It’s a big day for literature. Moby-Dick was first published on this day back in 1851 under the name The Whale. And almost as quickly, it was disparaged and forgotten and not long after Melville pretty much stopped writing until shortly before his death. It’s sad. There are a lot of similarities between Melville and Cervantes, although the latter never stopped writing. But they both spent what should have been very productive years slogging through life doing government work. Its all very sad, but they both left us multiple gems of varying brilliance.
On this day in 1927, the great actor George C. Scott was born. I’ve liked him for a number of movies, most notably in Dr. Strangelove and Patton. But for me, the best film he ever made was They Might Be Giants. Yes, it is a modern version of Don Quixote, but that isn’t what matters most here. Scott’s performance is by far his most nuanced. Both film and actor are under appreciated.
Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939. I bring him up only because I had no idea he was so young. He had just turned 24 when he murdered President Kennedy. Clearly, he was a very troubled young man. And because of that, I worry about loose talk of revolution and tyranny. In the late 1960s, we definitely got a lot of that from the left. That was wrong and dangerous. But today, we not only get it from the right, we get it from a lot of mainstream people. I suspect the only reason no one has taken a shot at President Obama is that the Secret Service have thankfully gotten so good at their jobs. But it really ought to be unthinkable.
Other birthdays: Baroque painter Luca Giordano (1634); the late Baroque, early Classical composer Baldassare Galuppi (1706); poet Thomas Love Peacock (1785); theoretical physicist Pascual Jordan (1902); one of the great racist villains of 20th century America Jesse Helms (1921); actor Peter Boyle (1935); actor Dawn Wells, our own Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island (75); one of the few really distinctive movie composers Howard Shore (67); and musician Wynton Marsalis (52).
The day, however, belongs to the very great Chuck Berry who is 87 today and still performing. Most people associate him with his guitar playing. And it is great, fun pentatonic noodling—probably the most distinctive style in pop music. But that’s not why I gave the the day to him. As I noted back on 17 September, “If I had to name the greatest songwriter of the 20th century, it would be Chuck Berry.” His musical sense is wonderful and his lyrics are clever as hell. It’s just amazing stuff. Here is one of my favorites, “You Never Can Tell”:
Happy birthday Chuck Berry!