Christopher Marlowe and Two Singers

Christopher MarloweToday is the anniversary of the birthday post. I made it! But the truth is that it evolved over time. At first, I just focused on a single person and then went on to do multiple people. The format we have today is probably only about six months old. I think I would like to go back to the single narrative, and I’ll start that on the first of March. Sometimes that will be a regular article and other times it will just be a paragraph. I’m not going to sweat it. And most of all, we will continue my usual style of using birthdays to go off on tangents. If you want to read biographies, there’s always Wikipedia and the local library.

Fats Domino is 86 today and still performing. He was the first person ever in the birthday post. Basically, it was just a video of him performing “Blueberry Hill.” Here is his first hit, “The Fat Man”:

Johnny Cash was born in 1932. He did some great work, but he is wildly overrated. But the world would be a poorer place without “Folsom Prison Blues.” I especially like when he performed it on At Folsom Prison. After the line “But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” the prisoners cheer. It’s horrible and humorous at the same time. I think some people miss the pedagogical point of the song. Oh well. Here’s Cash on television four years later doing it to screaming teen fans:

Other birthdays: the great novelist Victor Hugo (1802); blue jean tycoon Levi Strauss (1829); cowboy showman Buffalo Bill (1846); actor Jackie Gleason (1916); actor Tony Randall (1920); art director Dante Ferretti (71); singer-songwriter Mitch Ryder (69); and musician Jonathan Cain (64).

The day, however, belongs to the great Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe who was baptized on this day in 1564. His best known play is Doctor Faustus. This is a shame because in many ways, it is his weakest. I think the reason people still do it is because it is fun to stage. When Orson Welles directed the play in 1937, he let fly all of his interest in magic and turned the play into a magic show. But the language in Doctor Faustus is still very strong. I would say that Marlowe was a far more consistent writer than Shakespeare in that regard.

The thing is, Shakespeare was a slightly later writer than Marlowe. And as such, his plays are less poetic than Marlowe’s. If you watch a Marlowe play, you can actually hear the poetry. That isn’t often the case with Shakespeare, whose poetry is more like natural language. As a result of this, many scholars claim that Shakespeare is better. But playwrights after Shakespeare, like John Webster and Thomas Middleton, wrote in an even more natural style. None of them wrote anything like what one would consider natural dialog, however. So for my money, it is better to have poetry that sounds like poetry rather than vaguely stilted dialog. I recommend checking out Derek Jarman’s filmed version of Edward II. It is very good.

Unfortunately, Marlowe barely lived to the age of 29. He got in a fight and ended up being stabbed in the eye. This has caused some amount of speculation. He was awaiting trial for heresy. It was not the first time he had been arrested; Marlowe lived a colorful life. But given that he had done some spying for the court when he was at university, people speculate that he was “gotten rid of.” And it could be. Then again, Marlowe ran with a rough crowd, and it is easy to imagine them all getting drunk and ending up fighting. I tend to go with the more obvious theory. Of course maybe Marlowe faked his death and then went on to write Shakespeare’s plays for him!

(For the record, there is the ultimate reason why we know that Marlowe didn’t write Shakespeare’s plays: their styles are nothing alike. If there is one thing that all these years of reading and watching and memorizing Shakespeare have taught me, it is that Shakespeare repeats himself a lot. He has very definable cadences. He reuses the same phrases. His wit is quite distinct. Marlowe is nothing like that. I wish people would stop reading about these conspiracy theories and just read some of the actual playwrights. All of this discussion would go away.)

The following are two brief scenes from a production of Doctor Faustus at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. The first scene is standard, in all versions of the play. The second scene is from the later version of the play and may or may not have been written by Marlowe. Regardless, the company has changed the scene a lot to rather good effect.

Happy baptismal day Christopher Marlowe!

Twit Say Twat Means Twaddle

Bob FitzSimmondsThis just in from The Virginian-Pilot, VA GOP Official Apologizes for Genital Slang “Error.” If you are like me, you are mighty eager to know what that genital slang error was. But don’t go looking to the “respectable” The Virginian-Pilot to tell you what it is. They apparently don’t print such nasty words. (They did, however, provide an image at the bottom of the article.)

It all happened yesterday night. It seems that Representative Frank Wolf is retiring. So there are lots of people trying to get the Republican nomination for the seat. One of them is that strange creature known as a woman, Barbara Comstock. When a political commentator publicly supported Comstock and talked about how strong Republican women are (Unlike Democratic women who are a bunch of wimps?!), the Virginia Republican Party Treasurer Bob FitzSimmonds took to Facebook to have his say. This is exactly how The Virginian-Pilot quoted him:

I have nothing against Barbara Comstock but, I hate sexist (expletive).

They added, “One definition for the word he used is a vulgar term for female genitalia.” Oh, what could it be?! Could it be “cunt”? That would be great! Or vajayjay? Actually, the Online Slang Dictionary lists about 150 names, many of them quite colorful like “quivering mound of love pudding.” (Don’t ask me!) It only becomes clear in an update where FitzSimmonds is quoted saying that he thought the word meant “twaddle.” So if you guessed “twat”—Ding, ding, ding!—you’re a winner!

What is clear is that FitzSimmonds didn’t know what “twat” means. His sentence didn’t make sense with “twat” and it does with “twaddle.” But look at that picture above. That’s our man Bob. He can’t be any older than I am. Yet he makes the kind of mistake that a very un-worldly 80-year-old might make. And that photo? Notice the unusual but entirely bad framing? That’s from his Facebook page, although I cropped it to make it not look so bad—the original went far out to the right where we get to enjoy a blurry background. The man is out of touch.

But he is entirely typical of his party. I don’t have a problem with the word “twat.” While it is true that it is a synonym for “vagina,” it is more commonly used to describe an idiot. The content of what FitzSimmonds was saying, however, is quite offensive. His problem seems to be that anyone would talk about women as a class. What FitzSimmonds is really going for is something akin to Stephen Colbert’s routine about not seeing color. This is generally what powerful groups say. Whites say, “You blacks are being racist for talking about race!” And FitzSimmonds is saying, “You women are sexist for talking about sex!”

What I think is that FitzSimmonds is something I closely associate with “twat”: he’s a twit. And as far as I’m concerned, he is one of the top choices for the 2014 Upper-Class Twit of the Year award:

H/T: Political Wire

Democrats’ 2014 Chances Not So Bad

Competitive 2014 Governor Races

The chart above is from a National Journal article, The 15 Governorships Most Likely to Flip. In it, Steven Shepard and Karyn Bruggeman rank each state by the likelihood of its switching from one party to the other. The top three states (Pennsylvania, Maine, and Florida) are all currently in Republican hands. But of the 15 governorships, 9 are Republicans. So unlike the United States Senate, where the Republicans have a big advantage because roughly twice as many Democrats are up for re-election as Republicans, when it comes to governor, the Democrats have a substantial advantage.

But if that isn’t enough good news for you, Curtis Gans wrote an article over at the Washington Monthly magazine, Midterm Signals and Noise. In it, he argues that many of the reasons that people think that the Republicans are going to do well in the 2014 elections are nothing but noise. I agree. One of the best examples of this is the supposed sixth-year curse. This is the observation that two-term presidents’ parties always lose big in the sixth-year elections. Sean Trende wrote about this last year, and he concluded that for Obama, 2010 already did most of the damage and there wasn’t much more that could be done in 2014.

Still, there are two issues about the upcoming elections that probably will be important. First, as I briefly mentioned above, the Senate landscape looks bad. The base Senate elections have 13 Republicans and 20 Democrats. But with the special elections and taking into account competitive races, it is even worse. The other issue is the tendency for Democratic leaning voters to not vote as much in off-presidential-election years. Both those issues are very much concerns.

There is nothing that can be done about the difficult Senate terrain, but the Democratic Party is making a special effort to make the voter demographics in 2014 look like they did in 2012. As I’ve argued for a long time, the key to Democratic success is always to get as many people voting as possible. If democracy works, we win because the people have a well established liberal bias.

Gans goes on to provide a lot of information about why we Democrats shouldn’t feel so gloomy about 2014. If you want to feel better, go and read the article. Personally, I don’t accept most of it. In the long run he’s right. But for 2014, I don’t think there is going to be any awakening. The fact remains that we have a media establishment that is determined to create balance, regardless of how far out on a ledge the Republicans get. The good news from my perspective is just that the Democratic Party is putting a lot of money into getting out the vote. If we could get Democratic turnout in off years to what it is in on years, not only would the Republican Party be forced to liberalize, so would the Democratic Party.

We All Deserve to Die

Sweeney ToddAll through the night, I had this going through my head, “We all deserve to die. Even you, Mrs. Lovett; even I.” If you don’t recognize it, it is the song “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd. I watched the film for the first time a couple of days ago. It is a fine film: your typical “boy who kills people meets girl who uses the bodies to make pies” story. No, honestly, it is a beautiful and engaging film that is very much worth watching if you haven’t already.

But the fact that the song showed up in my dreams is important. It means one thing: Andrew Lloyd Webber did not write the music. Well, that’s going too far. Webber sometimes manages to put a single catchy tune in one of his plays. But the songs in Sweeney Todd were written by Stephen Sondheim and so there are quite a number of winners. But tuneful doesn’t mean sweet. We ain’t talking Sound of Music here:

The film is relentlessly dark. Johnny Depp spends the whole time scowling. Helena Bonham Carter gets the choice role as Nellie Lovett, purveyor of the “worst pies in London”:

She’s the ultimate woman: one who supports your interests, even if they involve the slitting of strangers’ throats.

The wonderful thing about Sweeney Todd is that it is so over-the-top that it is funny despite its subject matter. This is in contrast to Richard III and Othello that we are supposed to take as seriously, even though they are pretty much the same thing. But mostly, the whole thing is just an excuse for a lot of great songs. Sondheim has always been especially good at writing lyrics for unusual subjects. That dates back at least to West Side Story. As for the rest of the film, it is rather typical of Tim Burton. Everything is done straight but without forgetting how silly it all is.

Last night I made two meat pies. I wonder if the film inspired me. Probably not. There was just this transient who died near the house and he was starting to go bad…