On this day in the 18th century, two very famous early Americans were born. The first was John Adams who was born in 1735. I loved him in 1776, but as an actual man, he wasn’t all that great. In particular, although he was against the British aristocracy having power in America, he really very much wanted a native aristocracy. And guess what? He got it.
Also born on this day was Martha Jefferson, Thomas’ wife. Again: she was great in 1776. But as far as I’m concerned, Betty Buckley in the original cast was far superior to the mousy Blythe Danner. Anyway, Martha was not the first lady Martha Jefferson—she died almost two decades before he became president. She is thought to have suffered from diabetes, which was not made better by having popped out six kids. All but two died in infancy. One of the remaining only made it to 25. The eldest, Martha, lived to the ripe old age of 64. She, and not her mother is who people referred to as the First Lady Martha Jefferson. Here is Buckley killing “He Plays the Violin”:
Normally, I’d just shuffle the following man off to “other birthdays,” but his story is too interesting. Georges Gilles de la Tourette was born in 1857. He is the first person to document what he called “maladie des tics” (You don’t need me to translate, right?) but what was eventually known as Tourette Syndrome. In 1893, one of his former female students shot him in the head, claiming that he had hypnotized her against her will. This is most clearly not possible and I figure that what she meant was that he seduced her. The wound did seem to turn Tourette into a manic-depressive and eventually killed him, but he still managed to live another 11 years—most of it quite productively.
One of the great talents behind the Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick is 74 today. Much of her solo work is very good. But I only mention her here to show this:
Henry Winkler is 68. I very much like his acting work, especially in Arrested Development. And my sister says he does great work for people with learning disabilities and he “writes” clever children’s books. That’s all great. Still, he will rot in hell for hocking reverse mortgages on every cable channel in the known universe. I accept it from Fred Thompson. He’s an asshole. But Winkler is supposed to be a good guy. Don’t get me wrong; if Winkler were in financial difficulties, I wouldn’t mind at all. Everyone’s got to pay the bills. But that clearly isn’t what he’s doing. So it is just completely unacceptable. Sit on it, asshole.
The comedian Kevin Pollak is 56. I like him very much as an actor and comedian. He is also a fine impressionist. But again, I have only one reason for listing him above the “other birthdays,” and that is Rob Pearlstein’s excellent short film, which he starred in, Our Time Is Up. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself:
Other birthdays: playwright Richard Sheridan (1751); English impressionist painter Alfred Sisley (1839); actor Ruth Gordon, who was a total honey when she was young (1896); musician Clifford Brown (1930); and actor Jessica Hynes (41).
Okay, let’s all take a deep breath. Ready? The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century Ezra Pound who was born on this day in 1885. He was a very interesting guy and I do love his work. If it weren’t for all that fascism, he would be just perfect. Look, I don’t want to harp on it. Go read about him if you must. He came by the belief honestly and he was an Italian style fascist, not a German style one. And people are allowed to be wrong. And difficult. Anyway, he is largely responsible for anyone knowing of a lot of the great 20th century poets, most importantly (for me, anyway), Charles Olson. And then there is his work, which was always wonderful—pretty much from his early days to his last. The Seven Lakes canto (Cantos #49) is reproduced after the fold. Wikipedia writes of it, “Canto XLIX is a poem of tranquil nature derived from a Chinese picture book that Pound’s parents brought with them when they retired to Rapallo.”
For the seven lakes, and by no man these verses:
Rain; empty river; a voyage,
Fire from frozen cloud, heavy rain in the twilight
Under the cabin roof was one lantern.
The reeds are heavy; bent;
and the bamboos speak as if weeping.
Autumn moon; hills rise about lakes
Evening is like a curtain of cloud,
a blurr above ripples; and through it
sharp long spikes of the cinnamon,
a cold tune amid reeds.
Behind hill the monk’s bell
borne on the wind.
Sail passed here in April; may return in October
Boat fades in silver; slowly;
Sun blaze alone on the river.
Where wine flag catches the sunset
Sparse chimneys smoke in the cross light
Comes then snow scur on the river
And a world is covered with jade
Small boat floats like a lanthorn,
The flowing water closts as with cold. And at San Yin
they are a people of leisure.
Wild geese swoop to the sand-bar,
Clouds gather about the hole of the window
Broad water; geese line out with the autumn
Rooks clatter over the fishermen’s lanthorns,
A light moves on the north sky line;
where the young boys prod stones for shrimp.
In seventeen hundred came Tsing to these hill lakes.
A light moves on the South sky line.
State by creating riches shd. thereby get into debt?
Thsi is infamy; this is Geryon.
This canal goes still to TenShi
Though the old king built it for pleasure
K E I M E N R A N K E I
K I U M A N M A N K E I
JITSU GETSU K O K W A
T A N FUKU T A N K A I
Sun up; work
sundown; to rest
dig well and drink of the water
dig field; eat of the grain
Imperial power is? and to us what is it?
The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
And the power over wild beasts.
Happy birthday Ezra Pound!