Here is your open thread for February 26, 2020.
The birthday of Johnny Cash today marks the beginning of the holiest season in the sacred calendar as Christians around the world commit to fasting and contemplating death for the next 40 days.
Johnny is not the only national monument we celebrate today. January 26 is also the birthday of Grand Canyon National Park (1919) and Grand Teton National Park (1929).
Christopher Marlowe, the Kurt Cobain of Elizabethan theater, was baptized on this day 456 years ago (birth certificates weren’t a thing in 1564). His plays are still studied, produced, and performed. His brief life and mysterious murder (“a great reckoning in a little room”) have become the stuff of legend — was he killed in a dispute over a tab or due to charges of blasphemy? Was it due to a gay scandal? Was he a spy? It’s all tantalizingly inconclusive.
Marlowe also lives on as the namesake of two similar heroes in great works of fiction: Charles Marlow, the narrator of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the detective Philip Marlowe in the novels of Raymond Chandler. (One of my pet theories — still wholly unconfirmed — is that Chandler’s detective takes his name from Conrad’s agent. Their moral perspective and their sense of doomed duty just seems too similar for that not to be true, but I’ve never found anywhere that Chandler says so.)
Trayvon Martin was murdered on February 26, 2012. He was gunned down by a lethally armed, cowardly wanna-be cop for the crime of being young and black in America. The 140-pound high, baby-faced, 17-year-old high school student was carrying iced tea and a bag of Skittles. He didn’t do anything wrong. But America’s justice system found that he could be fatally shot without any violation of America’s laws.
The link above is to the first 2012 post on this blog on the killing of Trayvon Martin, which includes a round-up of some of the contemporary commentary on his death.
President Obama never intervened into the investigation of Trayvon Martin’s death, nor did he ever attempt to influence the outcome of the trial of the boy’s killer. But Obama was visibly shaken by the tragic pain of seeing a bright young life cut short. Obama’s eloquent and wholly appropriate expression of pain and sadness and the death of this teenager was perceived — by tens of millions of American voters — as an intolerable offense, as an act of uppity-ness that demanded vengeance, punishment, and the purging of every trace of his presidency. Obama mourned the senseless death of a child and those millions responded by dedicating themselves to ensure the next American president would never do such a thing. This is a part of why we now have a president who celebrates the senseless death and suffering of black and brown children. This is what is called “Making America Great Again.”
81 percent. Mene mene tekel upharsin.
Victor Hugo was born 218 years ago today.
February 26 is also the birthday of iconic Americans Levi Strauss (1829), Buffalo Bill Cody (1846), and John Harvey Kellogg (1852). The man who gave us our all-American blue jeans was a Jewish immigrant from Germany. Kellogg would be pleased to know that much of America was still eating granola or corn flakes for breakfast more than a century after he invented and promoted them. He would be very, very disappointed, however, to learn that his adamant anti-masturbation crusade never caught on the same way.
It’s the birthday of Tex Avery and of Jackie Gleason — two men responsible for an unquantifiable amount of laughter in this world.Prolific science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon was born 102 years ago today. Even if you’ve never read his stories, never seen the Star Trek episodes he wrote (“Amok Time” and “Shore Leave”), and never read Kurt Vonnegut’s tales of Kilgore Trout (very loosely based on Sturgeon), you may be familiar with his maxim, sometimes called Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of science fiction is crud, but then 90% of everything is crud.”
There is never a shortage of supply or demand for hand-wringing essays built on ignoring Sturgeon’s Law. The formula is very simple — focus exclusively on the 90% and ignore the ever-present 10% of really good, not at all cruddy stuff being produced in any given field, thus allowing you and your readers to indulge in ostentatious lamentation that the vast majority of popular music, or television, or cinema, or fiction, or sermons, or relief pitching, or Congress is pretty cruddy and taking this as evidence that something has changed, something has been lost, civilization is in decline and the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.
You won’t ever have trouble getting such an essay published, but bear in mind that such essays are always themselves an exception to Sturgeon’s Law: 100% of them are crud.
The late great Fats Domino was born 92 years ago today. It’s the 75th birthday of Mitch Ryder. Harmonica-playing former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine turns 62. Michael Bolton turns 57. Erykah Badu is 49 today. Nate Ruess of Fun turns 38. (I’m thinking at least half of the people in that list could do a cover of a Johnny Cash song that would be pretty terrific.)
Finally, today is the 70th birthday of songwriter and keyboardist Jonathan Cain. He is a tragic figure — someone who is both a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, nowadays, a fervent supporter of white Christian nationalist Trumpism.
This is sad and a bit complicated for me. I was a teenager in the 1980s, when Journey was huge. They weren’t among my favorite bands, I didn’t own any of their albums, and I only tried their arcade game a couple of times. But their music was everywhere — even at Timothy Christian School — and Jonathan Cain wrote a big chunk of the soundtrack to my adolescence.
Cain wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and “Who’s Crying Now?,” and “Separate Ways,” and “Open Arms,” and “Faithfully.” And I’m grateful someone did that.
Here’s a Jonathan Cain story I think of now when I see him in photo-ops with authoritarians who put children in cages: After Prince recorded “Purple Rain,” he called up Cain to play him the song. Prince was worried that parts of it might sound too similar to Journey’s then-recent hit “Faithfully.” Cain reassured Prince that using the same four chords didn’t amount to any kind of rip-off. Cain had the chance to be a grasping jerk and he refused to take the bait. I also admire that he isn’t the one going around and telling that story.
Personally, I’ve never thought any part of “Purple Rain” sounded anything at all like “Faithfully” — a song Cain wrote for his first wife a few years before their divorce. Cain’s eventual third marriage might, at first, sound like he’s settling down — a retired rock star marrying, of all things, a Christian minister. But that minister turns out to be a Gantry-esque con-artist, the “prosperity” peddling grifter and cheerleader for fascism Paula White.
I see pictures of Jonathan Cain now, posing with his new wife and their friend, the Orange Orbán at Mara Lago, and I can’t help but be sad that, despite our best efforts with that arcade game, we never managed to save him from the evil Groupoids.
Ashes to ashes. Talk amongst yourselves.