Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: The Court Jester

Because I can never get enough Danny Kaye...

Grab Bag Friday Movie Vault: The Court Jester, originally posted March 28, 2008

(Fair Warning: Hyperbole will follow.) I was browsing over at Educating Alice, and she posted this clip from the 1955 Danny Kaye movie, The Court Jester. My family and I used to laugh ourselves to tears watching this movie. And I still hold that it is one of the most hysterical comedies of all time. And that Danny Kaye is perhaps the most hilarious comic of all time. That's right. Of all time. :)

Now, some of you who know me may argue that I have a somewhat, oh shall we say, specific sense of humor, but that's a discussion for another day...

Here's my family's beloved "Brew that is True" scene and some fun trivia about The Court Jester from IMDB:
  • Unimpressed with him in tights, producers of the film made Danny Kaye wear 'leg falsies' to improve the shape of his legs. This adds a touch of irony when Hubert Hawkins offers the princess all of him, including his legs and calves.

  • Danny Kaye's daughter, Dena Kaye, said for the rest of his life, when people recognized Danny in a restaurant, they would walk up and spout the entire "brew that is true" speech.

  • Basil Rathbone was a world-class fencer and it was due to his efforts that the hilarious fencing scene was filmed without injury. He later admitted that several times he was almost skewered by Danny Kaye's sword.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: Stevie Wonder for Kids

Since I'm headed to teach my songwriting workshop to 5-8 year olds this morning, I decided this rerun was in order...

Stevie Wonder for Kids, originally posted February 28, 2007

I thought for the last day of Black History Month, I'd talk about something purely fun. I get a lot of requests from parents looking for children's music that won't drive them batty. These parents have ususally spent insane amounts of time listening to the typical, vacant, sing-songy variety of kids music that permeates the genre (you know the kind I'm talking about). It's usually when they catch themselves humming it on the way to work that they realize they would rather scrape melted gummy worms off the sofa than listen to another minute of this stuff.

Aside from sending them to Zooglobble and Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, I have another miracle cure for these desperate parents:

Stevie Wonder
(Cue angel choir and light streaming down from heaven)

First of all, Stevie Wonder was signed to Motown Records when he was just 11 years old. That is supercool by anybody's standards.

Second of all, go to iTunes and listen to/download Uptight. What kid wouldn't love to dance around to this song? What parent wouldn't love to dance around to this song? See? Problem solved!

A special treat:
This is from the 1973 season of Sesame Street. Now this is music! Pure energy. The video quality isn't the best, but YouTube has confiscated all the versions that were clear due to the recent lawsuits. Hm. A topic for another day. Enjoy this one while it lasts:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping

My husband and sister are both attending a week-long workshop with Abigail Thomas this week and I get to go to hear her read on Friday! So I thought this blog rerun would be appropriate for today...

Abigail Thomas: Safekeeping, Some True Stories from a Life, originally posted March 10, 2008

My sister recently recommended Abigail Thomas' Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life as good airplane reading. When I first glanced through it, I admit, I groaned. The chapters are extremely short, the story jumps around with no chronological order, the viewpoint changes from third person to first person to second person with no warning. I thought, oh great, another too-cool-for-school, experimental memoir that's trying to be deep. Thanks, Anna.

Then I started reading.

Safekeeping is actually a very lovely, well-crafted book about marriage, love, life, and mostly, memory. It is the story of a middle-aged woman who is trying to piece together her memories, trying to sort through and reconcile her life after the loss of a close friend who was "once upon a time" her husband.

The short, out-of-order chapters work because that is how memories come to us. In short, uncontrollable bursts. A displaced memory of a smashed dish, a loose fragment of a conversation, the cramped feeling of an old apartment.

The switch in viewpoint works surprisingly well. Instead of coming off as unbearably post-modern or uber-artistic, it serves as a simple, concrete tool. A woman trying to get a 360 degree view of her life. We see her as a young woman as *she* remembers herself. Then we see her as she imagines an objective observer might see her. Then her sister comes in and says, no that's not how it went at all...don't you remember?

And that's the thing. We don't remember. Not exactly. Abigail Thomas writes on her website:

I’ve written nothing but non-fiction for years now in spite of my poor memory.  I can remember moments, and scenes, but not what happened when or what came after...But  if I could remember everything in its proper sequence, there’s a lot of life that’s interesting to live but not so interesting to write about, let alone read. And frankly, I’m bored by chronology. I don’t even believe in chronology. Time is too weird. It contracts, then it shoots forward (or back), it dawdles, stops still, and then suddenly we’re twenty years down the road. Whole decades evaporate. For me connecting the dots is not as absorbing as the dots themselves. I’m more interested in why certain memories stand out. Why these and not others?

It's a great question, and one that I've been thinking about ever since I read Safekeeping. Writer Anne Lamott said this about the book, and I don't think I could sum it up better:

[Safekeeping is] not so much memoir as a stained-glass window of scenes garnered from a life. This is an unforgettable portrait of a grown-up woman who has learned to rejoice in being herself. Reading it, we feel the crazy beauty of life.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: A Little Friday Humor

Because all three of these deserve repeat viewings...

Grab Bag Friday: A Little Friday Humor, originally posted March 6, 2009

Here are three videos that made me smile this week.

My sister, Steph, sent me this one and I roared. I love the airplane bit at the end:

I came across this one on the blog As The World Stearns. It's another clip from Improv Everywhere. These people are creative geniuses.

Lastly, this one is Improv Everywhere's latest mission. I just love how quickly a simple thing like a high five can put smiles on people's faces. When these people get on the escalator, they're dour, lost in their own little worlds (like we all are half the time). When they get off, more than half of them are grinning, interacting, enjoying the moment. Think about that. It's brillant. What can you do to brighten somebody's day today?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: The Clash

In order to focus on my songwriting, fiction, & poetry workshops this week, I'm posting some summer blog reruns in lieu of live posts. I feel like a little Clash this morning...

The Clash: Should I Stay Or Should I Go, originally posted May 6, 2009

Last week, on Music Wednesday, I posted a couple sweet classic songs from the '40s. As Monty Python would say...And now, for something completely different...

Recently, I've been working on a novel in which one of the characters is a little obsessed with Joe Strummer from The Clash. So I've been perusing YouTube a bit for classic punk rock, and here are a couple treats.

Here's a live version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, one of the most popular "mainstream" songs by The Clash. I love the goofy dancing, I have to say:

This Lifetimes documentary is a hoot. I love the girl who says:
"I don't know why I like them. That's why I like them. You don't have to know everything."
Brilliant. I might have to steal that for my book. :) [UPDATE: Sadly, the fun lifetimes documentary has been removed from YouTube. Instead, follow this link to a 1979 interview where Joe Strummer waxes on about piracy, Northern Ireland, and giving it all you've got. Boo to the YouTube police.]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Blog Reruns: Barbara Helen Berger, When the Sun Rose

In order to focus on my songwriting, fiction, and poetry workshops this week, I'll be posting some summer blog reruns. This one is hands-down my favorite children's book of all time...

Barbara Helen Berger: When the Sun Rose, originally posted January 22, 2007

This is a bold statement, but I think Barbara Helen Berger's When the Sun Rose is my favorite picture book of all time.

It is a very simple, short, sweet story about two friends spending the day together, but the images and words are so striking and beautiful, you immediately get completely swept up. I've used this book in a number of my Songwriting for Kids classes, and each time I turn the page, there is a quiet intake of breath from the whole group. Ms. Berger is a master at creating a sense of wonder.

It seems that when I walk into the kids section in a bookstore, I am just bombarded by books that are trying to grab my attention with as many bright colors, images, action, and glitz as they possibly can (check out Fuse #8's great September review of Not a Box for more on this topic). So I love it when I come across a book that leaves me with a sense of calm and wonder. When the Sun Rose is a rare and breathtaking example of this. Take your time with each page, absorbing each one...I guarantee you will close the book feeling refreshed and renewed. It is a great gift.

Now here's the bad news: this book is out of print. You can still find a few used copies on Amazon or at But check your library, and if they don't have it, get it on interlibrary loan. Do what you have to do, but find this book. And if you happen to run into dead ends all around, check out Barbara Helen Berger's Grandfather Twilight instead (a perfect bedtime book which deserves a blog post all its stay tuned).

For more about Barbara Helen Berger and her beautiful work, visit her official website.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Freedom

Here's a question for you: how do you maintain productivity in a world filled to the brim with entertaining distractions?

I know myself. I know that when I sit down to write, I cannot read "just one" kidlit blog post before I start. Or do a "quick email check." Or play a round of Scramble "to clear my mind." Before you know it, I'm updating my Goodreads page and surfing for So You Think You Can Dance clips.

It's ridiculous, but I know for a fact that no matter how excited I am about a writing project, given the opportunity to stall, I will.

Now last November, I was stuck in a time-sucking vortex of my favorite blogs when I came across a post about unplugging at Upstart Crow, and a reader (God bless him) commented that he uses a program called Freedom. Freedom is a free program for Mac & PC that disables your internet for as long as you tell it to. Log on and type "90" into the little box and voila! 90 distraction-free minutes. The only way to get back online is to restart your computer. Which, as it turns out, is just enough of a deterrent for me. When I've spent a productive, clear-headed morning hitting my word-count goal, I want to kiss whoever invented this software.

Technically, there is another way to handle this problem. It's called will power. But for those of us who don't have it, there's Freedom

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Phil Collins: Find a Way to My Heart

But SeriouslyThanks to the wonders of Facebook, I've recently been reunited with my childhood friend, April (who turned up in Georgia of all places!) When we were kids, April and I were inseparable. We walked, cross-country skiied, or swam to each other's houses almost every day. We started clubs together (and at least once used the other kids' "dues" money for candy.) We suffered through braces together, bad babysitting gigs, pom pom squad, and serious doses of family drama. 

Through everything, we listened to music. Constantly. April gave me my first mix tape (songs taped from the radio, no less...truly old school). She also gave me my first Madonna tape (which was promptly confiscated by my mother). But what I remember most is listening to Phil Collins.

I remember sitting on April's bed in 1989, her Kirk Cameron poster smiling down at us from it's place of honor on the ceiling above her pillow, and putting Phil Collin's ...But Seriously tape into her little boom box. That tape was revolutionary to me. The big brass band, the soaring melodies, the social consciousness. I got the piano book, taught myself every song on the album, and made myself cry every time I played "Colors":
Deep inside the border
Children are crying
Fighting for food
Holding their heads
Breaking their bread with a stone
...and then transitioned into fighting mad at the lines
People living without rights
Without their dignity
How loud does one man have to shout
To earn his right to be free
I still pull out that dusty cassette tape from time to time and no matter how long it's been, I can still sing along with every word, hum every note of that brass section, and get sad and riled up all at once. In a way, it's like reconnecting with an old friend. To quote Mr. Collins himself: "Find a way to my heart/ And I will always be with you..."

Phil Collins: Find a Way to My Heart

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grab Bag Friday: Chicagoans Unite!

I'm breaking all the rules today. I'm going to write my Grab Bag Friday post on Thursday and ignore every one of you who does not live in or around Chicago. See, my friend Kate Corby is going to be in this REALLY BIG DEAL dance show in Chicago and I CAN'T BE THERE! And did I mention there's a $10,000 grant on the line?

Lucky Chicagoans, I need you to be my surrogate. Go. Vote for Kate's company. When's the last time you went to a dance show? It will be fun. You deserve a night out. And as Kate points out, there will be a very special place in "arts supporter heaven" if you spread the word.

I've pasted a letter from Kate below with all the details. And if you *do* go, please please write me and tell me all about it. Seriously. Now that I'm in Maine, I have to live vicariously through you Midwesterners, you know.

Dear friends and family,

We are very excited to announce/remind you that we
have been selected to perform in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! at the Dance Center of Columbia College. We are one of 12 Chicago companies chosen to participate in what is A REALLY BIG DEAL. Over three evenings of performances audiences will pick the 'best' work from each show through voting after a post-performance discussion. The top three pieces will be performed a second time during a fourth night of adjudication, competing for a grant of $10,000! Erin Kilmurray, Emily Miller and Anna Normann will be performing our collaborative trio Go in fashion forward costumes by Maggie Dianovsky.  The event is designed specifically for audiences new to dance and the seats at the Dance Center are really comfy.  What more could you ask for?!

Want to help?  Here is your mission:

  1. Call the Dance Center box office at 312-369-8330 to buy up to six of our reserved tickets for Wednesday, July 28th by Tuesday, July 6th!  They are $15 a piece.  Your code word is "Corby."  Seriously.  Do this soon -- like right away. If our reserved block of tickets is gone that's fine.  Hopefully some 'general' tickets will still be available.  They are non-refundable.
  2. Mark your calendars for 7/28 and 7/31 (in hope that we will get into the final performance).
  3. On Wednesday, July 28th at 8 pm bring your tickets and your fine selves to The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. (Roosevelt Red line CTA, just off of Lakeshore with many parking lots nearby), and watch Erin, Emily and Anna tear it up on stage.  They're pretty great.  Be punctual as late-comers will not be able to vote.
  4. Stay for the post-performance discussion with the adjudicators and artists.
I know, I know, it's summer and you may very well be out of town (or you may not even actually LIVE in Chicago), but there will be a very special place in 'arts supporter' heaven for you if you recruit your friends to attend.  Thank you so very much for your support!  We really appreciate it. 

More information on The A.W.A.R.D. Show!
More information about us:

Very warmly,

Kate Corby & Dancers