Friday, January 28, 2011

Rocket Boys & Tiger Moms

Day 354 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and Kim is reading Rocket Boys, a memoir by Homer Hickam, Jr., to avoid reading the next book-club book too soon, lest she forget important details before we discuss it.  (Likewise, I am reading other things first, including some wonderful poetry!)

Rocket Boys is part of a trilogy of memoirs, along with The Coalwood Way and Sky of Stone, about growing up in a coal-mining town (Coalwood) in West Virginia.  Rocket Boys was made into the film October Sky, and Wikipedia tells me that is 1) an anagram of "rocket boys" and 2) also a phrase from the Sputnik days, when the Russian rocket was announced on radio as being seen in the "October sky."  Neato!

Two random coincidii:

1) President Obama just mentioned Sputnik in the State of the Union address.  "This is our Sputnik moment."  Our wake-up call to re-invent ourselves and improve our education, once again, especially in the areas of science and math.  And I think Tiger Mom would be happy to set our alarm clocks!

2) Rocket Boys is also now a musical comedy (who knew?!--Wikipedia, of course, and probably Julie of A Follow Spot), headed from regional theatre to Broadway.  Julie, have you run across Rocket Boys in your theatre-going/reporting?!

I visited my mom yesterday, to take her a book (and some plays from Julie), and she had just been reading about Tiger Mom in Time magazine--that is, about the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua--and we discussed theories of childrearing and coaching as they were pertinent in our own American lives, as neither of us has yet read the book.  We tend not to voice opinions or judgments about books we haven't read, unlike a lot of Americans!

Anyhoo, so last night I saw Stephen Colbert talk to Amy Chua about it on The Colbert Report, and that was fun. She called the book a "self parody," had a sense of humor, and also said she was "humbled" by her experience as a mom, especially when her second daughter didn't take so well to the strict Chinese parenting style she was using and basically rebelled.  Both daughters were in the audience, and Colbert asked, "Are you OK?"  He is so funny.  (You can see more about Time's coverage and the Colbert episode here, and the whole show at Comedy Central.)

Of course, all this somehow connects to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the musical comedy I saw half of last night.  Howard Keel, as Adam, is a redheaded, red-bearded man, with six brothers of similar hairage, until Jane Powell, as Milly, Adam's new bride, makes them all shave.  Yes, she's sort of a tiger mom.

I don't think I ever saw this movie before (it was definitely made before I was born), but I had seen clips of some of the famous dancing. And I used to watch Here Come the Brides on tv, which seems clearly based on this movie as well as its civilization-of-Seattle-after-the-Civil-War historical components.  Bobby Sherman was in Here Come the Brides!  As Jeremy, a character with a charming stammer!  Briefly cured by a traveling con artist! (Suddenly both The King's Speech and The Music Man come to mind!)

And here's another interesting connection. Seven Brides was based on a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet, called "The Sobbin' Women," itself based on The Rape of the Sabine Women of Roman legend.  Wikipedia assures us that "rape" here means "abduction," as it does in the musical comedy The Fantasticks, but 1) they changed the song called "Rape" when they made the film version of The Fantasticks and 2) whether in Seattle, the generalized American frontier, or ancient Rome, it appears that men feel fine about taking women by force. At least here, as in Paint Your Wagon, there is 1) singing and dancing involved and 2) amazing respect for the woman's wishes after the fact.

But there are also some wonderful accounts in writing and film of women who went west to homestead, answering men's advertisements in search of wives, getting to know each other a bit in letters first, or just taking the big risk. I like the sound of an adventure involving more choice than force, though circumstances can indeed "force" certain choices. Then, of course, there is the "tiger mom" aspect of the Sabine women themselves, who are depicted in this painting by Jacques-Louis David, sometimes called The Intervention of the Sabine Women, as running between the fighting men and making peace.


Maureen said...

I have seen the Howard Keel version of Seven Brides. I'm old but was young when I saw it, and remember picking out some of the songs on the piano for days after.

As my only is now 22, I'll think I'll leave crouching tigers to lie.

Kim said...

I was born the same week that Sputnik was launched (and that the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA). I did not realize that Rocket Boys was part of a trilogy! The Tale for Two Cities event this year does not seem to involve the author coming to speak (what?) but an astronaut, Scott Altman, is going to give a presentation at Heartland Community College on March 12th

Marcoantonio Arellano (Nene) said...

Great piece, Kathleen. You touched on a few issues that are quite important to me.
First: West Va and it's wanton unmitigated destruction of the beautiful landscape.
Second: Love your 'tiger mom' reference of setting our alarm clock for the expediting of educating our children. I'm elated at your being fair about mentioning Amy Chua's voicing reference to her book as "self parody" on the Colbert Report show (derivative of the Jon Stewart Show, where I get most of my news). I like your context reference 'choice over force but some circumstances forcing certain choices'. I appreciate Amy Chua's world perspective which is probably more expansive in world experience of issues and definitely more erudite than most of her critics.
Lastly: Love your reference of Jaques-Louis David's 'The Intervention of the Sabine Women' as an analogy to all this with your subtle ability to inject a secondary underpinning of a woman stepping in, making peace.

'true dat'

Homer Hickam said...

I hope you enjoy Rocket Boys, Kathleen. More can be found on it and my other books at Kim, as for the Tale for Two Cities, I wasn't invited as far as I know. I have a fairly high speech fee (I am handled by Greater Talent Network in New York) but I usually will negotiate for something reasonable if a city chooses one of my books for its annual read. Persistence pays off here as in all things.

Kathleen said...

Thanks for comments, all!

Homer, how nice to hear from you. I hope Kim will pursue the libraries and bring you here! We loved hearing the author of Outcasts United speak last year, and Mary Doria Russell in a previous year!

But an astronaut is certainly a rocket boy, too!

Homer Hickam said...

I take your meaning, Kathleen, and, indeed, astronauts are fine folks but they are not Coalwood, West Virginia boys, a perhaps subtle but important difference. It's sort of like having a steamboat crew member come talk about Huckleberry Finn. You may hear a lot about steamboats but you will miss the important elements of what makes the book interesting and important. But librarians generally know best so I'm sure all will be fine.

Kathleen said...

I'm hoping Kim will get the librarians after you!! (Watch out.)

JulieK said...

I don't know anything about "Rocket Boys: The Musical," but it sounds like fun. I *have* seen "Seven Brides for Seven Brides: The Musical" and I'm afraid it's rather awful. There are obvious problems in the book (of the musical) that we are willing to overlook (okay, *I'm* willing to overlook) in the film because of when it was made (1954, as opposed to 1982 for the stage version) and the wonderful Michael Kidd choreography and dandy performances from hunky Howard Keel and feisty Joan Powell (who I got to see in person in Sondheim's "Bounce" at the Goodman, where my niece just got a job yesterday. More coincidences! Or strands of connection. Or something!)

So... On screen, the story works for me. On stage, not so much. The biggest problem is the addition of turgid power ballads by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn in an attempt to pump up the original Gene de Paul/Johnny Mercer film music, which has a whole different style. Since turgid Broadway power ballads are popular with a lot of other people (in "Wicked," for one) maybe that's just my problem. Anyway, on stage, I'm afraid "Seven Brides" seemed pretty sluggish and sludgy to me, and not at all like the fun, barndancy film musical where the Catwoman, Julie Newmar, prances around in Victorian underwear.

Kathleen said...

Alas, there was some digital frigidity before I got to see Julie Newmar...but I will see if I can get the DVD to skip ahead and see a bit more of this film.