"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, September 26, 2011

Birthdays Today

The Regular Son and I often talk about Bruce Springsteen.   One of our comments about his career has to do with the double album The River, which came out in 1980, following his great, dark masterpiece, Darkness on the Edge of Town.   On The River he still have dark songs -- "Point Blank" is about as dark as anything he ever did -- but he also has happy, fun songs like "Sherry Darling" that capture the flip side of life.   Life is not all one thing, I tell the boy, but many things; not all darkness but also light.   A line from "Sherry Darling" captures this:  

Let there be sunlight, let there be rain,
Let the broken-hearted love again.


Anyway, today's birthdays represent two sides of artists' reaction to the 20th Century, just as Springsteen's The River offers two sides of rock-and-roll.   The first is the great poet, T.S. Eliot, born in St. Louis in 1888.   Eliot is best known for his agonized reaction to post-World War I Europe, "The Waste Land":

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),               
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

On the other hand, working at about the same time in the 1920s, there was George Gershwin, born in 1899.   Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" was first performed in 1924 by Paul Whiteman's orchestra, and its mixture of jazz idioms and classical instrumentation is one of the most joyous, miraculous pieces ever -- one of those creative accomplishments where you sit back in awe and say to yourself, wow, this is what beauty human beings are capable of:

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