Feb. 20, 2002
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Poem: "The Instrument," by Robert Winner from The Sanity of Earth and Grass (Tilbury House).
I've seen the mahogany grow pale
under the huge shoulders of pianists,
the curved beams brace themselves.
Such an army, so many games of chess
on the infinity of the keyboard, so much
access and self-disclosure
It's like climbing in a forest
formed by your own hands, or singing
with your armpits, groin and heels
it's playing Mozart in the Amazon
to a naked wondering people.
Music-the world that might be,
and yet the world as it is. The heart
comes out of hiding, saying to us:
"Listen, you can say anything you want now.
Here is the instrument."
It's the birthday of South African writer
Alex La Guma,
born in Cape Town, South Africa (1925). He grew up in an impoverished black
neighborhood, the son of a political activist. He wrote dozens of novels, short
stories, and essays, combining pieces of his own life story with criticisms
of his country's policies. Imprisoned for several years in South Africa, he
spent his later life in London and in Cuba as the representative of the African
It's the birthday of novelist and short-story
writer Pierre Boulle,
born in Avignon, France (1912). Boulle was on an intelligence mission in Indochina
in World War Two when he was captured by the Japanese and sentenced to forced
labor. This experience was the inspiration for one of his best-known works,
The Bridge over the River Kwai (1952; filmed in 1957). At the end of
the film, the bridge is destroyed, which does not happen in the novel. Boulle
was not pleased. He said, "For three years I fought them over this change.
In the end I gave up. Now I don't bother. I just take the money and shrug."
He also took the money for the filming of his novel, Planet of the Apes
(1963; filmed 1968).
It's the birthday of bacteriologist René
Dubos, born in Saint-Brice, France (1901). In 1939 he discovered tyrothricin,
the first commercially produced antibiotic.
It's the birthday of boogie-woogie pioneer
Jimmy Yancey (James
Edward Yancey), born in Chicago (1898). He was a mainstay in the jazz and blues
circles in Chicago, playing at after-hours joints and rent parties. Piano pieces
such as "Yancey Stomp," and "State Street Special," were
his signature songs. No matter what key he played in, he ended every song in
the key of E flat. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986,
but, despite his success as a musician, he earned his living for 26 years as
a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park for the Chicago White Sox.
It's the birthday of playwright and producer
Russel Crouse, born in Findlay, Ohio (1893). His writing partnership
with Howard Lindsay lasted twenty-eight years. They first teamed up to salvage
the book for Cole Porter's musical "Anything
Goes." Perhaps most famous as the librettists for "The
Sound of Music," they also adapted Clarence Day's "Life
It's the birthday of novelist Georges
Bernanos, born in Paris, France (1888). His best-known work was The
Diary of a Country Priest (1937). He also wrote a number of pamphlets attacking
the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War, and a play, Dialogues of the Carmelites
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