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Carole King and Beautiful

A few weeks ago, I saw Beautiful, the musical about the life and career of singer-songwriter Carole King. I really enjoyed it on multiple levels.

Before the show, I basically only knew Carole King from the Gilmore Girls theme song, which I sing to my daughter all the time. Where you lead, I will follow…

Turns out, King was sort of Taylor Swift before there even was a Taylor Swift. Her career began in her teens, and she wrote tons of oldies hits that I love. “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” and many more.

At first she was primarily a composer, writing the music on her piano, while her husband penned the lyrics. Other artists and groups recorded their songs. Later in life, King and her husband divorced, and she began to write in a deeply personal style and record those songs herself.

I think what struck me most was that, despite working in pop/rock and roll, King was always a self-described “square,” and very comfortable with that. She had extraordinary talent and a healthy level of ambition, but she was also very down to earth. She didn’t want to be stylish or sexy or cool, she just wanted to be herself. A good wife and mother. A successful songwriter.

King’s story reminds me that you can do both.

(Which isn’t necessarily the same as “having it all.” I think the musical does a good job of showing that it isn’t easy. There are sacrifices and costs.)

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Quotes on love and writing

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“Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. [That] has to mean something.”

“Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet.”

“I want to write. I want to write stories that make people feel less alone than I did. I want to make people laugh about the things in life that are painful.”

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Unexpected delights

A couple years ago, Andy and I decided to get season tickets to our local Broadway series, along with another married couple we’re friends with. It’s the perfect excuse for all of us to take a step back from our busy schedules and catch up with one another, enjoy some good food, and support and appreciate the arts.

In that time, we’ve seen a lot of good shows — and a couple not-so-good ones — but there are two that I can easily single out as my favorites so far.

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Like the band Death Cab for Cutie, the musical Kinky Boots has a name that intimidated me. I was bracing myself for something very provocative and in-your-face. Instead, I found myself quickly charmed by a story about shoes, fathers, friendship, and being true to oneself.

The musical numbers are clever and catchy, and personally, I can relate to Charlie’s struggle between following his own path versus taking over the family business.

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Apparently there was a movie version first, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I love. It was available on Netflix, so I watched and liked it, but still prefer the musical.

And the whole thing is based on a true story, one that might be particularly relevant to today’s political climate: A small shoe factory in a working class English town, reluctantly partnering with a group of drag queens in the hopes of weathering an economic downturn. Hmm, what parallels could we possibly draw from that…?

The other show I’ve loved most so far is Something Rotten, a hilarious satire of celebrity culture, the writing process, and musicals themselves.

The show is full of inside jokes for a theater- and literature-loving crowd. I laughed nearly from start to finish. Shakespeare as the ultimate douchebag celebrity is hysterical, and trying to identify all the shows spoofed in the song “A Musical” is quite the game.

As lighthearted as it sounds, Something Rotten also has heart. I appreciated the brotherly bond, the sweet little romantic subplot, and the shoutout for feminism.

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Purposeful imperfection

A couple weeks ago, my friend Mary was visiting me, and she shared a cool anecdote from her family trip to Turkey.

They were touring a rug factory and learning about the traditional process of hand-weaving, when their guide mentioned that because the weavers tend to be Muslim, they believe that only Allah is perfect, and thus they purposely weave imperfections into each of their rugs, out of respect.

They intentionally mess up.

Now, in fairness, these imperfections are probably too minor to be noticed. But still!

This practice reminds me of the Japanese concept of kintsukuroi — or “fixing with gold” — even though they’re a bit different. One is about embracing imperfections; the other is about deliberately creating them. But both go beyond the idea of simply accepting flaws, and that’s fascinating to me, especially on a creative level.

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Here’s to the fools who dream

Over Christmas, my parents came to visit, which meant that Andy and I were able to sneak away for a few hours while they watched the baby. First we dined at our friend’s new restaurant, which was amazingly delicious, and then we went to see La La Land, which I really enjoyed.

  • The colors. From the opening scene to the final montage, the film makes really good use of vibrant color. It’s a refreshing choice for a “serious” film, particularly in contrast to the dark tones that seem to dominate current popular media. I especially loved the visual of Emma Stone’s character dancing with her roommates, each in a different brightly hued dress, the four women moving in prismacolor around their apartment and through the street.
  • The chemistry. I was already a big fan of both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and this film really underscored why. Ryan is naturally suave and radiates charm. Emma’s doe eyes captivate. She’s also in that special category of actress whose face can convey a hundred subtle things without her having to speak a single word. In every movie I’ve seen with either of these two in it, they manage to inhabit their roles in a way that somehow makes me forget who they really are, and yet simultaneously feel like no one else could play the part so well.
  • The theme. Most of all, I loved that this movie was about the ups and downs of creative life, and the costs and rewards of pursuing your passion. Obviously that is a topic that hits quite close to home. I found myself in tears, not over the love story, but over the hopes and hurdles that the two characters face throughout their careers.

It wasn’t a perfect film, but it was fresh and ambitious and intentional. I can only hope that people would say the same about my work.

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make

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