The Historical Anybody (Secular)
At first, Amy Winehouse was simply a name I kept hearing, either on the radio or television. I was deep into jazz at the time, unaware that she, too, had an interest in the same medium. It was her downfall that got the greatest buzz. People got into it. I did, too, on an intermittent basis. Why? I have no idea. The news has a long history of broadcasting big-name arrests at customs in airports. It's the way it is. It loves the downside of existence. But when by happenstance I bought a video of an Amy Winehouse performance, I saw, or heard, rightaway, that she was truly talented. If she lacked the requisite discipline, it did not show. Her music was excellent, for the most part. It is hard to like every single song, which is why we have "hits", and then, in the older parlance, albums, with which the connoisseur picks up on the more esoteric. I can only offer an opinion, but her music was probably too nice. After decades of hate and raucous music that gave ready-made lift-offs to several careers, however short-lived, here was somebody singing a different tune.
Then, in the aftermath of a life, comes the usual semi-artistic artifacts. A relatively good documentary re-creates the trajectory from nowhere to stardom and impossible celebrityhood. There must be a way to live it, since so many do. But the fast lane has snares toward which quite a few drawn. In the case of music, especially insofar as Amy Winehouse also wrote catchy lyrics to her own material, one cannot divorce life from art. Hence, the phenomenon that became "Rehab". It was a sensational hit, but also exposed a character flaw that would eventually lead to an early exit. Still, if I had the will and time, I am certain I could prove that particular kinds of music do not fare well in an intolerant, commercialized world that reacts negatively against them. To be sure, one cannot go back in time. Oldies are acceptable, as well as revised versions, but when the era has passed, that's it for the style. There is also no such thing as infinite progress. So, I don't think, as an amateur music critic at best, that Ms. Winehouse was on the proverbial cutting edge. Or, she was and wasn't, choosing retro, if she wanted it. But she had great back-up, and a visually superior presence. I need hardly mention that the relatively recent music scene suffered a real loss in 2011.
A 2013 biography indicates that she suffered from ongoing marital problems. Descriptions of her personal behavior in private clash against a professional public persona. Yes, substance abuse was involved. Then, as always, the tabloids only made it worse. But whatever caused her to ingest substantial amounts of intoxicating agents suggests that she either lacked the necessary backstage support, or, could not, for some reason, fully appreciate it. Thus, the whole charade, being one person off camera, another on, got the better of her. The ill-fated appearance in Belgrade did no auger well. It would only be a matter of time. No recovery was in sight. Only a die-hard skitzophrenic could pull off so arduous a task -- being both a delicate songstress and an ax wielder hacking psychological phantasms. It is hard to really discern what it was like at the top for her somehow gleaned from cold and analytical articles and video clips. All in all, she will be missed. No one to date has taken her place.
Whereas an acclaimed documentary was made by Antonio Pinto about Amy Winehouse, Danny Boyle directed a re-creation of Steve Jobs as he also goes through a series of metamorphoses. Apparently, if a man, or woman, can re-invent him or herself enough times, there can eventually be a pay-off. At least that was the case with the man who began at the top, got shredded by Time Magazine, left Apple, plummeted, experimented with a number of forgotten PCs, then rose to the top again, as the industry, at the same time, kept changing. This bio is a non-sequitur, to be sure, but such is the literary condition that makes assorted biographies, as a genre, interesting. In the old gangster movies, usually one man who headed the gang. So it is at Apple, except that the friction among high-ranking employees who cannot keep an inner feeling or casual remark to themselves to save their lives is enough to prove fatal. But they are hard-working - their saving grace. I vaguely remember reading long ago about a Howard Hughes employee on his deathbed. After practically working himself to death, all he wanted in his last few hours was for Hughes to call him. It would have meant the world -- though Hughes was in demand and himself busy. Jobs fits something of the same paradigm. He is impossible to get to; those who manage to, ruin his day in ever-increasing increments. It isn't life at all that matters, except insofar as it produces payment for machines that require special tools to pry open. Well, his daughter breaks down the mechanical facade. But she is the single exception.
It is a disapointment that not the arts but an inglorious, electronic thing changed the world. But that's how it is. Try to muster within the gumption to fight large-scale dehumanization. Not so easy. Still, how can one not admire the so-called nerds of San Francisco who first typed letters, and behold, saw them upon a screen. Nonetheless, as of right now, Apple remains the best choice in PCs. Still, to be fair, you have options. Also, with Apple, you pay extra. But as of late, having experienced more scams than can be believed as they relate to computers, as well as phones, it makes one wonder. Was it worth it? I have already forgotten how to live without Apple products. I am not the only one. But what have I done? Why should I burn for eternity? For goodness sake, at the moment I am only using an iMac to write about a motley collection of biographies. I like music. Who doesn't? Computers are here to stay. They're important. Also, today, October 10, 2016, is Columbus Day (read on, dear reader), a celebration that does not probe too deeply into the life and times of a man, who, to some extent, failed to find a route to the Indies. It was Balboa who discovered the Pacific Ocean, and de Gama who rounded Africa to India.
Before "going to press" I tried to learn a bit more about the man and the myth. It was a race against time. Hubpages requires research, but it is, to my mind, more journalism than book writing. I realized, however, I had not connected all the dots. I was new to everything: the San Francisco scene, Pixar, Ross Perot's investments, NeXT, Apple II, Stephen Wozniak, and John Scully. From personal experience, about all I can remember from my own life and times, and hence dredge up, is that iPods truly caused the company to surge. After iTunes, Apple's stock price seemed to go in only one direction: through the roof. From a biography, I found out that Jobs did a major stint at Pixar, where he also scored a major success, helping to createToy Story. The marginal matter about Jobs's childhood origins is not all that dull in a day and age when people practically draw you a thousand year ancestral chart to give a general idea who they might be.
Columbus According to A&E
It might seem at first glance that Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, and Columbus have nothing in common. This is both true and false. They were all personages whose lives had an impact on the greater whole. It would seem as though the biography of Columbus would lead to 1492, and then, either fade slowly, or end sharply. What more is there to say? He "discovered" America, or the Americas, however one puts it. But prior to the voyage, take into account the lack of interest on behalf of the greatest powers of Europe, and a different sort of story emerges. It is, in brief, one of endless waiting, and a sequence of disheartening failures. Nevertheless, it is useful to also take into account what it was that the man from Genoa had in his favor. Despite an overcalculation of the size of Asia, and the exact opposite when it came to the Ocean Sea, he knew deep inside, unplagued by doubts, that he could do it. Of course, motivation had much to do with the horrors of navigating the Cape of Good Hope, where, despite the misnomer, terrible treacheries awaited the seafarer.
A biographer emphasizes a crusade called for by Pope Pius II when Columbus was eight, and the earlier imprisonment of Marco Polo, in a Genoa cell in 1298, as having had influences on the young Columbus. It is only speculation, but the author more than implied how a divine spark was implanted within the explorer, who, were he to have followed tradition, should have been a weaver, like his father. All biographers of Cristoforo Colombo must deal with the imperfect primary writing by the man himself in his second language. It was in 1485 that he settled in Palos by the coastal water with his son, Diego. Seven years later, when Granada fell, Ferdinand and Isabella granted the patient supplicant an opportunity. In his interviews throughout all this time, Columbus emphasized the possibility of bringing home great wealth, which happened eventually, as well as Christianizing the East.
It was the latter goal he stressed in his written accounts. Unfortunately, his efforts did not come to immediate fruition. It is amazing how fast relations deteriorated between Spaniards and "Indians". None of the men Columbus left behind on his first voyage survived. All were killed by inhabitants incited to violence over mistreatment. Massacres on Hispaniola reduced the indigenous population to a mere fraction of what it had been. But when Columbus used his authority as Admiral, Viceroy, and Governor to execute two men accused of rebellion and abusing Natives, converted or not, he was himself put in chains and taken back to Spain in 1500. It is interesting to note how Spain had only just rid itself of Moorish oppression, so that Columbus's mission in the New World was also a response to his own time and place. The world needed Christians, if only to withstand the burgeoning population of Islamicists.
Orinoco River in Venezuela
All three of my biographical picks are controversial. It is only normal for ordinary people to form strong opinions based on either the news media or inner, invisible gyrations. Did Amy Winehouse wreck her life and career herself, or was she subjected to forces beyond control? Was Steve Jobs a heel, as some suggest, or a great businessman and game-changer? About Columbus, well, he weighs in half and half. He is admired; he is despised. Some Native Americans are extremely prejudiced against him. Wonder why. . . . My own source was a book that emphasized his better intentions, which were both very meaningfully Christian, and, to scholars impervious to a power greater than tenure, a substantial measure of embarrassment. It is Libro de las Profecías to which I refer, in which Columbus quotes both Old and New Testaments, in addition to over fifty authors, including Seneca, whose Medea alludes to the very kind of "discovery" he made. Keeping in mind how Guttenberg only just invented the printing press, both Columbus and his son were ardent book collectors. Whether from reading or not, Columbus seems to have held odd theories, such as the location of the Garden of Eden, antipodal to that of Jerusalem. In any event, he preferred the islands to the mainland on all four trips. That he was an exceptionally gifted mariner goes without question. As the author points out, his routes are still followed to this very day.