At the very end of my career as a music student, I was introduced to the great American composer Ernest Bloch. My teacher told me he was a “Jewish” composer. By this, I don’t think she meant to be racist; she meant it in a stylistic sense. But it only added to my confusion about what exactly “Jewish” meant. Through that time and much later it really only meant a large collection of artists who I loved. And Bloch was most certainly part of that. His work was both modern and beautiful. My understand is that he did a lot of work with traditional Jewish folk tunes. What I played was Suite Modale for Flute and Piano, but never this well:
English author Robert Graves was born in 1895. Although she is most remembered for being generally insane, Zelda Fitzgerald, who was born in 1900, was quite a fine writer. And composer Leo Arnaud was born in 1904. You’ve probably never heard his name, but I know you’ve heard his music if you’ve ever watched the Olympics:
Easily flustered comedian Michael Richards is 64. For the record, Richards is not a racist. Sometimes you call your best friend the worst thing you can think of. And sometimes you totally blow it. What’s more, he has more than made up for it. To start with, he gave an actual apology, not a, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” pretend apology. And he did more than that. And then he basically disappeared out of shame. I am highly sympathetic.
The great director Gus Van Sant is 61. He has done a lot of fine work, but two films really stand out. One is Drugstore Cowboy, perhaps the best drug movie ever. It completely captures both the romance and the tragedy of the junkie life. The second is My Own Private Idaho. What is amazing about it is that he’s managed to take a really problematic Shakespeare play and turn it into great art. What’s more, he fixed the ending. Hal was always a troublesome character and in Van Sant’s telling, he gets the unhappy ending he deserves that was not possible in Shakespeare’s time. Here is the great repudiation scene leading up to it:
The day, however, belongs to the great adventure novelist Alexandre Dumas who was born on this day in 1802. I’ve never read him in French because I don’t read French. But I loved the translations of his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers when I was young. I especially liked the former—I was always very taken with revenge fiction. Now, I’m afraid I’m a little too postmodern to fully enjoy such straightforward fiction anymore. But his work is still marvelous.
Happy birthday Alexandre Dumas!