Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MARCH 18, 1902: ITALIAN TENORS ARE A LIRE A DOZEN

Tenor Enrico Caruso recorded ten arias for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company in Milan, Italy. He was paid 100 pounds sterling, and was not required to do any typing. These acoustic recordings, recorded in a hotel room on March 18, 1902, created a win-win situation for both Caruso and the Gramophone Company. The gramophone, and its flat circular discs, quickly became victorious in the recording competition, besting both Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinders and eight-track tapes. The gramophone recordings became best-sellers, helping to spread the 29-year-old Caruso’s fame.

Caruso was signed by London’s Royal Opera House for a season of appearances in eight different operas ranging from Verdi’s Aida to Don Giovanni by Mozart. His successful debut at Covent Garden occurred just two months after his recording session. The following year, Caruso traveled to New York City to take up a contract with the Metropolitan Opera.

By 1920, Caruso had made nearly 300 recordings. His 1904 recording of “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci was the first sound recording to sell a million copies. All of these recordings are available today on CD, as digital downloads, and in garages throughout the world on eight-track tapes.

 

Ivan Was Probably a Baritone

Ivan IV Vasileyevich, known to his friends as Ivan the Terrible, died in 1584 while engaged in a particularly wicked game of chess. He rose to prominence, and some might say infamy, as the Grand Prince of Moscow a position he held from 1533 to 1547, when he declared himself the first ever Tsar of All the Russias, a title he held until his death. He was succeeded by his son, Feodor the Not So Terrible.

Historians disagree on the exact nature of his enigmatic personality. He was described as intelligent and devout, yet paranoid and given to rages, episodic outbreaks of mental instability, and late-night tweet storms.

He was also know as Ivan the Fearsome but is not to be confused with Ivan the Gorilla.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons – No. 3

plot

plät/  noun

~ the sequence of events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work that develops a story.

Use it in a sentence perhaps?

“What do you do when you’re not floating around the West Indies?” asked Albert.

“I write mostly.”

“A writer, says he,” Basil had returned from the bar and sat across the table from Terry. “I was a writer meself once upon. Never made any money at it, though. I was always a poor writer what never had a plot to piss on.”

Here’s where the plot thickens.

 

 

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March 15, 44 BC: I Only Have Ides for You

Beware. Today is the ides of March, a day once enthusiastically celebrated among the common people with picnics, drinking, and revelry. In the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had an ides (from the Latin to divide). In March, May, caesarJuly and October, the ides fell on the 15th day. In all other months, the ides fell on the 13th.  There is a reason for this, but the logic declined and fell with Rome, and the ides lost their original intent and purpose and eventually came to mean the day that a bunch of guys are going to stick knives into you.

This was thanks to Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar, and Caesar’s pals Brutus et al.  In Act I, Scene 2, of Shakespeare’s history, the old soothsayer utters these words, dripping with foreboding: “Beware the Ides of March.” Pretty straightforward, but does Caesar pay attention? Of course not. And on March 15, 44 BC, aided by his friends, he buys the forum, so to speak, exiting stage left halfway through the play even though it bears his name.

Despite an occasional pretentious allusion to the Ides of March and the popular song, today’s calendar is pretty much ideless (as ideless as a painted ship upon a painted ocean, to slip in a quick pretentious allusion).

 

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons – No. 2

al·lu·sion

əˈlo͞oZHən/

noun

As a literary device, an allusion is an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference to another person, event, work etc.

For example:

“That’s a rather abrupt and indifferent exit. Feel guilty?”

“I’m not sure. You don’t approve?”

“Well, I suppose it’s better than ‘I’m running off to hook up with Lolita for a few days. I’ll be back when I’m tuckered out. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Lolita? You’re hardly a nymphet.”

“I beg your pardon,” Huey huffed. “Would you care to elaborate on that point?”

“A nymphet is fourteen or fifteen years old, tops.”

“Maybe I’m only fifteen.”

“You also pointed out that you weren’t trying to seduce me.”

“Maybe I was lying. And maybe I’m no Lolita – as hot as I am – but you most definitely fit the part of Humbert Humbert, you old fart. Just remember you’re here of your own free will. You can’t claim I forced you to come along.”

“I won’t if you won’t,” said Paul.

Not forcing anyone to come along, just inviting: Voodoo Love Song

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March 12, 1609: Wanna Get to Heaven, Let Me Tell You What To Do

Prophet, evangelist, guardian of the gates of heaven and hell, and notorious pain in the butt Lodowicke Muggleton was born in 1609. Uneducated, he worked as a tailor until his forties when he began to have revelations, announcing to the world that he and his cousin were the last two witnesses of God that would ever be appointed on earth and the exclusive deciders of who got into heaven and who didn’t. When his cousin died, Muggleton took this great burden upon himself.

Blessing those who listened to him and cursing those who didn’t, he eventually attracted a few followers who became known as Muggletonians. His cursing and raving made him enough of a public nuisance that he was twice jailed, fined and sentenced to stand in the pillory for several days. He had a particular dislike of Quakers which he spelled out in his book with the catchy title The Neck of the Quakers Broken or Cut in Sunder by the Two-Edged Sword of the Spirit Which Is Put Into My Mouth (1663).

Among some of the more interesting Muggletonian beliefs: Heaven is six miles above Earth; God is between five and six feet tall and has absolutely no interest in the affairs of mankind. Man’s greatest enemy is not the Devil, who doesn’t exist, but Reason, which, for humans, is unclean and filthy. They had no organized worship; they would sometimes meet in taverns to talk and sing rancorous Muggletonian songs.

Muggleton died at the age of 88, and his religion more or less continued for centuries after him. One Philip Noakes who bequeathed to the British Library an archive of Muggletonian documents in 1979 is thought to have been the last surviving Muggletonian, although this entry is bound to bring a few more out of hiding.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons – No. 1

nov·el

nävəl

A fictional prose narrative of book length, usually involving multiple major characters sub-plots, conflicts and twists. Its length, at 40,000 words or more, allows it to be read at several sittings. A novella is 17,000 to 39,999 words, a novelette is 7,500 to 16,999 words. Under 7,500 words, its either a short story, flash fiction, a memo or a shopping list.

For example:

“Rain.”

It was the first word uttered during the past hour, and even it was unnecessary – not to mention understated – since the dark sky had ruptured, and a heavy downpour pummeled both the beach and the choppy sea that stretched away from it. The sun had been playing hide-and-go-seek for a week now, its occasional appearances bracketed by rains such as this one. Rain is, of course, a word of four letters, and it was spoken in this case in the tone of voice reserved for four-letter words. Albert Lafitte, the speaker who had so eloquently described the spectacle they now witnessed, sat between two other men. The three of them sat in distressed director’s chairs and remained for the most part dry, thanks to a large thatched canopy held above them by four wooden corner posts. From this vantage point, they settled in for what would likely be an afternoon of silent observation of nature’s life giving, but occasionally irritating, miracle.

For when the rain was this plentiful, the visitor’s weren’t, and Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe was lifeless; they might just as well shut the doors, if it had any. Actually the Booby Bay Cafe was pretty much lifeless rain or shine. The tiny island of Soleil, whose windward beach it graced, was a long ten miles from its nearest neighbor, an island whose seaport, Bluebeard’s Reef, had at one time been small but bustling. Back then, Albert’s cafe had been a popular watering hole for a steady parade of seafarers, from vacationing sailors to fishermen to the pilots of odd junk crafts whose reason for being at sea remained a mystery. That was until Hurricane Glenda, which had been following a ladylike northward course through the islands, not threatening anyone, turned fickle and suddenly westward, nearly eliminating Bluebeard’s Reef. And with Bluebeard’s Reef all but gone, the journey from civilization to Booby Bay became more trouble than it was worth.

Quick quiz: The preceding was the beginning of:

a. novelette

b. novella

c. novel

d. whichever one it is, it’s just a cheap ploy to get you to buy it. For proof, go here.

 

 

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March 7. 1766: Gentlemen Rhymesters Out on a Spree

A certain Miss Molly Mogg of the Rose Tavern in Wokingham, England, turned up her dainty toes on March 7, 1766, at the age of 66. Some 40 years earlier she had been the subject of an amusing ballad written by “two or three men of wit.” The ballad — perhaps to the surprise of its authors, became quite popular. Literary historians have determined that the “men of wit” were Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Gay and that the three were probably quite drunk when they penned the tribute to the pretty Molly.

It begins:

The schoolboy delights in a play-day,

The schoolmaster’s delight is to flog;

The milkmaid’s delight is in May-day,

But mine is in sweet Molly Mogg.

and continues on for eleven verses each ending with “sweet Molly Mogg. This, of course required the three rhymesters to come up with 11 words to rhyme with Mogg. Which they did, the aforementioned flog, bog, cog, frog, clog, jog, fog, dog, log, eclogue and agog — bypassing hog and Prague.

 

All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part II: A Nice Face with a Tiny Nose

“I want you to help me,” said the chastened Roberto. He stared at his feet as he swirled them in the water.

“Okay,” said Toussaint, once again in command. “Now, Herbert was telling me this very, very famous story by a guy that’s been dead for close onto 400 years. Four hundred – now that makes him mighty important. The guy in the story is like you. His name is Romeo; that even sort of sounds like Roberto. This Romeo, he loves a girl whose name I forget. It doesn’t sound like Marianne, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Julianne, that’s it. I guess it sounds a little like Marianne. Now Julianne’s family don’t like Romeo one little bit.”

“Why doesn’t her family like him?” asked Roberto whose face now showed only confusion.

“Because Julianne is very beautiful, just like Marianne, but Romeo has this great big nose. So Romeo sneaks to Julianne’s back porch every night and hides in the bushes and says pretty words while her big fat mama sleeps inside. He says things like, ‘Julianne, my sweetest sweet, your face is like the moon.’ And Julianne says, ‘Oh Romeo, I can’t see your face; it’s behind the bushes. Show me your face.’ And Romeo says, ‘No, no, fair princess. I cannot. But it’s a nice face – with a tiny nose.’ And Julianne says, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are you, Romeo?’ See how they use each other’s names a lot? That’s very romantic.”

“Wherefore?”

“That’s 400-year-old talk. But this is what puts smart dudes like me and Herbert over here and dumb dudes like you over on the beach with your mouth open and bugs flying in and out. When Julianne says wherefore, she isn’t wondering where Romeo is.”

“No?”

“Of course not. She knows he’s in the bushes. What she’s really saying is why. Herbert explained that to me.”

“Why?”

“Because him and me is friends.”

“No, I mean why is wherefore ‘why’? And why would she ask Romeo why he is Romeo?”

“Because it’s literacy,” said Toussaint, trying his best not to patronize poor Roberto. “She wants to know why it has to be Romeo out there instead of someone else.”

“How come?”

“Because he has such a big nose, of course.”

Roberto thought about this story for a moment, kicking at the water with one foot and then the other. Toussaint studied him, looking for some sign that maybe he understood.

“Why doesn’t she just tell him to go away?” asked Roberto finally.

Toussaint grinned. “Because she loves all the pretty words he says to her. And before long, she loves him, too – nose and all. And all because he talked pretty. As Herbert says, the story don’t end until the fat lady sings.”

“What?”

“The fat lady. I guess at the end of all these famous stories a fat lady sings. That’s how you know it’s over. So all you got to do, Roberto, is hide outside Marianne’s porch and say pretty words and hope she falls in love with you before a fat lady sings.”

“But I don’t know any pretty words,” Roberto whined.

“I’ll help you find some pretty words. It’s easy the songs on the jukebox at the Crab Hole are just filled with pretty words.”

continued

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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February 27, 1902: Travels with Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas, California, a part of the fertile region he would later call the Pastures of Heaven in a collection of short stories and the setting for many of his works. The Nobel-winning novelist was born on February 27, 1902.

steinbeckjohnHis first critical and commercial success was Tortilla Flat set in and around Monterey, California, and featuring a small band of ne’er-do-well paisanos living for wine and good times after World War I. The novel was a sort of rogue’s tale, full of rough and earthy humor. From here Steinbeck moved on to more serious portrayals of the economic problems facing the rural working class in the social novels for which he became known — In Dubious Battle in 1936, Of Mice and Men in 1937, and his most important work The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, the saga of hardscrabble Oklahoma tenant farmers who became America’s migrant workers.

johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathSteinbeck’s California did not take kindly to his portrayal. His books were banned, and in his hometown, twice burned in public protests. In fact, his books were banned in schools and libraries throughout the country and continued to be well into this century. Steinbeck was one of the ten most banned authors from 1990 to 2004 (according to the American Library Association), Of Mice and Men, sixth out of the top 100 banned books.

Later novels include Cannery Row, East of Eden, Travels with Charley,  and The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck died in 1968.

Judy Drownded, Part 1: Where’s Judy?

Leland Armbrewster saw opportunity where others saw mere misfortune.

“Hurry, Raymond,” urged the young woman, skipping through the palms and sea grapes that separated the quiet beach from the laughter and tinny music spewing from the Crab Hole.

“It’s too late, Judy,” whined Raymond, padding behind. “It’s almost midnight, and we shouldn’t be here.” The rhythmic lapping of the water now overpowered the scratchy wail of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” a recording that was celebrating its fiftieth year on the Crab Hole juke box.

“But this is the best time,” Judy gushed. “Smell the frangipani. Look at all those stars. Look at me. She tugged at Raymond’s arm, dragging him to where the water lapped at their feet. “You know why it’s the best time?” She swayed back and forth, smiling at him, stupefying him with wanton eyes.

“Why?” asked Raymond.

“Because we don’t have to wear anything. And you’ll be able to see what all the others would die to see.” She unbuttoned buttons and untied ties, letting each of her few bits of apparel drop to the sandy beach. Raymond did the same, reluctant out of fear but hooked by desire. Judy finished undressing, and Raymond, pants off, shirt still on, stared at her, unable to move. She stood, letting him stare at her momentarily, then giggled, grabbed his pants and ran into the water.

“Come and get them,” she taunted. “Come and get me.”

“But . . .”

“I’m waiting.” Her voice had grown smaller.

“I can’t swim,” Raymond groaned.

“Don’t be silly.” Judy’s voice was now as far off as “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Raymond waded into the water, until it was above his waist and tugging him toward the deep end of the ocean. He realized it was hopeless; he dared go no further, no matter how much desire percolated within him. As he retreated, he heard the distant scream – Judy’s scream – just once, then silence.

“Judy,” he shouted. “Are you all right?” No reply. He called her name again several times, and when there was still no answer, he turned and ran. He scrambled across the beach, back through the palms and sea grapes, tripping often, to the road and to the Crab Hole, where “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom” bleated a final musical orgasm. He crashed through the door. The six patrons inside grabbed their glasses of rum and looked up in surprise, the now silent the jukebox heightening the drama of the moment.

“Something’s happened,” Raymond shouted into the silence. “Something terrible.”

“Boy,” said Chicken Avery. “Do you know you got no pants on?”

continued

Judy Drownded is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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February 24, 1827: A Midsummer Night’s Prayer Meeting

“The Family Shakespeare — in which nothing is added to the original text,censored-shakespeare but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family. My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakespeare some defects which diminish their value.”

Thus read an introduction for the 1807 edition of Shakespeare’s works, finally made suitable for general audiences by Thomas Bowdler some 200 years after the Bard was safely buried. Certainly Shakespeare, were he alive, could not have objected to having the defects which diminished their value removed from his works. Shakespeare and family values — together at last.

Shakespeare no doubt would have thanked Thomas Bowdler who joined him in the hereafter on February 24, 1827.

Bowdler undertook this project, along with his sister Henrietta, thanks to childhood memories in which his father had entertained his family with readings from Shakespeare. Only later as an adult did Bowdler realize that his father had been leaving out some of the naughty parts of the plays, anything he felt unsuitable for the ears of his wife and children. Realizing that not all fathers were clever enough to censor on the spot, Bowdler decided it would be worthwhile to publish an edition which came already sanitized and “expletive deleted.” True to his word and to his credit, Bowdler did not add anything to the Shakespeare texts as some earlier tinkers had (Poet Laureate Nathum Tate had, for example, given King Lear a happy ending.)

More than a century later, scholars decided that sister Henrietta had a somewhat heavier hand in the expurgations than previously believed. Naturally, as an unmarried lady, it would have been scandalous for her to admit having read, much less understood, the naughty stuff removed.

Later publications by Bowdler demonstrated his interest in and knowledge of continental Europe (with France presumably excised). His last work was a rather monumental expurgated version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — no togas, no orgies — published posthumously in 1826. His version of Lady Chatterley’s Acquaintance turned out to be three pages long.

Bowdler has been recognized for his contributions to English literature by being awarded an adjective — bowdlerize, to change a book, play, movie, etc. by removing parts that could offend people.

 

Day of Note

February 24, 1969  –  Happy 50 Morgan Daybell

 

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 17, 1844: When You Wish Upon a Book

The Sears & Roebuck catalog may have become the Magilla Gorilla of mail order, but Aaron Montgomery Ward , born on February 17, 1844, beat Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck to the punch by 18 years — and there was only one of him. As a young traveling salesman, Ward saw firsthand how rural folk were being poorly served by small town general merchandisers. Couldn’t they have some of the same opportunities to buy lots of stuff as their big city counterparts?  Of course they could, Ward answered, and in 1872, the mail-order catalog was born.

That first catalog was a one-page price list featuring 163 items. By 1874, it had grown to 32 bound pages; by 1895, over 600 pages with thousands of items. Dubbed the Wish Book, it was a magnificent thing, fully illustrated with woodcuts and drawings, hawking anything you could possibly want — tools, jewelry, millinery, musical instruments, furniture, bathtubs and buggies.  Cradle to grave.

“Satisfaction or your money back!”

Ward died in 1913 at the age of 69, leaving a company, known affectionately as Monkey Ward’s, that would remain a retailing giant through most of the century.

Ask a Silly Question . . .

The following is an online interview that took place upon the publication of Voodoo Love Song.  In an online interview, the interviewer and interviewee never lay eyes on one another, which allows them to make obscene gestures at one another.  It has beentypewriter3 lightly edited to make me appear smarter than I am.

What inspires you to write?
I have this insidious little voice inside me. When I read a book, it says to me “Well, why didn’t you write that book?” If I watch a movie, it says “When are they going to make a movie out of something you’ve written?” If I see an interesting person walking down the street, it says “Why wasn’t that guy with an elephant trunk for a nose in your last book?” If I try to take a nap, the voice says “Get up and write or you’ll die.” I don’t pay any attention to the little voice. Drinking inspires me to write.

Tell us about your writing process.
Outlines are amazing. With a good outline, you can move through the creative process like a painted ship on a painted ocean, smoothest of sailing all the way. I wish I could figure out how to do an outline. Whenever I try, it comes back to bite me, or I’ve wandered hopelessly off course by the third page. I guess that makes me a seat of the pants writer, although I try not to wear pants when writing.

Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I do, but most of them refuse to talk to me. If they do talk to me, they usually insult me. An author has to learn to take such abuse. However, when one character called me a two-bit scribbler, I killed him off on page 2. You’ve got to let them know who’s boss.

What advice would you give other writers?
Read authors you admire. Read authors you hate. Read. And write. Drink occasionally, but never heavily — unless it’s after noon.

How did you decide how to publish your books?
I suggest exploring the traditional publishing route first. It will clear your head of any notion that this is an easy business or a logical one. The best approach is to find a publishing house that’s owned by a cousin or a brother-in-law. The next best approach is to self-publish.

What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I try not to think about the future of publishing. (I try not to think about the future of anything, actually.) I worry that someday they’ll stop printing books, that books will be electronically downloaded to the back of our eyelids. I guess I worry too much. I try to write instead.

 

 

Voodoo Love Song is the story of Paul and Huey who go to a sweet, safe place like Disney World and end up getting in a whole lot of trouble.  You can read more about it here.  You can also get it at sweet, safe Amazon for a ridiculously low price.