On this day in 1800, Millard Fillmore was born. He is generally considered one of the worst presidents. I don’t really get this. Yes, I guess in retrospect, the Compromise of 1850 was a bad idea because the Civil War was coming no matter what. And the Fugitive Slave Act really was a vile piece of legislation. It said that slaves who made it to non-slave states had to be returned to their rightful “owners.” But it was a bad time and let’s face it, there are historical reasons why the south has been and continues to be a very big pain and, frankly, regressive in its politics. If there ever is another rebellion against the federal government it will almost certainly start in the deep south.
Brief Aside About Slavery and Health Insurance
One thing I don’t understand to this day is why the federal government can’t fix problems like slavery through money. What I mean is, why couldn’t the government have just bought all the slaves, relocated them to other states and even created new states? After a short period, since there was no money in it, there would be nothing stopping the abolition of slavery. It’s important to remember that for the slave owners, slavery was primarily about money. All the racial inferiority rhetoric was just a way to justify the “peculiar institution” to the poor white population.
I’ve thought much the same thing about the modern health insurance industry. Why not just have the government buy all of them so that we wouldn’t be stuck with a stupid insurance company-based system of healthcare reform? The truth is, the healthcare insurance industry really isn’t worth all that much money. I don’t mean to equate the insurance industry with slavery. Clearly, slavery is not even in the same moral universe as health insurance. But they are both systems that harm our society generally for the sake of relatively small profits for a small number of people. But instead of just buying the end of slavery, we had a war that cost far more just economically, not to mention in terms of human life. As for our healthcare system, our sub-optimal system (Obamacare) will cost some lives, but mostly it is just a huge waste of money.
Amazing Morning Coincidence
This morning I felt like listening to Jean-Pierre Rampal. That isn’t totally unusual. I admire the man greatly. He was a great performer with an easy and enjoyable style. It seems like he isn’t even trying, even while playing pieces that I know from my own brutal experience to be terribly difficult. Anyway, so I put on the wonderful Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano that Claude Bolling had written for Rampal (a lot of great composers wrote specifically for him—see later). Anyway, it was very interesting that I chose to listen to Rampal, because when I went to do today’s birthday post a few hours later, I found that it was Rampal’s birthday. He was born on this day back in 1922. Here he is playing the whole Bolling Suite (with some “behind the scenes” footage) with Bolling himself at the piano:
Of course, I’m sure that I’ve read Rampal’s birthday before, so it is very possible that some vague brain connections led me to wanting to hear him this morning. I doubt it has anything to do with God or the astral plane.
Alone in a Cage of His Own Making
I never know exactly what to make of Nicolas Cage. Is he a brilliant actor or just an interesting person up there on the screen. I don’t think it much matters, because he is interesting and he’s starred in a number of very good movies. I’m still very fond of Lord of War and he really seems to act in Adaptation. I could provide you the excellent compilation of Cage saying nothing, Cage Does Cage. But I so love this scene from Adaptation that I wrote an article about it, You Are What You Love:
One of our many racist Supreme Court justices, John Catron (1786); postal innovator Heinrich von Stephan (1831); the original Alfred from the television Batman, Alan Napier (1903); surrealist artist Roland Topor (1938); and singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins (66).
Finally: the Great Composer
The day, however, belongs to the great French composer Francis Poulenc who was born on this day in 1899. He was one of Les Six, a group of (six) composers who in many ways weren’t alike. But they were not Debussy and Ravel. I think of them all, however, following from their stuff but with more attention to melody and less with the atmospherics that was typical especially of Ravel’s worst work. I would almost call Poulenc neo-classical—the Mozart of the modern period.
Now is the time that I would normally embed Jean-Pierre Rampal playing Sonata for Flute and Piano, which Poulenc wrote for him. But I’ve already done that in the article, Jean-Pierre Rampal Plays Francis Poulenc. Instead, I present to you one of the last pieces that Poulenc wrote, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Here it is performed by the great German clarinetist Karl Leister with the great American conductor James Levine on piano. It is a lovely piece of music: sad and playful—even silly at the end. It is everything that I love about Poulenc. I really think that people who don’t think they like modern classical music should give this piece a listen.
Happy birthday Francis Poulenc!