Sunday, May 1, 2011

Behind the Seen


Ida Rubinstein as Zobeide in Scheherazade, Ballets Russes 1910 | La Tollette, Gustave Moreau

پشت مُشت های رندان

Antonin Dvořák, Czech composer - died this day in 1904, aged 62, from heart failure…

DVORAK: "Dumky" trio op. 90 Lento maestoso - finale YUVAL TRIO From a concert in Tel Aviv 2007


Romaine Brooks - May 1, 1874 - 1970 - American painter who worked mostly in Paris and Capri. She specialized in portraiture and used a subdued palette dominated by the color gray. Her subjects ranged from anonymous models to titled aristocrats.

Romaine Brooks included two nude studies in this first exhibition—a provocative choice for a woman artist in 1910. In one, The Red Jacket, a young woman stands in front of a large folding screen, wearing only a small open jacket, with her hands behind her back. She is so frail, and her downcast face looks so forlorn, that one contemporary reviewer referred to her as a consumptive…

Romaine Brooks: La Jacquette Rouge, 1910 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

Romaine Brooks: Venus Triste, ca 1916 - Oil on canvas (Musées de la Ville de Poitiers, France)


Celebrating the birthday of Joseph Heller (May 1, 1923 - 1999), Jewish-American novelist who never bested his 1953 debut effort Catch-22, the famous anti-war, anti-bureaucracy satire whose title quickly entered the American pop-culture vocabulary…

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.


Terry Southern (May 1, 1924 - 1995), hipster writer extraordinaire, is one of those figures who has moved effortlessly through several avant-garde and bohemian circles and periods…

Speaking of anti-war texts, Southern was a screen writer on Kubrick’s classic Dr. Strangelove in 1962. Later sixties screen writing credits include Casino Royale (1967), Barbarella (1967), and Easy Rider (1968)


Sally Mann (b. May 1, 1951): Untitled (Deep South #7), 1999

Charles Shaw (May 1, 1892 - 1974): Space Curve, 1964 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

Theodore Roszak (May 1, 1907 - 1981): Untitled, 1959 - pen and ink and ink wash on paper (Smithsonian)

Judy Collins, the intense and sincere folk singer/songwriter whose soprano exudes purity, was born May 1, 1939. Sweet Judy Blue Eyes, as Stephen Stills dubbed her has recorded great songs by just about everybody: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Richard Farina, Sandy Denny, Ian Tyson, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan…

Photo by Heinrich Klaffs, 1971

Judy Collins - Russian Love Song


Circus Wagons, a photograph by Walker Evans (1903-1975)

A poem by Yannis Ritsos (born 1 May, 1909; died 11 November, 1990):


Night circus, the lights, the music,
the sparkling cars along the full length of the avenue.
When the lights go out in the neighborhood,
when the last note has fallen like a dry leaf,
the facade of the circus seems
a huge set of false teeth. Then
the brass instruments sleep in their cases,
the animals are heard bellowing over the city,
the tiger in its cage fixes on its own shadow,
the animal-tamer take off his costume and smokes a cigarette.

And every now and then the neighborhood lights up
when the eyes of the lions sparkle behind their bars.

—translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley


Bianca Jagger is 66…

Photo: Cecil Beaton, 1978 - bromide print (National Portrait Gallery)


Jeanne Birdsall (b. May 2, 1951): Zoë Hunting II, n.d. - Gum bichromate (R. Michelson Galleries)

Jeanne Birdsall’s photographic portraits, landscapes and floral still lives are romantic reminders of an earlier time when photography imitated painting. By use of the gum bichromate process, a melding of photography and watercolor, she produces soft, delicate images.


A slow day at the office re. interesting birthdays…

We do have Jerome K. Jerome, Victorian English humorist and connoisseur of idleness - best know for his travelogue Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)…

“Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.” — J.K.J.


Novalis (pen-name of Georg Friedrich von Hardenberg) (born 2 May, 1772; died 25 March, 1801), portrayed above on his funerary monument in Weißenfels in Saxony-Anhalt (photograph by Doris Antony)

Everywhere we seek the Absolute, and always we find only things.

from the Blüthenstaub-Fragmente [Pollen and Fragments] (1798)

To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.

—quoted in “Bildung in Early German Romanticism” by Frederick C. Beiser, in Philosophers on Education : Historical Perspectives (1998) by Amélie Rorty


Alessandro Scarlatti (May 2, 1660-1725) was a Baroque composer who specialized in opera and sacred vocal music…

Alessandro Scarlatti: Toccata for harpsichord in G minor


Great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev - b. May 2, 1953…

Mahler 5 Mvt 2- World Orchestra for Peace - Valery Gergiev Proms 2010


Link Wray (May 2, 1929 - 2005) was one of the first Native American recording artists to produce a major hit (“Rumble” - 1958).

Link played a heavy, distorted lead guitar and his raw sound has influenced power guitarists from Pete Townsend to Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

Wray lived his last decades in Denmark and is buried in Copenhagen.

Photo of Link, Munich, 1977

Rumble - Link Wray 45 rpm!


In photography and photo-journalism, we celebrate the birthday of Danish social activist, muckraker, journalist, lecturer and campaigner - but first and foremost photographer, Jacob Riis (May 3, 1849 - 1914), who emigrated to the US at age 21, expecting Broadway to be populated by Comanches and buffaloes, but who found a far more disturbing truth there. In 1891 he published his immensely influential book How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York documenting the horrendous conditions under which the immigrant population of the great metropolis lived and toiled…

Above: Portrait of Jacob Riis, c. 1900 by Frances Benjamin Johnston - Library of Congress

Some of Jacob Riis’s work:

“Dens of Death” in New York City, 1890

“When the ‘dens of death’ were in Baxter Street, big barracks crowded out the old shanties. …I remember the story of those shown in the picture. They had been built only a little while when complaints came to the Board of Health of smells in the houses. A sanitary inspector was sent to find the cause. He followed the smell down in the cellar, and digging there discovered the water pipe was a blind. It had simply been run into the ground and was not connected with the sewer.” — J.R., How the Other Half Lives

Some of Jacob Riis’s work:

“Craps in the Hall of the Newboys’s Lodging-House”, from How the Other Half Lives, 1901

Some of Jacob Riis’s work:

Mullen’s Alley (February 12, 1888)

“There were thousands of homeless children on the streets (of NYC), often abandoned by their parents… and in the summer months 3-4 babies would suffocate in the airless tenements every night.” — J.R.


We celebrate playwright, novelist and screen writer William Inge (May 3, 1913 - 1973), whose dramatic work has been unjustly neglected for decades. Works such as Picnic and Bus Stop are among Inge’s accomplishments…

Inge often addressed issues concerning homosexuality directly, or, more frequently indirectly, in his work. (His ironically titled one-act play The Tiny Closet is top-notch teaching material for classes getting introduced to queer theory and the analysis of gay and lesbian lit.) He, himself, led the life of a closeted gay man…


Robert de Niro, Sr. (1922 - May 3, 1999): Lola Montez, 1958-9 - Charcoal and pencil on paper (Hirshhorn)

It is harder to imagine a photographer whose aesthetics and purpose of photography is further removed from that of Jacob Riis, than fellow Danish-American William Mortensen…

William H. Mortensen - American art photographer (Jan. 1, 1897 - 1965): Self-Portrait as The Mad Hatter

William Mortensen: Preparation for the Sabbot

William Mortensen: The Pit and the Pendulum, after Edgar Allan Poe

Greg Conniff (b. May 3, 1944): Iowa County, Wisconsin, October 1990, 1990, printed 1991 - gelatin silver print on paper (Smithsonian)

Clark Richert (b. May, 3, 1941): “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”—Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, The Dawn, 1881. From the series Great Ideas of Western Man, 1963 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

Pete Seeger’s early career involved learning from master singer-songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, and Seeger gained experience performing with the radical group The Almanac Singers. Then came the popular hits phase with The Weavers (Leadbelly’s Goodnight Irene, South African song Wimoweh, etc.) As a song writer, he is best known as the author or co-author of Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song) (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers), and Turn, Turn, Turn!, which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and are still sung throughout the world…

It’s rare to see Pete Seeger pics from the 1970s - here is a screen shot from a 1970 appearance on the Johnny Cash Show…

pete seeger which side are you on


Even crooners got soul: Bing Crosby, May 3, 1903 - 1977…

Photo: Loving shot of Bing Crosby’s balls…

Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra - Well, Did You Evah (High Society)


Keith Sharp (b. May 3, 1968): Freckles, 2004 - from the Same While Different series - Toned gelatin silver prints, edition of 15.

Ira Cohen, American cult photographer and film maker - died, aged 76, on April 25, 2011 from renal failure….

Ira Cohen: Jimi Hendrix, 1968 - Pigment Print

Thomas Wilmer Dewing (May 4, 1851 - 1938): Standing Nude Figure of a Girl, n.d. - pastel (Smithsonian)

In contrast, a 20th C. waif:

Audrey Hepburn, whose extraordinary charm graced a number of quite ordinary films before the gems Roman Holiday, Funny Face and esp. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, would have been 81 today: Born May 4th, 1929, she died from cancer in 1993…


Birthday of Alice Liddell (May 4, 1852 - 1934) who as a little girl inspired Lewis Carroll’s two childrens’ classics Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass...

He also photographed her obsessively - here she is 18…

Photo - Lewis Carroll: Alice Pleasance Liddell, June 25, 1870 - albumen carte-de-visite (NPG, London)


Keith Haring (b. May 4, 1958), who was swallowed up by AIDS in 1990, but who left a bright legacy as one of the most iconic contemporary artists…

Tseng Kwong Chi: Choreographer Bill T. Jones and artist Keith Haring, 1983

Keith Haring: Untitled, from the portfolio Andy Mouse, 1986 - serigraph on paper (Smithsonian)

Jazz great, double bass player Ron Carter is 74 today. Born May 4, 1937 Carter has had an incredibly productive career - appearing on more than 2.500 albums…

Perhaps Carter’s main claim to fame is via his stint in the second great Miles Davis quintet in the early 1960s, which also included Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams.

We celebrate him ‘round midnight with just five slices from that career, feat. a few of the key players Ron Carter has lent his services to - closing with a tune where Ron leads his own Golden Striker Trio…

Ron Carter solo - willow weep for me


The Dyke, a 2007 photograph of the Norfolk fens, by Martin Sercombe

From the opening of Waterland, the 1983 novel by Graham Swift (born 4 May, 1949):

‘We lived in a lock-keeper’s cottage by the River Leem, which flows out of Norfolk into the Great Ouse. And no one needs telling that the land in that part of the world is flat. Flat, with an unrelieved and monotonous flatness, enough of itself, some might say, to drive a man to unquiet and sleep-defeating thoughts. From the raised banks of the Leem, it stretched away to the horizon, its uniform colour, peat-black, varied only by the crops that grew upon it — grey-green potato leaves, blue-green beet leaves, yellow-green wheat; its uniform levelness broken only by the furrowed and dead-straight lines of ditches and drains, which, depending on the state of the sky and the angle of the sun, ran like silver, copper or golden wires across the fields and which, when you stood and looked at them, made you shut one eye and fall prey to fruitless meditations on the laws of perspective.

And yet this land, so regular, so prostrate, so tamed and cultivated, would transform itself, in my five- or six-year-old mind, into an empty wilderness. On those nights when my mother would be forced to tell me stories, it would seem that in our lock-keeper’s cottage we were in the middle of nowhere; and the noise of the trains passing on the lines to King’s Lynn, Gildsey and Ely was like the baying of a monster closing in on us in our isolation.

A fairy-tale land, after all.’

—from Waterland (1983)


Floating Iceberg, an 1859 painting (oil and graphite on paperboard) by Frederic Edwin Church (born 4 May , 1826; died 7 April, 1900) ; in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (Smithsonian), New York

Canadian cultural analyst and critic, Naomi Klein: b. May 5, 1970…

“We are looking to brands for poetry and for spirituality, because we’re not getting those things from our communities or from each other.” — N.K.


Polish Nobel Laureate - Henryk Sienkiewicz: May 5, 1846 - 1916…

“The sky is one whole, the water another; and between those two infinities the soul of man is in loneliness.” — H.S.

Danish existentialist philosopher and theologian - Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, May 5, 1813 - 1855…

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” — S.A.K.

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard by Niels Christian Kierkegaard (SAK’s second cousin), c. 1840


German political philosopher and revolutionary - Karl Marx, May 5, 1818 - 1883…

“Tradition weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living.” — K.M.


Tyrone Power (May 5, 1914 – 1958), one of the most swashbuckling American actors of the screen and stage in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s - here showing a soft-focus side of himself…

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with Alex Webb, also born on May 5th…

Alex Webb (b. May 5, 1952): Mexican Border, 1978 - gelatin silver print (Smithsonian)


Mona Brooks (b. May 5, 1947): Motor Car, 1980 - porcelain (Smithsonian)

Mitchell Siporin (May 5, 1910 - 1976): Death and the Maiden, 1962 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – 1922) was the pen name of pioneer woman journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She remains notable for two feats: a record-breaking trip around the world in emulation of Jules Verne, and an exposé in which she faked insanity to study a mental institution from within.

Many versions of the classic murder ballad “Frankie and Johnny” mention Nellie Bly as the woman with whom Johnny does Frankie wrong…

Brook Benton - Frankie And Johnny (Original Stereo)


Monty Python birthday: Michael Palin turns 68!

Here they all are: Cleese, Palin, Idle, Chapman and Jones…

Lumberjack Song - Monty Python


Ian McCulloch, 52 today…

The Killing Moon by Echo & The Bunnymen


William Samuel McTell, better known as Blind Willie McTell (May 5, 1898 (sometimes reported as 1901 or even 1903) – 1959), was an influential American blues singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was a twelve-string finger picking Piedmont (or East Coast) blues (ragtime) guitarist, and recorded 149 songs between 1927 and 1956…

As Bob Dylan put it:

Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

'Broke Down Engine' BLIND WILLIE McTELL (1933) Blues Guitar Legend


On May 6, 1856, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was born into a large Jewish family in Freiburg, Austria (now located in the Czech Rep.) as the oldest son of Jacob, a wool merchant, with his second wife Amelié. They went on to have seven more kids, bringing Jacob’s total to ten…

We usually see Freud depicted as a dignified older gentleman, but today we’ll feature him as a much younger buck…

“Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly reported to us through the data of consciousness as is the external world through the indications of our sensory organs.” — Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

“I was making frequent use of cocaine at that time … I had been the first to recommend the use of cocaine, in 1885, and this recommendation had brought serious reproaches down on me.” — Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

And a frail old Sigmund, near the end of his life in 1939…

“The goal of all life is death.” — S.F.

Siggy’s birthday is always a big deal here at OF

I’ve always thought that Freud’s couch at the London Freud museum is a very disorienting piece of furniture, what with rugs and carpets covering it, the floor in front of it AND the wall behind it…

“Life, as we find it, is too hard for us; it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks. In order to bear it we cannot dispense with palliative measures… There are perhaps three such measures: powerful deflections, which cause us to make light of our misery; substitutive satisfactions, which diminish it; and intoxicating substances, which make us insensible to it.” — Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud’s destiny was of course deeply marked by the flood of Nazi thought and oppression inundating Europe in the ’30s. Another example of this blighting effect is that of the life of Brücke painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner who was born May 6, 1880.

In 1933, his work was branded as “degenerate” by the Nazis and he was forced to resign from the Berlin Academy of Arts. In 1937 over 600 of his works were were confiscated from public museums in Germany and subsequently sold or destroyed. In 1938 he committed suicide…

Above - Photographic self-portrait by Kirchner

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Tanzschule, 1914 (Pinakothek der Moderne, München)

Ernst Ulrich Kirchner: Street-scene in front of a barbershop, 1926 - Oil on canvas (Private collection)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Zwei Akte im Raum, 1914 - oil on canvas (Sammlung Batliner)


Today is the birthday of an unusual Nobel Literature Laureate:

One half of the 1974 Nobel Literature Prize went to Swedish poet, playwright and novelist Harry Martinson (May 6, 1904 - 1978) “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos…”

Martinson is very likely the only sience fiction poet to win a Nobel, but his main opus Aniara is just that - a cantos sequence with an s-f setting…

Here is another cosmic poem of his:


The Visions by Harry Martinson

With fright in their eyes
the soldiers of salvation beheld
from the helmeted observatory tower: the heavenly harps;
the swaying, titanic nebulae
and their chaotic strings of gaseous gold.

Far off in the boundless crystal of places beyond time
where thought in fright
can plunge everlastingly through millennia
stirred the gaslike golden bowers of the harps
effervescing in Sagittarius.

— From Natur, 1934
(Translated by Stephen Klass)


On May 6, 1940 John Steinbeck received The Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel The Grapes of Wrath

1st ed. copies of the book go for about USD 3,000. The copy pictured above, signed by the author, is offered for USD 12,750. The record price is USD 47,800, attained by John’s sister Elizabeth’s personal copy at a 2007 auction…


Orson Welles - May 6, 1915 - 1985 - American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio…

Photo: The great Orson Welles at work for CBS - where his 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (which fooled thousands of American listeners into thinking an invasion from outer space was actually in progress) brought Welles instant fame…

Orson Welles being a genius…

Still from Macbeth, 1948

Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth demonstrating that marriage is a balancing act…

They divorced in 1948 after 5 years of marriage - Rita stating in public: “I can’t take his genius any more…”


Lucian Blaga, Romanian poet of light - died this day in 1961, aged 61, from cancer…

A Shiver

Is that death standing at my headboard?
At midnight,
when the moon pours her wild gazes over me
when a flight of bats
kiss the forehead of my dark window pane
I often feel a shiver
from my head down to my toes,
as if two cold hands
run their icy fingers through my hair

Is that death standing at my headboard?
And has he come to count,
under the light of the moon, my white hairs?


Henry David Thoreau, American author, naturalist and philosopher - died this day in 1862, aged 44, from tuberculosis…

Dying words: “Now comes good sailing”

Above: Daguerreotype of Henry David Thoreau in June 1856, by Benjamin D. Maxham


Max Ophüls (May 6, 1902 - 1957) was one of the most influential European theatre and film directors in Germany and France - and, after WW II, in the US (Letter from an Unknown Woman(1948)).

He returned to France in 1950 and his latter period works include La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1952), The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) and Lola Montès (1955).

Ophüls died during the filming of his last work, Les Amant de Montparnasse, a film chronicling the last year of the life of the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani who worked and died in abject poverty in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris…

Photo: Max Ophüls directing Joan Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman - Bert Anderson


Martine Carol as Lola Montès in Max Ophüls’ 1955 film of the same name…

Randall Jarrell (May 6, 1914 – 1965) was an American poet, literary critic, children’s author, essayist, and novelist. He was the 11th Poet Laureate of the USA…


Randall Jarrell: Well Water

What a girl called “the dailiness of life”
(Adding an errand to your errand. Saying,
“Since you’re up …” Making you a means to
A means to a means to) is well water
Pumped from an old well at the bottom of the world.
The pump you pump the water from is rusty
And hard to move and absurd, a squirrel-wheel
A sick squirrel turns slowly, through the sunny
Inexorable hours. And yet sometimes
The wheel turns of its own weight, the rusty
Pump pumps over your sweating face the clear
Water, cold, so cold! you cup your hands
And gulp from them the dailiness of life.


One of the finest Texan singer-songwriters in the borderlands between country, rock’n’roll, folk and blues is Jimmie Dale Gilmore whose high lonesome tenor is extremely distinctive, both on his solo records and in his work with The Flatlanders, together w. Joe Ely and Butch Hancock…

You may also know Jimmie Dale from his cameo as Smokey in The Big Lebowski

Jimmie Dale - b. May 6, 1945 - 66 years old today…

Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Your Love Is My Rest


Grant McLennan, Australian singer/songwriter and front-man of The Go-Betweens - died from a sudden heart attack on this day in 2006, aged a mere 48…

Grant in Bayswater Rd; b/w photo by Bleddyn Butcher

The Go Betweens: The Devil’s Eye - from 16 Lovers Lane
Grant McLennan in memoriam


Rubin “Hurricane” Carter - b. May 6, 1937 - middleweight contender, wrongfully convicted of murder in 1967, exonerated and set free in 1985…



May 6, 1889 - Opening Day of The Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition Universelle


May 7, 1992 - The Space Shuttle Endeavour is launched on its first mission (STS-49). The photo shows one of the attempts made during the mission to salvage INTELSAT VI - a goal finally accomplished during the first ever spacewalk involving three astronauts…

Endeavour will fly its final mission on May 16, 2011, signaling the end of the Space Shuttle era, as only one more mission will ever be flown - by shuttle Atlantis in June 2011…


Today’s other Nobel Laureate birthday is the by now largely forgotten Polish novelist Wladyslaw Reymont (May 7, 1867 - 1925) who received the Prize in 1924 “for his great national epic, The Peasants…

Reymont on the hardships of his life as a young writer:

“Being twenty years old, I naturally had a wild imagination and a tender heart.”

“The more profound my faith became, the more violent my fascination with annihilation, and then incessant hunger pushed me toward the abyss.”

“The nights I spent in a room so cold that I wrote wrapped in a fur, keeping the inkwell under the lamp lest the ink should freeze.”


Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 - 1941) was the first Asian Nobel Laureate in Literature, receiving the Prize in 1913 “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West.”

Tagore was a mystic and a nationalist, continuing and elevating a centuries old tradition of Bengali literature and philosophy. His early European champions included Yeats and Pound, but in latter decade he has fallen out of the canon, for the same reasons that he was palatable to European literati in the first place. Being an anglophone writer, fitting well into a formal tradition of high culture, he is not post-colonial enough for the 21st Century…


I am restless. I am athirst for far-away things.
My soul goes out in a longing to touch the skirt of the dim distance.
O Great Beyond, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that I have no wings to fly, that I am bound in this spot evermore.

I am eager and wakeful, I am a stranger in a strange land.
Thy breath comes to me whispering an impossible hope.
Thy tongue is known to my heart as its very own.
O Far-to-seek, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that I know not the way, that I have not the winged horse.

I am listless, I am a wanderer in my heart.
In the sunny haze of the languid hours, what vast vision of thine takes shape in the blue of the sky!
O Farthest end, O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget, that the gates are shut everywhere in the house where I dwell alone!

— from The Gardener, 1913


Portrait of Tagore, by W. Fearon Halliday, 1920s - sepia-toned print (NPG, London)


Coreggio: Assumption of the Virgin, 1526-30 - fresco (Cathedral Dome, Parma)

Robert Browning (May 7, 1812 - 1889), the great English Victorian poet who revitalised the specific genre of the dramatic monologue, creating a use of poetic voice that allowed the poet to ‘impersonate’ aberrant psychologies…

A Face by Robert Browning

If one could have that little head of hers
Painted upon a background of pale gold,
Such as the Tuscan’s early art prefers!
No shade encroaching on the matchless mould
Of those two lips, which should be opening soft
In the pure profile; not as when she laughs,
For that spoils all: but rather as if aloft
Yon hyacinth, she loves so, leaned its staff’s
Burthen of honey-coloured buds to kiss
And capture ’twixt the lips apart for this.
Then her lithe neck, three fingers might surround,
How it should waver on the pale gold ground,
Up to the fruit-shaped, perfect chin it lifts!
I know, Correggio loves to mass, in rifts
Of heaven, his angel faces, orb on orb
Breaking its outline, burning shades absorb:
But these are only massed there, I should think,
Waiting to see some wonder momently
Grow out, stand full, fade slow against the sky
(That’s the pale ground you’d see this sweet face by),
All heaven, meanwhile, condensed into one eye
Which fears to lose the wonder, should it wink.

(Photo by Alessandri, March 1860 - albumen carte-de-visite, NPG, London)


One of my favourite funny and fantastic feminist writers is Angela Carter (May 7, 1940 - 1992 (cancer)), who rewrote fairy tales, created circus freaks and transcendent angels, Japanese lovers, interventions into male poets’ lives (Baudelaire) - not to mention a learned treatise on Marquis de Sade…

Photo of Carter by Fay Godwin, bromide print, 1976 (National Portrait Gallery)


Christy Moore, Celtic brother - b. May 7, 1945…

Ordinary man - Christy Moore


Jimmy Ruffin, Soul brother - b. May 7, 1939…

Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted


World tour of writers ends in Australia today:

The very colourful Australian novelist Peter Carey has his own brand of historiographic metafiction with selected post-colonial and magical-realist flavours…

Oscar and Lucinda is a good place to start.

Spectacular photo by Stuart Campbell (go here for more of Campbell’s Aussie portraits)


German-born Anglo-Indian writer (now an American citizen), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (b. May 7, 1927) won the Booker Prize for her 1975 novel Heat and Dust

Her later career has mainly been as a screen writer, where she has collaborated often with Merchant and Ivory on film scripts such as A Room with a View, Howards End, and Remains of the Day - all literary adaptations (2 X Forster + Ishiguru)…

    “India is not a place that one can pick up and pull down again as if nothing had happened. In a way it’s not so much a country as an experience, and whether it turns out to be a good or bad one depends, I suppose, on oneself.”

    — Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Photo: Fay Godwin, 1970s - bromide print (NPG, London)


Bill Kreutzmann, Dead brother - b. May 7, 1946…

Grateful Dead - Morning Dew - March 24 1986



Johannes Brahms - May 7, 1833 – 1897 - was the great academic composer of the late Romantic period in Germany - renowned for his 4 symphonies and numerous concertos for orchestra and solo instruments (chiefly the piano - his own instrument - but also violin (with extensive help from the prospective soloist) and numerous other instruments…

Johannes Brahms, Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, part 3 - Allegro giocoso


Brahms’ Russian late Romantic equivalent Piotr Tchaikovsky was born May 7, 1840 (d. 1893)…

Tchaikovsky composed fantastic music for the stage: Ballets (Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet) and opera (Eugene Onegin) - but he also managed 6 great symphonies and some of the most successful concertos in terms of lasting popularity (First Piano Concerto, fx.)

Tchaikovsky was a closeted homosexual and his unsuccessful heterosexual marriage was a disastrous strain on his nerves and health (although some argue also a creative booster, causing him to let out his anguish in passionate music)… His death shortly after the premier of the Pathetique Symphony may in fact have been a suicide (or cholera - or another undiagnosed illness).

Photo: Young Tchaikovsky, 1874

Perlman in Russia Violin Concerto in D Opus 35


The other great American literary figure born May 8th is of course Thomas Pynchon (b. 1937) -

I circumvent this problem by using an image from Zak Smith’s extraordinary art work (and book) Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow from 2006…

Pynchon was the great, playful postmodern innovator in US lit in the 60s and early 70s with his three masterful novels V, The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow - all in their own ways detailing the (justified?) paranoias of post WW II life: V as a spy thriller of sorts, Lot 49 as domestic comedy and detective novel rolled into one, and Rainbow as a long (some say too long) examination of sexual fetishism and fascism).

After his long silence was broken with Vineland in 1990 (a fun book, as indeed is Lot 49), Pynchon’s output has been a bit hit and miss, but I am partial to the baroque pastiche of Mason & Dixon from 1997, which some say had been troubling the author since 1975 and been the main cause of his publishing hiatus following Gravity’s Rainbow


Today is also the birthday of one of my favorite American poets, Gary Snyder - 81 today!



Those are the people who do complicated things.

they’ll grab us by the thousands
and put us to work.

World’s going to hell, with all these
villages and trails.
Wild duck flocks aren’t
what they used to be.
Aurochs grow rare.

Fetch me my feathers and amber


A small cricket
on the typescript page of
“Kyoto born in spring song”
grooms himself
in time with The Well-Tempered Clavier.
I quit typing and watch him through a glass.
How well articulated! How neat!

Nobody understands the ANIMAL KINGDOM.


When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones.

— Gary Snyder

One more for Beat/S.F. Renaissance/Eco-shaman poet Gary Snyder:

“As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth … the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.” — Gary Snyder

Photo - Allen Ginsberg


Dirk Bogarde, fine English actor (Death in Venice) and memoirist - died this day in 1999, aged 78, from lingering after-effects from an embolism sustained following angioplasty surgery…

Photo by Dmitri Kasterine, 1981 - modern bromide print from an original negative, 2009 (NPG, London)


The second generation of the Wainwright-McGarrigle family is vastly talented - not entirely surprising given that their parents (Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle) were both great singer/songwriters - and today’s birthday girl, Martha Wainwright (b. May 8, 1976) has been developing a fine solo career of her own after starting out as her brother Rufus’ back-up singer…

And I’ve been poked and stoked
It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire
Only desire
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are

You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole | Martha Wainwright


Birthday of Keith Jarrett (b. May 8, 1945) who - unlike virtually every other pianist in the world - has equal credentials within the strictly regulated world of classical music where the performer’s role is to intrepret the composer’s score as exactly as possible, and within the world of jazz and free solo improvisation where Jarrett was the undisputed king throughout the 70s and 80s…

After a spell of illness Jarrett turned to the jazz standard repertoire with great success in the 90s and within recent years he has resumed his solo concert activity. In his jazz ‘life’ he has played with Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Art Blakey, Jan Garbarek, a.m.o.

Photo, 1973

Keith Jarrett - Somewhere Over the Rainbow


Terraplane Blues, written and recorded in 1936 by Robert Johnson (birthday observed 8 May, 1911; died 16 August, 1938)

A photograph of the 1937 Terraplane

And I feel so lonesome
you hear me when I moan
When I feel so lonesome
you hear me when I moan
Who been drivin’ my terraplane
for you since I’ve been gone
I’d said I flashed your lights mama
your horn won’t even blow
I even flash my lights mama
this horn won’t even blow
Got a short in this connection…

ROBERT JOHNSON Terraplane Blues (1936)


Christopher James (b. May 8, 1947): Nelske, Maine

Christopher James is a present day master of all the old, ‘alternative’ photo processes…


Nudes, now:

Christopher James: Tina, #25, 1970


Nudes, now:

Wayne R. Lazorik (b. May 8, 1939): Untitled, ca. 1970 - vintage gelatin silver print (Joseph Bellows Gallery)


Nudes, now:

Albert Arthur Allen (May 8, 1886 - 1962): The Female Figure; Series #1, 1923 - Model C, #3


“I am held up entirely by hot air,” is my favourite quote from David Attenborough (b. May 8, 1926), famous for his breathlessly enthusiastic natural history TV programs, Life, on BBC. The line was in fact spoken from his berth in a hot air balloon (he was portraying life in the top canopies of a rain forest in that particular show), but certainly showed a fair amount of self-irony on Attenborough’s part…

“The future of life on earth depends on our ability to take action. Many individuals are doing what they can, but real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics. I’ve been lucky in my lifetime to see some of the greatest spectacles that the natural world has to offer. Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species.” — D.A.

Photo: Julian Anderson, 1995 - bromide fibre print (NPG, London)


Pat Barker (b. May 8, 1943) is an English historical novelist whose main claim to fame is winning the Booker Prize in 1995 for The Ghost Road, the final volume in her Regeneration trilogy, a fictionalised account of the wartime experiences of the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers, and the fictional protagonist, Lt. Billy Prior…

Photo by Mark Gerson, 1997 - bromide fibre print (NPG, London)


Robert Adams (b. May 8, 1937): On Signal Hill, Overlooking Long Beach, 1983 - gelatin-silver print


Romain Gary (pen name for Roman Kacew - a French writer and film-maker of Jewish-Lithuanian/Polish descent) was born May 8, 1914 (d. 1980)…

“Gary is the only person to win the Prix Goncourt twice. This prize for French language literature is awarded only once to an author. Gary, who had already received the prize in 1956 for Les racines du ciel, published La vie devant soi under the pseudonym of Émile Ajar in 1975. The Académie Goncourt awarded the prize to the author of this book without knowing his real identity. A period of literary intrigue followed. Gary’s little cousin Paul Pavlowitch posed as the author for a time. Gary later revealed the truth in his posthumous book Vie et mort d’Émile Ajar.” (Wiki)


Today is the birthday of the great Romanian poet of light, Lucian Blaga (May 9, 1895 - 1961).

The Corolla of the Wonders of the World

I do not trample on the corolla of the wonders of the world
and I do not strangle
in my mind the secrets that I encounter
on my way
in flowers, from eyes, on lips, in graves…
The light of others
shatters the unbreakable spell hidden
in the dark depths,
but I,
I, with my light, multiply the secrets of the world
and as the moon with its rays of white
does not diminish, but rather vibrantly
enhances the secret of the night,
thus I enrich the dark horizon
with large tremors of sacred mysteries,
and all that was incomprehensible
will change into even greater imponderables
under my gaze –
for I love
flowers, and eyes, and lips, and graves…

(Photo of Blaga and his daughter Dorli)


In 1954 Charles Simic (b. May 9, 1938) came to the United States from Yugoslavia. He taught himself English, mainly by hanging out in public libraries, working odd jobs to survive…

In 1990 he won the Pulitzer for his prose poems The World Doesn’t End and in 2007 he was appointed the Poet Laureate of the US…

Autumn Sky - by Charles Simic

In my great grandmother’s time,
All one needed was a broom
To get to see places
And give the geese a chase in the sky.

The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.

Oh Cynthia,
Take a clock that has lost its hands
For a ride.
Get me a room at Hotel Eternity
Where Time likes to stop now and then.

Come, lovers of dark corners,
The sky says,
And sit in one of my dark corners.
There are tasty little zeroes
In the peanut dish tonight.

Source: Poetry (October 2002).


We remember John Brown (1800 - 1859), a radical abolitionist who was not content with talk and passive resistance in the face of violence perpetrated by Southern pro-slavers. Lincoln considered Brown a fanatic and condemned his methods, and Brown for his part certainly did not have much use for the federal government or its methods.

In 1859 he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, intending to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Brown’s subsequent capture by federal forces, his trial for treason to the state of Virginia, and his execution by hanging in Charles Town, Virginia were an important part of the origins of the American Civil War, which followed sixteen months later.

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on.

Activists today…

In any war there have always been a few brave folks who have chosen to be freedom fighters or members of the resistance - even in Nazi Germany this was the case…

Today we celebrate the heroine of The White Rose resistance group, Sophie Scholl (May 9, 1921 - 1943, execution by guillotine), who along with other members of the group, including her brother Hans urged Germans to passive resistance against the Nazi regime.

Sophie helped distribute pamphlets and sermons, expressing anti-Nazi sentiments and arguments. In February 1943 the group was caught pamphleteering at the University of Munich and rapidly sentenced to death and executed.

Sophie said at the end: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action.

Photo of Sophie Scholl, 1941


The great Albert Finney, British actor (w. 5 unsuccessful Academy Award nominations), b. May 9, 1936…

Photo: Cecil Beaton, June 1961 - bromide print on white card mount (NPG, London)


Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter- 56 today…

Anne Sofie von Otter - Händel: Ombra mai fu (live, 2009)


Hank Snow, Canadian-born, Nudie Suit wearing Country & Western great of the golden age: May 9, 1914 - 1999. He’s been everywhere…

A Fool Such As I - Hank Snow


Birthday of a Soul Man - Dave Prater of Sam and Dave fame was born May 9, 1937 (he was killed in a car accident in 1988)…

Sam & Dave - Hold On I'm Comin' (best quality + lyrics)


It’s also the birthday of American photographer/artist Anthony Barboza, b. May 10, 1944…


Today we’re dancing on the ceiling for several reasons, but not least because it’s Fred Astaire’s birthday: May 10, 1899 - 1987…

Still from Royal Wedding, 1951


Another cool birthday: Léon Bakst (May 10, 1866 - 1924) - Russian artist who was a close friend of and collaborator with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Bakst was born Rosenberg, but constructed his pseudonym from his grandma Baxter’s last name…

Photo: E.O. Hoppé, 1916

Léon Bakst: Supper, 1902

Léon Bakst: Model, 1905

Back at the very beginnings of country music as a commercial genre we find The Carter Family

Today we celebrate the birthday of “Mother” Maybelle Carter (May 10, 1909 - 1978), singer and distinctive guitar picker in the family combo.

Photo of the original Carter Family: A. P. Carter, his wife Sara and Maybelle (seated) - Maybelle was married to A.P.’s brother Ezra (Eck) Carter and was also Sara’s first cousin…

The Carter Family - Wildwood Flower


Dave Mason of Traffic and minor solo fame: 65 today!

Photo: Dave Mason Band - Herb Greene (hard to believe this passed for cool in the ’70s - even the shaggy dog is poorly dressed!)

Dave Mason - Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving


Donovan (Leitch) - b. May 10, 1946 - is responsible for more 1960s style singalongs than any other songwriter of that period - even Bob Dylan, whose Blowing in the Wind has nothing on Donovan’s Catch the Wind and Colours as far as the number of bonfire, amateur singer and guitar strummer renditions is concerned…

In the mid to late ’60s, Donovan transformed himself out of folkiedom into a flower-power hippie persona he never seems to have shed, even now when he celebrates his 65th birthday…

Photo: Donovan w. sitar - John Pratt

Donovan - Sunshine Superman


Paul David Hewson, a.k.a. Bono (Vox) (b. May 10, 1960) has shown how celebrity and mass popularity can be parlayed into actual political clout. To some he may be too holier-than-thou, but who can say they have not once been seduced by his lyrics and the religious magic worked by his band…?

Bono, Madrid 1987

U2: I Will Follow - from Boy, 1980


Birthday of Salvador Dalí - May 11, 1904 - 1989 - Surrealist jester…

Photo of Sal and Gala, 1936

Salvador Dalí: Ballerina in a Death’s Head, 1932

Camilo José Cela (May 11, 1916 - 2002) - Spanish novelist and the 1989 Nobel Laureate in Literature “for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability.”

I’ve yet to see a photo of Cela where he is not extremely “restrained” - including this one from the Nobel Ceremony in Stockholm where Cela is surrounded by his family…


Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918 – 1988) - Nobel winning physicist, teacher, storyteller, bongo player…
“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” — Richard P. Feynman

Yesterday we celebrated Fred Astaire, today we celebrate Irving Berlin - songwriter extraordinaire: May 11, 1888 – 1989

Among his 1.000 songs are standards and chestnuts such as “God Bless America”, “White Christmas”, “Anything You Can Do”, “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, and the 1911 song that made him a household name, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

Photo: Ginger Rogers, Irving Berlin and Fred Astaire, 1938

"What'll I Do" Frank Sinatra


Eric Burdon (b. May 11, 1941 - 7-0 today!) is a British singer who fronted the seminal ‘British Invasion’ r&b band The Animals, creating powerful hits such as “The House of the Rising Sun”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “Bring It On Home to Me”, “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”…

After The Animals packed it in Burdon had another seminal phase teaming up with Californian funk-rock band War, creating unexpected synthesis between white and black music traditions…

The Animals - Bring It On Home To Me (1965)


Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American dancer and choreographer regarded as one of the foremost pioneers of modern dance, whose influence on dance can be compared to the influence Stravinsky had on music, Picasso had on the visual arts, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture…

Photo: Lamentation by Barbara Morgan


Carla Bley (b. May 11, 1936) is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and one of the relatively few women band leaders in jazz.

Just some of her many distinctions and collaborative efforts:

Bley has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, whose 1981 solo album Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports was a Carla Bley album in all but name. She arranged and composed music for Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and wrote A Genuine Tong Funeral for Gary Burton. Her arrangement of the music for Federico Fellini’s appeared on Hal Willner’s Nino Rota tribute record, Amarcord Nino Rota. She has also contributed to other Hal Willner projects, including the song “Misterioso” for the tribute to Thelonious Monk entitled “That’s the Way I Feel Now”, which included Johnny Griffin as guest musician on tenor saxophone, and the Willner-directed tribute to Kurt Weill, entitled “Lost in the Stars”, where she and her band contributed an arrangement of the title track, with Phil Woods as guest musician on alto saxophone. In the late 1980s, she also performed with Anton Fier’s Golden Palominos and played on their 1985 album, Visions of Excess. (Wiki)

Photo: Klaus Muempfer

Carla Bley - "Birds of Paradise" docufilm.


Carla Bley / Steve Swallow: Utviklingssang


Just time to celebrate a younger jazzman:

Gerald William Clayton is a two-time Grammy nominated jazz pianist and composer born in Utrecht, Netherlands, May 11, 1984, and raised in Southern California…

Gerald Clayton Trio at The Smalls


Edward Lear, master of the limerick, nonsense verse and other doggerel, born May 12, 1812 (d. 1888)…

There was an Old Person of Dover,
Who rushed through a field of blue Clover;
But some very large bees,
Stung his nose and his knees,
So he very soon went back to Dover

Edward Lear: The Letter C of the Alphabet, c. 1880 - pen and india ink

Katharine Hepburn (May 12, 1907 - 2003), American actress - great both in screwball comedies (many of them with her partner Spencer Tracy) and dramatic roles (for instance in African Queen (1951), opposite Humphrey Bogart)…

Still from Holiday, 1938


Joseph Beuys (May 12, 1921 – 1986) was a German performance artist, sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist and pedagogue of art…

Above: Andy Warhol’s Portrait of Beuys

Joseph Beyus: Blumennymphe

This photograph by Caroline Tisdall is from Joseph Beuys: Coyote, a 1976 book recently published in a new edition by Shirmer/Mosel. The book documents Joseph Beuys’ 1974 performance art piece, Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me, in which the artist spent three days and nights caged with a wild coyote in René Block’s New York Gallery.

Joseph Beyus in his studio, 1978

Frank Stella (b. May 12, 1936) is an American painter and printmaker and a significant figure in minimalism and post-painterly abstraction…

Above - from Black Series II, [title not known], 1967


Daniel Libeskind (b. May 12, 1946) is an American architect, artist, and set designer of Polish-Jewish descent. His signature buildings include several museums, often designed especially for collections of and information about Jewish history…

Daniel Libeskind: Denver Art Museum, 2000-6

Classical music, tonight - focus on Gabriel Fauré…

Gabriel Fauré (May 12, 1845 - 1924), famous for his Requiem (with its famous soprano aria Pie Jesu - ‘a lullaby of death’) and the music for Pelléas et Mélisande… Fauré was considered difficult, dissonant and demanding by his contemporaries.

Photo of Fauré conducting, 1903

Fauré's Requiem Op. 48, Agnus Dei


In contrast to Fauré, Jules Massenet (May 12, 1842 - 1912) is almost frivolously melodious esp. in his operatic music.

Works such as Manon and Werther are still performed in their entirety, occasionally - whereas others such as Thaïs are only know to the general music public through their ‘greatest hits’ passages such as Meditation, the entr’acte played between the scenes of Act II of that opera, which has become an oft-performed concert music piece…

Jules Massenet: Meditation - from Thaïs
Nathan Milstein plays Massenet Meditation


Birthday of one irresistible little English punk/new wave singer/songwriter, Ian Dury (May 12, 1942 - 2000).

The incredibly catchy single “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” was a British number one in 1979, and another classic, the rock and roll anthem, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, is often credited with introducing the phrase to the language…

Ian Dury - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick 1978


Georges Braque (May 13, 1882 -1963) - the French artist who pioneered Cubism in painting and sculpture along with Picasso.

Georges Braque by Ida Kar, 1960

Georges Braque: Tête de Femme, 1909 - oil on canvas (Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris)

Daphne Du Maurier (May 13, 1907 – 1989), English writer of psychological thriller fiction, including The Birds and Rebecca, which both became Hitchcock masterpieces…

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”
— Daphne du Maurier

Photo by Bassano, 24 July 1930 - whole-plate glass negative (NPG, London)


Harvey Keitel is an old man… - 72 today!

Stevie Wonder (b. May 13, 1950) - the heart and soul of Motown, whose innumerable hits (from Little Stevie Wonder in 1963 to the grown genius of I Just Called to Say I Love You in 1984) have turned him into a radio staple…

Photo: LIttle Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder - Living for the City


Gil Evans, stylish Canadian jazz pianist, arranger and conductor (May 13, 1912 - 1988) - frequent collaborator with Miles Davis and instrumental in the development of the ‘cool jazz’ style…

Photo: Gil w. Miles

Miles Davis and Gil Evans: Will O’ The Wisp - from Sketches of Spain


Red Garland (May 13, 1923 - 1984), hard-bop pianist, famous for his block-chord style. Garland became famous in 1955 when he joined the Miles Davis Quintet featuring John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. After that Garland recorded extensively with his own trio behind changing frontmen, again including ‘Trane…

Miles and Red, w. Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in the background…



Chet Baker, American Cool Jazz trumpeter and singer - died this day 1988, aged 58, from head injuries sustained in a fall from a hotel window in Amsterdam…

Chet Baker Live (Belgium 1964) : Time After Time



Sidney Bechet (May 14, 1897 – May 14, 1959) was a jazz pioneer - in fact one of the first soloists to record in the jazz mode - a composer, saxophonist and clarinetist, specializing in the soprano sax, an instrument on which he was a virtuoso (but basically he could play any wind instrument you’d care to put in his hand…plus of course piano, bass and drums)

Bechet cut sides with Armstrong early on in his career, then went on front many combos of his own. Forceful delivery, well-constructed improvisations, and a distinctive, wide vibrato characterized Bechet’s playing. He spent the last ten years of his life in France…

Sidney Bechet - Blue Horizon


Mr. Star Wars - George Lucas - is 67 today…

Now that he is preserved in carbonite he is done aging…


And a lovely leading lady - Star of the Night:

Cate Blanchett - 42…

Photo: Felix Lammers


Cool movie director Sofia Coppola is 40…

Photo: Inez Vinoodh


Thomas Gainsborough, the pre-eminent British portrait and landscape artist of the 18th century: May 14, 1727 - 1788…

Thomas Gainsborough: Six Studies of a Cat, 1765-70 - chalk (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)


Robert Bechtle (b. May 14, 1932): ‘61 Pontiac, 1968-9 - Oil on canvas (Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York)

Richard Estes (b. May 14, 1932): Eiffel Tower Restaurant, from the portfolio Urban Landscapes, No. 3, 1981 - serigraph on paper (Smithsonian)

Great actor, cool villain: Mr. Tim Roth is 50 today…

Photo: Glen Luchford, 1994


Jack Bruce, vocalist and bassist of Cream; composer and song-writer as well: 68 today!
Cream - I Feel Free - 1966 45rpm


David Byrne, frontman of cool new wave ironists Talking Heads, is 59 today!

Byrne’s wry vocal delivery lifted this group’s late 70s/early 80s output to heights rarely reached in that epoch: More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978) - Fear of Music (1979) - Remain in Light (1980) - Speaking in Tongues (1983)…

Photo: Michael Wilson

Talking Heads - Psycho Killer


Pierre Curie, French physicist and Nobel Laureate, husband of Marie Curie (Maria Skłodowska): May 15, 1859 - 1906

Photo: The Curies, 1903 - the year they received the Nobel for their “joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”


James Mason (May 15, 1909 – 1984) was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Throughout his career, Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry and he is now regarded as one of the finest film actors of the 20th century. He was nominated for three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes (winning once).

Davis Claude Boulton: James Mason, 1947 - bromide print (NPG, London)


Mikhail Bulgakov, (May 15, 1891 - 1940, kidney condition) - a Russian novelist and playwright best known for the novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century…

Photo of Bulgkov, 1926…


Max Frisch (May 15, 1911 - 1991) was a Swiss novelist, architect and artist, who is remembered for his novels I’m Not Stiller (1954) and Homo Faber: A Report (1957) which deal with alienation and the modern condition in the wake of the Holocaust. In Faber the protagonist lives his life after a strict rationalist and logical plan, yet falls victim to a life-changing coincidence…

Ralph Steadman (b. May 15, 1936), British cartoonist and great Gonzo artist, buddy of Uncle Duke - Hunter S. Thompson who invented the Gonzo idiom in journalism…

Photo: Barry Marsden, 1990 - bromide fibre print (NPG, London)

Ralph Steadman: Animal Farm

Arthur Schnitzler (May 15, 1862 - 1931), Austrian playwright and short story writer…

Schnitzler received his doctorate of medicine in 1885 and worked in Vienna’s General Hospital, but ultimately abandoned medicine in favour of writing.

His works were often controversial, both for their frank description of sexuality (Sigmund Freud, in a letter to Schnitzler, confessed “I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition — though actually as a result of sensitive introspection — everything that I have had to unearth by laborious work on other persons”) and for their strong stand against anti-Semitism.


The great American photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard was born May 15, 1925 (d. 1972)…

Ralph Eugene Meatyard practised elaborate role-play and story-telling with his photographs. One from the Family Album series…

Ralph Eugene Meatyard: Here in after, here in before, 1963

Today is the birthday of celebrated photographer Richard Avedon (May 15, 1923 - 2004), who did great commercial work, but also portrayed everybody in the arts and entertainment fields…

Photo: Phil Weedon, 22 March 1995 - resin print (NPG, London) - Avedon in front of his portraits of Ezra Pound, of Marilyn Monroe and of The Duke and Duchess of Windsor…

Richard Avedon: Joan Baez, singer, New York, June 18, 1965 - Gelatin silver print (© 2008 The Richard Avedon Foundation)

Peter Shaffer (b. May 15, 1926), British playwright, author of Equus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Amadeus - all of which have been turned into more or less great films…

Photo: Jason Bell, 30 April 2010 - Inkjet print (NPG, London)


Our dear friend Raymond Federman, the great postmodern novelist and champion of laughterature - we miss you on your 83rd birthday! (Ray changed tense October 2009)

Jasper Johns (b. May 15, 1930), seminal American artist - 81 today!

Portrait of Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jasper Johns in Paris, 1961

Jasper Johns owns the flag: Three Flags, 1958 - encaustic

Claudio Monteverdi (baptized May 15, 1567 - 1643) - great Italian composer of madrigals and early opera…

Monteverdi - "Si dolce è'l tormento" - Accordone


In music, the birthday of yet another talented individual who helped make the 70s bearable: Brian Eno, (b. May 15, 1948) - English musician, artist, record producer, and so much more…

Tom Phillips: Brian Peter George St. John Baptiste de la Salle Eno, 1984-1985 - oil on canvas (NPG, London)

Brian Eno "Golden Hours"


Juan Rulfo (May 16 1917 – 1986) was a Mexican author and photographer. One of Latin America’s most esteemed authors, Rulfo’s reputation rests on two volumes, the novel Pedro Páramo (1955), and El Llano en llamas (1953), a collection of short stories that includes his admired tale “¡Diles que no me maten!” (“Tell Them Not to Kill Me!”)…

Above: One of Rulfo’s sensual Mexican photographs


Tamara de Lempicka (May 16, 1898 - 1980) was a flamboyant Polish painter who worked in and created some of the lasting icons of the Art Deco style…

Above: Le Modelle, serigraph


Today is the birthday of American writer, journalist and historian Studs Terkel who passed on last year at the ripe old age of 96 in 2008…

Terkel’s great gift was to listen to the stories of so-called ordinary people and see the relevance, beauty and, in a word, extra-ordinary qualities in those stories. He was a man of the people, for the people.


Character actor, Henry Fonda: May 16, 1905 - 1982

Still from Let Us Live! - 1939

And a fine Henry Fonda moment: Tom Joad’s speech to his mother and all of us at the end of John Ford’s film of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath:

“I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be ever’-where – wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”


King of the Frippertronics…

Frequent Brian Eno collaborator and long-time King Crimson frontman, guitar and electronics guru, Robert Fripp is 65 today!

Fripp & Eno - Evening Star - Evening Star


Jonathan Richman (b. May 16, 1951), always youthful, energetic and positive, is a seminal figure in rock and folk-inspired song-writing (he is so unique that labels quite fail me here). Who else sings about their ill-fitting jeans or a chewing gum wrapper on the sidewalk, with intense and real feeling?

Photo: Elsa Dorfman, 2003: Jojo and Nicole, polaroid

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Morning of Our Lives


Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn (May 17, 1911 – 1992), born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone was a Swedish fashion model widely credited as the first supermodel…

She was married to two photographers, first Fernand Fonssagrives - then Irving Penn (hence her hypenated last name), and modeled for many, many more of the greats… Lisa herself became an artist after she gave up on being what she called a “good clothes hanger…”

Photo: Irving Penn


Jean Gabin (May 17, 1904 - 1976), French gangster-film specialist, was born into show biz as the son of cabaret entertainers. He worked his way up from variety stages, through silent movie roles and into the talkies in 1930. Despite his reputation as a tough cookie, he was also a character performer in serious French films such as Renoir’s La Grande Illusion (an adaptation of Zola’s La Bête Humaine) - not to mention Gabin’s lead role in the 1949, Oscar winning (Foreign Film category) Au-Delà Des Grilles

Photo: Gabin as Maigret


Dennis Hopper (May 17, 1936 - 2010) jumped to superstar fame thanks to his performance in and direction of Easy Rider in 1969, but prior to that he had already appeared in numerous signature films - twice playing opposite James Dean (in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956)) and with Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967). In the meantime Hopper had also appeared in 140 TV-episodes of shows such as Bonanza, and found time to seriously pursue his other talents as a photographer, painter and poet…

Photo: Dennis Hopper - Self-Portrait at Porn Stand


Lyn Hejinian (born 17 May, 1941), in a photograph by Dennis Letbetter

From My Life (1980):

‘You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon. My father had filled an old apothecary jar with what he called “sea glass,” bits of old bottles rounded and textured by the sea, so abundant on beaches. There is no solitude. It buries itself in veracity. It is as if one splashed in the water lost by one’s tears. My mother had climbed into the garbage can in order to stamp down the accumulated trash, but the can was knocked off balance, and when she fell she broke her arm. She could only give a little shrug. The family had little money but plenty of food. At the circus only the elephants were greater than anything I could have imagined. The egg of Columbus, landscape and grammar. She wanted one where the playground was dirt, with grass, shaded by a tree, from which would hang a rubber tire as a swing, and when she found it she sent me. These creatures are compound and nothing they do should surprise us. I don’t mind, or I won’t mind, where the verb “to care” might multiply. The pilot of the little airplane had forgotten to notify the airport of his approach, so that when the lights of the plane in the night were first spotted, the air raid sirens went off, and the entire city on that coast went dark. He was taking a drink of water and the light was growing dim. My mother stood at the window watching the only lights that were visible, circling over the darkened city in search of the hidden airport. Unhappily, time seems more normative than place. Whether breathing or holding the breath, it was the same thing, driving through the tunnel from one sun to the next under a hot brown hill. She sunned the baby for sixty seconds, leaving him naked except for a blue cotton sunbonnet. At night, to close off the windows from view of the street, my grandmother pulled down the window shades, never loosening the curtains, a gauze starched too stiff to hang properly down. I sat on the windowsill singing sunny lunny teena, ding-dang-dong. Out there is an aging magician who needs a tray of ice in order to turn his bristling breath into steam. He broke the radio silence. Why would anyone find astrology interesting when it is possible to learn about astronomy. What one passes in the Plymouth. It is the wind slamming the doors. All that is nearly incommunicable to my friends. Velocity and throat verisimilitude. Were we seeing a pattern or merely an appearance of small white sailboats on the bay, floating at such a distance from the hill that they appeared to be making no progress. And for once to a country that did not speak another language. To follow the progress of ideas, or that particular line of reasoning, so full of surprises and unexpected correlations, was somehow to take a vacation. Still, you had to wonder where they had gone, since you could speak of reappearance. A blue room is always dark. Everything on the boardwalk was shooting toward the sky. It was not specific to any year, but very early. A German goldsmith covered a bit of metal with cloth in the 14th century and gave mankind its first button. It was hard to know this as politics, because it plays like the work of one person, but nothing is isolated in history—certain humans are situations. Are your fingers in the margin. Their random procedures make monuments to fate. There is something still surprising when the green emerges. The blue fox has ducked its head. The front rhyme of harmless with harmony. Where is my honey running. You cannot linger “on the lamb.” You cannot determine the nature of progress until you assemble all of the relatives.’

—from My Life (published originally in 1980)

Birgit Nilsson sings Liebestod-Bayreuth Festival, 1966


Erik Satie (May 17, 1866 - 1925) was a French composer who ranks among the oddest figures in late 19th C./early 20th C. music. He preferred to be called ‘gymnopedist’ or ‘phonometrograph’ rather than ‘composer’, and his pieces - often whimsically titled bagatelles for piano - have a hypnotic and addictive effect on the listener. They sound simple but are actually hard to perform properly (not as pretty little ditties, but as complex and minute variations on a minimalist theme - Vexations for instance calls for 840 repetitions). Sequences such Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes foreshadow later ambient music, as do the later pieces that Satie himself dubbed ‘furniture music’…

Thibaudet - Satie - Trois Gnossiennes (1890)


Today is the birthday of the great, contemporary bluesman, Taj Mahal (b. May 17, 1942)!
Taj Mahal Leavin Trunk


Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872 - 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, social reformist, and pacifist. He was one of the last instances of a philosopher being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1950) - “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”

Photo: Peter Stackpole, 1940 (LIFE)


Margot Fonteyn (May 18, 1919 - 1991) was a British prima ballerina, among the most celebrated and famous solo dancers of the 20th C. - not least remembered for her fiery, late partnership with Rudolf Nureyev…

Photo: Gjon Mili, 1949 - LIFE


Birthday of Nancy Kwan (b. May 19, 1939), Hong Kong American actress who played a pivotal role in the acceptance of actors of Asian descent in major Hollywood film roles…

Kwan starred in The World of Suzie Wong (1960), with William Holden and Flower Drum Song (1961) - the only Rogers and Hammerstein musical to feature an all-Asian cast…

Tag-line: ”So where are you folks from?” “The East.” “Oh, New York, huh?” “Further east…”


Gertrude Käsebier (May 19, 1852 - 1934): Portrait of Mona Cornelia, 1896

“Gertrude Käsebier began her artistic studies at the age of thirty-seven after her children had grown up. While studying painting at Pratt Institute in New York, she began to explore photography. In 1897 she opened a photography studio in New York, specializing in portraits of women and children. Käsebier was a founding member of both the Photo-Secession group and the Pictorial Photographers of America. A favorite of Alfred Stieglitz, she was the featured artist in the premier issue of Camera Work.” - Merry A. Foresta. American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996).

Gertrude Käsebier: Minnie Ashley, 1905

Gertrude Käsebier’s portrait of Miss Minnie Ashley was one of a set of six photogravures published by Alfred Stieglitz in the magazine Camera Work in 1905.

“My children and their children have been my closest thought, but from the first days of dawning individuality, I have longed unceasingly to make pictures of people…to make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality.” —Gertrude Käsebier


Dick Arentz (b. May 19, 1935): Weeping Crab Apple, Bernheim, Kentucky, 1988 - platinum palladium print on paper (Smithsonian)

Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 - 1965) was a seminal figure in African-American thought and political struggle. Born Malcolm Little, he educated himself in prison, lobbed off his slave name and took the great symbol of the unknown as his new moniker. Having converted to Islam, Brother Malcolm went to work for Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam - an organization he later disowned and whose assassins may well have been responsible for his death…

Malcolm X was a scintillating public speaker and had a superstar presence about him that could sway his listeners to follow him. He has later become a style icon for African-American men, as well as a political touchstone in the radical branch of the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm performed the Hajj to Mecca in 1964, after which he wished to be known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz…

Photo of two black style icons: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali - w. three of Malcolm X’s daughters…


Ali again - this time visiting w. another birthday boy: André the Giant - May 19, 1946 - 1993

Grace Jones (b. May 19, 1948) sprang to fame in the late 70s as a black disco queen with a large gay following. She cultivated an angular, powerful, androgynous style in her appearence, and has continued to live as much by her looks as by her (not inconsiderable) wit…

Grace Jones - Private Life


Pete Townshend, iconic power guitarist of The Who - 66 today!

Pete Townshend - Slit Skirts


Talkin’ ‘bout the next generation:

Joey Ramone: May 19, 1951 - 2001…

Joey Ramone - What A Wonderful World


Coleman Hawkins - Body & Soul


Birthday of one of my favorite song-writers, Mickey Newbury (May 19, 1940 - 2002), who has languished on the verge of being forgotten for a long time now…

Nonetheless, Newbury was a very successful songwriter and he has been covered by over 1.000 other artists, within all imaginable genres (including 400+ versions of An American Trilogy, a huge hit for Elvis).

At one point (1968) he had top ten songs on four different US charts: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) on the Pop/Rock chart by the First Edition, Sweet Memories on Easy Listening by Andy Williams, Time is a Thief on the R&B chart by Solomon Burke, and Here Comes the Rain Baby on the Country chart by Eddy Arnold.

Mickey Newbury Heaven help the child


Kyle Eastwood, jazz bassist - b. May 19, 1968…

Kyle Eastwood: Paris Blue - from Paris Blue, 2005

Personnel: Kyle Eastwood (bass instrument); Jim Rotondi (trumpet); Manuel Rocheman, John Beasley (piano, electric piano); Alan Pasqua (piano); Stéphane Huchard (drums); Doug Webb (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Lee Thornberg (trumpet); Michael Stevens (keyboards, programming); Kendall Kay, Vinnie Colaiuta (drums)

Paris Blue by Kyle Eastwood


Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930 - 1965) was ‘young, gifted and black’ - a powerful playwright whose 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun became the first work by a black woman to be performed on Broadway…

Langston Hughes’s poem inspired her title: “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, / Or does it explode?”

“”I was born black and female,” Lorraine Hansberry said. These twin identities would dominate her life and her work. Rejecting the limits placed on her race and her gender, she employed her writing and her life as a social activist to expand the meaning of what it meant to be a black woman…


Carl Mydans (May 20, 1907 – 2004) was an American photographer who worked for the Farm Security Administration. In 1936, he joined LIFE as one of its earliest staff photographers (Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole were the original staff photographers) and a pioneering photojournalist…

Portrait of Mydans by Bernard Hoffman, 1937

Carl Mydans: Chicago, IL.: A view showing the large Chicago Tribune building, 1939 - LIFE

A couple of Mydans shots from Texas:

Chief of Police Carl Pugh, Freer, Texas, 1937 - LIFE

Sigrid Undset (May 20, 1882 – 1949) was a (Danish-born) Norwegian novelist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928, “principially for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages”.

“Undset is best-known for her novels about life in the Scandinavian countries during the Middle Ages. Her early fiction dealt with contemporary subjects, problems of city women. Often her heroines face tragic consequences when they are unfaithful for their true inner self or idealistically challenge traditional gender roles.

Among Undset’s first masterworks from the 1920s is the trilogy Kristin Lavransdotter (1920-22). It re-created a woman’s life in the devout Catholic Norway of the 13th and 14th centuries. In the first volume, The Bridal Wreath, Undset depicted Kristin’s passage to adulthood. Kristin is the proud and beautiful daughter of a prosperous landowner, who marries a basically unworthy man, Erlend. “She understood not herself why she was not glad - it was as though she had lain and wept beneath a warm covering, and now must get up in the cold. A month went by - then two, now she was sure that she had been spared this ill-hap - and, empty and chill of soul, she felt yet unhappier than before. In her heart there dawned a little bitterness toward Erlend. Advent drew near, and she had heard neither from or of him; she knew not where he was.” The Mistress of Husaby and The Cross deal with Kristin’s marriage, the love and hate relationship with her husband, and her final reckoning with God and succumbing to the Black Death. The novel was followed by a tetralogy, translated into English as The Master of Hestviken (1924-27), also a medieval tale, which earned her the Nobel prize. The protagonist, proud and unyielding Olav, has committed murder - he kills the lover of his fiancée - which he chooses not to confess. In both novel series “the first sin” shadows the protagonist’s life.” (Source)


Wolfgang Borchert (May 20, 1921 – 1947) was a German author and playwright whose work was affected by his experience of dictatorship and his service in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.

After struggling to avoid enlisting in the Hitler Jugend, being arrested in 1940 by Gestapo, conscribed into the army and stationed at the Eastern front, Borchert caught hepatitis from an untreated wound. His superiors accused him of self-mutilation to avoid further combat, arrested him and placed him in isolation. Soon he was returned to the front ‘to prove himself’ - but while there he suffered frost bite and was, finally granted medical leave…

The young actor and playwright was relatively undeterred and while on medical leave gave a scathing parody of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in a Hamburg theater - which landed him a nine month stint in military jail and restationing at the front, this time in France. When his unit surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Borchert escaped en route to the POW camp and walked to his home in Hamburg.

He never regained his health after the war, and his doctors gave him only a year to live. He continued writing at a furious pace, producing his manifesto against war Dann gibt es nur eins! (Then there is only one thing to do!) shortly before his death in a hepatitic sanatorium in Schwitzerland…


You. Poet in your room. If they order you tomorrow not to sing love songs, but songs of hate, then there’s only one thing to do:

Say NO!

— From Then There’s Only One Thing To Do! (Dann Gibt Es Nur Eins!); translated from the German into English by Ryan Wilcox…

Wolfgang Borchert (1921 - 1947): Versuche es

Stell Dich mitten in den Regen,
glaube an den Tropfensegen,
spinn Dich in dies Rauschen ein
und versuche, gut zu sein!

Stell Dich mitten in den Wind,
glaub an ihn und sei ein Kind -
laß den Sturm in Dich hinein
und versuche, gut zu sein!

Stell Dich mitten in das Feuer -
liebe dieses Ungeheuer
in des Herzens rotem Wein
und versuche, gut zu sein!


Try to

Stand in the middle of the rain,
Believe in the blessing of the drops,
Cover yourself in its noise
And try to be good!

Stand in the middle of the wind
Believe in it and be a child -
Let the storm enter you
And try to be good!

Stand in the middle of the fire -
Love this monster
With the red wine of your heart
And try to be good!

(Translation - Bent Sørensen)


Max Spivak (May 20, 1906 - 1981): Mardi Gras, ca. 1935-1943 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799 - 1850) produced a massive, connected body of work - a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

In the era of blogs and other fast media, Balzac is of course known almost exclusively for his anti-coffee rant:

“The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of vivacity that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque and ill-tempered for no apparent reason. One actually becomes that mercurial character, the poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid. A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public. I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the best sort, and together we came upon the problem soon enough: coffee had wanted its victim.” – Honoré de Balzac, Traité des excitants modernes, ch. iii, Du café, p. 17 (1838)(S.H. transl.)

I’m going to have a latte now…


Gandy Brodie (May 20, 1924 - 1975): A Chivalrous Knight, 1954 - watercolor, gouache, India ink, pastel and paper collage on paper (Smithsonian)

With one of Elsa Dorfman’s vivid Polaroids we celebrate Robert Creeley, a great, one-eyed American poet: May 21, 1926 - 2005…

The story of the image and its weird afterlife is worth reading - click the source link…

Robert Creeley - from Gnomic Verses:


Outstretched innocence
Implacable distance
Lend me a hand
See if it reaches

Have a Heart

Have heart Find head
Feel pattern Be wed
Smell water See sand
Oh boy Ain’t life grand


Lift up so you’re
Floating out
Of your skin at
The edge but
Mostly up seeming
Free of the ground.


Albrecht Dürer (May 21, 1471 – 1528), early German Renaissance painter, is perhaps the earliest individual artist we as 21st C. viewers can truly identify with as possessing a personal expression or style, along with his perfect technical mastery…

Above: Self-Portrait, 1497-8 - Oil on panel (Prado, Madrid)

Inscription: “Das malt ich nach meiner gestalt / Ich war sex und zwenzig Jor alt/ Albrecht Dürer” (I painted this from my own appearance; I was twenty-six years old)

Dürer was a master of drawings and engravings:

The Rhinoceros, 1515 - woodcut

“In January of the year 1515, the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda set sail from India, bound for Lisbon via the Cape of Good Hope. Along with the usual priceless cargo of exotic spices, the ship carried a rhinoceros, a gift from Sultan Muzafar II for his ally King Manuel I of Portugal. No rhinoceros had been seen in Europe since the days of the Roman menageries. Scholars of the 16th century were unsure whether rhinoceroses actually existed, or whether they were mythical, like the unicorn. When the rhinoceros disembarked in the port of Lisbon, it was welcomed as a major scientific discovery. A description of the rhinoceros reached the German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), who was inspired to make a pen and ink drawing of it. The drawing was used as a template for a woodcut block, which was then inked to make multiple prints of Dürer’s design. However, this image is a work of imagination rather than a representation of reality, because Dürer never had the opportunity to examine the rhinoceros himself. A real rhinoceros has thick folds of knobby skin, not armor plates or scales, and it has a single horn on the end of its snout. The little augur-shaped horn on the nape of the image’s neck is pure fiction.”


Jane Wiedlin, rhythm guitarist of The Go-Go’s, b. May 20, 1958…

Photo by Austin Young Photography

Go-Go's - Get Up And Go (Promo Video)


Never had a great love for the jungle fantasies of post-Impressionist/Naïvist French painter and civil servant, Henri Roussau (May 21, 1844 - 1910) in which the Customs Officer let off a little primal steam… Nevertheless even tax collectors got soul, and H.R. can be good fun in a creepy sort of way.

Henri Rousseau: Boy on the Rocks, 1895-97 - Oil on linen (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

“Only a child can so bestride the world with such ease, and only a childlike artist with a simple, naïve vision can understand this elevation and make us see it as dauntingly true.” — Nicolas Pioch


Marcel Breuer (May 21, 1902 - 1981), architect and furniture designer, was an influential Hungarian-born modernist of Jewish descent. One of the masters of Modernism (often referred to as the ‘last of the Modernists’ at his death), Breuer displayed interest in modular construction and simple forms.

Breuer designed a number of striking buildings for the arts, including his signature museum construction: The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1966…

A masked woman, Lis Beyer or Ise Gropius - seated in Marcel Breuer’s coolest piece of furniture design, the 1926 Wassily chair (Breuer gave a copy of the first version of the chair to his Bauhaus colleague at the time Wassily Kandinsky…)


Alexander Pope, English wit and poet of the old-fashioned kind: May 21, 1688 - 1744…

His lines are so frequently quoted that they have lapsed into dead metaphor and cliché status: “A little learning is a dangerous thing”, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” -and more…

Portrait by John Simon, after Michael Dahl, 1728 (1727) - mezzotint (NPG, London)


Keith Appel (b. May 21, 1934): Gold Skimmer, 1983 - porcelain enamel on 16-gauge steel with gold fused on the surface (Smithsonian)

Martin Carthy (b. May 21, 1941 - 70 today!) is one of the most accomplished and well respected folk musicians in England.

He has recorded solo and in collaboration with Dave Swarbrick, fiddler of Fairport Convention fame, since 1965. He came up with the arrangement for Scarborough Fair that Simon & Garfunkle nicked for their major 1966 hit. In addition to his 15+ solo albums, he has recorded nearly as many with The Watersons (Carthy is a Waterson by marriage to vocalist Norma of the family group)…

Photo of Norma and Martin

Martin Carthy - Lord Randall


Fats Waller - stride pianist, singer, songwriter, entertainer - was born May 21, 1904 (d. 1943, pneumonia…)

Waller wrote some of the great songs of the late 20s, early 30s: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, which have been covered by all and sundry… His own humour-filled performances are still tops, though.

When Somebody Thinks Your Wonderful - by Fats Waller


Johan Isaac Hollandus, 15th cent. Rosicrucian manus…
Inserted bookplate by Denis I. Duveen: Python [Mercurius as three-headed dragon], ca. 1760 (Beinecke)

Theodor von Holst: The Wish (a.k.a. The Fortune Teller), ca. 1840 - oil on canvas

Richard Wagner (May 22, 1813 - 1883) has been abused by a number of causes and political ideas which have embraced his music and sometimes his theories to their own ends. The prime culprit has of course been Nazism which used Wagner’s operas to provide a convenient lineage for the supposed primacy of the Arian race. Ever since Wagner has been taken to task for his manifest anti-semitism and rampant worship of the strong, superhuman man of action…

While Wagner certainly loved his Norse mythology and its heroes, I am not so sure that it or he can be held responsible for anything other than showing in moving ways human frailty, pettiness and overweening pride - and the fatal consequences thereof…

The women in Wagner’s universe suffer particularly much and bear the brunt of all the foolishness of the men and gods that surround them, but at least for a while the Valkyries get to ride quite gloriously….

Photo of Wagner, Paris 1867

Wagner - Das Rheingold - Vorspiel


Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to an English father of Irish descent and an Irish mother. Conan Doyle went on to create the world’s most famous literary detective, Sherlock Holmes, albeit hugely inspired by precursors such as Poe’s Auguste C. Dupin…

Photo: by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co 1893 - carbon print on card mount (NPG, London)

The latest (postmodern) Sherlock - Benedict Cumberbatch

Gustave Doré: Les Saltimbanques [Magicians], 1874 - oil painting (Musée d’art Roger-Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand)

Langston Hughes, poet of the Harlem Renaissance and beyond - died this day in 1967, from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer, at the age of 65…

Photo: Muray Studios, N.Y., 1924 (Beinecke at Yale)

Aaron Douglas: Front cover of December, 1925 edition of Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life

Jean Tinguely (May 22, 1925 - 1991) was a Swiss painter and sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, in the Dada tradition; known officially as metamechanics. Tinguely’s art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

Photo: Lothar Wolleh, Milan, 1970

Photo of Jean Tinguely and the love of his life,Niki de Saint Phalle, in New York, 1962

Jean Tinguely: Baluba, 1961-2

Lawrence Olivier (May 22, 1907 - 1989) lays claim to the label of greatest Shakespearian actor of the 20th C., and some would even claim he was the greatest actor of that century - period.

Photo by Laszlo Willinger, 1940 - bromide print (NPG, London)


Balcomb Greene (May 22, 1904 - 1990): Untitled (39-3), 1939 - paper and pencil on paper (Smithsonian)

Just in case you happen to like sun at midnight, here is a little ‘jazzy’ item for you to end off May 22…

One of the weirdest figures in jazz and beyond, Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 - 1993) was a composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances…

Photo: Val Wilmer, 1966

Sun Ra in full regalia…

Sun Ra - Tapestry From An Asteroid


Mr. Zimmerman joins the ranks of the Old Masters…

Bob Dylan, b. May 24, 1941…



Happy 75th to Harold Budd (b. May 24, 1936) - American ambient/avant-garde composer and poet…

Harold Budd & Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois: Foreshadowed - from The Pearl, 1984

Harold Budd & Brian Eno - A Stream With Bright Fish


Russian Nobel Laureate in Literature, Mikhail Sholokhov was born May 24, 1905 (d. 1984). He received the Prize in 1965 “for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people.”

Counter to the explicit policy of the Nobel Committee that one does not get the Nobel for one specific, single work, Sholokov seems to have been awarded exclusively for And Quiet Flows the Don which took him 14 years to write (completed in 1940). The Don epic deals with a family of Cossack in the early part of the 20th C. and their struggles, both as a family and on the backdrop of world events sweeping away the foundations of their lives…


Joseph Brodsky, Russian-born, naturalized American poet (May 24, 1940 - 1996, heart attack), recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature “for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity…”

Brodsky was kicked out of the Soviet Union in 1972 after years of being a dissident and resisting the system’s attempts at re-educating and censoring him…

Photo of Brodsky in Shakespeare & Co., Paris

Joseph Brodsky: To Urania

To I.K.

Everything has its limit, including sorrow.
A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.
Loneless cubes a man at random.
A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
And what is space anyway if not the
body’s absence at every given
point? That’s why Urania’s older sister Clio!
in daylight or with the soot-rich lantern,
you see the globe’s pate free of any bio,
you see she hides nothing, unlike the latter.
There they are, blueberry-laden forests,
rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon
or the towns in whose soggy phone books
you are starring no longer; father eastward surge on
brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing
in tall sedge; the cheeckbones get yellower
as they turn numerous. And still farther east, steam dreadnoughts or cruisers,
and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.

Just the Nobels tonight - and one that got away yesterday:

Pär Lagerkvist (May 23, 1891 - 1974) was a Swedish author who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951.

Lagerkvist wrote poems, plays, novels, stories, and essays of considerable expressive power and influence from his early 20s to his late 70s. Among his central themes was the fundamental question of good and evil, which he examined through such figures as the man who was freed instead of Jesus, Barabbas, and the wandering Jew Ahasuerus.

Lagerkvist was yet another one of those writers who himself was part of the Nobel committee (The Swedish Academy), and who perhaps would not otherwise have been considered for the highest international literary award…

From Aftonland, a 1953 collection of poetry, translated by W.H. Auden & Leif Sjöberg as Evening Land:

I wanted to know
But was only allowed to ask,
I wanted light
But was only allowed to burn.
I demanded the ineffable
But was only allowed to live.

I complained,
But nobody understood what I meant.


Archie Shepp (b. May 24, 1937) is a prominent African-American jazz saxophonist. Shepp is best known for his passionately Afrocentric music of the late 1960s, which focused on highlighting the injustices faced by the black race, as well as for his work with the New York Contemporary Five, Horace Parlan, and his collaborations with his “New Thing” contemporaries, most notably Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane. (Wiki)

Archie Shepp "Blues For Brother George Jackson" (1972)


Theodore Roethke (May 25, 1908 - 1963) was a nature poet, whose book The Waking won the 1954 Pulitzer for Poetry…


Theodore Roethke: Journey into the Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
— Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.


Master short story writer Raymond Carver was born May 25, 1938 (d. 1988, cancer) and revitalised the understated style of literary expression first perfected by Hemingway, this time in a manner that at the time was labelled ‘dirty realism’…

“Dreams, you know, are what you wake up from.” — Raymond Carver


Dorothea Lange, the master photographer known for her documents of American life in the Depression era, was born May 26, 1895 (d. 1965)…

Dorothea Lange: Dust Bowl Kids, 1936

Dorothea Lange: Penniless Family, c. 1936

Dorothea Lange: Hobo

Ruth Armer (May 26, 1896 - 1977): Immaterial Forms, 1940 - oil on canvas (Smithsonian)

One of the great musicians of the 20th C.: Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader - May 26, 1926 - 1991…

Miles innovated the jazz idiom on several occasions, and ultimately created music that far transcended generic limitations. From Birth of the Cool in 1949 to Sketches of Spain in 1960 he already develops the more traditional, acoustic jazz idiom far beyond what any other instrumentalist and arranger could have envisioned. And after that follows the whole electrical, fusion-oriented catalogue…

Miles Davis - It Never Entered my Mind


Vanité, a painting made in 1644 by Philippe de Champaigne (born 26 May, 1602; died 12 August, 1674); in the collection of the Musée de Tessé, Le Mans, France


Drummer, vocalist (and multi-instrumentalist) of the seminal rock-group The Band, Levon Helm is 71 today. Helm is known for his deeply soulful, country-style voice, and powerful drumming style highlighted on many of the The Band’s recordings, such as “The Weight”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, “Ophelia” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”… He also plays a mean mandolin.

Levon Helm, Hamburg, 1971

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - (The Last Waltz) - (1978)


Fabulous dancer Isadora Duncan (May 26, 1877 – 1927) was born in San Francisco but rose to fame in Europe…

Duncan was killed in a freak accident when her trademark scarf was caught in the open-spoked wheels and rear axle of the car she was travelling in, causing her to be strangulated and nearly decapitated.


Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907 – 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Her book Silent Spring brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?” — Rachel Carson (Silent Spring)


Gil Scott Heron, activist and man of words - died, aged 62, on May 27, 2011 of causes unknown, after returning to the US from a trip to Europe. Gil had been HIV positive for a number of years and was frequently treated for pneumonia…

Gil Scott Heron - Peace Go With You, Brother


Dashiel Hammett, American crime writer of the hard-boiled school, was born May 27, 1894 (d. 1961). His novels The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man feature cynical anti-heroes who fully realize that their idea of fighting crime and corruption is futile - yet they have a soft spot and fall for a femme fatale at the earliest possible moment…

“The problem with putting two and two together is that sometimes you get four, and sometimes you get twenty-two.” — Dashiell Hammett (The Thin Man)


French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline (May 27, 1894 – 1961), author of Journey to the End of the Night, a celebrated novel. Written in an explosive and highly colloquial style, the book shocked most critics but found immediate success with the French reading public, which responded enthusiastically to the violent misadventures of its petit-bourgeois antihero, Bardamu, and his characteristic nihilism.

Céline’s writings are examples of black comedy, where unfortunate and often terrible things are described humorously. Céline’s writing is often hyper-real and its polemic qualities can often be startling; however, his main strength lies in his ability to discredit almost everything and yet not lose a sense of enraged humanity. Céline was also an influence on Irvine Welsh, Günter Grass and Charles Bukowski. Bukowski has famously said that “Journey to the End of the Night was the best book written in the last two thousand years.”

“Truth is a pain which will not stop. And the truth of this world is to die. You must choose: either dying or lying. Personally, I have never been able to kill myself.” — L.-F. C.


John Cheever (May 27, 1912 – 1982) was an American novelist and short story writer, whose focus on life in the suburbs prefigures a slew of postmodern writing showing the effects of consumerism and alienation on human relations. I particularly enjoy the absurdity of a story like The Swimmer (1964).

“Good writers are often excellent at a hundred other things, but writing promises a greater latitude for the ego.— John Cheever


Lament on the Death of His Brother, by Nathaniel Gow (born 27 May, 1766; died 19 January, 1831); performed here by Dr. John Turner, at his Jink & Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling, in Valle Crucis, North Carolina

Gow composed this work in 1791, in memory of his older brother, William, who had died the same year at forty.


Extraordinary Danish jazz bassist, Niels Henning Ørsted Pedersen, affectionately known as NHØP, was born May 27, 1946 (d. 2005, sudden heart failure). NHØP played with everyone who came through Europe, including Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Brew Moore, Bud Powell, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Jackie McLean, Roland Kirk, Sonny Rollins, and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. In addition he toured for many years with Oscar Peterson’s trio…
Clouds - Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen Quartet


Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn was born May 27, 1945. His 29 albums have presented songs in in styles ranging from folk to jazz-influenced rock to rock and roll. Favourites of mine include “One Day I Walk” and “Mystery”…

Bruce Cockburn: Wondering Where the Lions Are - from Anything Anytime Anywhere (Singles 1979-2002)


Harlan Ellison was an early exponent of transgressive science fiction, who apart from his own writing played an important role as an editor of volumes such as Dangerous Visions, which featured writer such as Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany…

Ellison’s own stories include “”Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman” (1965), a celebration of civil disobedience against repressive authority, and ”I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967), an allegory of Hell, where five humans are tormented by an all-knowing computer throughout eternity.


John Barth (b. May 27, 1930) is the undisputed king of introverted postmodernism. His games of narration and metafictional framebreaking are entertaining, but to his contemporaries often seemed maddening and pointless. Story cycles such as Chimera experiment with what I call ‘mythographic metafiction’, discussing the role of myth and the representation thereof…

György Ligeti (May 28, 1923 – 2006) was a composer, born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania. He briefly lived in Hungary before later becoming an Austrian citizen. Many of his works are well known in classical music circles, but to the general public, he is best known for the various pieces featured in the Stanley Kubrick films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut

György Ligeti - Musica Ricercata I-VI


Ian Fleming - May 28, 1908 - 1964 - the spy novel daddy of them all; author of the 12 James Bond novels…

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success” — Ian Fleming


Walker Percy (May 28, 1916 – 1990) was an American Southern author best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. He devoted his literary life to the exploration of “the dislocation of man in the modern age.” (Wiki)

“Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion.” — Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)


Australian novelist and 1973 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Patrick White, was born May 28, 1912 (d. 1990). White wrote fiction which freely employs shifting narrative vantage points and a stream of consciousness technique. I like his novel Voss, a meditation on religion and the desert, told through the story of a failed expedition into the Australian outback… The book is a form of magical realism and historiographic metafiction with a post-colonial intent.

“To understand the stars would spoil their appearance.” — Patrick White (Voss)

Photo: William Yang, 1980 - gelatin silver photograph (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra)


The German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b. May 28, 1925) is one of the most famous lieder singers of his generation…

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings Schubert - Der Erlkönig


Matsumi Kanemitsu (May 28, 1922 - 1992): Untitled, 1953 - sumi

“Matsumi Kanemitsu, a painter closely associated with the New York Abstract Expressionist school, was proficient in four separate mediums: sumi, or Japanese ink drawing; watercolor; lithography, and painting on canvas. His painting was done with acrylics, using a complex technique that involved brushing, staining, pouring and glazing to achieve abstract imagery that often reflected landscapes and the forces of nature.” - NYT obit


Papa John Creech (May 28, 1917 - 1994) was a unique cross-over figure - certainly the only black fiddler to contribute significantly to the San Francisco hippie music scene: Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Starship

Jefferson Airplane - Pretty As You Feel (uncut version) 1971


Good ol’ boy, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame is 67 today…

Photo: Joseph Linaschke

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Heard it through the Grapevine


The Empress of Soul, Gladys Knight turns 68 today!

With her band The Pips Knight scored numerous hits for Motown Including the first released version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine, before leaving the label for a more lucrative deal. In the early 70s they produced perhaps their best work...

Gladys Knight & The Pips: I Heard It Through The Grapevine, 1967


T-Bone Walker (May 28, 1910 — 1975) was an American blues guitarist, singer, pianist and songwriter who was one of the most important pioneers of the electric guitar. His electric guitar solos were among the first heard on modern blues recordings and helped set a standard that is still followed…

Roots of Blues -- T-Bone Walker „Mean Old World"


Thomas Smillie: Total Solar Eclipse, May 28, 1900 - glass plate negative (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

In 1900 the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, then based in Washington, D.C., loaded several railroad cars with scientific equipment and headed to Wadesboro, North Carolina. Scientists had determined that this small town would be the best location in North America for viewing the expected total solar eclipse on May 28, and the Smithsonian Solar Eclipse Expedition hoped to capture photographic proof of the solar corona during the event for further study. The team included Smithsonian photographer Thomas Smillie, who headed up the missions photographic component. Smillie rigged cameras to seven telescopes and successfully made eight glass-plate negatives, ranging in size from eleven by fourteen inches to thirty by thirty inches. At the time, Smillies work was considered an amazing photographic and scientific achievement…


Grayson Mathews (May 29, 1948 - 2007): Untitled (Pacific Finance Building), gelatin silver print (Smithsonian)

Doris Ulmann (May 29, 1882 - 1934): Two Men in Doorway with Tools, ca. 1930 - platinum print on paper (Smithsonian)

Josef von Sternberg (29 May 1894 – 1969) was an Austrian-American film director. He is one of the earliest examples of ‘auteur’ filmmakers, and practised many other skills while making his films including cinematographer, writer, and editor. Sternberg’s style has had a vast influence on later directors, particularly during the film noir movement. His mastery of mise-en-scene, lighting and soft lens is unrivaled, and his collaboration with sultry actress Marlene Dietrich is internationally celebrated. The high point of their work is the film Der Blaue Engel from 1930.

Photo of Sternberg and actress Renée Adorée on the set of Exquisite Sinner, which he ultimately didn’t complete…


G.K. Chesterton (1874 - 1936) was a versatile English writer. Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories. (Wiki)

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

Photo by Herbert Lambert, 1920s - silver gelatin print (NPG, London)


Somewhat eccentric English author of Arthurian romances, T.H. White: May 29, 1906 - 1964…



On May 29, 1913 the Igor Stravinsky ballet Sacre du Printemps/Rite of Spring had its premier in Paris. Its “barbarous” music and the unconventional choreography that Nijinsky designed to accompany it caused one of the most famous theatrical scandals in history, including a min-riot outside the theatre. While the ballet’s music and choreography sometimes seemed to strive for heavy and primitive effects, the sets by Nikolai Roerich seem positively ethereal. Roerich (1874-1947) was trained as an ethnographer and visual artist.

Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps / The Rite of Spring (1913)


JFK (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963) - despite his many flaws and errors of judgment, still a good president…


Erich Korngold (May 29, 1897 – 1957) was a Jewish Austrian classical composer whose popularity was largely founded on his work in film music after he came to the USA, first in 1934, and then again in 1938. He did, however, also write operas and instrumental concertos, which were condemned by the Nazis as Entartete Musik. Best remembered is his 1920 opera Die Tote Stadt

Erich Wolfgang Korngold - Das Wunder Der Heliane - Part I


Finally, remembering Dennis Hopper, one year gone…

Dennis Hopper, American actor, film-maker, photographer, bad boy - died this day in 2010, aged 74, from prostate cancer…


John Cipollina, ’60s guitar legend of Quicksilver Messenger Service - died this day in 1989, aged 45, from chronic emphysema….

Photo: Linda McCartney, Fillmore East, N.Y., 1968

Quicksilver Messenger Service Acapulco Gold and Silver Gold and Silver


Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (May 29, 1922 – February 4, 2001) was a Greek composer, music theorist and architect. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers. Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models such as applications of set theory, varied use of stochastic processes, game theory, etc., in music, and was also an important influence on the development of electronic music. (Wiki)
Photo: Marco Delogu, 1995

Study for Terretektorh (distribution of musicians) by Iannis Xenakis, 1965 - Diagram for an 88-member orchestra scattered among its audience.

Iannis Xenakis Orient Occident


Isaac Albéniz (May 29, 1860 – 1909) was a Spanish Catalan pianist and composer best known for his piano works based on folk music. Most of Albéniz’s works are better known in their transcribed form for the guitar, including the famous Asturias from his Suite Española…

Spanish Tango - Isaac Albéniz


Singer and pianist in the British group Procol Harum, Gary Brooker, was born May 29, 1943…

Procol Harum, w. Gary Brooker (r), being wondelfully hippiesque…

Procol Harum - Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)


Vanessa Bell - painter and designer (and sister of Virginia Woolf) - was born May 30, 1879 (d. 1961)…

Photo by Ray (Rachel) Strachey, August 1914 - film negative (NPG, London)

Vanessa Bell: Aldous Huxley, circa 1931 - oil on canvas (NPG, London)

Howard Hawks (May 30, 1896 – 1977) was an influential American film director, producer and screenwriter of the classic Hollywood era. He was popular for his films from a wide range of genres (gangster, screwball, western - you name it) such as Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959). (Wiki)

Howard Hawks and John Wayne on the set of Rio Lobo, 1970


Countee Cullen (May 30, 1903 - 1946, uremic poisoning) was a poet associated with the generation of black writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Cullen’s poetry often uses classical rhymed forms and follows a Romantic sensibility…


From the Dark Tower

(To Charles S. Johnson)

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.

The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.

Photo: Carl Van Vechten, 1941


Paul Hester (b. May 30, 1948): Untitled ((Sea-Arama Marineworld, Galveston, Texas)), 1973 - gelatin silver print (Smithsonian)

Robert Ryman (b. May 30, 1930) is an American painter identified with the movements of monochrome painting, minimalism, and conceptual art. The majority of his works feature abstract expressionist-influenced brushwork in white or off-white paint on square canvas or metal surfaces.

Robert Ryman: Contact, 1982 - Enamel on fiberglass on honey comb panel and metal (Hirshhorn)


Devendra Banhart (b. May 30, 1981 - 30 today!) is an American singer/songwriter, born in Venezuela. His vocals are very distinctive, warbly and vibrato-driven…

Devendra Banhart-The Body Brakes


Bakunin (May 30, 1814 - 1876) was a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism.

Bakunin’s socialism was known as “collectivist anarchism,” in which the workers would directly manage the means of production through their own productive associations. There would be “equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, boy or girl, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by his own labor.”

Photo: Nadar


Roberto Calasso (born 30 May, 1941), pictured above in a 2006 photograph from the Nexus Institute Conference (the Netherlands)

‘A fraternal solidarity reigns between Marx and the cold, cruel theoreticians who defend capitalism. And this is the only feeilng of solidarity that endures in Marx; toward the theoreticians of socialism, he displays mostly rancor and intolerance. Thus, he willingly agrees with Adam Smith regarding the distinction between productive and unproductive labor, and disparages David Ricardo’s “sentimental adversaries”:

“Ricardo rightly considers capitalist production the most generally advantageous of its time, the most advantageous for the creation of wealth. He wants production for production’s sake, and this is right. If one wished to assert, as Ricardo’s sentimental adversaries have done, that production as such is not the end, one would be forgetting that production for production’s sake means nothing other than the development of humankind’s powers of production, hence the development of the wealth of human nature as an end in itself.”

But the society desired by Marx has an aim that goes beyond capital—namely the “development of the riches of human nature,” a movement toward that “all-sidedness” of the “total man” that so far has not been achieved. Capital, founded on the destruction of limits, is still hesitant about knocking them down; beyond capital lies the possibility that production for production’s sake will assume its most radical, intense, and efficient form. Marx therefore wants to move the most lucid and ruthless notion of capitalist production (Ricardo’s, in fact) into a context where capital would be engulfed because it has itself become an obstacle to production.’

—from The Ruin of Kasch (published originally in 1983; translated from the Italian in 1994 by William Weaver)


Rainer Werner Fassbinder (May 31, 1945 – 1982) was an openly gay German movie director, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the most important representatives of the New German Cinema. In his short life he not only made 43 films (including two shorts and the 15 ½ hour Berlin Alexanderplatz), but he also worked as an actor (film and theatre), author, cameraman, composer, designer, editor, producer and theatre manager…

Walter Sickert (May 31, 1860 - 1942) was a German-born English Impressionist painter and member of the Camden Town Group. Sickert was a cosmopolitan and eccentric who favoured ordinary people and urban scenes as his subjects.

Above: La Giuseppina against a Map of Venice, 1903-1904 - Oil on canvas (Tate)

La Rue Pequet, Dieppe, St. Jacques, a drawing made around the turn of the 20th century by Walter Sickert ; in the collection of the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, England.

Tito Puente, latin jazz
great - died this day in 2000, aged 77, following open heart surgery…

Tito Puente - Oye Como Va


Once more it’s the birthday of dear Uncle Walt…

The greatest 19th C. American poet, Walt Whitman: May 31, 1819 - 1892…

As a young man Whitman worked as a printer’s apprentice, a journalist and a school teacher. None of these professions suited him, as is apparent from his journals, and he longed to set forth and satisfy his Wanderlust

In the late 1840s he slowly started conceiving of himself as a poet, and began to plan Leaves of Grass, his ever expanding book of poems, which would become his life’s work.

Photo - Alexander Gardner, 1864 (LoC)

Old Walt in Camden, 1887…


When his hour for death had come,
He slowly rais’d himself from the bed on the floor,
Drew on his war-dress, shirt, leggings, and girdled the belt around
his waist,
Call’d for vermilion paint (his looking-glass was held before him,)
Painted half his face and neck, his wrists, and back-hands.
Put the scalp-knife carefully in his belt—then lying down, resting
Rose again, half sitting, smiled, gave in silence his extended hand
to each and all,
Sank faintly low to the floor (tightly grasping the tomahawk handle,)
Fix’d his look on wife and little children—the last:

(And here a line in memory of his name and death.)


Clint Eastwood (b. May 31, 1930) rose to fame through macho roles in spaghetti westerns, as Dirty Harry doing his best to clean up the 70s and 80s, and in the last couple of decades as the director of a number of very violent films depicting the survival of the fittest, most superhuman of men. But let’s not forget Bird, his loving tribute to Charlie Parker, showing Clint’s Jazz infatuation…


Saint-John Perse (May 31, 1887 – 1975) was a French poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960 “for the soaring flight and evocative imagery of his poetry.”

Perse put in a good word for poetry in a society which he felt had become too materialistic and had lost its respect for the poet:

“But more than a mode of perception, poetry is above all a way of life, of integral life. The poet existed among the cave men; he will exist among men of the atomic age, for he is an inherent part of man.” (Source)

Photo: Lucien Aigner - St. John Perse - a refugee in New York…


Louise Bourgeois, French-born American sculptor, famous for Maman/Spiderwoman - died of heart failure on this day in 2010, aged 98…

Photo: Chris Felver

Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father, 1974 - plaster, latex, wood, fabric, and red light…

Louise describes the narrative of this piece as “The children grabbed him [the father] and put him on the table. And he became the food. They took him apart, dismembered him. Ate him up. And so he was liquidated…the same way he liquidated his children. The sculpture represents both a table and a bed.”


Robert Quine, American guitarist of note who worked with Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Lou Reed (notably on The Blue Mask), Brian Eno , John Zorn, They Might Be Giants, Marianne Faithfull (Strange Weather), Lloyd Cole, Tom Waits (Rain Dogs), a.m.o. - died on this day in 2004, aged 62, from a heroin overdose taken in despair over his wife’s recent death…

Lou Reed - waves of fear + Lyrics (GuitarSolo Robert Quine)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A young boy and his father went out fishing one nice morning. After a few quiet hours out in the boat, the boy became curious about the world around him. He looked up at his father and asked "How do fish breath under water?" His dad thought about it for a moment, then replied "I really don't know, son." The boy sat quietly from another moment, then turned back to his dad and asked, "How does our boat float on the water?" Once again his father answered, "Don’t know, son." Reflecting his thoughts again, a short while later, the boy asks "Why is the sky blue?" Again, his father answered, "Don’t know, son." The curious boy, worried he was disturbing his father, asks this time "Dad, do you mind that I'm asking you all of these questions?" "Of course not son", replied his dad, "How else are you ever going to learn anything?"
I sometimes feel that many articles and whole sites are much alike this story...