Autumn is nearly upon us, but you wouldn’t know it here in Texas. Still, even if the blazing sun and non-changing trees and nom-nomming mosquitoes keep us from experiencing autumn with our bodies, we can still””forgive the cliché””experience it with our hearts.
How, you may ask?
Well, by finding art that puts us in an autumnal mood.
To me, the ideal autumn is a study in contrast””colorful but also a little melancholy, varied but not too varied, a bit chilly without being cold, and a tad happy while still lacking in the jubilance of Christmas.
In the rest of this article, I’ll try to recommend some art and entertainment that features this mixture of celebration and melancholia.
And I promise, none of them will be as pretentious as the above paragraph.
Let’s begin with the sound of music, shall we?
To me, nothing says autumn like Ella Fitzgerald. All the other jazz chanteuses, it seems to me, belong to other seasons; brightly sassy Dinah Washington is fit for summer, while Billie Holliday sly, I’ve-had-ten-glasses-of-whisky dryness is just right for a windy winter’s day.
But Ella’s voice is quintessential autumn, a little world-weary but still happy to be alive. Check out “Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Johnny Mercy Songbook”. Mercer is, by the way, an autumnal sort of songwriter, well aware of life’s inehrent bittersweetness. He even wrote a tune called “Early Autumn”, which Ella performs to perfection.
Fun Fact: Ella Fitzgerald also wrote cookbooks. If you can magically get your hands on one, I’m sure it will improve your Thanksgiving dinner.
Another jazz giant fit for the leafy season is Lionel Hampton, a famed jazz vibraphonist. The vibraphone, for your information, is like the xylophone’s sexier, infinitely cooler cousin. Pick up a “Best of Lionel Hampton” anthology. Then, upload it onto your iPod. Then, take a walk in the park and feel autumn wash over you, even if the Texas humidity is bearing down like hell.
If you’re in a classical mood, perhaps check out Aaron Copland around Thanksgiving. His music is quintessentially American, and reminds you that there’s more to this beautiful country than just George W. Bush.
If you lean more towards pop, check out Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” album, which is too calm for summer and a little too hard-rocking for winter. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” his ode to New York, is a delightful standout.
Autumn also brings to mind singer-songwriters. The tamer ones, that is. No one wants to curl up with a pumpkin spice latte and a Bob Dylan album.
Here are some softer strummers to get you into an autumn mood: Brett Dennen, Nick Drake, or, if you’re feeling a little edgier, Ray Lamontagne. Also, First Aid Kit. Trust me on this one.
Furthermore, cinematic artists can also enrich our inner autumn. Woody Allen’s two best films, “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Annie Hall”, have just the right balance of sweet and sadness. The former also includes some really pretty footage of, you know, what an actual, non-Texas autumn looks like.
“When Harry Met Sally” and “Julie and Julia”, two other finely mature rom-coms, also pull off the sweet-sad combination with invigorating success.
If you’re a Disney fan, this is likely a good time to rewatch “Pocahontas.” After all, autumn is the season that paints with all the colors of the wind.
If you’re an action movie buff, I cannot really help. Explosions know no seasons. Check out the James Bond movies, which remain the ultimate destination for those who wish to watch stuff get blown up real good. That’s all I have to say to you. I leave you to your fireworks.
If you’re a reader, however, I have plenty to say to you. Washington Irving’s stories can get you in the mood for the season generally, and, in the case of “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow,” for Halloween specifically.
E.M. Forster’s novels combine colorful characters with an autumnal sense of fading, of something elemental being lost. Start with “A Room With A View,” and then read “Howards End.”
Then come hear Zadie Smith, a phenomenal critic of Forster and authorial genius in her own right, speak at Trinity this October. Smith’s book “On Beauty” is a sort of fictional riff on Forster’s work, and, while not entirely autumnal, it’s worth reading before Smith comes to campus. Trust me on this one.
Finally, I have two recommendations in the realm of poetry, which are, believe it or not, actually about autumn. The first is John Keats’s “To Autumn,” perhaps the most evocative description of seasonal change ever written. The second is David Lehman’s “Autumn Evening,” a contemporary piece with some killer lines like this one: “Life sinks, grace reigns, sins ripen/and in the north dies an almond tree.”
Life and death, grace and pain, color and fading””this is all autumn in a nutshell. And, thanks to art, you can experience it authentically, and mosquito-free.