Monthly Archives: August 2012

Thought of the Day 8.31.12 William Saroyan

“I can’t hate for long. It isn’t worth it.”

“The role of art is to make a world which can be tolerated.”

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

–William Saroyan

William Saroyan, American writer.

William Saroyan, American writer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Saroyan was born on this day in Fresno, California in 1908. Today is the 104th anniversary of his birth.

William was the youngest son of Armenian immigrant parents. His father died when he was 3 years old. William and his siblings went to the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland while their mother, Tahooki, found what work she could in San Francisco.  Six years later the family reunited as Tahooki got permanent work at a cannery in Fresno. He didn’t like school. The work was boring and he was picked on because he was the son of an immigrant. But he liked to learn, he liked to read and he like to write. He took advantage of the Fresno public library’s book collection and he took a course on typing at the Technical School. He sold newspapers to help with family finances, and worked his way up to messenger boy with a telegram company.

He travelled around the country hoping to become the next big American writer, but luck wasn’t with him (one time his suitcase, with most of his money and clothes inside, wound up in New Orleans instead of with him in New York.) So Saroyan returned to California and took a string of uninspiring jobs from working in a funeral parlor to selling vegetables at a farmers market. All the time he was writing on the side.

In 1933 he started to get published. His earned $15 when his short story The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze appeared in the national magazine Story. Encouraged by the publication he decided to send the magazine one story a day for the entire month of January.

This he proceeded systematically to do, still full of the usual doubts that harass the unestablished writer, but determined to carry through the ambitious work program in as positive frame of mind as possible. He began with no firm ideas as to what the stories would be about… Midway through the month a telegram… arrived from the editors with the message he needed: yes, the stories were being received with great interest — keep them coming! This was the decisive moment of acceptance, marking the end of his long apprenticeship…. [Brian Darwent, William Saroyan Society, Biographical Sketch]

Other, higher paying, magazines began to take an interest. His stories appeared in The American Mercury, Harper’s, Scribner’s and others. A collection of his short stories was published by Random House in 1934 and became a best seller.

He traveled overseas, making a pilgrimage to his father’s homeland of Armenia. (He couldn’t make it as far his father home town, which was now a part of Turkey, but he did get to Erivan, Soviet Armenia.) Along the way he met Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

He added playwriting to his skill list  in 1939 with My Heart’s in the Highlands. The play centers around a struggling Arminian American poet and his son Johnny.  His second play The Time of Your Life won a Pulitzer Prize (which Saroyan refused) and The New York Drama Critic’s Circle Best Play award (which he accepted.)  It takes place in Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon and centers around a wealthy young man named Joe and a bar full of colorful characters. The play has been revived several times on Broadway and in LA, and has been made into a big screen movie, with James Cagney and a Playhouse 90 television movie with Jackie Gleason.

First edition cover

First edition cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Human Comedy was produced by MGM Studios. Saroyan was under contract with Louis B. Mayer and he wrote and directed a short film called The Good Job as well as the 4.5 hour screen play for The Human Comedy (which Mayer turned over to another writer to edit down.) Saroyan also wrote a novel  on the same material that came out the same week as the film. The sentimental story was based on his life growing up as an immigrant in Fresno and it won an Oscar for the writer.

After WWII his writing career cooled. He was considered to sentimental and sugary for the harder edged, post-war critics.

 Saroyan praised freedom; brotherly love and universal benevolence were for him basic values, but with his idealism Saroyan was considered more or less out of date. [Books and Writers]

But he continued to write prolifically. In 1952 he published his memoir The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills.

Just before he died of cancer in 1981 he called the Associated Press quipping “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”

Stanford University has a large collection of his works and the author is celebrated by the William Saroyan Society. 

William Saroyan statue, Yerevan

William Saroyan statue, Yerevan (Photo credit: tm-tm)


Thought of the Day 8.30.12 Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley

“We are tomorrow’s past.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley

English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on  this day in London, England in 1797. This is the 215th anniversary of her birth.

She was born into a family of  “intellectual rebels.” Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft…

“the celebrated author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), died of puerperal fever, leaving Godwin, [her father, William Godwin] the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), to care for Mary and her three-year-old half-sister, Fanny Imlay.”[Eleanor Ty, Wilfrid Laurier University]

English: William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, ...

English: William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, 29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm), “Godwin liked Northcote’s portrait, describing it as ‘The principal memorandum of my corporal existence that will remain after my death.’ With the light hitting the philosopher’s temples, Northcote symbolised Godwin’s belief in progress based on reason.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For four years Godwin raised “Pretty Little Mary” and her half-sister Fanny with the help of a governess. Mary thrived under her father’s affectionate care and grew into a “precocious, sensitive and spirited” little girl. But in 1801 he  married  Mary Jane Clairmont.  Little Mary did not get on well with her new “mother.” She grew up…

with a cruel step mother and emotionally distant father; she consoled herself at her mother’s graveside and spent periods of time in Scotland with friends of the family. [the Literary Network]

She was close to her half-sister Fanny and especially her step-sister Claire. But, while Claire was sent away to a boarding school to learn, Mary was left a home to learn what she could from the family library. Fortunately the library was well stocked, and her Father hosted a stream of literary visitors who sparked the girls’ imaginations. (Claire and Mary snuck into one such meeting and hid under a sofa so they could listen to Coleridge recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” [the Literary Network has a more detailed account of Mary’s early life and the strife between the girl and Mrs. Godwin.]

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philo...

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philosophy from William Godwin’s Political Justice. (Amelia Curran, 1819) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At  16, after a return from a very happy holiday with her friends the Baxters in Scotland,  she met Percy Bysshe Shelly. Percy was 5 years her senior and established writer and rich. He came to the Godwin’s to talk to her father about politics and his philosophy.  Mary and Percy fell in love with each other. Unfortunately Percy was already married (unhappily) to Harriet  Westbrook. Regardless of his marital status Mary and Percy ran off to Europe with Claire in tow. Her father, who believed in free love for other people, was against it for his daughter, he refused to talk to Mary until she and Percy married several years later.

Godwin-Shelley family tree

Godwin-Shelley family tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The eight years Mary and Percy Shelley spent together were indeed characterized by romance and melodrama. During this period Mary and Percy, both extremely idealistic, lived on love–because of extended negotiations over the disposition of the estate of Percy’s grandfather–without money, constantly moving from one placed to another. Mary gave birth to four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood… [Eleanor Ty, Wilfrid Laurier University]

While at Lake Geneva they met Lord Byron. Byron and Claire became lovers and had a child of their own, Allegra.  Mary started work on Frankenstein while they were in Switzerland. It was inspired after a night of telling ghost stories.

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece ...

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece to the revised edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831. The novel was first published in 1818. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As December 1816 loomed Harriet Westbrook Shelly committed suicide by walking into the Serpentine River near her home in Hyde Park. Unlike his relationship with Harriet, Percy found Mary an intellectual and romantic partner. With in the month Mary and Percy were married in London. They continued to travel, often with Byron, Claire and Allegra.

In 1822 Mary had a serious miscarriage and almost died. Later that year Percy was out sailing on the schooner “Don Juan’ when the boat sank in a sudden storm. Mary, devastated, returned to England with her only surviving son, Percy Florence.

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Loui...

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Louis Édouard Fournier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She died in 1851 at the age of 54.  Romantic legend has it that when her son and daughter-in-law opened her box desk they found locks of hair from her long dead children and a silk envelope containing the ashes of Percy’s “heart”.

Books by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly include:

History of Six Weeks’ Tour though a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus

Mathilda

Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca

The Last Man

the Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck

Ladore

Falkner

Rambles in Germany and Italy

and collections of poems of Percy Bysshe Shelly


Ain’t THAT beer cold? Remembering Scunny McCusker

First of all… he was Pat to me.

Pat McCusker and I were cousins — a trio of kids born with-in a few months of each other (my cousin Mike rounded out the triumvirate.)

But to the rest of the world he was Scunny McCusker.

Scunny died last Friday night when he was hit by a bus while riding his bike in Ocean City, Maryland.

The outpouring of sympathy and love from all the people he has touched over the years has been amazing and incredibly touching.  There were thousands of visitors at  funeral parlor both Monday and Tuesday, with lines out the door and around the building. And today at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen the church was standing room only with over 2,000 loving supporters.

The funeral procession was lead by a National Bohemian Beer truck. I guess I need to tell you that Pat owned two bars/ restaurants in the Canton area of Baltimore, and he was a huge Natty Boh fan. A police escort helped the mile long procession of cars navigate the route to the cemetery by closing down sections of I-83 and the Beltway. The crowd around the grave site was the size of the infield at Oriole’s Park.

Why such the fuss? Well, Pat had a big heart. “He never met a charity he didn’t like” according to US Representative Ben Cardin, but he was especially active in the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation.  The charity:

 provides exceptional hospital and respite housing services to critically ill children and their families. We believe in keeping families together during a child’s medical crisis, and that the gentle cadence of normal family life has a powerful influence on the healing process.

and along with fund-raising for the organization Scunny provided thousands of meals for the families in need.

I have to admit that I’ve lost touch with Pat over the years. We only saw each other at the occasional wedding and funeral. He owned a bar… I don’t really drink. We grew up and older and apart. But listening to the stories this week I wish I HAD stay in touch better.

This one’s for you, Pat / Scunny.

May the road rise to meet you.

May the wind be ever at your back.

May the sun shine sweet upon your face,

the rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of your hand.

http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/lifestyle/memorial-for-patrick-scunny-mccusker-today

http://northbaltimore.patch.com/articles/funeral-held-for-patrick-scunny-mccusker#photo-11168610


Thought of the Day 8.28.12 Mary Norton

“I’m no lady; I’m a member of Congress, and I’ll proceed on that basis.”

–Mary Norton

Kathleen Mary Pearson was born on this day  in London, England in 1903. It is the 99th anniversary of her birth.

The Cedars, Church Square at the end of the Hi...

The Cedars, Church Square at the end of the High Street in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England. Built in 1855 for Mr. John Dollin Bassett. Designed by W. C. Read. Current location of Leighton Middle School, and occupied by Cedars Upper School until 1973. Location: OSGB36: SP 919 249, WGS84: 51:54.9192N 0:39.8815W (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She grew up in a large Georgian style house, called The Cedars, in Bedfordshire. She used the house as inspiration for her setting of The Borrowers.

During World War II she worked for the War Office and in 1941 she moved to New York as part of the British Purchasing Commission. It was while she was in New York that she started to write.

Cover of "Bonfires and Broomsticks"

Cover of Bonfires and Broomsticks

In 1943 she published The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons. The book sold well and Norton followed it up with Bonfires and Broomsticks. The books were turned into a 1971 Disney film called Bedknobs and Broomsticks that combined live action with animation (something the studio first did in Mary Poppins.) The movie starred  Angela Lansbury as a novice witch determined to use her powers to help England in the war effort. It featured the charming music number “Portobello Road,” a memorable soccer game between wild (animated) animals, and concluded with an army (live action) of suits of army fighting the invading Germans.

In 1946 she married Robert Charles Norton with whom she had 4 children.

The Borrowers (TV miniseries)

The Borrowers (TV miniseries) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1952 the first installment of her wildly popular The Borrowers series was published. It was followed by five more Borrowers novels. The books have been made into numerous stage shows,  movies and TV series.

Cover of "Are All the Giants Dead?"

Cover of Are All the Giants Dead?

 

In 1975 she wrote Are All the Giants Dead?

 


Thought of the Day 8.28.12 Shania Twain

Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

–Shania Twain

Greatest Hits (Shania Twain album)

Greatest Hits (Shania Twain album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eilleen Regina Edwards was born on this day in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in 1965. She is 47 years old.

She is the eldest of five siblings and grew up about 500 miles north of Toronto with her mother Sharon and her adoptive father Jerry Twain.

According to the biography on her official web site she …

“grew up listening to Waylon, Willie, Dolly, Tammy, all of them…But we also listened to the Mamas and the Papas, The Carpenters, The Supremes and Stevie Wonder. The many different styles of music I was exposed to as a child not only influenced my vocal style, but even more so, my writing style.” [ShaniaTwain.com]

Impressed by the girl’s singing, guitar playing and song writing skills, her mother became her defacto agent and  began to book the 8-year-old Twain at local venues and radio and TV spots. Twain says she would be awaken after midnight and taken to local clubs to sing with house bands — bar stopped selling alcohol at midnight.

The “b” side of Twain’s rural Canadian upbringing was summers spent on reforestation crews with her stepfather where she “learned to wield” a different kind of axe (and “handle a chain saw as well as any man.”)

An automobile accident took the lives of  both Sharon and Jerry Twain, and 21-year-old Eilleen took over raising her little brothers. She got a job at the Deerhurst Resort in Ontario which not only allowed her to pay the bills but also introduced her to musical theatre.

At 24 Twain recorded a demo of original music and changed her first name to Shania (Ojibway Indian for “I’m on my way” in honor of Jerry Twain’s Ojibway’s ancestry.) She signed on with Mercury Records and put out Shania Twain in 1993. The CD included the hits “Dance With The One That Brought You” and “What Made You Say That.”

She joined forces with rock producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange  (both professionally and personally — the two married  in 1993.) Her single Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under came out in 1995 and went to #11 on the  country charts. Woman In Me, her second album made “Twain the best-selling country female artist of all time. “ “Any Man of Mine,” “(If You’re Not In It for Love) I’m Outta Here!” “You Win My Love and “No One Needs to Know” all went to number 1, and the project won Country Album of the Year at the Grammies.

She released Come On Over in 1997 and listeners from pop and rock stations took her invitation seriously. She became a crossover artist with “You’re Still the One”  (which was #1 in Country and #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart) and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” The album sold over 11 million copies.

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/KNZH-emehxA&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

In 2002 she continued in a more pop vain with the release of  UP.  In the music video  for the single I’m Gonna Getcha Good she leaves behind her trademark bare midriff and  jeans and opts for a futuristic Tron style leather get up as she takes a motorcycle ride through a dystopian landscape.

In 2011 she did a six part documentary on the OWN network and released her memoirs. To date she has sold over 75 million cds and has earned the moniker “The Queen of Country Pop.”


Celebrate Good Times, Come ON! 100 post!!!

 

Wordpress Button Closeup

WordPress Button Closeup (Photo credit: Titanas)

Instead of my usual Thought of the Day I wanted to share the exciting news that ritaLOVEStoWRITE has hit a milestone.  This is my 100th post on WordPress!

Thank you to all of the readers who have hit the blog 2,700 plus times in the last three months. And especially to my 57 dedicated followers (plus those 300 plus of you on Facebook and Twitter who follow that way.) Your LIKES, feedback and support have made these lonely hours in front of my computer well worth it.

Of course the act of researching, writing, adding the photos and editing the posts  has been its own reward. How else would I have found out about Mata Hari?

So, incase any one asks, here’s what rita WRITES about: 

 

I was somewhat surprised at how that broke down. While in the trenches of writing the blog I thought it weighed way to heavily on the celebrity and was too light on the cerebral, but actually I had more WRITERS than anyone else.

 

 

There was some nice cross over between Movies and Music (in Musical Theatre)…

 

The bulk of my 100 posts are in the Thought of the Day category, and the MISC. chart gives a who’s who of folks who didn’t fit nicely into Writing, Movies or Music. I liked the cross referencing here too.

 

 

The last chart is for post that didn’t appear as a Thought of the Day entry, “Original Non-Fiction.” Hmmm. Well everything on my blog is my original work (except one repost from my friend Lynn Reynolds about Books and How to Sell Them) and so far it has been all non-fiction. So I guess EVERYTHING could be on this chart.

In the future I hope to add some fiction to the site. Would you like that?

Please know that I love to get feedback, but I’m pretty fierce about SPAM. If there is any chance something is SPAM I throw it in the trash. So if I have inadvertently trashed your perfectly legitimate comment, I apologize. It was thrown into my SPAM folder and I probably couldn’t see your website to check. PLEASE write something referring back to “ritaLOVEStoWRITE” in your comment then I’ll know it is the real deal and not some bot trolling for unsuspecting bloggers.

I’ll leave you with a Thought for Today from Australian politician Arthur Calwell who was born on this day in 1896…

“It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.”

Hmmm something to think about as the (American) political season goes super nova.


thought of the Day 8.26.12 Mother Theresa

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

————————————–

[True confessions of a blogger: I have always chaffed a bit when spoon fed hyper goodness. I am a skeptic. A Catholic skeptic at that. I graduated from an all-girl Catholic high school the year after Mother Teresa won her Nobel Peace price in 1979. It was a time when the mere mention of the good nun’s name brought a gleam of zealous holiness to some folk’s eyes. The words “Mother Teresa” still bring an (imagined) soundtrack of angels singing “ahhhh” in the background. The publicity wagon behind this gal was in full tilt boogie in 1979 and frankly, it was (is) a bit much to take, especially given her dogged adherence to church doctrine on things like abortion and divorce. 

I know I would have been much more receptive to Mother Teresa if the ‘holy bus’ would have pulled over for a while and she would have been presented as what she was… a mere moral doing some pretty extraordinary good works in some pretty nasty areas of the world.  So when I read about Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk’s book Come Be My Light  I was moved to find out that Mother Teresa had struggled for over 60 years because Jesus has stopped talking to her. The fact that she soldiered on, day by day, decade by decade, caring for the sick and discarded and continuing to pray to a God who no longer answered kept up his side of a conversation makes her a lot more heroic in my book.  

It continues to gall me when her name and image are co-opted for things and statements that are not her own. While researching this “Thought,” for instance I found a poem by Mother Teresa called “Do It Anyway.” It’s a lovely poem about going beyond adversity and doing the right thing “anyway.” The problem is… despite dozens of websites and placards for sale on Ebay that attribute the poem to Mother Teresa it was written by Kent M. Keith. So why shine on? Isn’t her goodness good enough?  Do we have to fake stuff or steal stuff from other people to make her sound wiser or holier? Another example is the long-held belief that Mother Teresa was ardently anti-gay. I found some of that hate mongering rhetoric in my research too, but not from the woman herself. And closer inspection — and a bit of logic — shows it’s not true. Mother Teresa, of course, worked tireless with the victims of AIDS, she didn’t discriminate by sexual orientation in the clinic. And when “some reporters asked Mother Teresa about the homosexuals in Calcutta, she said she didn’t like the word ‘homosexuals’ and went on to insist that they use the term ‘friends of Jesus’ instead.”[Lina Lamont blog post ] I’m not so naive to think she’d be voting for same-sex marriage any time soon — as she’d be likely to tow that Church line too– but  she certainly didn’t demonize homosexuals as some people would have you believe.

She’s a much more complex and human individual than the cartoon saint the ‘holy bus’ presents.]

————————————————-

Agnes Gnoxha Bojaxhiu was born on this day in Skopj, Yugoslavia in 1910. This is the 102nd anniversary of her birth.

She was the youngest of five children (three of whom lived to adulthood.) According to her brother, Lazar, and despite myths to the contrary, the family did not live like peasants, but lacked for nothing. They owned two houses, living in one and renting out the other. The children were raised as Catholics and Agnes loved to listen to stories about missionaries from far away places.

She was called to religious life as an early teen, and made her final decision while praying at the Black Madonna of Letnice when she was 18.

She joined the Sisters of Loreto. Her missionary training began in Ireland where she learned English (the sisters use English in their missionary work.) At 19 she traveled to Darjeeling to begin her novitiate in the shadows of the Himalayas. She learned the native Bengalese language and taught school to the wealthy girls who attended St.Teresa’s School where she was assigned. She took her  first vows at 21 and became Sister Teresa in honor of St. Therese de Lisieux (the patron saint of missionaries). In 1937 she was sent to Entally (near Calcutta) to another school where she taught History and Geography for another 20 years. She was made headmistress in 1944.

In 1946 while the nun was taking a 400-mile long train trip to a retreat in Darjeeling she heard Christ speak to her.  “Come, come carry Me into the holes of the poor,” He told her, “ Come be My light.” It was her “call within the call” and one she took seriously. Teresa gave up her relatively comfortable life at the school and headed toward the slums that had been devastated both famine and Hindu/Muslim violence.

She sought permission from the church to begin on her path. She took a course in basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital, and she exchanged her Loreto habit for a white sari with a blue border. In January of 1948 she started a school in Motijhil, Calcutta teaching the poorest children in the slums. She had no classroom equipment so she used what was available. Instead of a chalkboard she wrote in the dirt. She worked to teach the children both how to read and the basics of hygiene. As she got to know them she gained the trust of their families and got to know their needs as well.

In 1950 she started (with Vatican permission) The Missionaries of Charity to care for “The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled the blind, the lepers, and all those people who feel  unwanted, unloved, uncared for though out society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” [Mother Teresa]

The little congregation of 13 women had grown to over 4,000 sisters by 1997.

They opened a Home for the Dying, a place offering free hospice care for the poor , in Calcutta in 1952. Next they opened a home for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) called City of Peace. They also started outreach clinics in the city where those suffering from the disease could get medicine,clean bandages and food. The Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, an orphanage for the city’s many homeless youth and orphans was opened in 1955.

Throughout the 1960s similar houses of care were opened by the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world. In 1963 the Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded for men who wanted to follow Mother Teresa’s leadership in feeding, clothing, housing and caring for the poor. Branches of the organization for contemplative Sisters, Lay workers (both Catholic and non-Catholic) and Priests followed. Today there are more than 4,500 Missionaries of Charity and over a million Co-Workers working at 610 mission in 133 countries around the world.

She was awarded the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Price in 1979. (She gave the prize money to the poor in India). She thought that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world’s needy. When asked what we can do to promote world peace she answered “Go home and love your family.”

The Myth of Mother Teresa

The Myth of Mother Teresa (Photo credit: Chris Yarzab)

The “Saint of the Gutters” suffered a heart attack in rome in 1983, and a second in 1989. In 1996 she fell and broke her collar bone, suffered from malaria and had heart failure. On March 13, 1997 she died.


Thought of the Day 8.25.12 Elvis Costello

I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused.

–Elvis Costello

Declan Patrick MacManus was born on this day in Paddington, London, England in 1954. He is 58 years old.

Declan grew up around music. His father, Ross MacManus, was a singer for The Joe Loss Orchestra, a dance band with it’s own popular BBC Radio Show. Ross, who had to learn a new song every week for the show, brought home demo tapes to practice, and young Declan absorbed the tunes. His first recording was with his dad, the two sang for a commercial for R. White’s Lemonade.

When he was 17 he moved to Birkenhead (opposite Liverpool on the Mersey River) and started a folk duo with Allan Mayes. He formed the country rock band Flip City when he moved back to London in 1974. It was then that he took the stage name D.P. Costello. He supported himself as a computer operator and an office clerk while continuing to hone his skills as a singer, song writer and musician.

He signed with Stiff Records, and independent label out of London and changed his pseudonym to Elvis Costello.

When Elvis Costello‘s first record was released in 1977, his bristling cynicism and anger linked him with the punk and new wave explosion. …he tore through rock’s back pages taking whatever he wanted, as well as borrowing from country, Tin Pan Alley pop, reggae, and many other musical genres. Over his career, that musical eclecticism distinguished Costello‘s records as much as his fiercely literate lyrics. [Allmusic by Rovi]

The first lp, My Aim Is True had two singles, “Less Than Zero” and “Alison.” While neither initially charted “Alison” has become a classic and the album reached number 14 on the British charts.

His backing band, The Attractions, was firmly in place for his next lp, This Year’s Model. Bruce Thomas played bass, Steve Nieve played Keyboards, and Pete Thomas was the drummer, while Costello sang lead and played guitar for the group. The lp reached #4 in Brittain and #30 in the US. Armed Forces did even better with its catchy single “Oliver’s Army.”  That was followed by Get Happy!!  (1980) and Trust (1981).

He put on some country western boots and recorded with Billy Sherrill, a Nashville producer for his next lb, Almost Blue with the single “A Good Year for the Roses.” 1982 brought Imperial Bedroom, 1983 , Punch the Clock and “Every Day I Write the Book.” In 1984 he went on a solo tour with Goodbye Cruel World, and in 1985 he did King of America (sans the Attractions.) He briefly reunited with the Attractions with Nick Lowe as producer for Blood and Chocolate.

He teamed up with Paul McCartney in 1987  for Spike with the single “Veronica.” Mighty Like a Rose followed in 1989.

Costello switched gears again in 1993, this time  going classical. He wrote a song cycle called the Juliet Letters which he performed with the Brodsky Quartet.

Back with The Attractions and to rock and rol  he put out Brutal Youth in 1994. All This Useless Beauty is a cover album of sorts, he penned all the songs, but they were originally done by other artists.

He wrote theme songs for Austin Powers and Notting Hill (his achingly beautiful “She” is almost as lovely as Julia Roberts.)

In 2001 he worked with Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas  on When I Was Cruel, with the amazing single “Dust.”

Next up was his interpretation of the Great American Song Book with North “falling halfway between Gershwin and Sondheim.” [Allmusic by rovi], and the live jazz album Flame Burns Blue — with Costello in front of The Metropole Orkest, a 52-piece orchestra.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans Costello joined forces with Allen Toussaint (they had worked together on Spike) for The River in Reverse

Momofuku (2008), Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (2009) and National Ransom (2010) round out his impressive discography.

Whew! Another LONG bio. They always look so easy when I start. But I just bet I forgot your favorite album or single, didn’t I? Come on… let me have it… what’s your Elvis Costello favorite [leave me a comment.]


Thought of the Day 8.24.12 Stephen Fry

“It is a cliche that most cliches are true, but then like most cliches, that cliche is untrue”

Stephen Fry

Stephen John Fry was born on this day in Hampstead, London, England in 1957. He is 55 years old.

He grew up in Norfolk. He was expelled from several schools and got into trouble with the law as a teen. He served three months in Pucklechurch Prison after stealing a credit card from a family friend. But the stint in prison seemed enough to straighten him out. He went back to school, this time at City College of Norwith and promised to apply himself to his studies. He scored well enough in his Cambridge entrance exams to get a scholarship at Queens’ College in 1979. At Queens he joined the Cambridge Footlights Dramatic Club and met Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie. He won a Fringe First Award for  Latin! or Tobacco and Boys  a play he wrote for Footlights.

He teamed up with Laurie  to for the comedy act A Bit of Fry & Laurie. The Duo turned the act into a television sketch comedy series that premiered on December 26, 1987 with a 36 minute pilot. It ran for four seasons (1-3 on BBC2; season 4 on the more mainstream BBC1). The show’s combination of satire, wordplay and innuendo made it very popular. The complete series is available on DVD and selected sketches have been collected in book form.

In 1984  Fry adapted Noel Gay’s Me and My Gal. It had an eight year, 3,303 performance run at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End (with Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson in the cast.)  It hopped the pond and opened at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre  in 1986 where it ran for 1,420 shows and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards. It also made him rich.

Fry considers himself a writer first and a  comedian/ actor second. He has published four novels: Liar (1991), The Hippopotamus (1994), Making History:  A Novel (1997) and The Stars’ Tennis Balls (200). His biography, Moab is My Washpot came out in 1997.

Other television work include Lord Melchett  in Black-Adder II and Reginald Jeeves in  Jeeves and Wooster. On the Radio he worked on Loose Ends, Delve Special, This is David Lander, Saturday Night Fry, Absolute Power and was the voice of Winnie the Pooh. He also presented The Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music, a 20 part review of music over the past millennium.

His film work goes back to 1985. He had was in the ensemble cast of Peter’s Friends (with Laurie and Thompson). He played Oscar Wilde in Wilde (1997). In Gosford Park he is the clueless Inspector Thompson. He’s the Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland. You can catch him as the Master of Laketown in the upcoming The Hobbit: There and Back Again and as Sir Simon De Canterville in The Canterville Ghost. [The list of Fry’s television and film roles is quite long.  See his IMBD site for a more comprehensive look at this side of his career.)

Fry also has lent his talents to audio books. He read the film tie-in version of  Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (he also dubbed the voice of the Book and was the narrator for the movie ) in 2005. He’s recorded his own novels and works by A.A. Milne, Anthony Buckeridge and Roald Dahl. Most famously he is the voice for the English audio books for the Harry Potter novels by J.K.Rowling.

He embraces technology with both hands, and has said he’s never met a smart phone he didn’t buy. He is “deeply dippy for all things digital” and says he bought the third Macintosh computer sold in the UK (Douglas Adams beat him to the first two.) His Twitter account has passed the four million mark .

He is actively involved in a number of social issue (often promoting them with his Twitter account and on his website.)

[All images courtesy Last.fm where you can find lots more great photos of Stephen Fry.]


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