I’m feeling a bit better today. And trends are all that really matter, you know? I mean, there is no such thing as absolute happiness; there is just relative happiness. And relative to the last couple of days, I’m flying high. And by that, I mean I don’t want to crawl under the bed. And that means, writing today’s birthday post is a lot more fun. Of course, the winner today (That’s her on the left; ain’t she cute?) is a singer of sad songs who had a sad life. But she is also one of my very favorite singers. So there’s that.
On this day in 1852, the great experimental physicist Albert Abraham Michelson was born. He was very important in the first modern light speed measurements. But he is best known for the Michelson–Morley experiment. Before that experiment, it was thought that light waves must move on a kind of structure, the way that waves move in water. No water, no waves. And this structure was thought to be the “ether.” Given that the earth is moving around the sun, and the sun around the galaxy, and the galaxy around the universe, the ether couldn’t be constantly static with regard to us. So if you sent out a light ray one direction, it ought to be at least slightly different in speed to one you sent out the other way. They showed this wasn’t the case. Eventually, Einstein would explain why. Anyway, the experiment was undoubtedly the most important one of the 19th century if not of the entire modern era.
The French writer Jean Genet was born in 1910. I’ve read a fair amount about him, but I don’t recall ever reading anything by him. I only bring him up here because of David Bowie’s song, “The Jean Genie,” which is a pun on his name. The song is not about him, however. I suspect Bowie knows as little as (or less than) I do of the man. Still, it’s a good excuse to listen to the song:
Other birthdays: Spanish playwright Manuel Breton de los Herreros (1796); women’s rights advocate Mary Livermore (1820); historian and founder of Black History Month, Carter Woodson (1875); inventor of an early fax-like machine Rudolf Hell (1901); blues (and so much more) musician Professor Longhair (1918); musical film songwriter Robert Sherman (1925); British actor James Booth (1927); actor Cicely Tyson (80); singer-songwriter Phil Ochs (1940); actor Tim Reid (69); actor Jennifer Beals (50); and everything that is wrong with modern magic in one person, Criss Angel (46).
The day, however and by a mile, belongs to Edith Piaf who was born on this day in 1915. I always think of her as a French Billie Holiday, both as an artist and as a person. It just goes to show that it is better to be French. Anyway, Piaf has a beautiful voice and has probably sung every French song you’ve ever heard that was sung by a woman. Although she only lived to be 47, her output was prodigious. Here she is the year before she died of liver cancer, singing one of her many hits, “Milord.” Wikipedia says that the song “recounts the feelings of a lower-class ‘girl of the port’ (perhaps a prostitute) who develops a crush on an elegantly attired apparent upper-class British traveller (or ‘milord’), whom she has seen walking the streets of the town several times (with a beautiful young woman on his arm), but who has not even noticed her. The singer feels that she is nothing more than a ‘shadow of the street.'” She perfectly captures the joy and sadness of young love. There is at least two minutes of standing ovation at the end of this video clip:
Happy birthday Edith Piaf!