Saturday, December 31, 2011

Patricia Barber

Will he 
kiss her on New Year's Eve, 
after the last guests leave, 
then kiss her again? 
From "The New Year Eve's Song" (2008).  

Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians used to own New Year's Eve with their version of "Auld Lang Syne."  But for my money, Patricia Barber owns New Year's Eve now.

When the members of a band goes on "indefinite hiatus," that's usually all she wrote, although sometimes they will get back together and pick up where they left off.  After tomorrow, 2 or 3 lines a day will be on indefinite hiatus -- at least for a year, perhaps forever.  Que sera, sera . . .

Click here to read more about "The New Year's Eve Song."

Friday, December 30, 2011

John Donne

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

From "Meditation XVII" of his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1623).

Tomorrow the bell tolls for 2 or 3 lines a day.

2 or 3 lines a day simply required too much time and effort given the relatively small audience it attracted, so I've decided to pull the plug after doing 365 posts.  Those select few of you who read 2 or 3 lines a day regularly were kind enough to send me many kind comments during the year, and I appreciate your loyalty very much.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Joey Eischen

He's going to have to suck on it and like it.
Joey Eischen was a major-league pitcher for all or part of 10 seasons, mostly with the Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals.

Eischen's comment was directed at Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who had opposed the move of the franchise from Montreal to Washington in 2005 because he feared having a second major-league team so close to Baltimore would reduce attendance at Orioles games.

Joey's pithy comment says a lot about our daily existence in just one sentence.  So does this sentence: "The sh*t always rolls downhill."  If my children take these two sayings to heart, they will be well-prepared for the working world.

Joey Eischen
Orioles owner Peter Angelos

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charles Portis

I felt a visceral twinge of pain, lungs maybe, and I sat down on the bed to wait for it to pass.  The pain was concentrated in one burning spot about the size of a dime.  I wondered if I might have been hit by a small stray bullet sometime during the afternoon.  I had handled news accounts of men who had been shot and then walked about for hours, days, a lifetime, unaware of such wounds.
From his 1979 novel, Dog of the South.  The reclusive Portis, who was born on this date in 1933, is as deadpan as a novelist as there is.  He is best known for his 1968 novel, True Grit, which has been adapted for the movies twice.

Portis learned to write as a reporter for the University of Arkansas student newspaper and the Northwest Arkansas Times.  He worked in both New York City and London for the legendary New York Herald-Tribune before leaving journalism in 1964 to write novels.

Portis grew up in El Dorado, Arkansas, which is also the home of Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Brock, Country Music Hall of Famer Lefty Frizzell, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lamar Hunt (who was one of the founders of the old American Football League and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs).

I spent part of August 9, 1974 -- the day that Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States -- in El Dorado, trying to get my overheating 1970 Olds Cutlass fixed.  After having the coolant/antifreeze drained and replaced, the radiator cap replaced, and the thermostat replaced, it was determined that the problem was just a faulty temperature sensor -- my engine wasn't really overheating at all.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

John Sebastian

My darling be home soon
I couldn't bear to wait 
An extra minute if you dawdled

You're probably wondering why these lyrics -- from the Lovin' Spoonful's 1967 hit, "Darling Be Home Soon" -- are being featured on "Bad Romance Tuesday."

After all, that song is about a couple that is very much in love?  The singer is so head-over-heels that he can't bear to be apart from his lover for even one extra minute.  Awwwwww . . . how sweet is that?


How clueless can one guy be?  I guess he never asked himself JUST WHERE HAS SHE BEEN DAWDLING ALL THIS TIME?  AND WITH WHOM?

Wake up and smell the cat food, dumbass!  Someone is crushing it while you are sitting around singing a dopey song!  ("And I feel myself in bloom"?  Gag me with a spoon.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

W. H. Auden

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- 

And carrying them up to the attic. . . .
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. . . . 

In the meantime there are bills to be paid, 
Machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, 

The Time Being to redeem from insignificance. 
The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come . . .
From his long poem, "For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio," which was published in 1944.

W. H. Auden

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Charles Dickens

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change."

In Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (1843), Ebenezer Scrooge changed his ways after he was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

If Scrooge was able to learn from his mistakes and start to do the right thing, so can you.  (And so can I.)

Merry Christmas from 2 or 3 lines a day to you and yours!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hamilton Camp

Turn around, go back down 
Back the way you came
Babylon is laid to waste 
Egypt's buried in her shame
Their mighty men are beaten down 
The kings are fallen in the ways
Oh God, the pride of man 
Broken in the dust again 

From his 1964 song, "Pride of Man."  Camp, an English folksinger, actor, and voiceover artist, made his folksinging debut at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960.  "Pride of Man" was covered by Quicksilver Messenger Service and Gordon Lightfoot.

Don't tell me that Camp didn't have "Ozymandias" in mind when he wrote "Pride of Man."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Horace Smith

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone, 
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws 
The only shadow that the Desert knows. 
"I am great Ozymandias," saith the stone, 
"The King of kings: this mighty city shows 
The wonders of my hand." The city's gone! 
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose 
The sight of that forgotten Babylon. 
We wonder, and some hunter may express 
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness 
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase, 
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess 
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race 
Once dwelt in that annihilated place. 

Horace Smith was a prosperous stockbroker who not oversaw Percy Bysshe Shelley's finances, but also was a close friend of who collaborated with Shelley on a popular book of literary parodies.  

Smith is best-known today because he participated in a sonnet-writing contest with Shelley, the subject of which was the celebrated Egyptian pharaoh, Ramesses II.  Shelley's poem was titled "Ozymandias."  Smith's sonnet was titled "On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Sanding by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt."  (Catchy, huh?) 

Shelley's poem is far superior, but I like Smith's idea of having a hunter in the distant future stumble across the ruins of London.  Those ruins would be as puzzling to that hunter as the world of the Egyptian pharaohs is to us today. 

Ramesses II

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away". 

I know, I know . . . that's a lot more than two or three lines.  But which lines would you have me cut?  There's no fat in this poem -- it's all muscle.

Shelley wrote this poem in 1817, when he was 25 years old.  He drowned while sailing off the west coast of Italy in 1822, a month before his 30th birthday.

"Ozymandias" (pronounced with four syllables to fit the meter of the poem) is a Greek name for Ramesses II (who is also known as "Ramesses the Great"), the most celebrated of all Egyptian pharaohs. 

Shelley's poem reminds us of a truth that is bitter to many, but impossible to refute.  No matter how monumental the accomplishments of a man may be, there will come a time when his works will decay into a "colossal wreck," leaving those who come later to observe (as did Shelley): "Nothing beside remains."

Or, to put it another way, Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas
The Vulgate (Latin) Bible's rendering of Ecclesiastes 1:2 has been translated into English in many different ways.  

From the King James Bible: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

From the New International Version:  "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.  "Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless."

St. Jerome, who translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin in the fourth century, translated the Hebrew word hebel as vanitas, and the English equivalent for vanitas is vanity.  

The usual meaning of vanity today is having an inflated pride in one's importance or personal appearance.  (Think Carly Simon's song, "You're So Vain.")  But the roots of the word hebel indicate vapor, fog, steam, or breath -- all of which are transitory, ephemeral, and without lasting substance.

We think that making money, building buildings, writing books, and all the other things that humans do matter.  But do they really?

As the author of Ecclesiastes goes on to say:

No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come
will not be remembered by those who follow them.
Over the next three days, 2 or 3 lines a day will continue to explore this theme.

"Vanitas," by Pieter Claesz (1630)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hank Snow

Boston, Charleston, Dayton, Louisiana 
Washington, Houston, Kingston, Texarkana
Monterey, Ferriday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa 
Glen Rock, Black Rock, Little Rock, Oskaloosa
Tennessee, Hennessey, Chicopee, Spirit Lake
Grand Lake, Devil's Lake, Crater Lake, for Pete's sake
I've been everywhere, man
I've been everywhere
From his 1962 hit single, "I've Been Everywhere," which originally listed Australian place-names.  

Hank Snow, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1914, died on this date in 1999.  "I've Been Everywhere" was one of his seven #1 hits.  I've watched this video several times and I still don't believe it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Onion


This was the headline of the December 14 page of my 2011 The Onion Page-A-Day Calendar.  

The story went on to say that a previously unknown ingredient in red wine "has been shown to cause a marked improvement in vocal clarity and emotional acuity -- while reducing overall inhibition -- after only four glasses."  2 or 3 lines a day is bringing you this news just in time for you to put it to good use at all those holiday gatherings with your family.  

The Onion newspaper was founded at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) in 1988.  Today The Onion is on TV and radio as well, and has a wildly popular website -- about 7.5 million unique visitors per month.  2 or 3 lines a day would kill for numbers like those.

From The Onion

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Walter Isaacson

At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over [Steve Jobs's] face when he was deeply sedated.  Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it.  Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger.  He told them it was ugly and too complex.
Walter Isaacson's biography portrays Steve Jobs as a complicated and exhausting man.  In an article about Isaacson's book, Malcolm Gladwell concludes that Jobs was "a bully."  

During his final hospital stay, when Jobs wasn't criticizing the design of his oxygen mask, he was complaining about nurses.  According to Isaacson, Jobs went through 67 nurses before finding three that were acceptable to him.

According to Gladwell, Jobs was a "tweaker."  The first MP3 player came out five years before the iPod, and there were other smartphones and tablet computers long before there was the iPhone and the iPad.  But Jobs had a gift for "ruthlessly refining" the inventions of others, Gladwell says.

Steve Jobs a few months before his death

Saturday, December 17, 2011

John Greenleaf Whittier

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

From his 1856 poem, "Maud Muller."  

Maud Muller was a poor country girl who was raking hay on a hot summer day when a local judge saw her as he rode by on horseback.  He stopped to ask for a cup of spring-water, and they chatted for a few minutes.  The judge was smitten by the beautiful young woman, but as he rode away, "he thought of his sisters, proud and cold/And his mother, vain of her rank of gold."  So he closed his heart and "wedded a wife of richest dower/Who lived for fashion, as he for power," while Maud married a local bumpkin, bore and reared many children, and worked like a dog.  

As the years passed, both Maud and the judge thought of what might have been . . . but wasn't.

Whittier was born on this date in 1807.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kanye West

Prince William ain’t do it right 
If you ask me
'Cause if I was him 
I would have married Kate and Ashley

From Kanye and Jay-Z's 2011 single, "Niggas in Paris," which is #2 on Rap Genius's list of the best 100 rap songs of 2011.  Click here to see all 100.

No, I haven't forgotten that we're supposed to be featuring Jay-Z on "Rap Fridays" this month.  But Jay-Z and Kanye are BFFs -- they released a collaborative studio album titled Watch the Throne earlier this year that included this song, and are coming to the end of a wildly successful joint tour.  (I walked out of my office one night in November and found myself in the middle of an enormous crush of people.  Turns it that was the night Kanye and Jay-Z were performing at the Verizon Center, which is directly across the street from my Washington, DC office.)    

Jay-Z's "Niggas in Paris" verse is pretty good, but how could I -- a father of twins who were huge Full House fans and born in 1986 (just like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) -- resist these lines, which are 100% Kanye?

And 'Ye is 100% right.  Nothing wrong with Kate Middleton, but we're talkin' Mary-Kate and Ashley!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ellen Willis

There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque.  

Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereotypically feminine.

Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation's sake, and stereotypically masculine.

The classical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally puritanical; the baroque mentality taken to an extreme is pornographic and finally obscene. Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes (a baroque idea, particularly if the tension is ironic) or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears (a classical aspiration).

From a magazine article later published in her 1981 book, Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade.

Ellen Willis, who was born on December 14, 1941, was a left-wing political essayist, a "sex-positive feminist," and the New Yorker's first pop music critic.  She died of lung cancer in 2006.

Ellen Willis in 1981

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sir James George Frazer

On the Day of Atonement, which was the tenth day of the seventh month, the Jewish high-priest laid both his hands on the head of a live goat, confessed over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel, and, having thereby transferred the sins of the people to the beast, sent it away into the wilderness.  The scapegoat upon whom the sins of the people are periodically laid, may also be a human being.

From his groundbreaking study of comparative mythology and religion, The Golden Bough, first published in 1890.

The Boston Red Sox, who were leading the New York Mets three games to two in the 1986 World Series, scored two runs in the top of the 10th inning of game six and were only one out away from finally breaking the "Curse of the Bambino" after retiring the Mets' first two batters in the bottom of the 10th. 

But the Mets hit three consecutive singles off Calvin Schiraldi, and when reliever Bob Stanley uncorked a wild pitch, the game was tied.  The next batter, Mookie Wilson, hit a slow roller to Red Sox 1B Bill Buckner for what should have been the third out, but somehow the ball got through Buckner's legs, giving the Mets the victory.

In game seven, the Red Sox held a 3-0 lead, but the Mets scored three runs of starter Bruce Hurst in the sixth inning and three more off reliever Schiraldi in the seventh, and held on to win.

Buckner was scapegoated for the defeat by Red Sox fans.  He was the target of death threats, and was heckled and booed by his own fans until the Red Sox released him in July 1987.  His wife was harassed so much that Buckner moved his family from Boston to Boise, Idaho.  

The roles of Schiraldi, Stanley, and Red Sox manager John McNamara (who failed to insert a defensive replacement for the 36-year-old, sore-ankled Buckner, despite having done so in the three previous Red Sox victories in that World Series) in the Red Sox defeat were overlooked by the vast majority of Boston partisans.  Who knows why?

Bill Buckner is 62 years old today.  Ironically, my wife -- who is a Red Sox fan -- was also born on December 14.  (I share a birthday with Manny Ramirez.  Go figure.) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Julian Barnes

Dumas would ride his horse into a stable, seize an overhead beam, grasp the horse tightly with his legs, and lift it off the ground.  He also claimed to have 365 illegitimate children scattered round the world: one for every day of the year.  The energy made you wince.  

From his first novel, Metroland, which was published in 1980.

The "Dumas" referred to here is the famous French novelist, Alexandre Dumas, père, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.   Alexandre Dumas, fils -- who was a very successful dramatist -- was one of his illegitimate children.  

But most historians attribute the lift-the-horse feat not to Dumas, père, but to his father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas -- a general in Napoleon's army who was himself the illegitimate son of a French officer and a Haitian woman.

I don't know what to say about all this, except that it makes a good "French-day the 13th" subject.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

Monday, December 12, 2011

Joseph Heller

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. Daneeka:  Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.
From his novel, Catch-22, which was published in 1961.  The book sold only 30,000 copies in the first year after it was published, but eventually sold 10 million copies in the U.S.  Heller, who flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombadier, died on this date in 1999.

Heller published an excerpt from the novel as Catch-18, but his agent asked him to change the title so the book would not be confused with Leon Uris's World War II novel, Mila 18Catch-11 was suggested but ultimately rejected after the movie Ocean's 11 was released in 1960.  Catch-17 also got a thumbs' down because it might be confused with the prisoner of war movie, Stalag 17Catch-14 was also rejected because the publisher didn't think that 14 was a funny number. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jan Brown

He was born to do this job.  If he could do it all over again and have a choice to have it happen the way it did or work at McDonald's and live to be 104?  He'd do it all over again.

Jan Brown was the mother of Kevin Houston, a Navy SEAL who was killed in a rocket attack in Afghanistan last summer.

In his review of Stephen Mitchell's new translation of the Iliad in the November 7, 2011 issue of the New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn points out how Jan Brown's words about her son's choice remind him of Achilles' choice of fame and glory instead of a long and peaceful life:
If I remain here 
And wage war against the city of Troy,  
I will never survive to go home, 
But my fame will be immortal. 
Yet if I leave here 
To return to my dear homeland, 
I shall have no noble fame, 
But my life will be long 

The shield of Achilles

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death --
He kindly stopped for me --.

Emily Dickinson, who was born on this date in 1830, was eccentric and reclusive, spending most of her life alone in her room and carrying out most of her friendships through correspondence.  She was a prolific poet with a completely unique style who wrote nearly 1800 poems -- but fewer than a dozen of them were published during her lifetime.  To borrow Winston Churchill's 1939 description of Russia, Dickinson was "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."   

Emily Dickinson

Friday, December 9, 2011


I'm especially 
Joe Pesci 
With a grin
I will kill you, commit suicide,
And kill you again
From "Threat," a track on his The Black Album, which was released in 2003.

Joe Pesci is known for playing psychopathic criminals in Martin Scorsese movies like Goodfellas and Casino.  Like Pesci's character, the singer of this song is a real bad-ass -- if you cross him, he will kill you and then commit suicide so he can track you down in hell and kill you again. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

James Thurber

The naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukelele in an attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts.  
(James Thurber -- whose hilarious but often surreal short stories and cartoons graced the New Yorker's pages for many years -- was born on this date in 1894.  When he was a child, his brother William shot James in the eye with an arrow when they were playing a game.  Thurber lost his eye, and eventually became almost entirely blind as a result of the injury.  Neurologist V. S. Ramachandran has suggested that Thurber's remarkable imagination may be partly explained by Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes complex visual hallucinations in otherwise mentally healthy people who have suffered a significant level of visual loss.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Potter Stewart

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
From his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964).  Stewart, who was an associate justice of the Supreme Court for 23 years, died on this date in 1985.

Les Amants ("The Lovers") is a 1958 French film about adultery.  It was director Louis Malle's second feature film, and starred French hottie Jeanne Moreau.  The manager of a movie theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was convicted of the crime of publicly displaying obscene material when the movie played there.  He appealed his conviction and the case eventually reached the Supreme Court.

Potter Stewart is remembered today primarily for his "I know it when I see it" comment.  One commentator later wrote that this statement summarized Stewart's judicial philosophy: "particularistic, intuitive, and pragmatic."

Stewart retired from the Court in 1981, when he was 66 years old.  He was succeeded by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice.

Justice Potter Stewart

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I don't wanna be a pinhead no more
I just met a nurse that I could go for

From their 1977 song, "Pinhead."

There is no such thing as a good or bad romance in an objective sense -- a romance is only good or bad in the opinion of the involved parties.

For example, this romance is a good romance for the pinhead singer.  But it's probably a bad romance as far as the nurse is concerned.

"Pinhead" is a very politically incorrect term for a victim of microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually results in an unusually small brain and skull, small stature, and moderate to severe mental retardation.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Calvin Trillin

When someone reaches middle age, people he knows begin to get put in charge of things, and knowing what he knows about the people who are being put in charge of things scares the hell out of him.

This was one of my two biggest problems with Bill Clinton when he was President of the United States.  (The other one was that he was a native of Arkansas, of course.)  

All the previous presidents in my lifetime had been World War II-vintage guys -- in other words, they were of my father's generation, not my generation.  Bill Clinton was too much like guys I knew in high school.  I'd bet money that he let the cute cheerleader who sat next to him in government class cheat off his answer sheet for the final exam.

Calvin Trillin, who was born on this date in 1935, is an accomplished journalist, novelist, memoirist, and comic poet.  He was probably best known for his many articles on food-related topics for the New Yorker magazine.  

Trillin was a native of Kansas City who appreciated simple, authentic regional cooking and despised pretentious, phony "Continental" restaurants.  Through Trillin, I discovered the Winsted's hamburger chain in Kansas City, as well as Arthur Bryant's barbecue.

My favorite Trillin piece was his New Yorker article about Chicken Mary's and Chicken Annie's, two restaurants that are truly iconic for me and many of my friends.  It's included in an anthology of Trillin's writing titled The Tummy Trilogy

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cornell Woolrich

I had that trapped feeling, like some sort of a poor insect that you've put inside an overturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can't, and it can't, and it can't.

From his Blues of a Lifetime: The Autobiography of Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich's first novels were reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, but he soon turned to writing pulp fiction, often using a pseudonym.  His crime books -- which include The Bride Wore Black, The Black Curtain, Black Alibi, The Black Angel, The Black Path of Fear, and Rendezvous in Black -- are weirder than those of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and his other contemporaries.  (Think Edgar Allen Poe if he had been born a century later.)

Woolrich's novels and short stories have been made into dozens of film noir movies.  The famous Hitchcock movie, Rear Window, is based on a Woolrich short story, and Francois Truffaut made two movies (The Bride Wore Black  and Mississippi Mermaid) based on Woolrich novels.  

After losing a leg -- he failed to get treatment for an infection that resulted from his wearing a too-tight shoe, and his leg had to be amputated  -- Woolrich lived the last years of his life in a New York City hotel as a recluse.  He became an alcoholic, and weighed only 89 pounds when he died in 1968.  Most of his books are out of print. 

Cornell Woolrich

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pete Townshend

Things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old.
From their 1965 hit single, "My Generation," which was written by Pete Townshend when he was 20.  "I hope I die before I get old" is the ultimate rock 'n' roll lyric -- no one's ever going to top it.

On this date in 1979, the Who were in Cincinnati to play at the Riverfront Coliseum before a sellout crowd of about 18,500 fans.  As was common in those days, concertgoers weren't assigned seats -- it was first-come, first-served.

Despite frigid temperatures, a crowd began to assemble outside the arena early that afternoon in hopes of getting choice seats.  When the Who had finished their sound check, five of the Coliseum's 134 doors were opened and thousands of fans began to surge forward.  (The reason so few doors were opened was that there were only nine ticket takers working that night, and it would have been a violation of union rules to allow ushers or other arena employees to take tickets.)

Eleven people were suffocated and died as a result of the stampede -- all well before they got old.  (The oldest was a 27-year-old mother of two, and the youngest were two 15-year-old friends.)  Dozens of others were injured.

Cincinnati banned first-come, first-served seating shortly after the tragedy.  The ban was repealed 25 years later.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gloria Carter

Shawn Carter was born December 4th
Weighing in at 10 pounds, 8 ounces
He was the last of my 4 children
The only one who didn't give me any pain when I gave birth to him
And that's how I knew that he was a special child

You may have noticed that "Rap Friday" was on hiatus in November.  But it's back for December -- the birth month of Shawn Carter, a/k/a Jay-Z.

The introduction to "December 4" (Jay-Z's birthday) is spoken by his mother, Gloria Carter.  According to her, she knew Jay-Z was special the day he was born, and Jay-Z would certainly second that emotion.

Jay-Z has an enormous ego.  (Only someone with a huge ego would begin a track with his mother telling the world how special he is because he caused her no pain during childbirth.)  That annoys a lot of people.  But Jay-Z just wouldn't be Jay-Z without his breathtaking swagger.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Helen F. Moore

'Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot?
From her 1896 poem, "The Midnight Ride of William Dawes."

Paul Revere wasn't the only midnight rider who helped alert colonial minutemen that British troops were on the march to Lexington and Concord.  William Dawes, a local tanner, also helped to spread the alarm.  But Longfellow's famous poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," mentioned only Revere.

I remembered reading a parody of Longfellow's poem as a child -- "Listen my children, while I pause/To tell of the ride of William Dawes."  It turns out those lines were part of a 1961 one-panel comic strip by Jimmy Hatlo -- his "They'll Do It Every Time" ran in Sunday newspapers (including the Joplin Globe) from 1929 until his death on this date in 1963.  Hatlo was also the creator of the more conventional comic strip, "Little Iodine."

William Dawes' great-great-grandson, Charles, was Calvin Coolidge's Vice President and co-recipient of the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize for his "Dawes Plan," an attempt to deal with lingering World War I-related issues.  He also wrote a piano piece that  was used as the tune for the 1958 #1 pop hit, "It's All in the Game."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mark Twain

Life was not a valuable gift, but death was. . . . [D]eath was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was man's best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free.

From his story, Letters from the Earth, which was published posthumously.

In 1895, Twain was in serious financial straits as a result of his investment in a new typesetting machine that never worked.  So he agreed to undertake an around-the-world lecture tour in order to pay off his debts.  

While Twain was in Europe on that tour, his 24-year-old daughter, Susy Clemens, died from spinal meningitis.  Twain was informed of her illness, but was unable to make it back to be with her before she died.  He was devastated by this loss, and much of his late writing is cynical and bitter.

Mark Twain was born on this date in 1835.

Olivia Susan ("Susy") Clemens

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Garry Shandling

I'm dating a homeless woman.  It's easier to talk her into staying over.

Garry Shandling, who was born on this date in 1949, got his start in show biz when he sold a script for the sitcom Sanford and Son to NBC in 1975.  He also wrote scripts for Welcome Back, Kotter and Three's Company.

After Shandling became a stand-up comedian, he was a frequent guest-host on The Tonight Show.  At one time, he was considered a candidate to replace Johnny Carson.

In 1992, Shandling launched The Larry Sanders Show on HBO.  Shandling played the title character, who was the host of a fictional late-night talk show.  It was a case of life imitating art, and it was brilliant -- the best television sitcom ever.

The guests on the show -- who always played themselves being guests on the show within the show -- included Carol Burnett, Robin Williams, William Shatner, Doc Severinsen, David Letterman, Suzanne Somers, Hugh Hefner, Sugar Ray Leonard, Adam Sandler, Alex Trebek, Howard Stern, Burt Reynolds, Jerry Seinfeld, Sharon Stone, Courteney Cox, Gloria Steinem, Bob Costas, Vince Vaughn, Sean Penn, Warren Beatty and many, many more.

I think my favorite moment on the show came when the deaf actress Marlee Matlin and Brooke Shield got into a dispute over dressing rooms.  Matlin used sign language to call Shield a very, very bad name.  It was as if Mother Teresa had dropped the f-bomb.