On this day in 1872, the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was born. He is a very distinctive composer that I’ve never really been able to peg. Wikipedia quotes John Alexander Fuller Maitland as saying, “One is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new.” I don’t totally agree. Stylistically, he was not ever on the cutting edge. But I now see that as largely the correct approach for a composer to take. Despite all that we have been through in music over the last century, Williams is still deeply edifying. And that’s true both as a listener and as a musician. I remember in college, his work was really difficult to play, even though it didn’t have much in the way of “fireworks.” It required great care, but was very rewarding for the effort. Here is perhaps his best known work, the hauntingly beautiful Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis:
The very great singer-songwriter Jane Siberry is 58 today. I’ve seen her in concert a number of times. She’s absolutely fabulous. And she’s made all of her catalog of albums available for free download. I recommend checking out her first couple of albums. All of them are good, but she has become more and more musically challenging over time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out. But unlike too many popular artists, Siberry has been on a journey her whole career, and I think listeners are best taking that journey with her. Start with the first album. She brings you along gently. The following song is from her third album, The Speckless Sky. It is “The Taxi Ride” and it is one of the best expressions of what it is like to end a relationship. “It’s a long long lonely ride to find the perfect lover for your lover and the morning light’s just breaking.”
Other birthdays: French scholar Jacques Sirmond (1558); inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry (1860); comedian Dick Gregory (81); musician Samuel David Moore (78); actor Hugh Jackman (45); and really fucked up professional Christian Kirk Cameron.
The day, however, belongs to the great Art Clokey who was born on this day in 1921. (His 90th birthday was the occasion for a great Google Doodle.) He was a pioneer of stop motion clay animation or claymation, best known for The Gumby Show. His career started in 1953 with the short animated film Gumbasia. It’s pretty rudimentary compared to what he was doing a decade later. I think people of my age tend to misremember Clokey’s work because growing up we were introduced to a great deal of weak claymation. I remember being shocked at how great the work of Aardman Animations (e.g. Wallace & Gromit) was in the 1990s. And it was! But it wasn’t that much better than what Clokey was doing 30 years earlier. Here is a beautiful and charming episode of The Gumby Show, “A Hair Raising Adventure”:
Happy birthday Art Clokey!