Mar. 13, 2011

The Beatles

by Dorianne Laux

I never really understood why The Beatles
broke up, the whole
Yoko Ono thing seemed an excuse
for something deeper.
Sure, she was an irritation
with her helium screech, her skimpy
leatherette skirts, those tinted ovoid glasses
eclipsing half her face.

                                 But come on, Hey Jude
was putting caviar on the table, not to mention
those glittering lines of cocaine. Beatle music
was playing for moats dug out with a fleet
of backhoes circling the stadium-sized perimeters
of four manicured estates. Why Don't We
Do It In the Road
was backing up traffic
around the amphitheaters of the industrial world.
Yoko's avant-garde art projects and op-art
outfits were nothing against the shiploads of lucre
I'm Fixing a Hole and Here Comes the Sun
were bringing in.
                                 So why did they do it?
They had wives, kids, ex-wives, mortgages,
thoroughbreds and waist-coated butlers, lithe
young assistants power-lunching with publicists
in Paris, Rome. And they must have loved
one another almost as much as John
loved Yoko, brothers from the ghetto,
their shaggy heads touching
above the grand piano, their voices
straining toward perfect harmony.

                                 Maybe they arrived
at a place where nothing seemed real. A field
bigger than love or greed or jealousy.
An open space
where nothing is enough.

"The Beatles" by Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of journalist Janet Flanner, born in Indianapolis (1892). Flanner got kicked out of the University of Chicago for being a "rebellious influence." She went back to Indianapolis, and worked for The Indianapolis Star as a film critic, one of the first in the nation. She was particularly interested in crime and moved to Pennsylvania to work at a girl's reformatory. In 1922, she took a trip to Europe and ended up settling in Paris. From there, she began writing long letters to her friends in America, including to Jane Grant, with whom she had helped found the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought to allow women to keep and use legally their maiden name after marriage. Grant was the wife of Harold Ross, who was starting a new magazine, and she asked if Flanner would write a regular letter from Paris for the magazine.

Her first "Letter from Paris" appeared in The New Yorker in September of 1925, and she continued writing it for 50 years. It became a biweekly feature of the magazine in which she wrote about how public political news affected private lives. Without telling her, Ross gave Flanner the pen name Genet, which he thought was the French name for Janet, but is actually the French word for female donkey.

It's the birthday of science fiction writer and Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in Tilden, Nebraska (1911). He enrolled in George Washington University in 1930 to study civil engineering but was placed on academic probation because of poor grades, and he left after two semesters. In 1950, he wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which formed the basis of the Church of Scientology's teaching. The book explains that humans have "engrams," recordings of painful events experienced in the past, stored in their subconscious and that these are the basis of physical and emotional problems. In order to be cleared of these engrams and unwanted spiritual conditions, a person takes part in an "auditing" session, where a counselor uses an Electropsychometer, or E-Meter, to measure the mental state of a person, helping to locate areas of spiritual distress so they can be addressed and handled in a session. The book became a best-seller and sold 150,000 copies within a year of publication. Groups formed all over the country to apply Dianetics techniques. Hubbard said, "The creation of Dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his inventions of the wheel and the arch."

It's the birthday of Uncle Sam. He made his debut on this day in 1852 as a cartoon in the New York Lantern, drawn by Frank Henry Bellew. The name "Uncle Sam" had been used to refer to the United States since about 1810, but this was the first time that someone thought to make him into a character and draw him in human form.

It's the birthday of English writer Sir Hugh Walpole (books by this author)), born in Auckland, New Zealand (1884). His first book was The Wooden Horse, which came out in 1909, and he published on average a book a year after from then until his death. He once wrote in his diary, "My hatred of revision and my twist towards abnormality spoil much of my work." But he was so prolific in his writing that he was knighted in 1937 for his services to literature.

It was on this day in 1881 that Henrik Ibsen's (books by this author) play Ghosts opened on the London stage. Ghosts was considered a controversial play with references to incest and sexually transmitted diseases, and Ibsen refused to give his audiences the happy endings they were used to. The play had already been banned in St. Petersburg on religious grounds when it premiered in London.

The first performance alone of Ghosts caused more than 500 printed articles to be written in response to it, and Ibsen became a household name even to people who had never seen the play or read a book. Henrik Ibsen died in 1906 when he was 79. He was given a state funeral, and King Haakon of Norway attended.

Henrik Ibsen wrote in Act 2: "I almost think we're all of us Ghosts. ... It's not only what we have invited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."

On this day in 1943, disillusioned German officers planned to assassinate Hitler. Hitler was to stop at Smolensk on his way to his headquarters and an officer who was not involved in the plot had been commissioned to deliver a package to Hitler's plane— a package, he was told, contained two bottles of liquor for a friend in Rastenburg. A bomb in the package was timed to go off over Minsk, but the plane reached Rastenburg without the device detonating. The package was later recovered, and it was found that the detonator was defective.

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




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