Sunday, January 21, 2018

Three Beautiful Things 01/20/18: The King of Tears, Civil Rights History, Booker Wright

1.  The Deke and I have had many conversations over the years about what makes a song or a poem or a sermon or any other kind of writing work emotionally. Consistently, we've concluded that when a piece of writing is specific in its details, its emotional impact is bound to be  stronger. If you've listened to the Deke's songs, you know that her lyrics elicit emotion through the concrete things that happen in her songs, whether it's the many items in corrugated cardboard boxes, a betrayed wife walking the floors at night,  the taste of wine, or the feel of the night air.

When I wrote the eulogy for my mother, I wanted to touch people's feelings about her by speaking to the details of her life. Many people had told me that Mom was amazing or wonderful, but those words don't trigger memories or touch feelings. The specific things Mom did are what bring to life what was amazing and wonderful about her.

In her tribute to Mom, Christy evoked our feelings about Mom's tenderness, not by telling us Mom was caring and leaving it to us to figure out what made her so kind, but by writing the specific details of how Mom cared for her when she was ill. You can read her piece, "The Land of Counterpane", here.

I bring this up because the Deke and I listened to Malcolm Gladwell's exploration of sad songs in Episode 6 of Season 2 of Revisionist History, "The King of Tears" found here. Gladwell got to wondering what makes us cry when a song moves us to tears and the Deke and I took great pleasure in learning that Malcolm Gladwell's discussion and the way we've talked about this question are similar.

2. In Season 2 of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell presented four episodes that explore different dimensions of the history of civil rights in the United States, or put another way, of racial conflict in our country. If you look at the list of episodes of Season 2, found here, I'm referring to Episodes 3, 4, 7, and 8. The Deke and I had already listened to Episodes 3 and 4 and today we listened to 7 and 8. The prominent voice in these two episodes belongs to Vernon Jordan and both episodes narrate the work of Vernon Jordan's mentor, Donald Hollowell.   I experience history not so much as a study of the past, but as a study of continuation. So, when I listened to these episodes, I didn't hear them telling me stories about things that happened back then and are over with, but as stories that help us understand the present.

3. The Deke and I listened to one more podcast before we went uptown and visited friends at Radio Brewing and the Inland Lounge. We listened to Episode 46 of Gravy, found here. The episode tells the story of Booker Wright. He was a waiter at Lusco's, a restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi that only served white customers. Booker Wright was black. Booker Wright was interviewed for an NBC television documentary, made in 1965, that explored racial tensions in the Mississippi Delta. Booker Wright, who also owned his own cafe and juke joint, spoke openly about the indignities he experienced at Lusco's, revealing the feelings hidden behind the perpetual smile he presented at Lusco's for the sake of the comfort of the customers he served. He suffered dire consequences for what he said.

The episode also explores the opera oratorio that tells Booker Wright's story, entitled Repast.

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