Saturday, January 1, 2011

Behind the Seen


Pipe and passport of René Magritte

پشت مشت های رندان

E. M. Forster (born 1 January, 1879; died 7 June, 1970), pictured above in a 1968 photograph taken in Forster’s rooms at King’s College, Cambridge (from the Cambridge Archive Centre; Copyright Edward Leigh)

‘The trouble is that the English nature is not at all easy to understand. It has a great air of simplicity, it advertises itself as simple, but the more we consider it, the greater the problems we shall encounter. People talk of the mysterious East, but the West also is mysterious. It has depths that do not reveal themselves at the first gaze. We know what the sea looks like from a distance: it is of one colour, and level, and obviously cannot contain such creatures as fish. But if we look into the sea over the edge of a boat, we see a dozen colours, and depth below depth, and fish swimming in the sea. That sea is the English character - apparently imperturbable and even. The depths and the colours are the English romanticism and the English sensitiveness . we do not expect to find such things, but they exist. And - to continue my metaphor - the fish are the English emotions, which are always trying to get up to the surface, but don’t quite know how. For the most part we see them moving far below, distorted and obscure. Now and then they succeed and we exclaim, “Why, the Englishman has emotions. He actually can feel!” And occasionally we see that beautiful creature the flying fish, which rises out of the water altogether into the air and the sunlight. English literature is a flying fish. It is a sample of the life that goes on day after day beneath the surface; it is a proof that beauty and emotion exist in the salt, iinhospitable sea.’

—from ‘Notes on the English Character’ (1920)

‘Cold, Cold Heart,’ by Hank Williams (born 17 September, 1923; died 1 January, 1953)

Here is a short but good article on Williams that Garrison Keillor wrote for The New York Times in 2005


A major literary birthday: American author J.D. Salinger - Jan 1., 1919 - 2010…

His perennial coming-of-age novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951) captured the angry and frustrated, yet innocent tone of a generation of post-war youth, seeking something holy and pure beyond the squalor of middle-class life and family relations. Its protagonist Holden Caulfield has become a ’50s icon on line with Jack Kerouac’s Sal and Dean, and other rebels without a cause…

Photo: Antony di Gesu, November 1952

“The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid…” — J.D. Salinger: “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”


Country Joe: I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag (Woodstock version, w. Fuck-cheer)


Cicero (born 3 January, 106 BC; died 7 December, 43 BC), imagined above in a 1464 Italian painting (artist unknown) entitled, The Young Cicero Reading; in the Wallace Collection, London

Omnium rerum principia parva sunt

All things begin small.

from De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum

Umberto Eco (born 5 January, 1932), pictured above in a photograph taken in India in 2005 by T. Singaravelou (from The Hindu)

‘There are two ways of walking through a wood. The first is to try one of several routes (so as to get out of the wood as fast as possible, say, or to reach the house of grandmother, Tom Thumb, or Hansel and Gretel); the second is to walk so as to discover what the wood is like and find out why some paths are accessible and others are not. Similarly, there are two ways of going through a narrative text.’

—from Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (1994)


Stella Gibbons, pictured above in 1998, in a photograph by John Hedgecoe (also in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery)

Stella Gibbons (born 5 January, 1902; died 19 December 1989), pictured above in a 1955 photograph by Mark Gerson; in the collection the National Portrait Gallery, London

‘Because she was tired of living in London among clever people, Miss Rhoda Harting, a reserved yet moderately successful novelist in the thirty-third year of her age, retired during one November to a cottage in Buckinghamshire. Nor did she wish to marry.

“I dislike fuss, noise, worry, and all the other accidents, which so my friends tell me, attend the married state,” she said. “I like being alone. I like my work. Why should I marry?”

“You are unnatural, Rhoda,” protested her friends.

“Possibly, but at least I am cheerful,” retorted Miss Harting. “Which,” she added (but this was to herself), “is more than one can be said of most of you.”

The cottage in Buckinghamshire, which was near Great Missenden, suited her tastes. It had a double holly tree in the garden, and a well in whose dark depths she could see her own silhouette against the wintry blue sky. It stood in a lane, with long fields at the back which sloped up to a hill with a squared beechwood at the summit. Halfway up the hill stood another house, Monkswell, a large, new, red house. Miss Harting used to look at this house and say contentedly, “I feel like the gardener at Monkswell. This used to be his cottage, I am told.”

She furnished her cottage fastidiously with English china, English prints, chintz, and a well-equipped kitchen. For the first fort-night she played with it as though it were the dolls’ house it so much resembled, but soon she began to work on a new novel, and, as everybody knows, the writing of novels does not allow time for playing at anything.

A quiet, pleasant routine, therefore, replaced her first delighted experiments…’

—from “The Little Christmas Tree” (first published in 1940)


Acid legend and casualty, Syd Barrett (Jan 6, 1946 - 2006), who fronted Pink Floyd when they set the agenda for experimental psychedelic rock in Britain, appearing on the two first Floyd albums in 67 and 68. Barrett dropped off the planet following his ousting from the band due to his increasingly erratic behaviour…

Pink Floyd: Us and Them - from Dark Side of the Moon


Gustave Doré (Jan. 6, 1832 - 1883), fine illustrator of the classics, from Dante, via Cervantes to Poe…

Above: Dante - The Empyrean


South Korean poet Ko Un, 77 years old today…

Ko Un: Sunlight

I’m utterly helpless.
I’ll just have to swallow my spit
and adversity, too.
But look!
A distinguished visitor deigns to visit
my tiny, north-facing cell.
Not the chief making his rounds, no.
As evening falls, a ray of sunlight.
A gleam no bigger than a crumpled postage stamp.
I’m crazy about it! Real first love!
I try to get it to settle on the palm of my hand,
to warm the toes of my shyly bared foot.
Then as I kneel and offer it my undevout, lean face,
in a moment that scrap of sunlight slips away.
After the guest has departed through the bars
the room feels several times colder and darker.
This special cell of a military prison
is like a photographer’s darkroom.
Without any sunlight I laughed like a fool.
One day it was a coffin holding a corpse.
One day it was altogether the sea. How wonderful!
A few people survive here.
Being alive is a sea
without a single sail in sight.

— from SONGS FOR TOMORROW (Green Integer Books, 2009)


Animals, painted in 1930 by Pavel Filonov (born 8 January, 1883; died 3 December, 1941); in the collection of the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Birthday of French writer and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir: Jan. 9, 1908 - 1986…

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” — Simone De Beauvoir


Parmigianino (the nickname of Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola) (born 11 January, 1503; died 24 August, 1540), pictured above in perhaps his best-known work, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, painted around 1524, and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

‘The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keep it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest? The surface
Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
In suspension, unable to advance much farther
Than your look as it intercepts the picture…’

—from ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,’ by John Ashbery (originally published in Poetry; published in book form in 1975)


Haruki Murakami, Japanese novelist known for his extensive use of Western pop culture references which spin off into a crazy form of postmodern pastiche, turns 62 today…

“Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody - which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony - the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.”


Ethical philosopher of the day: Lithuanian-born French thinker, Emmanuel Levinas (Jan 12, 1906 - 1995):

“Politics is opposed to morality, as philosophy to naïveté.”

“Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God. It is believing that love without reward is valuable.”


The Rothko Chapel, Houston (image copyright © 2011 Houston Museum District)

The fourth part of Rothko Chapel, composed in 1971 by Morton Feldman (born 12 January, 1926; died 3 September, 1987), performed here by the University of California Berkeley Chamber Chorus, directed by Philip Brett; Deborah Dietrich, soprano; David Abel, viola; Karen Rosenak, celesta; William Winant, percussion; in a 1990 recording for New Albion


The beginning of Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon), a 1956 film written and directed by Albert Lamourisse (born 13 January, 1922; died 2 June, 1970), starring the director’s son, Pascal Lamourisse as the boy, Pascal; with music by Maurice Leroux


G. I. Gurdjieff (Jan. 13, 1866? – 1949) was a Greek-Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher…

In contrast to the three eastern teachings that emphasize the development of the body, mind, or the emotions separately, Gurdjieff’s The Fourth Way exercises worked on all three at the same time to promote comprehensive and balanced inner development…

Many Modernist writers (Jean Toomer, Katherine Mansfield) and artists (Walter Inglis Anderson, Frank Lloyd Wright) were attracted to his techniques and ideas…


Celebrating Wayne Coyne at 50…

The Flaming Lips: She Don’t Use Jelly - from Transmissions from the Satellite Heart, 1993


Coin de table, painted in 1872 by Henri Fantin-Latour (born 14 January, 1836; died 25 August 1904); in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Seated, from left to right: Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Léon Valade, Ernest d’Hervilly et Camille Pelletan;

Standing, from left to right: Pierre Elzéar, Emile Blémont et Jean Aicard


Les McCann: Beaux J. Poo Boo - from Invitation To Openness, 1972

Personnel: Les McCann (piano, electric piano, Moog synthesizer, arranger, conductor); Yusef Lateef (tenor sax, oboe, flute, pneumatic flute, plum blossom, temple bells); David Spinozza (guitar, electric guitar); Cornell Dupree (electric guitar); Corky Hale (harp); Jodie Christian (electric piano); Bill Salter (electric bass); Jimmy Rowser (bass); Bernard Purdie (drums, percussion); Al Mouzon (drums, percussion); Donald Dean (drums, percussion); William “Buck” Clarke (African drums, percussion); Ralph McDonald (percussion)


Jeune fille écrivant, painted in 1891 by Berthe Morisot (born 14 January, 1841; died 2 March, 1895); in the inventory of Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Paris

Les McCann: North Carolina - from Talk to the People (1972)

Personnel: Les McCann (piano); Keith Loving (guitar); James Rowser (bass); Donald Dean (drums); Buck Clarke (percussion)

Les McCann & Eddie Harris: Cold Duck Time - from Swiss Movement (1969)

Personnel: Les McCann: Piano; Eddie Harris: Tenor Sax; Benny Bailey: Trumpet; Leroy Vinnegar: Bass; Donald Dean: Drums

Epic Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey solos…


An excerpt from a speech given in Chicago on 27 August, 1967 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (born 15 January, 1929; died 4 April, 1968)


Osip Mandelstam (Jan 15, 1891 - 1938, Gulag victim of Stalin) - Russian Symbolist poet:

I was washing in the yard at night.
The firmament was brilliant with rude stars.
Starlight lay like salt upon the axe,
The barrel cooling, filled up to the brim.

The gates are tightly shut and locked,
And the earth is stern and conscientious.
No foundation is likely to be found
As pure as the truth of a fresh canvas.

Like a grain of salt, a star melts in the barrel,
And the cold water grows blacker –
Death grows purer, misfortune saltier,
And the earth more terrible and truthful

— 1921, translated by Ilya Bernshtein


Broadcast: Echo’s Answer - from The Noise Made by People, 2000


Carlos Pellicer, Mexican modernist poet, Jan. 16, 1897 - 1977…


Sonnet to Frida Kahlo

If in your womb camped the splendid
Rose of colors, if your breast
Nourishes the land with brunette
Food of shining thickness;

If from your maternal wideness
The nocturnal rose of the holly nights
Like poinsettias brought your image with
Serene disasters in your populous face.

If your sons born with ages
That nobody could supply with hours
Because they speak solitude of eternities,

You will always be above the living soil,
You will always be riot full of dawns,
The heroic flower of successive dawns.

— Carlos Pellicer

Photo: Lola Alvarez Bravo, c. 1950


Ralph Gibson (b. Jan 16, 1939): Nude, from Days at Sea portfolio, 1974


Osip Brik, Jan. 16, 1888 – 1945: Russian avant garde writer and literary critic - one of the most important members of the Russian formalist school, though he also identified himself as one of the Futurists…

Brik was co-founder with Mayakovsky of the most dynamic avant-garde journal of the early Soviet era, Left Front of Art, which was also an official publication for the group with the same name, and a platform for Russian Constructivist art…

Photo: Alexander Rodchenko: The Critic Osip Brik, 1924 - raw version before montage, which inserted the acronym LEF (in Cyrillic letters) in Osip’s ‘blind’ spectacle glass…


Jan 16, 1933 was the birthday of eminent writer and critic (of photography, camp - and many other cultural texts and practices), Susan Sontag (d. 2004, cancer)…

Regarding Susan Sontag is a feature-length documentary in production on the late critic, novelist, director, and activist. The film follows Sontag through a life marked by moral conviction, engagements with fascinating people, and public controversy.

Above - still from Regarding Susan Sontag


William Kennedy (born 16 January, 1928), pictured above in his library, in a 1993 photograph by Nancy Schiff

‘He stepped into the bath and slid slowly beneath its vapors. He trembled with the heat, with astonishment that he was indeed here, as snug in this steaming tub as was the turkey in its roasting pan. He felt blessed. He stared at the bathroom sink, which now had an aura of sanctity about it, its faucets sacred, its drainpipe holy, and he wondered whether everything was blessed at some point in its existence, and he concluded yes. Sweat rolled down his forehead and dripped off his nose into the bath, a confluence of ancient and modern waters. And as it did, a great sunburst entered the darkening skies, a radiance so sudden that it seemed like a bolt of lightning; yet its brilliance remained, as if some angel of beatific lucidity were hovering outside the bathroom window. So enduring was the light, so intense beyond even sundown’s final gloryburst, that Francis raised himself up out of the tub and went to the window.

Below, in the yard, Aldo Campione, Fiddler Quain, Harold Allen, and Rowdy Dick Doolan were erecting a wooden structure that Francis was already able to recognize as bleachers.

He stepped back into the tub, soaped the long-handled brush, raised his left foot out of the water, scrubbed it clean, raised the right foot, scrubbed that.’

—from Ironweed (1983)

Inger Christensen (born 16 January, 1935; died 2 January, 2009), pictured above in a photograph made in the last years of her life, for the European Presshoto Agency

Men’s Voices

Men’s voices in the darkness

—once in a temple—

men’s voices in the sun

—I was once caryatid

number nine—

men’s voices in the park

—I was a statue

naked, inviolate

with no other mirror

than fingers of air

moving from thought to thought

with no other sorrow

than the rustle of leaves—

men’s voices in the park:

why have they wakened me?

—from it (det; first published in 1969; translated from the Danish by Nadia Christensen)

from Light: Winter

Winter is out for a lot this year

the beach already is stiff

all will be one will be one this year

wings and ice will be one in the world

all will be changed in the world:

the boat will hear its steps on the ice

the war will hear its war on the ice

the woman will hear her hour on the ice

the hour of birth in the ice of death

winter is out for a lot.

Out for the houses the cities

out for the forests the clouds

the mountains the valleys fear

the heart the children peace.

Winter is out for a lot this year

the hand already is stiff

the crying of children is heard in the house

one will we be one life

I hear my house slip with the world

and scream all that has been screamed

the heart rams its boat into ice

shells rustling in the hull

winter is out for as much.

If I freeze fast in the ice

if you freeze fast my child

my great forest next summer

my great fear as I come

if you freeze fast my life:

then I am a vulture of wings and ice

tearing my liver, my living life

awake in eternity.

This winter is in for a lot.

—from Light (Lys; first published in 1962; translated from the Danish by Susannah Nied; translation first published in a 2009 issue of Poetry)


Gregory Corso, Beat poet - died this day in 2001, aged 70, from prostate cancer…

“If you believe you’re a poet, then you’re saved.” — Gregory Corso

Three - Gregory Corso


The streetsinger is sick
crouched in the doorway, holding his heart.
One less song in the noisy night.


Outside the wall
the aged gardener plants his shears
A new young man
has come to snip the hedge


Death weeps because Death is human
spending all day in a movie when a child dies.

— from The Happy Birthday of Death, 1960

Photo: Hank O’Neal, 1986


A. A. (Alan Alexander) Milne (born 18 January, 1882; died 31 January, 1956), pictured above in his home in Chelsea in 1929 (image copyright owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries)

Wrongly Attributed

‘You’ve heard of Willy Ferrero, the Boy Conductor? A musical prodigy, seven years old, who will order the fifth oboe out of the Albert Hall as soon as look at him. Well, he has a rival.

Willy, as perhaps you know, does not play any instrument himself; he only conducts. His rival (Johnny, as I think of him) does not conduct as yet; at least, not audibly. His line is the actual manipulation of the pianoforte—the Paderewski touch. Johnny lives in the flat below, and I hear him touching.

On certain mornings in the week—no need to specify them—I enter my library and give myself up to literary composition. On the same mornings little Johnny enters his music-room (underneath) and gives himself up to musical composition. Thus we are at work together.

The worst of literary composition is this: that when you have got hold of what you feel is a really powerful idea, you find suddenly that you have been forestalled by some earlier writer—Sophocles or Shakespeare or George R. Sims. Then you have to think again. This frequently happens to me upstairs; and downstairs poor Johnny will find to his horror one day that his great work has already been given to the world by another—a certain Dr. John Bull.

Johnny, in fact, is discovering “God Save the King” with one finger.

As I dip my pen in the ink and begin to write, Johnny strikes up. On the first day when this happened, some three months ago, I rose from my chair and stood stiffly through the performance—an affair of some minutes, owing to a little difficulty with “Send him victorious,” a line which always bothers Johnny. However, he got right through it at last, after harking back no more than twice, and I sat down to my work again. Generally speaking, “God Save the King” ends a show; it would be disloyal to play any other tune after that. Johnny quite saw this … and so began to play “God Save the King” again.

I hope that His Majesty, the Lord Chamberlain, the late Dr. Bull, or whoever is most concerned, will sympathize with me when I say that this time I remained seated. I have my living to earn.
From that day Johnny has interpreted Dr. John Bull’s favourite composition nine times every morning. As this has been going on for three months, and as the line I mentioned has two special rehearsals to itself before coming out right, you can easily work out how many send-him-victoriouses Johnny and I have collaborated in. About two thousand.

Very well. Now, you ask yourself, why did I not send a polite note to Johnny’s father asking him to restrain his little boy from over-composition, begging him not to force the child’s musical genius too quickly, imploring him (in short) to lock up the piano and lose the key? What kept me from this course? The answer is “Patriotism.” Those deep feelings for his country which one man will express glibly by rising nine times during the morning at the sound of the National Anthem, another will direct to more solid uses. It was my duty, I felt, not to discourage Johnny. He was showing qualities which could not fail, when he grew up, to be of value to the nation. Loyalty, musical genius, determination, patience, industry—never before have these qualities been so finely united in a child of six. Was I to say a single word to disturb the delicate balance of such a boy’s mind? At six one is extraordinarily susceptible to outside influence. A word from his father to the effect that the gentleman above was getting sick of it, and Johnny’s whole life might be altered.

No, I would bear it grimly.

And then, yesterday, who should write to me but Johnny’s father himself. This was the letter:

“Dear Sir—I do not wish to interfere unduly in the affairs of the other occupants of these flats, but I feel bound to call your attention to the fact that for many weeks now there has been a flow of water from your bathroom, which has penetrated through the ceiling of my bathroom, particularly after you have been using the room in the mornings. May I therefore beg you to be more careful in future not to splash or spill water on your floor, seeing that it causes inconvenience to the tenants beneath you?
“Yours faithfully, Jno. McAndrew.”

You can understand how I felt about this. For months I had been suffering Johnny in silence; yet, at the first little drop of water from above, Johnny’s father must break out into violent abuse of me. A fine reward! Well, Johnny’s future could look after itself now; anyhow, he was doomed with a selfish father like that.

“Dear Sir,” I answered defiantly, “Now that we are writing to each other I wish to call your attention to the fact that for many months past there has been a constant flow of one-fingered music from your little boy, which penetrates through the floor of my library and makes all work impossible. May I beg you, therefore, to see that your child is taught a new tune immediately, seeing that the National Anthem has lost its first freshness for the tenants above him?”

His reply to this came to-day.
“Dear Sir,—I have no child.
“Yours faithfully, Jno. McAndrew.”

I was so staggered that I could only think of one adequate retort.
“DEAR SIR,” I wrote,—“I never have a bath.”

* * * * *

So that’s the end of Johnny, my boy prodigy, for whom I have suffered so long. It is not Johnny but Jno. who struggles with the National Anthem. He will give up music now, for he knows I have the bulge on him; I can flood his bathroom whenever I like. Probably he will learn something quieter—like painting. Anyway, Dr. John Bull’s masterpiece will rise no more through the ceiling of the flat below.

On referring to my encyclopedia, I see that, according to some authorities, “God Save the King” is “wrongly attributed” to Dr. Bull. Well, I wrongly attributed it to Johnny. It is easy to make these mistakes.

—originally published in Punch, or The London Charivari, collected in The Sunny Side, 1921


Widely regarded as one of the most important and influential American photographers of his generation, Larry Clark (b. Jan. 19, 1943) is known for both his raw and contentious photographs and his controversial films focusing on teen sexuality, violence, and drug use

Larry Clarke: Teenage lust, 1983


Paul Cézanne, prolific Post-Impressionist French painter, was born Jan. 19, 1839 (d. 1906). His work led the way from Impressionism to early 20th C. styles such as Cubism. Cézanne worked with ease in all the standard genres of painting prevalent in the late 19th C.: portraits, still lives, nature painting and urban scenes, and what one could term mytological or allegorical scenes build of light and shapes…

“With an apple I will astonish Paris.” –Paul Cézanne: "Apples and Oranges" (Photo: Galerie du Jeu de Paume, Paris)

Edgar Allan Poe

Eddie was born Jan 19, 1809 and died from causes never clarified, but almost certainly involving a crime, in 1849…

Poe professionalized the writing business in America, or at least died trying. Along the way he casually invented the detective story (tales of ratiocination), pioneered American science-fiction, and proved that terror is ‘not of Germany but of the soul’…


No, I did not forget Sweet Janis’ birthday…

Janis Joplin (Jan 19, 1943 - 1970) and the Big Brother and the Holding Company: Piece of My Heart - from Cheap Thrills, 1968


The Ballade No. 4 in f minor, Op. 52, composed between 1842 and 1843 by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), performed here in 1938 by Josef (Józef) Hofmann (born 20 January, 1876; died 16 February, 1957)


Federico Fellini, the most influential of all Italian film directors, was born Jan. 20, 1920 (d. 1993)…

“Money is everywhere but so is poetry. What we lack are the poets.” — F.F.

Some Fellini stills:

Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina in La Strada, 1954

“Cinema is an old whore, like circus and variety, who knows how to give many kinds of pleasure.” - F.F.


David Lynch, one of the most distinctive American directors, was born Jan. 20, 1946…

“Life is very, very complicated and so films should be allowed to be too.” — D.L.

Untitled, 2007 - Room installation after a drawing by David Lynch (Collection Fondation Cartier pour l‘art contemporain, Paris; photo: Patrick Gries - © David Lynch)

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, feat. David Lynch: “Dark Night Of The Soul” - from Dark Night Of The Soul


Robert Olen Butler, Jr., sharp short story writer and Pulitzer Prize winner for 1993’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, is 66 today…

Promo shot for his last book, Hell


J. P. Sartre & J. Goebbels drink ape-piss tea in fetid bistro, wondering if they might’ve done differently without a walleye, a club foot

Swore by Stalin, mollified Hitler, Che & Chamberlain bake together in a low-temperature oven: damned if you do & damned if you don’t

Those who died demented in a nursing home think they’ve simply moved down the hall

Robert Olen Butler types away in a tiny, dark room alone with his unconscious & unable to avert his eyes: this is Hell, but it is Heaven too.


50 years ago today: JFK Inaugural Speech original typescript, excerpt… Jan 20, 1961


Esteban Vicente (Jan. 20, 1903 - 2001): Untitled - from the Peace Portfolio I, 1970 - silkscreen (Smithsonian)


August Strindberg, Swedish playwright central to the development of Modernist drama, multi-talented artist, tortured soul: Jan. 22, 1849 - 1912…

‘I am everywhere, in the ocean which is my blood, in the hills which are my bones’

Photo, ca. 1891


Charismatic Russian monk and mystic, Grigori Rasputin (Jan. 22, 1869 - 1916) was an Orthodox clergy-man who rose to great prominence with the family of the last Russian Czar because of his supposed healing and prophetic powers…

Photo, 1908


Francis Picabia (Jan. 22, 1879 - 1953) - French artist (painter and poet) - Dadaist, and later Surrealist:

Induction Valve (Soupape d’admission), 1917 - Gouache over an engineering blueprint (Private collection)

This mecanomorphic painting is part of a series of works executed in New York in 1917 around the time when Picabia, Duchamp, Man Ray and other American artists were creating imaginary enigmatic machines out of derision toward the mechanical spirit of modern American civilization and the machine mentality promoted by the Italian futurists.


Willi Baumeister was a German artist, b. Jan. 22, 1889 (d. 1955). His first important work was Constructivist á la El Lissitzky, but later he became more figurative and inspired by primitive art and cave paintings…

Baumeister: Striding Figure, 1934 - oil and sand on linen (Private collection)


George Balanchine, the great 20th C. Russian-American choreographer, was born Jan. 22, 1904 (d. 1983)…

Photo: Tanaquil Le Clercq, Balanchine’s fourth wife…


Born Jan. 22, 1953: Jim Jarmusch, brilliant indie/underground film director - now more mainstream, though…

Jarmusch’s off-beat, cult films from the 80s are still amazing: Stranger than Paradise, Mystery Train, Night on Earth - later high points include, in ‘95, Dead Man - and in 2005, Broken Flowers


Lord Byron, Romantic poet, hero, hunk: Jan. 22, 1788 - 1824…

Thou whose spell can raise the dead,
Bid the prophet’s form appear.
“Samuel, raise thy buried head!
“King, behold the phantom seer!”
Earth yawn’d; he stood the centre of a cloud:
Light changed its hue, retiring from his shroud.
Death stood all glassy in the fixed eye:
His hand was withered, and his veins were dry;
His foot, in bony whiteness, glitterd there,
Shrunken and sinewless, and ghastly bare;
From lips that moved not and unbreathing frame,
Like cavern’d winds the hollow acccents came.
Saul saw, and fell to earth, as falls the oak,
At once, and blasted by the thunder-stroke.

“Why is my sleep disquieted?
“Who is he that calls the dead?
“Is it thou, Oh King? Behold
“Bloodless are these limbs, and cold:
“Such are mine; and such shall be
“Thine, to-morrow, when with me:
“Ere the coming day is done,
“Such shalt thou be, such thy son.
“Fare thee well, but for a day,
“Then we mix our mouldering clay.
“Thou, thy race, lie pale and low,
“Pierced by shafts of many a bow;
“And the falchion by thy side,
“To thy heart, thy hand shall guide:
“Crownless, breathless, headless fall,
“Son and sire, the house of Saul!”


Antonio Gramsci (born 22 January, 1891; died 27 April, 1937), pictured above in a 1922 photograph

‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’

—from the Prison Notebooks


The first movement, marked un poco indecisio, of 3 Strophes sur le nom de Sacher, composed between 1975 and 1982 by Henri Dutilleux (born 22 January, 1916), and dedicated to Paul Sacher (1906-1999), on his 70th birthday; performed here by Patrick Demenga, ‘cello, for a 1995 recording for ECM


Heath Ledger, Australian actor - died this day in 2008 from a lethal mix of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine…

He was talented, though…


And we miss the anarchic energy of John Belushi (Jan. 24, 1949 - 1982), the face who launched a thousand toga parties - Blues Brother number one…


Aaron Neville, r&b and soul singer, is 70 today. Once heard, Aaron’s high, intensely vibrato-laden tenor is unmistakable (a latter-day Farinelli?)

Aaron Neville: Tell It Like It Is, 1966


The remarkable beauty of Nastassja Kinski seems not to age as she quickly approaches 50…

Still from Paris, Texas


A late in life summation from W.Z.

Warren Zevon: My Shit’s Fucked Up - from Life’ll Kill Ya, 2000


Etta James: At Last, 1961

Etta James (b. Jan. 25, 1938) is an American blues, soul, R&B, rock & roll, gospel and jazz singer and songwriter - 73 today…


English playwright, novelist and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham: Jan. 25, 1874 - 1965…

“Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.” — W.S.M.

Photo Yousuf Karsh, 1947 - bromide print (NPG, London)


Today is a day of literary birthdays:

Of course, today we kill the haggis on Burns Night, in honour of the Scottish national bard, Robert (Rabbie) Burns (Jan. 25, 1759 - 1796)…

The quintessential national Romantic, Burns celebrated the life of common people, farmers, children, old folk - even the animals of the field and vermin such as The Louse…

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her-
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Engraving of Burns by Paton Thomson after Nasmyth, 1798 (National Portrait Gallery, London)


There is no such thing as Woolf Night that I know of, but nonetheless today is the birthday of novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf: Jan. 25, 1882 - 1941 (suicide in despair)

Photo: Lady Ottoline Morrell, circa 1917 - vintage snapshot print (NPG, London)


An early scene from Le Nozze di Figaro, composed in 1786 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born 27 January, 1756; died 5 December, 1791), with a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1831); here performed by Hermann Frey as Figaro and Mirella Freni as Susanna, in the 1975 film production by Jean-Pierre Ponelle (1932-1988)

‘Le Nozze di Figaro is to be performed for the first time on the 28th [of April]. It will be very significant if it succeeds, for I know there are astonishingly strong cabals against it. Salieri and all his partisans will again endeavor to move heaven and earth. Duschek said to me recently that the reason your brother has all these cabals against him is that he is held in such high esteem for his great talents and ability!’

— Leopold Mozart to his daughter, Maria Anna (‘Nannerl’), dated 18 April 1886


A group of studies in pencil and charcoal, made between 1939 and 1942 by Jackson Pollock (born 28 January, 1912; died 11 August, 1956), in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (image © 2010 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)


The Ballade No. 4, in f minor (Op. 52), composed in 1842 (revised 1843) by Frédéric Chopin; performed here by Arthur Rubinstein (born 28 January, 1887; died 20 December, 1982), in an April, 1959 recording for RCA


Great Russian author, Anton Chekhov (Jan. 29, 1860 - 1904) - writer by night, doctor by day - or as he put it: Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other...

Chekhov suffered from tuberculosis and despite spending much time at spas and his dacha at Yalta, he died at the early age of 44. The account of his last moments, as told in his wife’s memoirs, has become legend:

“Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe. The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.” He drained it, lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child…”


Frederick Delius: The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1899-1901)

Richard Hickox; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Recorded: Bournemouth, September 1994


English composer of German descent, Frederick ‘Fritz’ Delius: Jan. 29, 1862 - 1934…

Delius is often considered an essential English composer adept at capturing a specific English tonality and melodic expression - and yet:

“Delius was quite a cosmopolitan, having raised oranges in Florida, taught violin in Virginia, sojourned many times with Grieg at his home in Norway, studied in Germany, and eventually settled in France with his artist wife.”

Delius: Caprice - from Caprice and Elegy for cello and chamber orchestra (1930, dedicated to Beatrice Harrison)

Beatrice Harrison, cello; Orchestra conducted by Eric Fenby (who lived with the aging Delius, and helped him to continue composing even after he had lost the use of his limbs and sight…)


Barnett Newman (Jan. 29, 1905 - 1970) is a fine artist, too…

We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth. — June 13, 1943 edition of the New York Times, brief manifesto: Barnett Newman with Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb…

Barnett Newman: Covenant, 1949 - Oil on canvas (Hirshhorn)


Australian-born author, feminist, academic, celebrity, Germaine Greer - b. Jan. 29, 1939…

Ever at the centre of controversy since her 1970 book The Female Eunuch, Greer has written about the sexuality of body and mind ever since:

“Women have been charged with deviousness and duplicity since the dawn of civilization so they have never been able to pretend that their masks were anything but masks. It is a slender case but perhaps it does mean that women have always been in closer contact with reality than men: it would seem to be the just recompense for being deprived of idealism.” - The Female Eunuch

Photo: Lord Snowdon, 1971 - vintage bromide print (NPG, London)


One of the nearly forgotten Nobel Literature Laureates celebrates his birthday today - Romain Rolland, French playwright, novelist, music, art and literature critic, pacifist and mystic: Jan. 29, 1866 - 1944…

Rolland received the Prize during WW I, where the Nobel Committee sent a strong anti-war message to the world by choosing high-minded idealists as Laureates. The official motivation for Rolland’s Prize was: “as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings.”

Rolland was deeply embroiled in Oriental religious thought, esp. Vedantic beliefs (much as J.D. Salinger would become some decades later), and he befriended fellow writers with similar interests, such as Hermann Hesse, Stefan Zweig and Rabindranath Tagore - in addition to being a staunch supporter and friend of Mahatma Gandhi.

“A hero is a man who does what he can.” — R.R.


Edward Abbey, environmentalist, activist, nature writer - the “Thoreau of the American West” as Larry McMurtry dubbed him - Jan 29, 1927 - 1989…

Abbey’s best-known works include the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, which has been cited as an inspiration by radical environmental groups, and the non-fiction work Desert Solitaire.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” — E.A.


Relata 1, a work for orchestra composed in 1965 by Milton Babbitt (born 10 May, 1916; died 29 January, 2011); performed here by the Juilliard Orchestra, conducted by Paul Zukofsky


January 30 is the birthday of one of my favourite writers, Richard Brautigan (1935 - 1984, suicide)…

Brautigan was a literary jester, a fellow traveller of the Beats for a while, and then he struck out for unknown territories, staking a claim as one of the first truly post-modern American novelists - one cut from a different cloth than the intellectual postmodernism of Pynchon and Barth. But lots of fun to read!

Here is a short short:

The Scarlatti Tilt

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.’ That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.” — from Revenge of the Lawn


Serene Sunday, still…

Marty Balin, co-founder and vocalist of Jefferson Airplane is 69 today:

“All for you, all for you”

Jefferson Airplane: Today (Balin, Kantner) - from Surrealistic Pillow, 1967


Anna Pavlova, b. Jan. 31, 1881 - d. 1931 (pneumonia)

Pavlova more than any other prima-ballerina before her earned her fame by touring the world with her show-pieces, the most famous of which was The Dying Swan, choreographed for her by Michel Fokine in 1905, danced to Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns (above).


Lloyd Cole: Man Enough - from Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe (1991)


Der Leiermann, the final song in Winterreise, a song cycle composed in 1827 by Franz Schubert (born 31 January, 1797; died 19 November, 1828), setting poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827); sung here by Hermann Prey (1929-1998)

The Organ Grinder (Der Leiermann)

Way behind the hamlet
stands an organ man
and with freezing fingers
grinds the best he can.

Barefoot on the snowbank
swaying to and fro –
and his little plate has
ne’er a coin to show.

No-one comes to listen,
no-one comes to greet,
and the dogs are growling
at the old man’s feet.

And he lets it happen,
lets it as it will –
cranking – and his organ
never standing still.

Strangest of the ancients,
shall I walk with you?
Will you, for my Lieder,
grind your organ, too?

—translated from the German by Walter Aue

In classical music, birthdays don’t come much bigger than today’s:

Franz Schubert, Austrian Romantic genius, composer of more than 600 lieder (including the cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise) and c. 400 other works of music during his terribly short life: Jan. 31, 1797 - 1828…

We celebrate a true worker in song…

Franz Schubert (music) and Wilhelm Müller (lyrics): Gute Nacht - from Winterreise

Performed by Ian Bostridge (tenor) & Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

When I wished to sing of love, it turned to sorrow. And when I wished to sing of sorrow, it was transformed for me into love. - Schubert

Schwanengesang (Swan Song), D 957 - Ständchen, by Franz Schubert

Performed by Hans Hotter (bass-baritone) & Gerald Moore (p)


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