‘Good Will Hunting’ – Film Review and Analysis

What happens when you bring together two of the best actors of the modern age who meet at just the right time in their careers? The short answer is that you get some old-fashioned movie making magic. Both men have made their mark on Hollywood and this film that they carry together is one of the reasons for that happening. While a generation sets them apart, their commitment to the craft of acting shines through in this classic film that takes place in the city of Boston where I currently reside titled ‘Good Will Hunting.’

‘Good Will Hunting’, released in 1997, over twenty years ago is a film that I have gone back to again and again throughout the years since I grew up with it in a way. As I have gotten older, the themes of the film stick with me more and more. This film is a timeless piece that a lot of people, especially young men, can relate to. While it’s not a blockbuster and isn’t a mainstream favorite, it carries deep messages regarding relationships, dealing with the future, and learning to love and trust other people.

The two actors that I was referring to earlier are Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Both men are known for their more popular roles in movies like ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and ‘Good Morning, Vietnam for Mr. Williams and ‘The Bourne Trilogy’ movies and ‘The Departed’ for Mr. Damon. Unlike those other movies, I believe that this movie really shows off the talent of these two men and how they’re able to push each other in emotionally trying roles. On top of those two performances, Gus Van Sant is an excellent director who does a great job of filming this movie set in late 1990s Boston.

As if that weren’t enough, you have a great cast of supporting actors including Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver (has she been in any major movies since?), Stellan Skarsgard, and Casey Affleck of Manchester-by-the-Sea fame who really add depth and substance to this movie. These character-driven movies such as ‘Good Will Hunting’ are usually the hardest to make but if done right, they really stay with the viewer long after the film is over. They really capture different moods, emotions, and feelings and this one in particular captures the struggles inherent in being a brilliant mind in a troubled world.

The title of this film ‘Good Will Hunting’ is based off the name of its main character, Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) a 20-year old, born and raised in South Boston. You would think from this description that he’s just a regular guy but Mr. Hunting was born with the innate gift of having genius level intellect. He has few possessions except for hundreds of books from Foucault to Shakespeare. He’s an avid book reader but has a specialty in solving advanced mathematical equations that few others in the world can figure out. You would think that this college-aged guy would be working on advanced mathematics at MIT or CalTech but he’s not an enrolled student there or anywhere for that matter.

Will Hunting has had a rough upbringing in that his parents abandoned him when he was a baby and he grew up in foster homes where his foster father abused him physically multiple times. Abandoned by those people who were supposed to love and cherish him, Will, for good reason has a fear of abandonment and does not trust other people. His social interactions are limited because of the abusive childhood he endured but he is happy with his group of three friends: Billy, Morgan, and his best friend Chuckie. While Will does not have many friends, he would do anything for his three neighborhood buddies who he grew up with and he literally considers them to be his family.

While Will’s friends are loyal, they are not the best influence on him and they can be crass, crude, and spend too much time drinking. The group’s antics lead Will into a fight against some neighborhood miscreants, which draws the attention of the local police. Will, acting out his aggression violently, ends up assaulting a police officer causing him to do mandatory community service and therapy sessions. Will, a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, works after hours to help clean the bathrooms and empty the waste paper baskets. Unbeknownst to both students and professors alike, Will in his spare time has been going around solving advanced Math equations that the regular MIT graduate students can’t even begin to conceive a solution for. One night, Will is caught in the act as he gets caught doing an extremely difficult problem that no one else has solved yet. Professor Lambeau of the Mathematics department discovers Will solving this problem and calls after him to no avail but with a four-letter crude response from Mr. Hunting.

Professor Lambeau does Will a huge favor and gets him out of some serious jail time for assaulting the police officer. In exchange for his favor, Will has to sit and work with Professor Lambeau on advanced mathematics in a mutual exchange. Professor Lambeau is fascinated by Will’s brilliance but it appears to the audience that he cares more just about Will’s brain than who he is as a person. Professor Lambeau tries to get Will to open up to different psychiatrists but Will messes with all of them and doesn’t take his therapy sessions seriously. Lambeau, out of options, goes to an old friend from his college days at MIT, Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams), who now teaches psychology at Bunker Hill Community College and is also a licensed therapist.

Despite a few sessions where Will is argumentative and closed off, Sean is able to break down Will’s defensive mechanisms partly by talking about his own rough upbringing. Sean was beat by his alcoholic father while he was a child. In an effort to protect his mother and little brother, Sean would endure the brunt of his father’s anger and vitriol. The two men bond over the fact that they have a high intellect, have both grown up in Boston, share a love of the Red Sox, have had rough upbringings, and can be a bit closed off from their loved ones.

Will is going through a transition period in his young life where he is starting to think about a future beyond just getting drunk with his buddies and hiding his talents from the world. He is also trying his best to form healthy relationships with not only his friends but in his love life too. Instead of endlessly pursuing casual one-night stands, Will finds a girl one night at a Harvard bar whom peaks his interest named Skylar (played by Minnie Driver). Despite them coming from very different family backgrounds as well as her being born into wealth, they share a love for learning and have the same sense of humor. Most important to Will in all of this courting is that she likes his friends and that means a lot to him since they have essentially been his family his whole life.

The problem that Will struggles with in terms of his relationships whether its romantic with Skylar or personal with Sean is that he can’t open up to them about his being abused as a child due to a mixture of shame, guilt, and anger. He turns his emotional pain outward and directs that anger at society, the past therapists, Professor Lambeau, and even at Will and Skylar. Will is self-conscious about his genius and is not sure he wants to have a prestigious office job or even to leave his home city of Boston. He says to his best friend, Chuckie, at one point that he doesn’t “feel like doing long division in a room for the rest of my life.”

However, what Will realizes is that he’s not the center of the world. With the help of Sean and Skylar, he learns eventually that while his life has been tragic, that should not prevent him from reaching his true potential and that he is literally “bound by nothing.” He’s a genius of great intellectual capacity who can change the world in a number of ways. Will has a great gift that a lot of people would kill to have including his best friend, Chuckie. As Chuckie puts to Will bluntly towards the end of the movie, “You’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket and you’re too chicken to cash in on it.” Chuckie tells Will that he’ll essentially be working construction until he retires which is fine because he doesn’t have Will has and that Will owes it not only to himself but to him and his other buddies to do more with his life.

Sean also is the father figure that Will never had and is able to give him tough life. Sean was also abused as a child and knows where Will is coming from. However, he has to learn how to put the past behind him and to not blame himself for what had happened because it simply wasn’t his fault. Will was an innocent child and can’t be blamed for such a horrific event. Will has to learn again how to be emotionally open and vulnerable with the people who care about him like Sean and Skylar. Will had lost the inability to love and be loved but it’s never too late to get that back.

The mentorship of Sean throughout the film helps to bring Will around and the time they share together in the therapy sessions make them true friends. Sean is able to tell Will that he is not so special in the fact that his life has been extraordinarily difficult. Sean, himself, fought in the Vietnam War as a young man and had his best friend there die in his arms. He also lost his wife, the one true love of his to a long battle with cancer years ago and hasn’t been able to become romantically involved with anyone since then. However, he implores Will to also see the beauty in life such as in the form of a woman who can ‘level you with her eyes’ and be your own angel.

There are also the wonders of the world that Will can experience such as how it smells in the Sistine Chapel in Italy.    Will may be an intellectual genius but he still has a lot to learn about the beauty and ugliness of life. Sean’s experiences help to enlighten Will about what life is all about and how to persevere through the struggles and setbacks that are inevitable. Both men have their inner demons to battle but they encourage each other to become better, to strive for more, and to live good lives. With Will’s urging, Sean is also ready to put his tragic past behind him to begin anew. He sets out to travel the world, meet a special someone like Will has with Skylar, and truly live life again.

The positive mentorship between Will and Sean is a beautiful thing to see develop over the course of the film. To see true friendship between the two and the chemistry that Damon and Williams have in their scenes together makes ‘Good Will Hunting’ a really special movie. Similar to ‘Lost In Translation’, it’s also nice to see a true romance between Will and Skylar develop as well that starts out very inconspicuously. It’s a young, innocent kind of love that is beautiful to watch and it’s both real and raw to see with how much they truly care for each other and want to best for one another. One of the best lines in the film that Will and Sean both use for courting the special women in their lives is “Sorry, I had to go see about a girl.” Is there anything in modern cinema that can compare to this phrase so simple yet so full of meaning? I don’t think so.

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Book Recommendations – Volume V

Similarly to the months to come during the heart of wintertime, the current summer season is a great chance to catch up on reading new books or books you have yet to finish. Whether you’re at the beach, hanging out in the backyard, or are going on a long road trip, reading a good book is a good way to pass the time.

My last ‘Book Recommendations’ post came in February so it’s time for another volume of recommendations for you to consider when it comes to your next book purchases. While you may not be interested in the same book genres or same authors as myself, I still encourage you to read a book before the end of the summer. Whether it’s through Amazon, your local mom and pop bookstore, or at a book fair, you owe it to yourself to put down the iPhone and pick up a good book instead.

1.) Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden (2001) is a non-fiction, and detailed take on the combined efforts by the Colombian and United States governments to bring down the infamous Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel. Mr. Bowden, known foremost for his take on the Battle of Mogadishu between U.S. special forces and Somali militants in the critically acclaimed novel, Black Hawk Down (1999) is a great journalist with over thirty years of covering recent events involving war, peace, and international affairs.

Mr. Bowden is a reporter and a journalist who does his research when it comes to Killing Pablo, and this book is a real page-turner. The author covers both the early years of Pablo’s empire to his international rise as the #1 drug kingpin in the world to his eventual downfall at the home of Search Bloc and Los Pepes. With many interviews from U.S. and Colombian government officials, as well as a lot of research into the terrible events that transpired in the 1980s and 1990s, Mark Bowden gives a comprehensive account of the manhunt for Pablo Escobar, and how his eventual death came to be.

There is often a lot of speculation and rumors surrounding the Medellin cartel that are unfounded which is why reading ‘Killing Pablo’ is a refreshing take on what really happened and who was involved in the drug kingpin’s demise. This is a great book if you’re interested in learning the true story behind the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar.

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Killing Pablo: The Hunt for The World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden

2. Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is an excellent and comprehensive look at each of the world’s major bodies of water, and how they each affect world geopolitics in different ways.

With over thirty years of experience in the United States Navy having commandeered every kind of amphibious vessel that you can think of, Admiral Stavridis has the life experience and intellectual background necessary to make this book quite a compelling read. As the only admiral in the history of NATO to serve as its’ Supreme Allied Commander, Mr. Stavridis is well poised to look at the state of the world through its’ largest and most valuable commodity, the oceans and the seas that make up over 70% of this planet.

If you’re new to geopolitics or don’t know much about the significance of the world’s oceans, Admiral Stavridis breaks down the history, the culture, and the geopolitical importance of each body of water throughout the book. From the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, the author discusses who are the countries involved in the area, what should the role of the United States be, and how can we ensure that this body of water stays conflict free, and friendly to international commerce into the far future.

Since the release of this book in June of 2017, it has risen to the top of many best sellers’ lists and for good reason. In a geopolitical area that doesn’t get much focus, Admiral Stavridis reminds us of the sheer importance of the world’s oceans and seas. In a 21st century world filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, The admiral’s book is a clear-cut, well-reasoned take on the geopolitics of the oceans, and how their collective future is tied to each and every one of us.

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Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

3. The Quiet American by Graham Greene is an exceptional book that is well written, has deep and complex characters, and involves a time period in world history that is often overlooked. The novel takes place during the early 1950s as the French Army is entangled in skirmishes and indirect conflict with the Vietminh. Meanwhile, the new presence of American aid workers including a young economic attaché, Alden Pyle, whose motives for being in French colonial-era Vietnam are considered to be suspect to the narrator, a British journalist named Thomas Fowler. Not only do the two men come into conflict regarding the future of Western influence in Vietnam but they also are at odds in a romantic triangle with a Vietnamese woman known as Phuong.

The two main characters, Fowler and Pyle, could not be more different in their outlook. Fowler is cynical about the West’s involvement in Vietnam, and is jaded by politics and war. Pyle is a young, idealistic, and naïve American who is reserved in his personal manners, but is unafraid to interfere in Vietnamese affairs by acting as a ‘third force’ to help bring change to the country by economic and military means.

Phuong is the young Vietnamese woman who is caught between Fowler and Pyle, as she is desired by both men but for different reasons. While Fowler regards her simply as his lover, Pyle wants to protect her. It is implied in the book that Pyle’s desire for Phuong is reflected in his desire to have a non-communist South Vietnam through any means necessary. Fowler does not go along with Pyle’s thinking and regards his belief in ‘American exceptionalism’ to be shortsighted.

An interesting novel and an engaging read, The Quiet American has become a mainstay in popular fictional literature and has been adapted into two major motion pictures, one in 1958, and more recently in 2002, which starred Michael Caine (Fowler) and Brendan Fraser (Pyle). This fictional novel is based off of real events in the 1950s when French colonial rule in Vietnam was coming to an end.

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The Quiet American by Graham Greene

While reading books during the summer season may seem like a chore to some people, for others, it’s a great time to kick back, relax, and dive into different genres, and characters that offer a refreshing reprieve from the humdrum of our busy lives.

 

Hyde Park on the Hudson

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Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Hyde Park, New York – Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and The Culinary Institute of America

‘Field of Dreams’ – Film Review and Analysis

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“Oh…People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Field of Dreams is a quintessential classic American film and a movie that gets better with repeated viewings. Field of Dreams is almost thirty years old but has aged like a fine wine since it was released in 1989. This film is a unique mixture of the fantasy, sports, and drama genres and shows how crucial the game of baseball is to American culture. While some people who watch Field of Dreams think that this film is an original story, it is actually based off a novel by W.P. Kinsella titled, ‘Shoeless Joe’, which was critically acclaimed as well.

Part of the reason why Field of Dreams was so successful is because of the great cast of actors and actresses that helped make the film so popular. This was one of Kevin Costner’s most famous roles and also stars Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and the late and legendary Burt Lancaster who starred in his final role in this movie. Another fact that most fans of this film wouldn’t know about is that Field of Dreams was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

Of all the places in the world to hear a voice whisper the phrase, “If you build it, he will come…” a large cornfield in the middle of Iowa wouldn’t be your first guess most likely. However, that is exactly the premise behind Field of Dreams. A local farmer, Ray Kinsella, who has a troubled relationship with his father, John Kinsella, a former baseball player who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps feels guilt at what a strained relationship he had with his father before he passed away.

Ray then sees a vision of his cornfield being turned into a baseball field and decides to go along with this vision by turning his farm into a real baseball field. Ray is an adamant defender of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson who believes he was actually innocent and didn’t do anything wrong despite the fact that he was banned from baseball due to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Ray’s father, John, was also a big defender of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and that’s the one major thing that Ray and his father could agree upon. His daughter, Karin, and his wife, Annie, are skeptical of Ray’s plan to build a baseball field at first but end up trusting his judgment after some convincing.

After Ray completes the building of his baseball field in Iowa, many months go by and the bills for maintaining the field start to pile up causing Ray and his family to feel some serious financial stress. When all hope seems to be lost regarding his vision, Karin spots a baseball player moving through the baseball field one night and Ray recognizes the player as being no one other than ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson (played brilliantly by Ray Liotta). John, Ray’s father was a big fan of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and would be thrilled to know that Ray’s vision came true and Mr. Jackson was here out on his farm in Iowa absolutely thrilled to being playing baseball again. Shoeless Joe ends up bringing some of his teammates from the Black Sox who were also banned from baseball due to the 1919 scandal and they start practicing together on Ray’s field.

Unfortunately, not everyone in Ray’s family can see the baseball players on the field. Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark, warns Ray about how much of a financial drain the baseball field is on his farm and Ray may have to foreclose on the property unless he is able to generate some money from it. Mark thinks Ray has gone crazy because he keeps referencing the baseball players on the field who Mark is unable to see. Luckily, Ray’s wife, Annie, and Ray’s daughter Karin can see the baseball players and believe Ray to be doing the right thing leaving Mark quite flustered and angry.

Ray ends up hearing another voice whisper through the field telling Ray to ‘ease his pain.’ After seeing how the local town wants to ban the books of one of his favorite authors from the 1960’s, Terence Mann, Ray ends up doing some more research about his favorite author and discovers that one of Mann’s dreams was to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers professionally. One of the reasons why Ray ended up quitting baseball even though his father wanted him to play professionally was because he read one of Terence Mann’s books when he was a teenager and never played catch with his father, John, again.

Ray and Annie both have a dream about Mr. Mann one night in which Ray is attending a baseball game at Fenway Park together with Terence. With Annie’s support, Ray goes all of the way to Boston to seek out Mr. Mann even though he has become a curmudgeon recluse over the past few decades and mainly keeps to himself. With a lot of convincing, Ray takes Terence to a baseball game at Fenway where they both end up hearing another voice telling the two of them to ‘go the distance.’ They also see the statistics of a baseball played of Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham who starred in only one game for the New York Giants but never had an actual at-bat. Ray and Mr. Mann do more research about Graham and end up driving together on their way to Minnesota to go see him.

When Ray and Mr. Mann travel all the way to Minnesota, they realize that Moonlight Graham became a doctor and had passed away over fifteen years ago in 1972. When Ray goes for a walk one evening, he realizes that he has transported himself to that time before Moonlight ‘Archie’ Graham had died and encounters him on the street where they have a conversation about his short-lived baseball career. The older Moonlight Graham is content to be a doctor but wishes for that one chance to face a major league pitcher.

After Ray and Terence leave Minnesota, they encounter a young hitchhiker on the road who introduces himself as Archie Graham. The two of them are amused by this crazy coincidence and take him with them to Iowa. During the ride, Ray confides in Terence Mann that his father was disappointed in Ray for throwing away his baseball career and for denouncing his father’s hero, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson as a criminal. One of Mr. Mann’s books led to Ray putting down the baseball bat as well. Ray really wishes to make up with his father and make things right again if he had a dream to spare.

The amazing thing is that this young Archie Graham character gets to play on Ray’s baseball field in Iowa and is able to get a triple miraculously after winking at the opposing pitcher as he always wanted to do even as an old man. Facing financial pressure from Mark and his associates, Ray thinks about selling the field to save his farm but Terence Mann encourages Ray to re-consider.

Considered to be one of the greatest monologues in modern film, James Earl Jones gives an amazing speech regarding the central role that baseball has played as America’s pastime and how it has formed our culture, and made the nation stronger during times of peril and tragedy. “People will come, Ray, people will most definitely come…” Terence Mann’s beautiful speech to Ray convinces him to keep the baseball field and not sell it off because he knows that baseball fans will come to Iowa to see their childhood heroes play America’s beloved game.

Mark, acting increasingly incensed, causes Ray’s daughter, Karin to fall from the bleaches, but Archie Graham who has a sense of both his past and future to come, steps off this magic baseball field to save Karin from choking. Mark then becomes a believer and sees all of these historical baseball players and encourages Ray not to sell the baseball field. He most likely believes that the field could be a major cash crop within itself and that people will most definitely come to see it. The older Moonlight Graham thanks Ray for the chance to make his dream to come true and that he doesn’t regret how he became a doctor too.

Terence is invited to leave with the baseball players one day to go through the cornfields to a destination that is unknown. Ray is going to miss Terence but trusts his judgment that it could ‘make one hell of a story one day’ about ‘Shoeless Joe Jackson coming to Iowa.’ Ray has his own family and can’t go with Terence who may be entering a realm or destination beyond our comprehension as the audience. Still though, he’s confident about his next destination and isn’t worried about not coming back.

One day, A younger version of Ray’s father shows up on the baseball field and Shoeless Joe Jackson references that the voice in Ray’s head was not Joe’s but rather Ray himself wanting to have a better relationship with his father and to ‘ease his pain.’ In the climatic scenes that can make even the most stone-hearted person cry, John is reunited with his son, Ray, on the baseball field, and he even gets introduced to Ray’s wife and his granddaughter, Karin, who he never knew in life.

John Kinsella remarks to Ray how “it’s so beautiful here, it’s like a dream come true.” The young John, asks Ray if this is heaven. Ray replies simply that, “It’s Iowa.” Even though John believes it still could be heaven, Ray asks if there is a heaven having never experienced it. John replies, “Oh yeah…it’s the place where dreams come true.” An uplifting emotional moment takes place in this scene as Ray Kinsella looks around at his beautiful farm, his wife and daughter happy and smiling, and to be reunited with his estranged father again as being a sign that maybe they, in fact, are all in heaven together.

Ray is so overcome with emotions at being with John again that before John leaves to go through the cornfields as the sun sets, he strikes up the courage to ask his dad to have a catch with him as they did in the old days. They start to throw to each other and Ray is struggling to believe that this is actually happening until John throws him the baseball, which Ray catches in his glove, and he can actually feel the soft baseball in his mitt knowing that his dream finally came true.

This last scene of ‘Field of Dreams’ is an iconic one and shows the power and love of the relationship of a father and son. Despite their differences, they still want to share the tradition of having a catch together after all of those years had passed between them. As the final scene fades out, you can see thousands of red lights emanating from the cars who are lining up to visit the ‘Field of Dreams’ and see their old childhood heroes play the game of baseball. People most definitely will come if you build it.

A truly remarkable film, ‘Field of Dreams’ is hard to get through without tearing up and having some tissues near you. More so than just Ray and John’s relationship, many characters have their dreams realized because of this baseball field. Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham gets to swing the bat for the first time, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson gets to play baseball again as apart of his shamed Black Sox team, and Terence Mann gets to see what’s on the other side of those Iowa cornfields. The powerful musical score by the dearly departed James Horner stirs your emotions with every scene, and you can feel the weight of Ray and John’s relationship with each sound of the orchestra. James Earl Jones steals the show by giving one of the best monologues about baseball and its’ importance within the history of America.

If you love the game of baseball and you enjoy a story about achieving your dreams when they seem out of reach, then you should watch ‘Field of Dreams.’ They really don’t make too many Hollywood films like Field of Dreams anymore and even though it was released in 1989, it’s still an American classic, which has stood the test of time. If you ever go to Iowa, that special baseball field is still there to visit. If you’re a father or a son, you’ll also really connect with this film and it will touch you in your heart and in your soul.

Cultural Spotlight – Bachata

If you consider Salsa to be wild and exhilarating, then Bachata could be considered the opposite kind of music in that it is both suave and smooth. While Bachata may not be the most exciting kind of Latin music, it is a genre that is both popular and historical. It may not be as skill-based as Salsa or Merengue, but you do need to keep a good rhythm and there is a good amount of variation to this kind of dance. The most important thing to be aware of when dancing Bachata is to watch your steps and make sure you’re moving seamlessly with your lady or gentleman partner in tow.

Bachata is a Latin music genre originally from the Dominican Republic, which came of being in the first half of the 20th century. One of the cool aspects about Bachata is that it combines European, African, and Indigenous musical elements to really captivate its’ listeners and dancers. Jose Manuel Calderon of the Dominican Republic did the first compositions, which formed the original Bachata songs back in those early days of the 20th century.

Bachata is considered to be a mixture of its’ predecessors: Merengue, Bolero and Son, which are other distinct Latin music genres. Similar to Salsa, Bachata takes both the form of a song and the form of a distinct dance that are supposed to go together. The mood of a Bachata song can be either very exuberant or more melancholy. Bachata’s original name was ‘amargue’ which means ‘bitter music’ or ‘blues mules’ reflecting in its’ origins the fact that Bachata used to be more somber and reserved when it was first created in the Dominican Republic.

A surprising fact about the Bachata music genre is that it wasn’t always that popular until the past few decades. Throughout most of the 20th century, especially in the Dominican Republic, this form of music was associated with rural communities who were mostly working class or poor in terms of their status. For a long time, Bachata was not allowed to be played on television or radio because it was too vulgar or crass for the elite members of Dominican society.

However, this attitude began to change in the 1980s and 1990s when both the instrumentation and the styles of Bachata multiplied to become more urban and diverse. Bachata has ended up in the 21st century as being one of the most popular forms of Latin music, up there with both Salsa and Merengue, and is played in bars, discotheques, and dance halls all across Latin America.

Bachata requires a group of musicians playing diverse instruments in order for an actual song to be played from the genre and for dancing to occur. There are seven instruments that usually make up the structure, rhythm, and beat of a Bachata song. You have your ‘Requinto’ (lead guitar), ‘Segunda’ (rhythm guitar), electric guitar, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, bongos, and guira. While none of these instruments are mandatory, you need them all in order to create a dance-oriented form of Bachata rather than a more classically oriented form that is most similar to Bolero.

While Bachata started originally in the Dominican Republic and became popular there eventually after a few decades, Bachata has now become one of the most popular forms of Latin music in the region. You can find Bachata music playing in countries such as Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, etc. Anywhere you go within the region, you’re likely to hear a Bachata song being played in your neighborhood or in your city.

The first Bachata songs that were composed by Jose Manuel Calderon, considered to be the modern founder of the genre, were titled ‘Borracho de amor’ and ‘Que sera de mi’. These songs came about in the early 1960s, which shows that the modern form of Bachata has been around for over five decades now. Hundreds of musicians, singers, and dancers have contributed to this unique and popular genre. Some of the more famous contributors to Bachata include names like Marino Perez, Leonardo Paniagua, Luis Vargas, Antony Santos, Juan Luis Guerra, and Romeo Santos. If you have the chance to listen or dance to some Bachata music, do yourself a favor and tune in, kick off your shoes, and enjoy this very popular genre of Latin music.

Cultural Spotlight – Salsa

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Hector Lavoe, ‘El Cantante’ (1946 – 1993)

If you’re walking in any city in Colombia or in most parts of Latin America and you start to feel the rhythm and the beat to some up-tempo music that sounds as if jazz and ‘son cubano’ had a baby, it would be known to the world as ‘Salsa.’ Salsa music has only been around for over five decades but has had a lasting impact on the world of music and its’ popularity has stayed consistent in the countries and regions where it was first introduced. While some folks may argue that old-school music genres like jazz, swing, and the blues are on the decline these days; that is simply not the case when it comes to Salsa.

Contrary to popular belief, Salsa did not originate in Puerto Rico, Cuba, or even Colombia. This form of music came out of the communities of immigrants in New York City during the 1960s from Cuba to Puerto Rico who wanted to introduce a new take on ‘son cubano’ music that had been around for a few decades and to bring it to new audiences before who had never been exposed to that kind of genre before.

The music of Salsa has been highly influenced by previous Cuban genres such as ‘son cubano, son montuno, guaracha, mambo, bolero, etc. as well as certain Puerto Rican genres such as ‘bomba, and plena.’ It also should be noted that Salsa was heavily influenced by the American musical genre of Jazz and certain experts have noted Salsa as being a form of Latin jazz. Salsa is a very flexible genre and can incorporate many different forms of music together in order to be innovative and unique. Even rock, r&b, blues, and funk have found their way into the rhythms, beats, and lyrics of Salsa music.

If there were a form of musical expression to represent the Americas whether it was North America or South America, it would be jazz. Salsa music would not be what it is today without previous music genres influencing the sounds and songs to change and adapt as the decades passed by. However, without the early Salsa bands made up of newcomer immigrants from the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities who came to New York City and America for a better life, Salsa would also not be the popular genre that it has become today. From the 1930s to the 1960s, these new immigrants brought joy, happiness, and excitement to both their local communities and cities from Boston to Cali.

From the streets of the South Bronx to the barrios of Cali, Salsa would spread from New York City to Colombia to Peru to all over Latin America. Salsa has become a global music genre today with people all over the world sharing together their passion and love for this unique form of self-expression. You can find Salsa classes and music clubs in most major cities all over the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’re new to dancing, or can’t understand the lyrics, Salsa is a music genre open to everybody. Some of the big names in Salsa are Johnny Pacheco, creator of the Fania all-stars band, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Bobby Valentin, Eduardo Palmieri, Marc Anthony, etc.

The instrumentation used in Salsa music is incredibly diverse and can really depend on what kind of style you’re going for whether it’s ‘salsa romantica’ or ‘salsa dura.’ It also depends upon how fast the tempo is and what the chord / verse arrangement is too. The most popular kinds of instruments used in Salsa music are percussion and brass instruments. It’s very rare where string instruments are used unless its’ an acoustic or electric guitar. When it comes to the most widely used instruments, they are usually the piano, the bongo drums, the congas, trumpet, trombone, claves, and different guitars.

Since the genre of Salsa has spread to many parts of the Western Hemisphere, there are many different styles of Salsa dancing that make the music more enjoyable for people to participate in by moving their bodies in various ways. While there is no clear consensus on which style of Salsa is the best or most popular, there’s the Cuban style, the New York style, Puerto Rican style, Los Angeles style, and Cali style from Colombia. Each style of Salsa is a little bit different from each other so once you master one of these types, there is another one out there to learn in order to keep your knowledge up to date. There are few parts of the world that haven’t been touched by Salsa music, which makes it one of the most fun and enjoyable kinds of dances to learn. Whether you’re in Peru, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or the United States, you’ll have a chance to dance Salsa if you look hard enough.

By listening to Salsa music and learning how to dance to the rhythms and the beats of this genre, you really learn a lot about Latin American culture. Listen carefully to the lyrics, study the history of both the song and dance, and you’ll be able to gain insight as to why this has become one of the most popular music genres on the planet today. Few things make the average person happier than being able to cut loose on the dance floor and Salsa as a genre succeeds in doing that beyond measure.

During my time here in Colombia, I’ve enjoyed going out to learn Salsa in some classes, and putting the moves I’ve learned into practice when I go out on Saturday nights to a Salsa club. It’s really a joy to dance and sing to the point of exhaustion until your feet can’t move anymore while the beads of sweat roll down your neck. Salsa, to me, is a celebration of living life to the fullest and expressing the movements of your body the way you’re supposed to do. If you haven’t given Salsa music or dancing a chance yet, start to do so today. I promise you won’t regret the experiences you gain by enjoying this popular genre.

Steve Jobs – ‘On Failure’

It’s not often when the average person can gleam some wisdom or some insight from a YouTube video but there are exceptions to this fact when you start to dig deeper. One of these videos that I enjoyed viewing focuses on the late Steve Jobs, the innovative and driven entrepreneur, who was the co-founder of Apple Inc. and for the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century helped lead the computer and smartphone revolution around the world. While most people may know him from his appearances at developers’ conferences where he would unveil Apple’s latest invention or innovation, there is a side to Steve Jobs that some folks may overlook.

Steve Jobs wasn’t always a great success and had many failures throughout his life. Fired by the company he co-founded and having gone through product setbacks such as with the Apple III and the NeXT computer, not everything went the right way for the legendary entrepreneur at first. However, these setbacks and failures are obscured today but the massive amount of success and innovation he would bring to the world by sticking to his principles and by always taking the initiative to ‘stay hungry’ for more.

The YouTube video I’m referencing in this blog post is titled, “Steve Jobs on Failure” has over one million unique views and has been up on the website for over six years. In the video, most likely set in the 1990’s, a young Steve Jobs talks about one particular time where he took the initiative that was driven by his innate curiosity. At the beginning of the video, Jobs talks about the fact that most people don’t have the experiences they should because they never ask or inquire about them to begin with. Mr. Jobs hints at the fact that he was never afraid to ask for help from other people, especially if they were in his field of work and would be able to assist him in some way by giving him advice or by mentoring him in some capacity.

The adult Steve Jobs in the video recounts how when he was only twelve years old, he called up Bill Hewlett, the engineer and co-founder behind the massively successful information technology company known worldwide as Hewlett Packard or HP, which similarly to Apple Inc., is also based out of Silicon Valley in California. The twelve-year old Jobs introduced himself to Mr. Hewlett and simply asked him directly for help with building a frequency counter. Little Steve asked Mr. Hewlett for some spare parts that could be used in order to build an effective frequency counter. The young Steve Jobs left quite an impression on Mr. Hewlett, so much so that the co-founder of HP gave him the spare parts as well as a summer job working on an assembly job working with the nuts and bolts that help make the frequency counters at Hewlett Packard work effectively.

You can tell the way from the way that Steve reacts to Mr. Hewlett’s genuine help and generosity with giving him a job and a start to his future in information technology that it meant a lot to him both personally and professionally. Certain moments like that in our lives when somebody really gives a chance and helps us along the way to having a brighter future is a lasting memory that simply does not go away. We can only speculate what might have happened if Mr. Hewlett had instead just hung up the phone on young Steve and not helped him out at all. The world could very much be a different place had Steve not gotten that positive feedback and mentorship that we all seek in our own lives.

“I’ve never found anyone who said ‘No’ or hung up the phone when I called…I just asked.” Steve knew that there was a chance at failure when it came to reaching out to others in his field but he knew also that he had to try in order to get ahead in his life. He had to put himself out there, make connections, and learn from others in order to build his company and create successful products. I think Steve realizes that he would not be where he was as an adult without the help he received from others throughout his life. The video shows his sense of gratitude for that assistance and that he is wise enough to remember to give back to other people as well who want to be in his position one day or to be successful like he was.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call…most people never ask.” Steve is right in his assertion that those who don’t reach out for help or don’t seek out opportunities will never get to where they want to be in life. He makes the correct distinction between those people who take the initiative and those other people who let opportunities pass them by. You can dream and wish for things to happen for yourself but unless you put the pen to the paper or put your phone to your ear, you won’t accomplish that much.

Lastly, Steve notes in this video that ‘you have to be willing to fail…you got to be willing to crash and burn.” Steve Jobs like many other inventors and innovators had multiple failures beset them but they did not give up and they were not afraid to fail. Through failure, we learn from our mistakes and we get better and better at what we are trying to accomplish. With enough hard work and effort, we can push forward to achieve what we set out to do originally and so much more. When an Apple product failed to gain traction or when he was forced out of his own company, Steve Jobs like many other successful men and women did not give up and go home. They learned from their mistakes and became better at what they do.

“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” To put it bluntly, failure happens to everybody. Nobody in the world succeeds 100% of the time at everything they do. People like Steve Jobs recognize that this is all too true but it doesn’t deter them from their goals because they won’t stop until they achieve what they want to accomplish. In order to turn those failures into successes, you need to have an indomitable will and to let nothing stand in your way.

Instead of blaming your failures on others or giving up after a few bumps in the road, you should continue to embrace the learning process and seek help from those other people who have been successful in their lives and would be willing to offer their help to you. Steve Jobs did not become one of the most important men of the 20th century by being afraid of failure or from doing it all on his own. He sought the advice and counsel of others while never giving up even when things looked pretty bleak. That kind of mindset that he explains in the video helps us to understand why he became so successful in his life and how we can learn from his words to become successful in our own lives.