James Baldwin Next Time

James BaldwinBefore I get to the birthdays, I think we should deal with a bit of history. On this day in 1934, Adolf Hitler became Fuhrer of Germany. Don’t you just love those 20th century despots? They could never use a regular word like “president” for a title. They always had to come up with something specific to themselves like “grand poobah.” So Hitler becomes his grand poobah-ness. That’s another thing about the Nazis: I’ve always been fascinated with its cult like structure. When the Nazis took over the parliament, they disbanded it and made Hitler the Grandest of the Grandest of Grand Poobahs. I never understood that until the last couple of years. Now I fully believe that if a strong Republican leader came along, the Republicans would be willing to legislate Congress out of existence and give complete power to this leader. Look: I know that all this sounds very Godwin’s Law. But how can it be otherwise when one of the great American political parties is running with full force toward fascism?

Statue of LibertyAnyway, five years later—To the day!—Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard (two “Jewish” scientists) wrote their famous letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt about the bomb. The two events are clearly connected. Eventually humans would have created nuclear bombs, of course. But Hitler moved the idea along. I still blame the United States for both of its attacks on Japan. But there is no doubt that Hitler was more of a villain, even in this one way.

Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, was born on this day in 1612. What I find remarkable about her, is that she was not a beautiful woman. And this is true even though she died at the young age of 29. But she does look like she had blond hair and blue eyes. So there’s that. French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was born in 1834. Guess what he designed? Very possibly the inventor of the telephone Elisha Gray was born in 1835. Alexander Graham Bell managed to get the patent for it, however. This is something very typical that I talk about a lot: few people are really ahead of their time. And those few who are, are generally ignored in their own lifetimes.

John French Sloan - McSorley's BarOne of the greatest stained glass artists ever, John Radecki was born in 1865. The great American painter John French Sloan was born in 1871. He was one of the founders of the Ashcan School. Think: Edward Hopper. The Russian city artist Mstislav Dobuzhinsky was born in 1875. Producer Jack Warner was born in 1892.

And now we must discuss the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann who was born in 1905. He is not exactly a twelve-tone composer, but he’s pretty damned close. This is a form of music developed by Arnold Schoenberg. It is also called “atonal” and “serial” because it uses the 12 notes in the western octave and uses them in the same order over and over again. And truly, there are twelve-tone pieces that I quite enjoy. But it’s rare. They are really difficult to listen to. They seem designed to annoy. So here is Hartmann’s Symphony No. 2 Adagio. Listen if you dare:

That same year, 1905, the beautiful and sassy Myrna Loy was born. Here are a number of scenes with her as Nora Charles in The Thin Man movies:

And TV’s Archie Bunker, Carroll O’Connor was born in 1924.

Actor Peter O’Toole is 81 today. I’m not a big fan of his, but I love a number of his films. And nowhere is he better than in Dean Spanley, one of my favorite movies:

For the record, not only is Dean Spanley a great film, it is one of those rare movies that is better than the source material. In this case, it is Lord Dunsany’s My Talks with Dean Spanley. If you haven’t seen it, please do. It is currently on Instant Watch on Netflix.

Horror film director Wes Craven is 74. Musician Mojo Nixon is 56. I’m not that into him, but his song “Don Henley Must Die” is a classic:

Actor Mary-Louise Parker is 49. And director Kevin Smith is 43. I respect his work but it does nothing but annoy me.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer James Baldwin who was born on this day in 1924. I don’t really know him as a novelist. But his essays are amazing. I don’t think of him as a “black” writer because it often seems like he understood what it is to be white better than I do. Here is a quote from an essay “The White Man’s Guilt” that very much catches the essence of being limited by your own privileged:

People who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, sine they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.

Happy birthday James Baldwin!

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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 “James Baldwin Next Time

  1. The only Baldwin novels I’ve read I enjoyed quite a bit. "Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone" is about an artist pushing himself too hard because of his internal anger (which inspires what he expresses.) "Giovanni’s Room" is about a doomed relationship. I don’t remember much about each — I just remember liking the feel of them, the sense that the controlling intelligence was an uncompromisingly brilliant yet compassionate one.

    One book I do remember vividly was "The Devil Finds Work," about horror movies. Baldwin theorized that the appeal of horror movies (not the old, "Mummy" kind but the newer, "Exorcist" kind) was to privileged people terrified that some dark, unseen force would punish them for their undeservedly charmed lives. I think that’s true and still holds up well.

    There’s some good YouTube footage of him reading essays out there. (I’d look a few up, but my old computer finally died and this new one has a faulty charging cable, so my battery time is limited. Hope this attempt at a login works!) Cool salute to a great writer and fierce intellect.

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