Beauty and the Dirty French Painter

Paul GauguinArbiter of men’s fashion in the early 19th century (one of the reasons they dressed so silly) Beau Brummell was born on this day in 1778. He is usually “credited” with introducing the modern suit and tie. People have speculated that was gay. Who would have thought such a thing?! Some have even speculated that Brummell and Lord Byron were lovers. You may remember Byron’s poem, “He walks in beauty because he spends 5 hours every day getting dressed.”

In 1917 on this day, Dean Martin was born. I never liked him much when I was a kid. He was just the guy who screwed up Jerry Lewis’ movies. But as with most people, I got over my love of Jerry Lewis and, perhaps less commonly, came to appreciate Martin. He is actually a funny guy. But more importantly, he’s quite a good singer. I don’t like him as much as Sinatra, but I prefer him to Tony Bennett. I’m sure he put on a hell of a show. Here’s a clip that shows this, I think; he’s performing “Volare” and “An Evening in Roma” with lots of laughs beside:

James Ivory, the great director of just about every costume drama you’ve ever seen is 85 today. Two of my favorites: A Room with a View and The Remains of the Day.

Then we get to the music stars. First, Tom Jones is 74. He annoys me personally. But I rather like his voice and I love the arrangements of his bands. Here is a good example of a kick ass band with Jones doing his thang with “It’s Not Unsual”:

And our second music star, Prince is 55 today. You may know him by another name, however: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Or: The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Or as I like to think of him: The Artist Formerly Known as the Human Formerly Known as Prince Rogers Nelson. Take your pick. Anyway, he is one of these scary talented guys. But I’ve never really liked him. Here he is doing a song I’ve never heard that sounds very much like every other song of his I’ve heard. And I assure you it is not because I don’t “get” it. It’s fine pop music, but I know he is capable of far better:

We have three actor birthdays today. Liam Neeson is 61. One of the best things ever to come out of Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader is 35. And Michael Cera of Arrested Development is 25.

The Yellow ChristThe day, however, belongs to the great French Impressionist Paul Gauguin who was born on this day in 1848. When I was at the Getty Center last year, I have a revelation while in its impressionism room. Those artists I liked least when I was younger, I now like the most. This is especially true of Paul Cezanne, who I think is by far the most interesting of the impressionists. But it is also true of Gauguin, whose primitivism speaks to be greatly. For example, The Yellow Christ is great religious art from a time that just couldn’t manage it. I think it is better even than any of Dali’s religious paintings.

Andrea has indicated that Gauguin was not a good man who treated his family badly. I don’t find any evidence of that. He strikes me more as a man with marginal mental health who was finally banished by his family when he was of no economic value to them. Regardless, there is no doubt that he lived a scandalous life. He probably had more illegitimate children than the five legitimate ones he had with his wife. And then there are the sexual relationships that he had with prepubescent Tahitian girls. (I would like to think this did not include coitus, but really I don’t want to know.) Regardless, it doesn’t much matter. I don’t have a problem overlooking terrible personal lives in artists I admire. (Rape is another matter, though.) It is more the vile beliefs that put me off.

Happy birthday Paul Gauguin!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Beauty and the Dirty French Painter

  1. Interesting (to me) side note about Prince. His first few albums were entirely self-made; he played all the instruments, did all the mixing, etc. And they had, maybe, one good song per album.

    His brilliant period — half of "1999," all of "Purple Rain," then half of "Around The World In A Day" — came when he collaborated with other musicians. His official backup band was "The Revolution," but a lot of uncredited artists pitched in. People in the Minneapolis music scene all have Prince stories. If he wanted you on board, then you’d better have been prepared for the 3AM phone call; the new track needs a solo you can provide, be there or be out of the loop.

    So a lot of the memorable riffs, beats, funky instrumental touches from that great period of Prince’s music weren’t his at all. He delivered the superb vocals/guitar, and he was a terrific bandleader.

    There’s a reason his stuff since then has, maybe, one good song per album. One his fame rose to colossal proportions he constantly discarded musicians who wanted the process to be more collaborative. He welcomed contributions (say, the riff and beat to "Kiss," neither of which he wrote) but insisted on treating contributors like puppets manipulated by His Royal Purple Majesty. Pretty much everyone got sick of that, and pretty quickly.

    Still, all kudos for his guitar, his vocals, and his bandleading skill before it became megalomaniacal. I mean, "Little Red Corvette." "Baby I’m A Star." "Raspberry Beret," etc. Too awesome.

    At the time, MTV was gathering steam, and they ignored Black soul or hip-hop music. They had to play Michael Jackson and Prince, because their songs were huge radio hits. Jackson always creeped me out, even as a 12-year-old kid. (I’m talking "Thriller," not his earlier Jackson 5 stuff which I didn’t know back then.) I wasn’t allowed to hear rock-n-roll, and I feared for my immortal soul when I did (and worse) enjoyed it, but damn if Prince didn’t sound pretty appealing all the same.

    Those two didn’t change America the way Motown did. They forced MTV out of its lily-white hidey-hole, which is something. And I understand those 1984-era Prince shows at First Avenue blew the bleeping roof off the sucker.

  2. @JMF – There’s no doubt that fame is bad for people. It makes them think they are better than they are and the art suffers. I was thinking about Welles. He had two advantages. First, he felt really bad about being fat. Second, he was never rich. So as an artist, he was constantly searching for acceptance, but on his own terms. Even artists who maintain quality tend to be narcissistic and irrelevant. Praise be to the artist who does his best work at 50 or 60 or 70! Just imagine the crap in store for us from Justin Bieber.

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