Last month we lost the great Maya Angelou. Our guest blogger, Tom Schnabel, had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Angelou in 1995 when he hosted the radio show Cafe LA at KCRW, the public station housed at Santa Monica College. We’d like to share Tom’s recent blog about having Dr. Angelou as a guest on his show.
Maya Angelou: 1928 – 2014
I interviewed Maya Angelou on January 7, 1995. She visited Cafe LA as a guest DJ. She was wearing Malian mud cloth slacks. It was an El Niño year and it was pouring buckets outside. I welcomed her to sunny Southern California. The guest mike wasn’t working, there was no engineer on duty to fix it, but I had prepared and was ready. She did correct me, however, when I pronounced her name “Angelou” with the long “u”; she preferred “Angeloh”.
Since she wore so many hats, I asked her how best to describe her. She said it would be as a writer. Given the technical problems with her microphone, we turned to her first choice as guest DJ, “Stormy Weather” by Sarah Vaughan. Maya was a friend and fan. We talked about her trip to Europe as a cast member of Porgy and Bess, her journalistic work in Cairo (she learned Arabic too). It was during the Nasser era of the 1950s, and she sang a song by the great Oum Kalsoum in praise of the Egyptian president. She sang it with perfect diction, right there in the studio!
We talked about her friendship with James Baldwin, the effects of being an African American living abroad and what she learned. Maya then read a poem she wrote for James Baldwin.
She had a commanding voice as she read it. She then picked duet song of Hank Williams, Jr. and Ray Charles. Her love of music was obvious. She even recorded an album of calypso classics back in the 1950s. She then featured the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in a Chopin scherzo. It reminded her of children playing, having fun on a Sunday afternoon. Maya then featured a buoyant, joyous Steve Wonder track.
We lost both the Ellington jazz crooner Herb Jeffries and now Maya Angelou. I have my aircheck cassettes out on my desk and will now proceed to transfer them onto CD for future posts. As I listen again to this aircheck from almost 20 years ago, I am happy we hit it off. My having been a comparative literature major in college and a music fanatic sometimes pays off.
Last year for Valentine’s Day we posted a blog on how different cultures and countries celebrate the day. This year, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve invited three of my friends and contributors to ACEI’s AcademicExchange blog to chime in and share their most favorite romantic songs/musical compositions, literary creations, film and art. Here are some of their personal favorites.
Contributor: Tom Schnabel
My three picks in the music category are:
“I Only Have Eyes for You” by The Flamingos
Tom: “This is a late 50’s doo wop classic and always makes me swoon with wonder and fills my heart.”
“Romeo and Juliet” by Tchaikovsky.
Tom: This is the story of passion against a backdrop of doomed love. It also reflects some of the great composer’s conflicts of being a famous closeted gay man in Tsarist Russia. The melody theme comes about 10′ after the opening and is one of the most ravishing melodies in all of music.
“In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel.
Tom: This mid-80s song is a longtime favorite, and still resonates with listeners today.
Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Check out Tom’s show Rhythm Planet and his blog
Contributor: Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
This was a tough assignment as there are so many brilliant works of literature by authors who have tackled love and romance. I see a theme in the three I’ve picked for this post and that is their timelessness and relevance to today’s times.
Here are 3 of my favorites from a very long list:
“Jane Eyre” (pub. 1847) by Charlotte Bronte.
Jasmin: Jane Eyre, has been one of favorites since I was a teen and the book was required reading in school. Set in Victorian England, the novel’s gothic, melancholic tone and the hauntingly imposing “Thornfield” manor, home of its moody and mysterious master, Mr. Rochester, shows Jane’s evolution from a young woman into adulthood. Though her love for Rochester is palpable, she’s not willing to settle for anything less than she feels she deserves. Jane Eyre is considered by many to have been ahead of its time given its exploration of such taboo subjects like sexism, religion, and class structure. Jane’s single-minded character, her strong desire to be Rochester’s equal but remain independent (she has no reservation in advertising for a new post as governess when she thinks her current post is ending) is also a bold feminist statement at a time when such sentiments were neither welcomed nor discussed openly.
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Jasmin: All my friends and family will vouch for me when I say that I’m a certified loyal fan of Jane Austen’s novels. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a classic tale of love and misunderstanding set in early 19th-century class-conscious England. It depicts a time when the choices young English women had was either marry, become a governess, join a convent or enter the oldest profession to survive. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist in Austen’s novel, is an intelligent, educated and like Jane Eyre, another single-minded independent young woman who refuses to abide by the traditions of the time. The novel shows us the world through Elizabeth’s eyes and the love that evolved between her and Mr. Darcy, member of the landed gentry, as she lets go of her prejudice and he overcomes his pride.
“The Red and the Black” by Stendhal
Jasmin: I first read the English translation of Le Rouge et le Noir by Marie-Henri Beyle–the French author who is best known by his pen name Stendhal–in my early 20’s, fresh out of college and wondering what I wanted to do with my life. It’s not a “romantic” novel, per se, but love does play a part in the protagonist’s life that ultimately betrays him. The novel is a sociological satire of 19th century France and chronicles the life of Julien Sorel, a young man of modest means from the French provinces who rises up the social ladder amidst hypocrisy, deception, emotional and romantic entanglements fueled by jealousy. He’s imprisoned after attempting to kill the married woman he had once loved when he finds out that she had a written a negative character reference calling him a social-climbing scoundrel who preyed upon emotionally vulnerable wealthy women. His love for her is resurrected when she visits him in prison which she continues to do so until his execution by the guillotine.
Contributor: Clayton Winston Johans
Well Ladies and Gents I was hoping to get to some more somber and less fantastical representations of Love’s joys and outcomes however, I could not pass up these three classical representations of love incarnate, despite either infamy or popularity!
“The Kiss” (1907) by Gustav Klimt
Clayton: Gustav Klimt appearing in the world, July 14 1862 and leaving it, February 6 1918 is considered one of the most prolific Austrian painters of the 20th Century.
Utilizing inspiration from Bizantine mosaics and use of actual gold leafing techniques, Gus cranked out the The Kiss and other paintings of variable similarity in a series of paintings later deemed a part of his ” Gold Phase”.
Here is how I feel the situation went down from the Man’s point of view:
(Read slow for best results)
I cloak myself in gold and meet her in the fire.
Hips swivel and one knee rises as she turns to me,
revealing a river of hair that splays across the
sheen like a splash of molten copper.
Palming my hand across her cheek, she embraces my breath.
I greet her. A kiss for life, a kiss for now.
Two ivory figures liquescent, amongst a spread of velveteen amber.
“Romance” (1932) by Thomas Hart Benton
Clayton: Thomas Hart Benton April 15, 1889-January 19, 1975 was a Missouri Native and American surrealist. It can be said for the sake of description that Benton’s work was centered around working class American life and its simplicities and colors as seen through a warped looking glass (perhaps the bottom of a wine bottle). To put it simply, Romance 1932 was inspired by two young lovers sharing the joyous contemplation of life’s beauty and plainness while walking together.
Be aware that my interpretation of how the Woman’s feelings are depicted in this image are based solely on my view that this painting is of a couple’s nightly stroll, regardless of the hues and values that obviously suggest otherwise:
That air was so sweet with life and I breathed it in as we walked past the house.
That mother pearl shone above us,
lighting our way through our walk in that night.
Just the two of us. Yes just us, walked past that oak tree.
Looking at him and him back with delight. He said I was all smiles, brighter than the moon herself. Like flower of the night.
“Amor and Psyche” (1638) by Anthony Van Dyck
Clayton: Van Dyck, Flemmish Baroque painter, known for his time spent painting for the English Royal court, illustrated a scene from one of Rome’s most romantic stories ever told, Cupid and Psyche.
I can’t make up a better description than this:
Jealous of her magical love affair with Cupid (Amor), Psyche’s sisters convince her that her mysterious lover is a demon. Deceived and curious to know the truth, Psyche seeks out her lover’s identity, where they meet in the dark with a lamp and a dagger. At the site of her true lover’s beautiful demi-god form, she cries in surprise, spilling hot oil on his body. Cupid flees to his house in the heavens and his mother Venus casts Psyche on an odyssey to appease the gods for her treachery. When Psyche completes the final task of retrieving a box full of Proserpina’s* tears said to cause everlasting beauty, she is struck with curiosity to look inside the box. Upon opening the box, she is struck unconscious and enters a deep state of sleep. Cupid, all wounds healed, sets out for his love and awakens and brings her before Jupiter. In trade for his servitude, Jupiter happily weds Cupid with Psyche. At the wedding feast, Jupiter feeds Psyche ambrosia, sealing their lives and love eternally.
I decided to jump in here and throw in 3 of my favorite films on love and romance. They may not be your traditional favorites, e.g. Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Doctor Zhivago, and even contemporaries like When Harry Met Sally, etc… (which happen to be favorites of mine), but ones I think address love and romance in not so traditional ways.
Frustrated Evaluator: Simply put this is a love story between a young man Harold and a much older (79-year old) woman, Maude played by Ruth Gordon. Through Maude, Harold who’s intrigued with death learns to live life to its fullest and begins to see and appreciate life as the most precious gift of all.
Frustrated Evaluator: Directed by Mike Nichols, this film is the story of a young college graduate Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) who is seduced by an older married woman, Mrs. Robinson (played by Anne Bancroft) and ends up falling in love with her daughter Elaine (played by Katharine Ross). Let’s also not forget the terrific soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkle. The film is classic boy meets girl (Benjamin is set up on a date with Elaine), boy loses girl (after he breaks the news to her that he was having an affair with her mother), boy wins girl (crashed Elaine’s wedding to Carl and takes her away). But it is the final scene, the last shot, that sticks with you where a disheveled Benjamin and Elaine still in her wedding dress sitting in the back seat of a bus. At first they seem ecstatic and exhilarated by what they had just pulled off but gradually their expression changes as they both realize what they had done. You can hear them both thinking: “Now What?
Frustrated Evaluator: Not just another one of Pixar’s usual genius with animation but a love story. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once our planet but abandoned for eons. WALL-E is the robot that remains on this wasteland and reminds us of what we all need and seek: companionship, protection and trust. I never expected to get wrapped up in the romance between a pair of robots. But I did and so will you.
I know this is cheating and we were all asked to give 3 of our favorites, but I’m going to sneak in a few more of my odd and not so odd romantic favorites: Star Man, The Lady and the Tramp (animation), The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Crying Game, Jules and Jim, Gilda, Brief Encounter, In the Mood for Love, Lost in Translation, and one my favorites from the ‘80’s “Say Anything,” which compliments Tom’s favorite music selection.
Hope you like our list. Now, it’s your turn: Tell us what are your favorite romantic films, novels, music and paintings?