my old apartment by getting blitzed together and listening to the soundtrack. And it was during that when the spouse suggested the marriage idea. It’s kind of our songs, I guess? (Except that since the spouse is old country and I’m old rock, our song has really always been REM’s cover of “Wichita Lineman.”)

        I’ve thought about putting together a YouTube playlist of the best ASL versions of “Hamilton” songs. I’ve only glanced over what’s available, but what I’ve seen has been terrific. Here’s Aaron Burr’s song, after he confided to Hamilton that his mistress was married to a British officer. I mean, c’mon, if this don’t work, the listener should just avoid musicals, period:

        • This is actually the first song I’ve heard from the musical. It’s rather good. And I love the young woman signing it.

          When I was reading the article I thought you might have a problem with it because you’ve mentioned liking the original cast album. But it’s not the same thing, as we’ve discussed. But I’m rather fond of that publication. And I just noticed that they are publishing Corey Robin now. It seems like a less serious Jacobin.

          • Isn’t she amazing? And there’s lots more on YouTube like this, where the signers really act out the songs. Problem is, the musical has like 40 songs, and some are just expositionary, and the ASL versions of them on YouTube tend to be kinda bored interpreter style.

            • I guess the trend has been toward opera. I think that’s because of Andrew Lloyd Webber. I like that. I just wish Webber had more of a talent for tunes. But many operas have recitatives, which I really don’t like.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. I’ve seen it four or five times, and it ages well. Lean had something of Kubrick’s visual perfectionism but something the latter-day Kubrick lacked; a feeling for actors. The last really surprising performance in any Kubrick film was Douglas Rain as HAL.

    Lean’s prior films, “Ryan’s Daughter” and “Doctor Zhivago,” were (to me) artistic disasters; the production values swamped the actors and writing and the films really didn’t even look good. He took 14 years off before “India,” and he’s an utter control freak on it, and it works.

    The formal elements are great (shot composition, the Jarre score that soars for an overture yet is subtle in the tensest moments, the ironic use of juxtaposition in editing), but it’s really the performances which make it. I’ll be interested to read your take on them. I won’t share mine as this time, except that as a teen, I had a HUGE crush on Judy Davis because of this movie. She’s brave, intelligent, an anti-racist, and ultimately places morality over personal gain. What’s not for a teen boy to love?

    For me, “India” blows the Merchant-Ivory Forster films out of the water. They are all fine, and wonderfully acted. I just get a feeling of artistic passion with “India” that I don’t with those movies. Compared to “India,” they feel like handsome “Masterpiece Theater” episodes. Which is fine, we need those, too!

    • James Ivory makes little films. He’s good with details. David Lean made big films. The characters can get lost in them, but when they don’t, it’s wonderful. I think they are equally great, just really different. I don’t see Leen being a good choice for A Room With a View, much less Maurice. Of course, my favorite Ivory film is based on a modern book, Remains of the Day.

      So I guess now I’ll have to write that article on A Passage to India. What I wanted to write has been slipping from my mind. But I’m sure if I start writing, some of it will come back.

      • Kazuro Ishiguro is an amazing writer. I hate people like him with that amount of talent. God is not fair.

        • I haven’t read him, although my understanding is that the film is very true to the book. I should check him out.

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