Dec. 21, 2006

Some People

by Rolf Jacobsen

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Poem: "Some People" written by Rolf Jacobsen and translated by Robert Bly, from The Winged Energy of Delight. © Harper Collins Publishers. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Some People

Some people
ascend out of our life, some people
enter our life,
uninvited and sit down,
some people
calmly walk by, some people
give you a rose,
or buy you a new car,
some people
stand so close to you, some people,
you've entirely forgotten
some people, some people
are actually you,
some people
you've never seen at all, some people
eat asparagus, some people
are children,
some people climb up on the roof,
sit down at table,
lie around in hammocks, take walks with their red
some people look at you,
some people have never noticed you at all, some people
want to take your hand, some people
die during the night,
some people are other people, some people are you, some people
don't exist,
some people do.

Literary and Historical Notes:

In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

Ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back. The tradition of decorating our houses and our trees with lights at this time of year is passed down from those ancient bonfires.

It's the birthday of the singer, songwriter, and composer Frank Zappa, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1940). When he was 15, he read a magazine article that described the work of the avant-garde classical composer Edgar Varese as "the ugliest music in the world," and he decided he had to hear it. That turned him into a huge fan of 20th-century classical music. He later said, " I didn't have any kind of musical training, so it didn't make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin' Slim ... or Stravinsky. To me, it was all good music."

Out of high school, Zappa supported himself as a greeting-card designer, window dresser, and encyclopedia salesman. At night, he played with various bar bands, and he began experimenting with playing atonal classical music on an electric guitar, backed by a rock-and-roll rhythm. He said his goal at the time was to make music that would cause people to run from the room the moment they heard it. Eventually, he formed the band that became known as the Mothers of Invention.

Their first album, Freak Out (1966), is generally regarded as the first concept album released by a rock group, and it was also the first rock album to satirize rock and roll music itself. It included songs such as "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder," and "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here." Other hits of his include "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow," and "Valley Girls," and he is also known for composing wildly avant-garde music, mixing jazz and blues with sound collages and tape manipulations.

Zappa once said that he first fell in love with music as a kid after he had a kind of religious experience at his grandmother's funeral. He said, "The choir was singing, and I could see from the way that the candle flames were wavering that they were responding to the sound waves coming from the choir. That was when I realized that sound, music, had a physical presence and that it could move the air around. ... [I realized that] music is, literally, a recipe for sculpted air."

It's the birthday of the essayist Edward Hoagland, (books by this author) born in New York City (1932). His many essay collections include The Courage of Turtles (1970), Red Wolves and Black Bears (1976), and Balancing Acts (1992).

It's the birthday of the novelist Anthony Powell, (books by this author) born in London (1905). He wrote the longest novel in the English language, A Dance to the Music of Time, which he published in 12 volumes, starting in 1951. It follows a group of English men from their time together in public school just before World War II through the next 50 years of their lives. He wrote the whole thing, more than a million words, on an ancient typewriter at a card table squeezed into his bedroom.

It was on this day in 1913 that the very first crossword puzzle appeared in a newspaper. It was the invention of a journalist named Arthur Wynne, who worked for the New York World. In 1924, two men named Richard Simon and Lincoln Schuster decided to set up a publishing house, and as they were casting about for ideas of what to publish, they decided to try a book of crossword puzzles. That book sold half a million copies in less than a year. The book's success launched a worldwide crossword puzzle craze and helped put Simon and Schuster on the publishing map.

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