Ira’s Brother George

George GershwinOn this day in 1774, the proto-environmentalist Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was born. I didn’t know he was an actual person. It turns out that he didn’t wander around planting seeds, however. He started nurseries and later orchards as a business. And much of the production of those nurseries were used (As always!) to make hard cider and other alcoholic beverages.

The sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine was born in 1874. He did great work during the first three decades of the 20th century to document the lives of regular Americans. A lot of his work was with the American Red Cross, documenting their relief work. In the 1920s he did a series of photographs of Americans at work. But despite his many great successes, he found it difficult to get work in the late 1930s. He eventually lost his house and he died in poverty. In other words, his is a typical story of what we do to great Americans with the temerity to do something with their lives other than make money.

The great poet T. S. Eliot was born in 1888. He is one of those “problem” poets—in his case antisemitism. But we all have character flaws, and it doesn’t too much matter to the work. What I most like about his poetry is his jagged rhythmic sense. I think it has had a profound effect on me in terms of my songs, which have grown ever more playful, although admittedly, less accessible to others. Here is Eliot’s “Hysteria” from around 1920:

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her
laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were
only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I
was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary
recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her
throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An
elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly
spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: “If the lady and gentleman
wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden …” I
decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be
stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might
be collected, and I concentrated my attention with
careful subtlety to this end.

The singer-songwriter Marty Robbins was born in 1925. My mother was a big fan of his and his story songs. So this one is for her:

And the Roxy Music frontman, Bryan Ferry is 68 today. I’m torn on him. In many ways, he’s a pretentious twat. But I really do love those first two Roxy Music albums. Anyway, here is one of his solo efforts, “Let’s Stick Together”:

Other birthdays: Romantic painter Theodore Gericault (1791); novelist Joseph Furphy (1843); singer Olivia Newton-John (65); and actor Linda Hamilton (57).

The day, however, belongs to the great composer George Gershwin who was born in 1898. He is often mistakenly thought of as a “serious” or “classical” composer, but he was not at all. It is probably better to think of him as a musical theater composer, which he probably would be known as today if it were not for his death at only 38 due to a brain tumor. It is best to think of him as a cross between a jazz and a classical composer. It would have been interesting to see where he would have gone as a composer, because he certainly hadn’t reached maturity. Still, he left us with a lot of great music like Rhapsody in Blue, here conducted by a fan of his, Leonard Bernstein:

Happy birthday George Gershwin!

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