A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
1811 – Franz Liszt was an 18th Century piano-playing celebrity. Liszt drove women (and not a few men) crazy with how good he was; Heinrich Heine called it “Lisztomania.” Liszt’s fans were almost hysterical in their devotion. They swarmed him, tugging at his clothes and stealing his gloves and scarves. They took locks of his hair and even his broken piano strings to hang around their necks or make into bracelets. At his concerts, people fainted and peed their pants; he was that good! At the insistence of one (he had several, including George Sand) of his mistresses, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, he gave up touring at age 35 and spent the rest of his life composing and living off his reputation.
1943 – Catherine Deneuve, a French actress who contradicts the rumour that beauty is only skin deep. This woman is so beautiful it hurts. In her movies, she portrays women who are elegant and somewhat aloof – even cold. In real life…who cares? She has had public affairs with several movie people, including Roger Vadim and Marcello Mastroianni. Her love scene with Susan Sarandon in The Hunger pushed more than one borderline lesbian over the edge. She was the model for Marianne, the national symbol of France. Like goodness, sometimes beauty is its own reward.
1844 – Although there is some minor disagreement over the actual date, October 22nd, 1844, was supposed to herald the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and October 23rd came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.” The whole thing started in 1822, when William Miller, a Baptist preacher, published his personal calculations, indicating that the Second Coming was literally right around the corner. Things immediately got out of hand when several flaky sects took him at his word and prepared for the wondrous event. Millerites, as they were called, preached and prayed and brought all kinds of people along with them – probably half a million, or so. However, Tuesday night came and went, just like every other Tuesday before or since, leaving a lot of empty souls in its wake. The real terrible thing about this is that William Miller was not a charlatan; he actually believed that Christ was on His way.
1962 – President Kennedy appeared on TV and told the world the US had discovered nuclear weapons in Cuba. He said, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” He also said that the US Navy had instituted a blockade of Cuba and ships carrying weapons would be turned back. In response, Khrushchev and the Soviet Union said that any US action against their ships would be viewed as an act of war. For the next seven days, nuclear holocaust was a real option — to the point where nuclear bombs were actually armed on Strategic Air Command bombers. Luckily, Khrushchev realized that the Kennedy boys were not just rattling their Sabres; they intended to use them. He thought about it, made the best deal he could, and backed down. The Soviet missiles were dismantled and sent home. This was the closest the world has ever come to blowing itself to smithereens – so far.
1906 – Paul Cezanne, a French painter who is part of the pivotal connection between Impressionism and Modern Art. Working at the same time as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne saw colour, light and shape differently. His colours were thicker, his light bolder and his lines were harder. He saw shapes rather than forms, and worked with optical perception rather than visual presentation. After his death in 1907, there was a huge show of his paintings in Paris. It’s not his fault that young artists like Picasso and Duchamp took Cezanne’s work as a stepping-off point to pursue their own ideas of light and form. His work remains linked to the 19th Century, but many of the artists who came after him shot his ideas forward into the abstract, leading to the Armory Show of 1913 and a complete break with the old world.
1934 – Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, just another crook who has been arbitrarily painted heroic. Most of this middle class myth comes from Woody Guthrie’s song “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd” (1939.) Guthrie (who normally had more sense than this) represented Floyd as a kind of Robin Hood, a “regular Joe” driven to a life of crime by the Depression. Pony pellets! Just to set the record straight, there is no evidence — hearsay or otherwise — that “Pretty Boy” ever delivered groceries to any poor families at Christmas. He didn’t rob from the rich and give to the poor. And he sure as hell never had a social conscience or he wouldn’t have shot and killed at least 2 police officers who likely both had wives and children. And one more thing: “Pretty Boy” wasn’t driven to a life of crime; he walked there by himself — when he committed his first robbery, in 1922 – eight years before the Depression even started. God, people are stupid!