Two Novelists, One Great, One Not

James JoyceOn this day in 1905, Ayn Rand was born. It can’t be overstated just what a mediocrity she was as a thinker. She’s a good example of how the less people know about a subject the more they overestimate their competency. She was convinced that the only person she owed any debt to was Aristotle. This was due to the fact that she didn’t understand many of the philosophers that she claimed to have read. That’s especially true of Kant. She was also a dreadful novelist. But the big problem with Rand is not that she was so bad and so wrong, it is that so many conservatives look to her work for enlightenment. They do this because there really is no one else who tells conservatives what they want to hear. But that makes sense: she was an awful person who continues to tell awful people that they are just great.

The great saxophone player Stan Getz was born in 1927. He was the white Lester Young. At least in the beginning. It is certainly true that he owed a great deal to Young. But he went on to record just about every form of music with just about every musician. He was a great collaborator and left us with an amazing amount of music. So much, in fact, that I’ve only heard a small fraction of it. Of course, he is best known for “The Girl from Ipanema.” But here he is with John Coltrane (!) and Oscar Peterson in 1960:

Two models were born today. First is Farrah Fawcett who was born in 1947. Second is Christie Brinkley who is 60. I mention them only to relate one of my favorite jokes.

This guy is on a cruise ship when it sinks. He finds his way to a nearby island where, much to his surprise and delight, he is stranded alone with the only other survivor [any model you want but for the sake of this telling] Christie Brinkley. After a while, when no one rescues them, they get comfortable and become intimate. The guy is thrilled. But after three days, he falls into a depression. Christie sees him and asks him if there is anything she can do. The guy says, “Well, if you wouldn’t mind taking some of that charcoal and painting a mustache on yourself. She thinks this is strange, but wanting to help, she does so. Then the guy asks her if he can call her “Bob.” Again, she finds it strange, but consents. The guy immediately brightens up and says, “Bob! You’re never gonna believe who I’m fucking!”

That joke says more about male culture than a library of sociology books.

The singer-songwriter Shakira is 37 today. I don’t know much about her, but years ago, I heard her song “Animal City” and I loved it. It’s got this great Im-VI-V chord progression that we just don’t hear in popular music. The production on the song is also great, but unlike most pop songs, it works with just a guitar. Anyway, check it out:

Other birthdays: actor Duane Jones (1936); comedian Tom Smothers (77); singer-songwriter Graham Nash (72); and actor Brent Spiner (65).

The day, however, belongs to the great novelist James Joyce who was born on this day in 1882. When I was younger, I loved his short stories. (I still do!) So I decided to go all the way and read Finnegans Wake. And I have tried to read it many times since then, most recently just last year. I don’t think I’m going to try again. It is just impossible. “Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Oh my! It is clear that Finnegans Wake was an example of a great artist becoming too in love with his work. Ulysses certainly is his masterwork, if for no other reason than that it is the sweet spot between classical story telling and ostentatious intellectualism. It is still tough going. I would recommend anyone who is interested in Joyce read Dubliners. The man could write! The novels are more important than they are enjoyable.

Happy birthday James Joyce!

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