On this day in 1817, Henry David Thoreau was born. He seems like he was an all right kind of guy: against slavery, and all. But that’s always struck me as kind of an easy issue to be on the right side of. At least it was if you didn’t have any economic interest in it. Thoreau did not. Mostly, he’s always struck me as just a kind of Romantic period idiot. His thinking was very typical of the time. Regardless, I have a soft spot for people who die of tuberculosis. And by the way, that is by far the most romantic disease to die from.
The great French marine painter Eugene Boudin was born in 1824. Revolutionary philosopher Nikolay Chernyshevsky was born in 1828. With a name like Chernyshevsky, he’s got to be good. The inventor of roll film, George Eastman was born in 1854. Russian Romantic composer Anton Arensky was born in 1861. Here is a performance of some of his variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky. (Look, I’m not that fond of him. He isn’t bad. But I’m trying to teach you knuckleheads something!)
A really intense and interesting artist, Bruno Schulz was born in 1892. Not a favorite of mine, but a great lyricist nonetheless, Oscar Hammerstein II was born in 1895. Exceptional poet Pablo Neruda was born in 1904. Big dicked comedian Milton Berle was born in 1908. The great American painter Andrew Wyeth was born in 1917.
And Mark Hatfield, was born in 1922. Normally, I don’t list politicians here. But Hatfield was something special. He was a Republican and an Evangelical Christian. Yet he was against school prayer. He was for gay rights back when the vast majority of Democrats were against it. And most of all, he was anti-war. He stood for things that were real, as opposed to most Republicans now who either only believe in power or believe in vague concepts like “freedom” that they don’t seem to know much about. But the real reason I’m mentioning Hatfield today is that he retired from the Senate almost 15 years before he died. He didn’t have to; he was popular in Oregon. But he let others move on and went back to teaching. It bothers me when old politicians die in office. Look, I liked Robert Byrd. But did he really think he should have been a Senator at 92? It is the height of narcissism. Hatfield had class and dignity.
Bill Cosby is 76 today. When I was younger, I thought he was rather funny. Now I just know him as this old curmudgeon. And I don’t mean that in a good way. Here he is doing his thing, that I know I once would have found funny, but now I find tired and even offensive:
The great journalist Robert Fisk is 67. Fitness trainer Richard Simmons is 65, and I do hope I won’t be seeing any more of him—not because I don’t like him, just because I don’t want to see him anymore. And yet another of my crushes, actor Tamsin Greig is 47.
The day, and this one is not even close, belongs to one of my favorite painters Amedeo Modigliani, who was born on this day in 1884. It isn’t that I necessarily think his technique is great. The truth is that I don’t really know. But I love his style and I love what he does with it. Unlike, say, Paul Klee (who I also greatly admire), I never get bored with it. Of course, the fact that he was pretty much exclusively a figurative artist helps. I don’t know why (maybe because I’m a human), I just like pictures of humans. Also, he died very young; with more time, he might have run out of ideas. Anyway, here is a portrait of another unique artist, Chaim Soutine:
Happy birthday Amedeo Modigliani!