Review: Under Running Laughter

Written by Dean Jones

That Darn Cat was Hayley Mills’ last movie for Walt Disney, and Dean Jones’ first. Hayley Mills moved on, but Dean Jones remained a Disney star for the next decade. He presented the perfect Disney image: clean-cut, handsome, all-American.

Behind the image was a wild life, a man going through an endless line of beautiful women and risking his life in motorcycle stunts and speeding cars. And hidden in the midst of fame, money and reckless pleasure was his “very private hell”.

This book, as Dean Jones wrote in the foreword, is not primarily about his journey from Alabama boy to movie star, or about Hollywood. Jones starts his autobiography in the late 1960s. He does flash back once or twice, but it is always brief. Those years were ones of professional triumph for Jones; The Love Bug came out then. In 1970 he starred in a smash Broadway hit. He left the show after only a few months, because, as he told a friend, “Nothing but nothing is half as good as you expect.”

There is an anecdote that poignantly illustrates this time in Dean Jones’ life. After he became a Christian he found, going through a pile of mementos, an old picture of his daughter:

Deanna took a stance like a tiny prizefighter, though her hands were down, and looked directly into my camera lens. “Tell me something, Daddy,” she seemed to say. “Tell me something good and true and lasting.”

“Daddy didn’t know anything good or true or lasting, little angel,” I replied out loud.

Daddy didn’t know anything good or true or lasting. Not when his daughters were little; not for years before or after.

Once, preparing for a theater stint, Dean Jones looked across thousands of empty seats, and a voice whispered in his mind, This will never satisfy you. It turned to a refrain: all the trappings of being a star, the applause, the money, the women – This will never satisfy you. Later, alone in the theater, he thought, Someday I’ll kill myself. Not tonight, not next week, but someday I’ll put a shotgun in my mouth, like Hemingway, and blow the top of my head off.

A few days later, the pain and futility of all his adult life sent Dean Jones back to the God he had once rejected, with only “pitiful pleadings for shelter and asylum”.

When Jones told his girlfriend that he gave his life to God, she asked, “You’re not going to change, are you?”

Oh, I hope so, he thought. I sincerely hope so.

In truth, it was a long road. For a year he bobbed back and forth between joy and discouragement, spiritual progress and defeat. Then, with his marriage, the change began. He and his wife began attending church, and that was when his new faith really took root and began to grow. Still, the battles continued. The following chapters track a long period of often painful change and healing.

I suppose Dean Jones authored his autobiography alone. I could find no other name on it. It covers roughly a decade and, at 185 pages, doesn’t do so exhaustively. But the book doesn’t feel rushed, or undetailed. Dean Jones tells the story he wants to tell, and it doesn’t need accounts of his hit movies or the famous people he knew.

At the end of the book, Jones tells a friend, “You get tired of my making everything a big deal, but if you won’t let me talk about your experience, then I’ll talk about mine. God has taken this depressed, self-centered, completely empty person and filled me with a capacity to love beyond myself. He’s caused me to love all three of you more than my own life. And that’s a miracle – the greatest miracle imaginable.”

That is the story he tells in Under Running Laughter. He relates profound experiences, fascinating stories, a conversation with Walt Disney and daredevil stunts – but it’s all flowing together to the same end. Under Running Laughter is a story of God’s healing and redemption, taking broken and sin-scarred humans and filling them with His goodness and love.

Music Review: Celtic Thunder: Act Two

I’m going to review this CD song by song, and then give a (very brief) overall conclusion.

  1. “Ride On” The story in this song is rather vague, but the music isn’t. It catches you from the beginning, harsh as folk music goes.
  2. “A Bird Without Wings” A lovely song of devotion. I would think it religious except for lines like, “Till you’re home again/and hug me so tight.” The lyrics are written very well, and sometimes even poetically.
  3. “My Boy” Here a man sings about how he and his wife don’t love each other, and their home is unhappy, and life isn’t a fairy tale, and if he stays it will be for his son … Depressing. Who needs it?
  4. “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” This one reminds me of “Ride On” (good music, unfinished story) and “Gypsy Rover” (singing gypsies in Ireland!). The lyrics are catchy, but not nearly as catchy as the music.
  5. “Love Thee Dearest” Paul, Celtic Thunder’s opera singer, does this one, and it fits. It’s a nice song.
  6. “I Want to Know What Love Is” A kind of love song, sad, searching, determined, hopeful. I’ve taken a liking to it.
  7. “Heartbreaker” One word: Skip.
  8. “Mull of Kintyre” This has the feel of an Irish folk song, though it was written in the 70s and the Mull of Kintyre is, in fact, Scottish. I think it’s the longing for home that makes it sound Irish, that and the word “mull”.
  9. “Nights in White Satin” A classic of the 60s, sung by the opera singer. It’s called “Nights in White Satin”, and his rendition is velvet – soft and rich.
  10. “Young Love” A bright, happy love song, clean of angst.
  11. “Yesterday’s Men” Another bad one, unfortunately, spoiled by the use of swearing.
  12. “That’s A Woman” This song is divided into two parts – one an idealistic view of women, the second a cynical. I’ll go beyond that: A misogynistic view of women. Overall Celtic Thunder is a good group, but this is a strike against them: Two songs that showcase a degenerate attitude toward women.
  13. “Danny Boy” An old Irish classic. The best word to describe Celtic Thunder’s rendition is “unique”. There is no music. One member sings the lyrics while the others underlay it with background vocals. There is no interlude, presumably because a capella singing is one thing and a capella interludes are another.
  14. “Caledonia” The singer has wandered, in more sense than one, but now his heart hears Caledonia’s call and he’s going home. The music is appealing, and the lyrics are poignant as they deal with the longing of home, the wandering and the return.
  15. “Heartland” The refrain is Gaelic; the verses are a prayer for safety from the storm. There is a haunting quality to this song, especially the introductory music. It also has percussion; the music – and the words being a sailor’s prayer – lend this song a masculine feel. An exceptional song, the words lucid and meaningful, the music strong without being harsh or heavy.
  16. “Castles in the Air” The end of a romance, because he’s tired of castles in the air. It’s sung to a guitar, but it would have been better if there were accompaniment. Still: An enjoyable song, half about lost love, half about the dream he wants the world to share.
  17. “Christmas 1915” One of the most compelling stories of World War I is the “soldier’s truce” built on the front lines between the opposing armies. They killed each other before Christmas and after, but that day they sang carols in no-man’s land and climbed out of their trenches. “Christmas 1915”, like the incident it’s based on, is sad and beautiful.

So, the brief conclusion: It’s worth it.

Tidbits

Once I wrote a story about a painter. During my research I found some interesting stuff about the personality traits of painters. Now I’m writing a story about a scientist, and last night I tried to turn up some information about their personality traits. Instead, I kept running into articles with titles like, “Are Personality Traits Genetic?” I did, however, get a few  kicks out of it:


In contemporary psychology, the “Big Five” factors (or Five Factor Model; FFM) of personality are five broad domains or dimensions of personality which are used to describe human personality.

The Big five factors are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. – Wikipedia

I guess “Neuroticism” is the part psychologists are always seeing.

Childhood Personality Traits Predict Adult Behavior

No. Really?

Jedi Mind Tricks: Scientists Probe the Psychology of Darth Vader

First paragraph: Anakin Skywalker’s eventual transformation into Darth Vader might have more to do with psychological issues than the Force, researchers hint.

Last paragraphs:

But like any good doctor, [Eric Bui, a psychiatrist at Toulouse University Hospital in France] also has a treatment recommendation.

“I believe that psychotherapy would have helped Anakin and might have prevented him from turning to the dark side,” Bui said. “Using the dark side of the Force could be considered as similar to drug use: It feels really good when you use it, it alters your consciousness and you know you shouldn’t do it.”

I want a job where I get paid to diagnose the mental problems of imaginary people. And then prescribe treatment.

Come to think of it, a novelist’s job pretty much does consist of the problems of imaginary people, doesn’t it?

Does Your Fish Have a Personality?

Here’s how you figure it out: If you can’t tell whether or not your fish has a personality, the answer is no.

Review: Dragon and Slave

Written by Timothy Zahn

In the third Dragonback adventure, the quest continues and the ideas get crazier. Jack couldn’t unlock the secrets he was after by becoming a mercenary. Now he tries to do it by becoming a slave. And the “I’ll sneak in, hack their computers, and be gone before something bad happens” plan works no better this time.

The tension between what Jack was taught to be and what Draycos was taught to be remains. Jack’s attitude toward the moral code Draycos lives by – and wants Jack to live by – is half-yielding, half-resisting. But in an interesting and realistic touch, it begins to work the other way, too. The dragon starts to feel, ever so slightly, Jack’s influence over him.

The largest moral issue of this book is, of course, slavery. This is one moral question our society answers right unanimously, but all truths bear repeating, and Zahn goes deeper into the evil of slavery than many. He shows that it enslaves people’s spirits as well as their bodies, crushing not only the hope for freedom but sometimes even the desire.

The story takes some sharp twists, and early elements come back with surprising relevance at the end. I found Dragon and Slave ingenuous in many places. Threads of the first book come weaving in again; the story speeds onward.

Zahn makes two references worth noting. He mentions a group called the “Daughters of Harriet Tubman”. Draycos wondered what that was and Jack didn’t know, but we do: Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who became an abolitionist and a leader in the Underground Railroad. Later on Zahn quotes – though he doesn’t credit – Jesus Christ: “Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven …”

One of the trademarks of these books is an often-unique set of similes and metaphors. Uncle Virgil is as slippery as greased ice, and Jack worries about the mustard hitting the wiener, and the slavemaster wants to turn someone’s ship into Christmas tinsel, and the room lit up like a Sirian moon. Draycos, K’da warrior, tends to a more formal style, but he has been hearing the language mainly from Jack. Thus he solemnly warns, “Then we shall be burned cinnamon bagels.” (Jack corrects – and then modifies – the assessment: Burned cinnamon toast, butter side down.)

Dragon and Slave brings us halfway through the Dragonback series, and the quality is still running high.

Missouri Votes

Yesterday Missouri went to the polls, and yesterday was hot. In my part of the state the temperature was 99 at its peak and stayed over 90 until after sundown. And nearly a million people went out into the heat to vote.

Proposition C (the Missouri Health Care Freedom Act) was up for a vote, and more people voted on the referendum than on the candidates. Prop C passed with a 71% majority. The federal government will almost certainly sue Missouri for passing a law written in contradiction to ObamaCare, and pundits and politicians are already arguing the significance of what happened. In coming days we’ll learn the full meaning of yesterday’s vote.