Sunday, July 31, 2011

Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Jarrell published "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" in 1945.  A ball turret was a small plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24 bomber.  It housed twin .50 caliber machine guns and was usually manned by the smallest member of the bomber's crew, whose environment was incredibly claustrophobic.  The ball turret gunner's job was to protect the bomber from fighter aircraft attacking from below.

A B-17 ball turret

Jarrell was born in Nashville in 1914 and received a B.A. (magna cum laude) from Vanderbilt in 1935, where was edited the student humor magazine, captained the tennis team, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  His first job after college was teaching the freshman composition class at Kenyon College, where he also coached tennis.  While teaching at Kenyon, Jarrell lived with two Pulitzer Prize winners -- Peter Taylor (fiction, 1987) and Robert Lowell (poetry, 1947 and 1974).

Jarrell was appreciated as a literary critic before he was appreciated as a poet.  He feared that he would be remembered solely for "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," which has been widely anthologized.   

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Casey Stengel

It ain't getting it that hurts them, it's staying up all night looking for it.  They got to learn that if you don't get it by midnight, you ain't gonna get it, and if you do, it ain't worth it.

(Casey Stengel, New York Yankees manager, speaking about baseball players who missed curfew because they were out chasing women.) 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Killer Mike

My words are diamonds dug out of a mine
Spit on 'em, polish 'em, look how they shine
Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss
I catch a beat runnin' like Randy Moss
From his guest appearance on Outkast's 2001 single, "The Whole World," which won a Grammy for best performance by a rap group.  Randy Moss is a 7-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in touchdowns by a receiver 5 times. 

I am fond of this song because they used to play it during pregame warmups when my daughters played basketball for the Academy of the Holy Cross Tartans back in 2001-2002.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Clarence Darrow

We are all murderers at heart . . . . I never killed anybody, but I often read an obituary notice with great satisfaction.

From his 1926 testimony before a Congressional committee holding hearings on capital punishment, which he opposed.  Darrow was first a corporate lawyer, then represented labor unions until he was accused of attempting to bribe the jurors in a case where he represented two brothers who dynamited the Los Angeles Times building during a bitter labor dispute.  The bribery charges effectively ended his career as a labor lawyer, so he became a criminal defense lawyer -- he had an almost perfect record in death penalty cases.  

Clarence Darrow in action

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Seamus Heaney

You lose more of yourself than you redeem
Doing the decent thing
From his 1984 poem, "Station Island."  Heaney, who was born in Northern Ireland in 1939, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.  Robert Lowell has called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats," and his books outsell those of all other living poets combined in the UK. 

Seamus Heaney

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apples in Stereo

Saturday is not the ideal day to break up
Don't you know it takes a little time to wake up?

From "Play Tough," which  was on their 2007 album, New Magnetic Wonder.  

If Saturday isn't the ideal day to break up, what day is?  Tuesday, of course!  Unlike a Saturday, you have work to distract you -- but unlike a Thursday, you still have plenty of time to line someone new for the upcoming weekend.

Monday, July 25, 2011

David Randolph

"Parsifal" is the kind of opera that starts at 6 o'clock.  After it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20.

David Randolph -- who died last year at age 95 -- was a choral conductor whose annual holiday performances of Handel's Messiah at New York City's Carnegie Hall were very popular.  Randolph was known for getting through the entire Messiah in under three hours (including intermission).  It's no surprise he was not a fan of Richard Wagner.

Wagner decided to write an opera based on the legend of the Arthurian knight Percival's quest for the Holy Grail in 1857, but the premiere of the finished Parsifal didn't take place until 25 years later -- July 26, 1882, to be exact.  

Conductor Felix Weingartner found that "The flower-maidens' costumes showed extraordinary lack of taste, but the singing was incomparable."  (I'd like to see a picture of those costumes.  If you find one, please send it to me.)

Mark Twain disagreed with regard to the singing.  After attending a performance of Parsifal in 1891, he said this:  "Singing?  It does seem the wrong name to apply to it."

Here's a brief excerpt from a live performance of Parsifal:

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Parch'd was the grass, 
  and blighted was the corn . . .
[F]or Sirius, from on high, 
With pestilential heat infects the sky: 
My men -- some fall, the rest in fevers fry. 

From John Dryden's 1697 translation of Virgil's Aeneid, which tells the story of the founding of Rome by the Trojan hero, Aeneas.  The first line of the Aeneid -- "Arma virumque cano," or "Of arms and the man I sing" -- inspired the title of George Bernard Shaw's 1894 play, Arms and the Man.  

In ancient Rome, the hot, sultry "dog days" of summer -- named for Sirius, the "Dog Star" -- ran from July 24 to August 24.  In those days, Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) rose at about the same time as the sun during those dates.  That is no longer true, of course, owing to precession of the equinoxes -- but you probably knew that already.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bob Dylan

He not busy being born

Is busy dying
From his song "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," which was released on his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home.  Dylan has stated that this is one of the songs that means the most to him, and he has often performed the song in concert.  A Dylan biographer described the song as a "grim masterpiece," and I have to agree.

Jimmy Carter used the lines quoted above in his acceptance speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, and Al Gore told Oprah Winfrey in 2000 that this was his favorite quotation.

Roger McGuinn of the Byrds covered the song for the 1969 movie, Easy Rider.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

50 Cent

They say first comes love, 
Then comes marriage
Instead I got Shanequa in a baby carriage
Then came the cash, 
Then the baby mama drama
I gave that bitch a half a mill, 
She blew it on Prada
I remember when I met the bitch
And she ain't have nada
From "So Disrespectful," which appeared on his 2009 Before I Self Destruct album.  Kanye West isn't the only rapper who saw the rhyming potential of "Prada" and "nada."

[Warning: the lyrics to this song are explicit with a capital E!]

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Will Bill Hickok

"As ter killing men,” [Wild Bill Hickok] replied, "I never thought much about it. The most of the men I have killed it was one or the other of us, and at sich times you don’t stop to think; and what’s the use after it’s all over? As for [Davis] Tutt, I had rather not have killed him, for I want ter settle down quiet here now. But thar’s been hard feeling between us a long while. I wanted ter keep out of that fight; but he tried to degrade me, and I couldn’t stand that, you know, for I am a fighting man, you know.”

From an 1867 Harper's magazine article about the James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok-Davis Tutt shootout by George Ward Nichols.  Click here to read a copy of the entire article.  
The Hickok-Tutt gunfight, which took place on this date in 1865 in the town square of Springfiled, Missouri, is the first recorded instance of a one-on-one, quick-draw gunfight in a public place, and served as the inspiration for countless depictions of gunfights in dime novels and Hollywood movies.

Hickok and Tutt (who were both serious gamblers) had been friends at one time, but seem to have had a falling out over a woman.  In a high-stakes poker game at the Lyon House Hotel in Springfield one evening, Tutt claimed that Hickok owed him money from a previous game, and grabbed Hickok's gold pocket-watch off the table.  Hickok warned him not to wear the watch in public, but Tutt appeared in the town square at 10 a.m. the next morning with Hickok's watch dangling from a pocket.  Hickok attempted to settle the alleged debt in order to get his watch back without bloodshed, but the negotiations eventually broke down.

At about 6 p.m., the two men faced off from a distance of about 75 yards.  Witnesses later said that Tutt -- who was thought to be the superior marksman -- pulled his gun first.  The men shot almost simultaneously -- not from the hip, as is usually depicted in western movies -- but facing each other sideways, in traditional dueling position.  Tutt's shot went high.  Hickok, who steadied his Colt navy revolver on his opposite forearm, hit Tutt in the left side, and Tutt died moments later.

Hickok was tried for manslaughter two weeks later,  His attorney was John S. Phelps, a Union colonel in the Civil War who was later elected governor of Missouri.  (One of my ancestors was in his regiment, which saw action at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March 1862.)  Hickok was quickly acquitted.

The Harper's article made Wild Bill a celebrity.  For the next decade or so, he worked as a sheriff and US marshal and also appeared in a couple of different Wild West shows.  He moved to Deadwood, South Dakota -- a wide-open gold mining camp -- in 1876, where he was shot in the back of the head and killed while playing poker.  

Hickok was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights at the time -- all black cards -- and that hand is still known today as the "dead man's hand."

Wild Bill Hickok

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Alexsandar Hemon

[It is a fallacy] that suffering is ennobling -- that it is a step on the path to some kind of enlightenment or salvation. Isabel's suffering and death did nothing for her, or us, or the world.  We learned no lessons worth learning; we acquired no experience that could benefit anyone. . . . [Isabel's] indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies, whose sole function is a continuous secretion of sorrow.
From "The Aquarium," in the June 13 & 20, 2011, issue of the New Yorker.  Hemon's daughter, Isabel, was nine months old when doctors discovered that she had a rare and highly malignant brain tumor.  His account of the next several months culminates in a harrowing description of the innocent child's truly horrific final moments.  

You could say that what happened to Isabel is every parent's worst nightmare -- but I have never had a nightmare that was nearly as bad as this, and I doubt that you have either.  It's a remarkable article, but I don't blame you a bit if you choose not to read it. 

Alexsandar Hemon

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Theodor Fontane

Do I mean to marry Lene?  No.  Have I promised her I would?  No.  Does she expect it?  No.  Or will parting be any easier for us if I defer it?  No, no, and no again.

From his 1888 novel, "On Tangled Paths."  The speaker is a dashing young officer and member of an aristocratic family.  Lene is a pretty young seamstress.  They are in love, but neither has any illusions that they will marry one another instead of someone more "suitable."  Fontane is a highly-praised German novelist who is largely unknown in the United States.  He declared his intention to become a novelist as he was nearing his 60th birthday, and eventually produced 17 novels -- an inspiration to many of us.

Theodor Fontane

Monday, July 18, 2011

Japanese proverb

We learn little from victory, but much from defeat.
Before yesterday, the U.S. women's soccer team had played Japan 25 times, including three times in 2011 -- and the Japanese had never won.  In fact, there was no other country the U.S. had played more often without suffering a single defeat.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Les Brown Orchestra

And now they speak in whispers low
Of how they stopped our Joe
One night in Cleveland -- oh! oh! oh!
Goodbye streak, DiMaggio!
From the Les Brown Orchestra's hit record, "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio."  After safely hitting in 56 consecutive games, Joe DiMaggio went hitless on this date in 1941 -- due largely to the defensive efforts of Cleveland Indians 3B Ken Keltner, who made two outstanding backhanded stops on hard-hit balls down the line.

In 1954, after his retirement from baseball, DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe.  When Marilyn returned from entertaining thousands of U.S. troops in Korea that year, she said, "It was wonderful, Joe -- you never heard such cheering."  He replied, "Yes, I have."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anne Herbert

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.
Anne Herbert is an American writer who is best-known for coining the phrase, "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."  (This quote was inspired by underground comics artist Gilbert Shelton's "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.")

On this date in 1901, Andrew Carnegie gave $60,000 to Joplin, Missouri, for the construction of a public library -- one of 1689 Carnegie libraries built in the United States.  The Joplin library was a second home for me when I was growing up.  I would have to say that other than my parents, my grandparents, and my piano teacher, no one had a greater influence on my childhood than Andrew Carnegie. 

Joplin's Carnegie Library


Friday, July 15, 2011

Kanye West

So if the devil wear Prada,
Adam 'n' Eve wear nada,
I'm in between, but way more fresher
With way less effort 
'Cause when you try hard,
That's when you die hard.
From "Can't Tell Me Nothing," which was the lead single from Kanye's 2007 album, Graduation.  It was featured in The Hangover, and Zach Galifianakis was featured in an alternative official music video for the song.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

[Ullholm said,] "I'd make for the mountains if it weren't that the whole of Lapland is lousy with Lapps.  You see what I mean, don't you?"
"I'm married to a Lapp girl," Rönn said.
Ullholm looked him with a peculiar mixture of distaste and curiosity.  Lowering his voice, he said, "How interesting and extraordinary.  Is it true that Lapp women have it crosswise?"
From their 1968 novel, The Laughing Policeman, which was made into an American movie (it starred Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern) in 1973.  The book was the 4th of the series of 10 mystery novels the couple wrote between 1965 and 1975 (the year Wahlöö died) that featured a fictional Swedish police detective named Martin Beck.

Sjöwall and Wahlöö lived together for 13 years, but never married.  They considered themselves Marxists.  

When I read this passage recently, it reminded me of an old joke about Japanese women (supposed dating back to World War II):  "It's not six o'clock, it's a quarter 'til three." 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Charles de Gaulle

How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?

That's a very good question, mon général!  Charles de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French Forces in World War II, prime minister of the French provisional government after the liberation of France from the Nazis, and either the prime minister or president of France from 1958 to 1969.

General de Gaulle

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Neil Young

This much madness
is too much sorrow
It's impossible
to make it today . . .
Down by the river
I shot my baby
This certainly qualifies as a truly bad romance.  From his 1969 album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.  Young later said that he wrote this song in his Topanga Canyon bedroom while delirious with a 103-degree fever. 

Here's a spectacular video of CSNY performing this song live in Big Sur:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Woody Guthrie

As through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen

From his 1944 song, "Pretty Boy Floyd."  Guthrie was born 99 years ago tomorrow in Okemah, Oklahoma.  He inherited Huntington's disease (which destroys muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia -- typically becoming noticeable around age 40) from his mother.  He died in 1967, having spent the last 11 years of his life in various psychiatric hospitals.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; 
Rise up -- for you the flag is flung -- for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths -- for you the shores a-crowding; 
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning . . .

Walt Whitman wrote "O Captain! My Captain!" in tribute to Abraham Lincoln.  I am posting it today in tribute to Derek Jeter, the longest-serving captain of the greatest sports franchise in history, the New York Yankees.

Yesterday, Jeter became the first Yankee to have 3000 base hits in his career.  Babe Ruth didn't have 3000 hits, and neither did Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle.

Yesterday, it was for Derek Jeter that "they call[ed], the swaying mass, their eager faces turning."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bob Ryan

In a contest between Truth and Fiction, you'd be wise to take Truth, plus the points, every time.
Ryan, who has been called "the quintessential American sportswriter," went to work for the Boston Globe in 1969.  He covers all sports, but is best known as a basketball writer -- he has covered 20 NBA finals and 20 NCAA final fours.  

Bob Ryan

Friday, July 8, 2011

Flo Rida

From the top of the pole, I watch her go down
She got me throwing money around
Ain’t nothing more beautiful to be found
It’s going down, down

From his 2009 hit, "Right Round," which reached #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100" and stayed there for 6 weeks despite mostly negative reviews.  (Most critics found it cheesy and misogynistic.  Ya think?)  Rappers love strip joints, stripper poles, and strippers almost as much as they love Bentleys.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Robert Heinlein

Women and cats do what they do; there is nothing a man may do about it.

Heinlein was born on this date in 1907.  This quote is from his 1985 novel, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: A Comedy of Manners.  One of the characters in this book is Pixel, a cat who does walk through a wall -- Heinlein explains that the cat is too young to know that it is impossible.  You might write a book about a dog who dug under a wall, or chewed a hole through a wall, but you would never write a book about a dog who walked through a wall.  A dog doesn't have as much imagination as a cat.

Robert Heinlein died in 1988

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

William Shakespeare

Shall I be plain?  I wish the bastards dead;
And I would have it suddenly performed.

From Act IV, scene ii, of Shakespeare's 1591 play, The Life and Death of King Richard III.  Richard III was crowned King of England on this date in 1483.  He succeeded to the throne when his 12-year-old nephew, Edward V, and Edward's younger brother (also named Richard) were declared to be illegitimate because their father (Edward IV, Richard III's older brother and the King of England from 1461 until his death in 1483) was not legally married to his mother.

Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth Field two years later.  His defeat brought an end to the War of the Roses.  The victor in that battle was Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII. 

Historians still debate what happened to Richard's two nephews -- who became known as the "Princes in the Tower" because they moved into the Tower of London (then a royal residence, not a prison) in anticipation of Edward's coronation, and were kept there by Richard after he usurped the throne.  But most agree that the princes were eventually murdered in the Tower.  Shakespeare believed that Richard had a knight named James Tyrrell get rid of his nephews.  (In the quotation above, Richard is speaking to Tyrrell.)  Tyrell admitted committing the murders in 1501, but his confession may have been obtained through torture.

Richard III

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Statler Brothers

Countin' flowers on the wall 
That don't bother me at all
Playin' solitare till dawn 
With a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothing to do

(The Statler Brothers single, "Flowers on the Wall," was released in 1965.  It made it to #4 on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart and #2 on the "Hot Country Singles" chart.  Almost 30 years later, the song was featured in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.  I hadn't thought about the song in years, but recently remembered that it was a favorite of an old friend -- I hope he will see this post.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

John Adams

The 2nd day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

From a letter dated July 3, 1776, to his wife, Abigail.  The Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2, and approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4.  So why don't Americans celebrate July 2 instead of July 4?

Oddly, both Thomas Jefferson (the author of the Declaration of Independence) and Adams (who spoke eloquently in favor of its adoption on the floor of the Continental Congress) died on the 50th anniversary of its approval -- July 4th, 1826.  The two men had become bitter political rivals after the United States won its independence.  Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson for the Presidency in 1796, while Jefferson returned the favor four years later.  The bitterness seems to have eventually faded, but Adams' true feelings may have been shown by his final words -- "Thomas Jefferson still survives."  (Adams was wrong -- Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Doors

You're lost, little girl
You're lost, little girl
You're lost
Tell me who
Are you?

Jim Morrison -- a lost soul if there ever was one -- died on this date in 1971.  He, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain all died when they were 27 years old.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

William Dean Howells

I don't see why, when it comes to falling in love, a man shouldn't fall in love with a rich girl as easily as a poor one.

From his 1885 novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham.  (I don't think my mother ever read that book, but she used to say the same thing.)  Howells was a fine novelist and a respected literary critic who was the editor of the Atlantic Monthly from 1871 to 1881.  He and Mark Twain were close friends for many years.

William Dean Howells

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sir Wilfred Laurier

The 19th century was the century of the United States.  I think we can claim that it is Canada that shall fill the 20th century.
(Today is Canada Day -- also known as "Canada's birthday."  Sir Wilfred Laurier was the Prime Minister of Canada from 1896 and 1911.  Historians consider him one of Canada's greatest prime minsters, but he was certainly no prophet.)

Canada Day parade in Banff