There are a lot of great birthdays today and I’m afraid that many of them get short shrift, especially the older ones, many of which could have won the day. But we have lots of great musicians that I just didn’t want to miss out on adding some music here. And then, of course, the day goes to one of the greatest comedians, probably of all time. So onto the birthdays!
On this day in 1933, the great singer Lou Rawls was born. In the end, his most important work was the fundraising and consciousness raising for the United Negro College Fund, which he was highly involved in for the last 25 years of his life. But most people remember him for his gorgeous baritone voice, which is well on display in “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”:
The great Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul is 79 today. I mostly know him for his mega-hit “Me and Mrs Jones.” I was quite old when I figured out what the song was about. I was having an affair with a married woman when the song came on the radio and I thought, “Oh!” I can be slow. Anyway, I’ve always thought that “Me and Mrs Jones” would go together really well with “You’re Still a Young Man.” Regardless, Tower of Power does a great version of “Mrs Jones”; they’ve just never put them together. Anyway, here’s Billy Paul:
The great comedian Richard Pryor was born in 1940. It’s hard for people to appreciate today what a comedic innovator he was; I think he was the successor of Lenny Bruce. Here is a good compilation of his stand-up work:
Bette Midler is 68 today. With all of her work as an actor, I think people forget what a great singer she is. Here she is doing the best version of “Beast Of Burden”:
Singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan is 67. He’s kind of the Irish Harry Nilsson. Here’s his mega-hit “Alone Again (Naturally).” It’s another one of those songs I didn’t get until I was older:
The actor Jeremy Northam is 52 today. I’m a big fan of his. But it isn’t like he’s better than other English actors. As I point out all the time, the English train their actors better than we do here. But mostly I just think that Northam is one of the ideals of male beauty. (Antonio Banderas is another.) Here he is as Mr Knightley very cross about Emma’s interference in Harriet’s relationship with Robert Martin in Emma:
The comedican Sarah Silverman is 43. I’m not a huge far of her comedy. It tends to make me uncomfortable. But I really like her political videos like the following one, “Let My People Vote”:
Other birthdays: early Classical composer Franz Xaver Richter (1709); Rococo sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet (1716); chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1743); wax sculptor Marie Tussaud (1761); mathematician Nikolai Lobachevsky (1792); expressionist painter Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884); detective novelist Rex Stout (1886); actor Mary Martin (1913); and actor Emily Mortimer (42).
The day, however, belongs to the man of my childhood, Woody Allen, who is 78 today. When I was a kid, all three of his stand-up albums had been combined into a single double-album Standup Comic. I had it on a cassette and I listened to one side of it every night for at least a year. I think I had it pretty much memorized. Such was my devotion to this man. I also loved his short stories. I learned a lot from those—in particular, what I ought to read to be the intellectual that I considered myself to be. And, of course, there were the movies, which were and still are great. To this day, I still like his little films like Broadway Danny Rose and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and even September. There isn’t anything he’s done that’s bad. But more important: there is nothing he’s done that wasn’t worth doing. Even when he fails, it is an honest artistic attempt. Allen and Martin Scorsese are the two great American filmmakers—men who never waste the audience’s time and never just go through the motions. Our culture is so much richer for both men. And in the field of comedy, I don’t know that anyone has compared to Allen. He is as funny as Chaplin with the technical prowess of Keaton. Here he is doing some of his best stand-up comedy:
Alright, that’s not enough. Check out this clip from Broadway Danny Rose. This is a single shot. The three of them are walking toward the camera. It’s a long shot and Danny (Allen’s character) stops right in a close-up when Lou says, “Like management.” That whole ending still makes me cry, “Acceptance, forgiveness, and love.”
Happy birthday Woody Allen!