Mightier than the Sword?

I just found out about Cormac McCarthy’s Olivetti typewriter, which he bought in 1963 for $50 and a mere 46 years, plus about 5 million words, later sold at auction for $254,500. Like many people, I also had a Lettera 32, which I sometimes lugged around the U.S. while on the road. I probably still have it around – maybe out in our shed – but I doubt Christie’s would be interested.

Even better, after the old typewriter sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars, a friend bought McCarthy a like-new Olivetti, the same model, for $11 (plus shipping).

That’s one way of making a living from your art. I always was fascinated by the story – whether it’s true or not – of Picasso going out to eat and then drawing a sketch on the menu or tablecloth to pay for his meals. Or writing checks that never would be cashed because his signature was worth more than the amount he owed. (This eight-minute student video depicts another Picasso legend, that he drew art in the sand that the tide, washing it away, rendered worthless.)

The artist J. S. G. Boggs goes Picasso one better – he draws accurate replicas of money to pay his debts. Although he’s been arrested a few times for counterfeiting (and acquitted), Boggs claims his bills are artworks, not money. His 1999 biography, by Lawrence Weschler, is indeed “highly entertaining” as claimed.

Approximately 50 years, and at least 500 million words, later, I still remember sitting in our living room all day, transfixed, while reading Leon Uris’s 1958 novel Exodus. (This guy read the book again recently, and was less than impressed, but back then I devoured the 600+ pages practically in one sitting.) My favorite moment in Exodus came when the young Dov Landau, ordered to death at Auschwitz, escapes by quickly forging multiple copies of the signature of the Nazi officer who’s condemned him. Now that’s living by your art.

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Good Question

Looking through an old notebook recently, I found this comment from a local high school teacher, dated August 5, 2002: “One of my 9th grade students said to me the other day, ‘I’ve always wondered — is the United States a country?'”

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The Times that Try Men’s Bones

Into The Great Debate, his 2014 book about Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, Yuval Levin stuffed a lot of fascinating history, politics, and philosophy. At the beginning of his Conclusion, Levin also tells the bizarre story of what happened to both men after they died (Burke in 1797, Paine in 1809).

Burke worried that if the French revolutionaries and their followers came across the English Channel and took charge in Britain, “they would exhume his body from its resting place to make an example of their staunch opponent.” Because of this, he wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave, apart from where his son and wife would end up, but his descendants ignored his wishes.

Paine, on the other hand, feared that his enemies, upset by his writings against religion, might also come after his body. Feeling they might “be deterred only by the sanctity of a Christian cemetery,” he petitioned the Quakers, asking if they would “admit a person to be buried in their burying ground who does not belong to their Society.” If not, he said, he’d like to be laid to rest on his farm in New Rochelle, NY. Which is what happened, after the Quakers said no thanks.

Ten years later, ironically, Paine’s body was dug up, secretly – not by his enemies but by an English radical who wanted to return it overseas to serve as the centerpiece of “a glorious memorial to his hero. But Paine’s antimonarchical views had not been forgotten in Britain, and the government refused to permit a monument…. Worse yet, Paine’s remains were eventually lost. Their final disposition remains unknown to this day.”

The findagrave.com site adds to the story, reporting that one theory claims Paine’s body was lost in transit. Another says that the grave robber, finding no one interested in his proposed memorial, kept the Paine remains in a trunk in his attic, and after his death his son started auctioning it off in various bits and pieces. “A minister in England claims he has Paine’s skull and right hand; an English woman insists she has his jawbone. Others claim to have buttons constructed from the bones. The Thomas Paine Museum states it has the brain stem buried in a secret location on the property.”

A March, 2001 article in The New York Times also mentions the hidden brain stem, and adds that “In 1987, a Sydney [Australia] businessmen claimed that he had purchased Paine’s skull while on vacation in London.”

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The Hole Story

A MetaFilter post yesterday pointed readers to the Royal Albert Hall’s website, and its announcement that recently found documents showed officials there had not been pleased when the Beatles’s classic song A Day in the Life implied that the hall was full of holes. An outraged letter written in May 1967 to the group’s manager Brian Epstein, signed by chief executive Ernest O’Follipar, helped clear things up when readers realized a) that it was April 1st, and b) the letters in ‘O’Follipar’ sorted themselves into ‘April Fool.’

The MeFi discussion about “how many holes it takes” reminded me of the sight gag from the Sea of Holes in the 1968 cartoon adventure Yellow Submarine, when Ringo discovers he has “a hole in me pocket.” Reading more about the making of the movie, I found this remarkable story about the voice actors impersonating the Beatles:

“One of the quartet, Peter Batten, has completely disappeared. Director George Dunning had overheard Batten talking in a Liverpudlian accent in a London pub. He cast him on the spot as George Harrison, although Batten had never acted before. Towards the end of the production, Batten was in bed with one of the young women on the production team when the military police burst in and arrested him for desertion. He has not been seen or heard of since.”

According to the Wikipedia, from then on the actor pretending to be Ringo had to pretend to be George as well.

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My New Favorite Question

YouTube guessed I might be interested in a 1983 Stan Getz/Chet Baker concert filmed in Stockholm – which I was, since Getz is one of my favorite saxophone players. I like Baker, too, except for his singing, which drives me up the proverbial wall. (I especially love the records Baker made in the 1950s with another one of my favorite saxophone players: Gerry Mulligan. It’s hard to believe cool jazz ever got cooler than this.)

My favorite moment of the broadcast, though, came outside the theater. Before the music started, an interviewer cornered Getz and asked a string of mundane questions, while Stan watched him intently, looking like a man constantly trying to remember to stay civil. The first question – “Here we are. Do you know where we are?” – seemed especially gratuitous, until I realized the interviewer was trying to joke with Getz about them being in ‘Gamla Stan,’ Stockholm’s ‘old town.’

The interview took place in English, with Swedish subtitles, and included near its beginning a question about Getz’s first trip to Sweden in 1950. The man asked it this way: “And where did you came?”

In Swedish, it’s “Och var var du då?”

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What’s in a Name?

I just finishing reading Heather Cox Richardson’s To Make Men Free (2014), a history of the Republican Party that goes in “seemingly endless circles,” whose policies “in the first decade of the new century” yet again have led to “the abandonment by the party of its founding principles, the precipitation of an economic crash, and a transfer of power to the Democrats.”

In chapter four, Richardson brings up Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated President William McKinley in early September 1901, opening the door for Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt to move into the White House. Czolgosz, she explains, is pronounced “Cho-goss.” (Other people, online, say it sounds more like “Chol-gosh.”)

Interestingly, the Wikipedia says that when Leon’s father emigrated to the U.S., most likely in the 1860s, from what is now Belarus, his last name was Zholhus. He ‘Americanized’ it to Czolgosz.

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I Guess You Could Say That

Aquarium Drunkard yesterday pointed readers at “I’m Gonna Booglarize You, Baby,” a 1972 Captain Beefheart song from Germany posted on YouTube in the ‘Comedy’ category. (Speaking of comedy, it’s funny to watch Captain B. in Germany and learn that this was him attempting to be ‘normal,’ in order to sell more records. All four songs from that TV date can be seen here.)

I didn’t pay much attention to Beefheart back in ’72 – he didn’t make a lot of sense to me in those days, and I suspected that many people only pretended to like his music in order to seem ‘hip.’ In any case, I was interested to read the Wikipedia entry for The Spotlight Kid, the album that the Captain (aka Don Van Vliet) was touring Europe to promote at the time.

I’ve been so clueless about this stuff that I’ve never realized that Zoot Horn Rollo (aka Bill Harkleroad) was a guitar player. My favorite part of the entry, mentioning how terribly Beefheart treated his Magic Band, notes that “the worst of this was directed toward Harkleroad. In his autobiography Harkleroad recalled being thrown into a dumpster, an act he interpreted as having metaphorical intent.” [my emphasis]

Yeah, getting trashed is pretty metaphorical, all right.

p.s. Apparently there’s only one copy of Rollo’s 1998 autobiography, Lunar Notes, in a library in the entire state of Maine. No surprise – it’s at the University of Maine/Machias, where the music department is headed by someone even more hip than Captain Beefheart, my musical hero Professor Gene Nichols.

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