On this day in 1908, the great political cartoonist Herbert Lawrence Block was born. He was better know as Herblock. He started creating political cartoons in 1929. By the 1950s, he was established at the Washington Post (you know, when it was a good newspaper). He is best known for coining the term “”McCarthyism” in a 1950 cartoon. He also managed to make it on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list”—one of the greatest achievements one could have in Washington of the 1970s. He continued to work into his 90s.
Jazz pianist Art Tatum was born in 1909. Known for his great virtuosity, he really should be heard. I often think of him as much a classical musician as anything. God knows he could have been anything. You owe it to yourself to listen to this two minute solo piano version of the song “Yesterdays.” It is exquisite:
The great songwriter Paul Simon is 72 today. I am not that fond of Simon & Garfunkel. But when he went solo, something clicked. Here he is doing one of my very favorite songs, “Train in the Distance.” I love that line, “Negotiation and love songs are often mistaken…” But more than that, it is that rarest of things: a discussion of love as one gets older. No one loves a train up close; it scares the horses and wakes everyone up.
The day, however, belongs to the great comedian Lenny Bruce who was born on this day in 1925. He is a tragic character in the history of 20th century American hypocrisy. For the last five years of his life he was actively pursued for obscenity. This was to the point of police going to his shows under cover so that they could arrest him afterwards. And he wasn’t doing anything that people weren’t doing on late night television ten years later.
I feel a great affinity for Bruce. I don’t think he understood just how serious the government was about enforcing clearly ridiculous laws. He was arrested for saying “bad” words on stage to people who had paid to see him do exactly that. He was arrested for possessing “dangerous” drugs. I think he thought that it must all be an elaborate joke. “Surely they can’t be this small minded!” But indeed they were. And are.
There is very little video of Bruce. The following is really great, although it is not exactly typical of his act. However, it shows his wonderful combination of harsh humor and sweet sentimentality. Based on the very end of it, it must be from some documentary.
Happy birthday Lenny Bruce!