Saturday

Apr. 20, 2013

Hard Music

by Tom Chandler

The hammers of the builders
of the house across the street

sometimes fall by accident inside
the same beat, as if the rhythm

of our separate work can
melt without our knowing

into something far sleeker
than our laboring lives

and I wonder if the carpenters
are happy in themselves when

they realize how they improvise,
how the nails bite the wood

to such natural jazz, the house
rising tall in grace because of hard

music, lifting up its chimneyed head
and shoulders to the sky.

"Hard Music" by Tom Chandler, from Toy Firing Squad. © Wind Publications, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In 1841, on this day, the first detective story was published. In his story The Murders in the Rue Morgue, published in Graham's Magazine, Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author) created mystery's first fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin. The story introduced many of the elements of mysteries that are still popular today: the genius detective, the not-so-smart sidekick, the plodding policeman, and the use of the red herring to lead readers off the track.

It's the birthday of one of the founders of psychiatry, Philippe Pinel (books by this author), born in Saint-André, France (1745). He studied mathematics, theology, and internal medicine before becoming the chief physician at a Paris insane asylum in 1792. Before Pinel arrived, conditions at the asylum were horrible: Among other things, patients were chained to the walls, and people could pay a fee to come in and watch them.

Pinel put a stop to these practices, as well as misguided treatments like bleeding, purging, and blistering. People generally believed that the insane were possessed by demons, but Pinel argued that they were just under a lot of stress. He started treating patients by talking to them about their problems in intense conversations on a regular basis, which paved the way for modern psychiatric practices.

It's the birthday of Sebastian Faulks (books by this author), born in Newbury, England (1953). He's one of Britain's best-selling and most popular living novelists. He came from a prestigious family of barristers and judges, and they all hoped he'd become a diplomat. But he aspired to be a taxi driver, until age 15, when he read George Orwell — and then he decided he wanted to be a novelist.

He was going to give up his dream of being a novelist and focus solely on journalism when in 1984 publishers accepted the manuscript for his book A Trick of Light. The novel didn't really do all that well, and it soon went out of print.

He felt he hit his stride with his second novel, published five years after the first and entitled, The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989). It's set in a French village in the 1930s. After that, he wrote another novel set in France, Birdsong (1993), but about a British soldier in World War I. Birdsong was a huge hit: It sold 3 million copies and still ranks high on surveys of British readers' favorite books.

His other novels include A Fool's Alphabet (1992), Charlotte Gray (1998), On Green Dolphin Street (2001) and Human Traces (2005). A couple years ago, Faulks was commissioned by 007 author Ian Fleming's family to write a new official James Bond novel. Faulks set the story in 1967, the year after Fleming's last book about James Bond was published, in various cities around the world and with a backdrop of the Cold War. He finished the 295-page book in six weeks, and when Devil May Care came out in May 2008, it sold more than 44,000 copies in the first four days, making it Penguin UK's fastest-selling hardcover novel ever.

Sebastian Faulk's most recent book is A Week in December (2009), a satirical novel set in London over the course of seven days in December 2007.

It is the birthday of Spanish painter Joan Miró, born Joan Miró i Ferrà, in Barcelona (1893). While he is considered a surrealist, he rejected identification with any one artistic movement. Before he went into exile during the Franco regime — Miró was Catalan and the Catalans were subject to special persecution by Franco — he traveled widely and visual references to Haitian voodoo and the Cuban Santería religion infuse his dreamlike art. He's best known for his paintings The Harlequin's Carnival (1924) andDog Barking at the Moon (1926).

He said, "The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the words. The meaning comes later."

He said, "For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings. "

It was on this day in 1939 that Billie Holiday recorded the song "Strange Fruit," which describes the lynching of a black man in the South. The song began as a poem written not by Holiday, but by a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx named Abel Meeropol (using the pseudonym Lewis Allan) who was deeply disturbed by a picture he saw of a lynching. Meeropol set the song to music with his wife, Laura, and performed it at venues in New York City. Holiday met Meeropol through a connection at a nightclub in Greenwich Village. She wanted to record the song, but her record label refused to produce something so graphic and she was forced to record it on an alternative jazz label.

Holiday's recording of "Strange Fruit" is unique in American music for its unflinching look at one of the darkest periods in national history.

The lyrics begin:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

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

 









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