Tuesday Sep. 13, 2016

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Flu Days

Shivering, you drag yourself,
as if gun-shot, to the living room,

to the old movie channel,
to a Bogart festival,

your mind fogged over
(like the street on the screen)

edging toward feverish sleep
when Bogey snarls

at Ida Lupino:
“Of all the 14-carat saps…”

Hours later when you wake,
he’s smacking Peter Lorre:

“When you’re slapped,
you’ll take it and like it!”

And as if cuffed, you black out,
head pounding, and come to

upon Ingrid Bergman
and “You must remember this,”

before fading again, then back
to Bogey hacked to death

by Bedoya’s machete,
all that gold dust blown away

with the whole bloody day,
everything gone—gone black

as your living room windows—
those previews of The Big Sleep.

“Flu Days” by Peter Makuck from Mandatory Evacuation. © BOA Editions, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of British novelist, playwright, and essayist John Boynton — known as J.B. Priestley (books by this author) — born in Bradford, Yorkshire (1894). He served in the infantry during World War I, and most of his friends were killed in combat. He didn’t write about the war, and remained nostalgic for the pre-war years, saying, “I belong at heart to the pre-1914 North Country.” After studying English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, he became a journalist, and then a novelist, and then a dramatist. He was also a popular and talented radio speaker, and produced a series of patriotic broadcasts during World War II. He wrote more than 120 books, most notably the novels The Good Companions (1929), Bright Day (1946), and Lost Empires (1965).

In a 1978 interview with the International Herald Tribune, he said, “Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness — when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be,” and, “Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries.”

Today is the birthday of author Sherwood Anderson (books by this author), born in Camden, Ohio (1876). He became a writer in 1912, after suffering a nervous breakdown and wandering around Cleveland for four days. His prose style was direct and unpretentious, and he was one of the first authors to incorporate the modern psychological theories of Freud into his work. He was a major influence on the generation of American writers that followed him, including Hemingway and Faulkner, although they both eventually turned against him. Anderson encouraged Faulkner in his writing aspirations, and he who wrote young Hemingway a letter of introduction to take with him to Paris, helping put him in touch with Gertrude Stein and other American ex-pats. For her part, Stein called Anderson “a much more original writer than Hemingway.” Anderson is best known for his short-story cycle Winesburg, Ohio (1919), a portrait of life in a small Midwestern town. He also wrote a best-selling novel, Dark Laughter (1925).

Today is the birthday of Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass. Monroe was born in Rosine, Kentucky (1911) — known as the Bluegrass State for the grass of the Poa genus that makes up the lawns in the region. The grass isn’t actually blue, but its tiny flowers are; they give a blue cast to pastures in the spring.

He was born into a musical family, the youngest of eight kids. His brothers claimed all the so-called “good” instruments like fiddle and guitar by the time young Bill came around, so he took up the mandolin. His mother died when he was 10, and his father died a few years after that, so Monroe moved in with his uncle Pendleton Vandiver who played fiddle at dances in the area. Monroe wrote a song him:

Oh, the people would come from far away,
To dance all night to the break of day.
When the caller would holler: “Do Si Do,”
They knew Uncle Pen was ready to go.
Late in the evening, about sundown,
High on the hill, an’ above the town,
Uncle Pen played the fiddle, Lord, how it rang,
You could hear it talk, you could hear it sing!

When he was 18, Monroe teamed up with his brother Charlie to form “The Monroe Brothers” duo. They parted company in 1938, and Bill Monroe formed a new band, the Kentuckians. They didn’t last long, and when Monroe moved to Atlanta, he put together a new band: The Blue Grass Boys. By 1939, they were making regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry radio show.

The lineup of the Blue Grass Boys changed a lot over the years. The band gave a boost to the careers of many musicians who would go on to become famous instrumentalists and singers, including Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Vassar Clements, Chubby Wise, and Byron Berline. In 1945, a banjo player named Earl Scruggs and a guitarist and singer named Lester Flatt joined the Blue Grass Boys, and the band recorded its biggest hit: “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Monroe’s band lent its name to a new genre of American music, and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was eventually named the official bluegrass song of the state of Kentucky.

It’s the birthday of the pianist and composer Clara Schumann, born Clara Wieck in Leipzig, Germany, in 1819. Both of her parents were musicians, and after her parents divorced when she was four, Clara was raised by her father, who taught her to play the piano. When she was eight years old, she performed at the home of some family friends, and 17-year-old Robert Schumann was so impressed by her playing that he dropped out of law school to study piano with Clara’s father.

Clara made her formal debut at age 11, and she was considered a great pianist for the rest of her life. Her concerts sold out, she won all sorts of awards, and the critics loved her, comparing her to Beethoven. By the time she was a teenager, she was a much better piano player than Schumann, but he fell in love with Clara and proposed to her, and her father did everything he could to stop the marriage. Clara and Robert finally had to take him to court, and they were married on the eve of Clara’s 21st birthday.

Clara raised seven children and continued to tour, compose, and perform, and it was largely because of her popularity and because people respected her so much that they gave Robert Schumann’s work a chance, although many people still didn’t like it. When her husband died in 1856, Clara continued touring, and played her last concert in 1891, 61 years after her performance career had begun. She died five years later, at the age of 77.

She said, “My imagination can picture no fairer happiness than to continue living for art.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®