December 16, 2018
Garrison Keillor returns to Crooner’s with singer Christine DiGiallonardo & pianist Richard Dworsky. Shows at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
New York, NY
December 2, 2018
A mini Prairie Home reunion featuring Garrison Keillor, Rob Fisher, Fred Newman, and Heather Masse and Christine DiGiallonardo.
November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
What if you slept…
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
“What if you slept…” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Public Domain. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod in Alberta, Canada (1943). As a kid, she got a bad case of polio, and in the hospital the staff told her she couldn’t go home for Christmas, and she was so upset that she started singing Christmas carols at the top of her lungs, and she decided that she was a good performer. She recovered from the polio and taught herself to play the guitar by using a Pete Seeger instruction book.
She was going to be an artist, but after a year of college she changed her mind and headed to Toronto to try and make it as a singer, and it was on the train to Toronto that she wrote her first song. She had a slow start, performing in coffeehouses and writing songs for other people. But finally she made it as a singer, with songs like “Both Sides Now,” “Carey,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Woodstock,” and “Circle Game.”
She said: “We Canadians are a bit more nosegay, more Old-Fashioned Bouquet than Americans. We’re poets because we’re such reminiscent kind of people. […] My poetry is urbanized and Americanized, but my music is influenced by the prairies. When I was a kid, my mother used to take me out to the fields to teach me birdcalls. There was a lot of space behind individual sounds. People in the city are so accustomed to hearing a jumble of different sounds that when they come to making music, they fill it up with all sorts of different things.”
It’s the birthday of critic and writer Stephen Greenblatt, (books by this author) born in Boston (1943). As a kid, he read so much that his mom would tell him to get his nose out of a book and go watch some TV. But he just kept reading, and went on to write popular books of literary criticism. One of his most successful books is Will in the World (2004), a biography of William Shakespeare, which was a New York Times best-seller.
He said, “The first and perhaps the most important requirement for a successful writing performance — and writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig — is to understand the nature of the occasion.”
It’s the birthday of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, born in the Ukraine (1879). He was one of the leaders of the ruthless civil war that overthrew the Russian Czar and established the communist state. Later, he opposed the dictator Josef Stalin and became an enemy of the Soviet government. In his later years, he wrote many books about Russian history and Marxist ideas. In 1924 he wrote Literature and Revolution, a book that discusses art’s relationship to politics. Trotsky said, “Learning carries within itself certain dangers, because out of necessity one has to learn from one’s enemies.”
It was on this day in 1917 that the Russian Revolution took place, led by Vladimir Lenin, who had been in exile in Switzerland, plotting to overthrow the Russian government. In April 1917, he crossed the border back into Russia for the first time in ten years and went underground. He had to sneak through the streets in a disguise to attend a meeting of the Bolsheviks in late October, but he persuaded a majority of his party to launch an armed takeover of the country. The coup met almost no resistance on this day in 1917, and the next day, Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of the new Soviet Government. Overnight, he had gone from a fugitive in hiding to the leader of the largest country in the world.
It’s the birthday of French writer Albert Camus, born in Mondovi (now Dréan), Algeria in 1913. His father died in World War I when Camus was an infant, and his mother moved her two sons to a working-class neighborhood of Algiers. There, the Camus boys grew up in poverty in a cramped apartment, with no bathroom, heat, or plumbing. His mother was illiterate, partially deaf, and had trouble speaking; she worked in a factory and as a housecleaner to support her children. Camus was a smart boy, and some of his teachers helped him get a scholarship to a good school. In high school, he was an excellent athlete as well as student, but he contracted tuberculosis at the age of 17, a disease he struggled with for the rest of his life.
Despite the poverty and the tuberculosis and everything else working against him, Camus became a prominent writer and thinker. His novels include L’étranger (1942, The Stranger), La Peste (1947, The Plague), and La Chute (1956, The Fall). In December of 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. In his speech, he said: “I have not been able to learn of your decision without comparing its repercussions to what I really am. A man almost young, rich only in his doubts and with his work still in progress, accustomed to living in the solitude of work or in the retreats of friendship: how would he not feel a kind of panic at hearing the decree that transports him all of a sudden, alone and reduced to himself, to the center of a glaring light?” He was 44 years old.
About two years later, on January 4, 1960, Camus died in a car crash. He had used some of the money from his Nobel Prize to buy a house in the village of Lourmarin, in Provence. The countryside of Provence, with its view of the mountains, reminded Camus of Algeria. He had been holed up in Lourmarin since mid-November, working on various projects, including his latest novel. He wrote to his lover Catherine Sellers: “The solitude here is devastating, because in wintertime the empty village is closed, and the countryside bare, and except for lunch, I don’t see anyone all day. These are good conditions for work, and in fact I am working, but dull and continuous anguish is still there. I look at the fine landscape or the blank page, and I am discouraged about the road that must still be traveled.”
As the weeks went by and he continued to write, work became easier. Camus’ wife, Francine, and their twin daughters, Catherine and Jean, came to Lourmarin for Christmas, as did several friends. They were all relieved to find Camus in good spirits, feeling positive about his writing. On December 28th, 1959, one week before he died, Camus sent a letter to his friend and mentor, the writer Jean Grenier. He wrote: “Since November 15 I have retreated here to work, and in fact I have worked. For me, working conditions have always been those of the monastic life: solitude and frugality. Except for frugality, they are contrary to my nature, so much so that work is violence I do to myself. But this is necessary. I will be back in Paris at the beginning of January and then will leave again, and I really think that this commuting is the most efficient way to reconcile my virtues and vices, which ultimately is the definition of knowing how to live. This country, in any case, does not cease to be beautiful and rewarding for me, and I have found peace here.”
Camus had purchased a train ticket to Paris, planning to accompany his wife and daughters there after Christmas. But his good friend Michel Gallimard, the nephew of his publisher, offered to give him a ride back to Paris in his swanky Facel Vega, an expensive sports car that was owned by the likes of Ava Gardner, Tony Curtis, and King Hassan II of Morocco. Camus took Gallimard up on the offer, and they set out on January 3, with Gallimard’s wife and daughter. The next day, the car swerved off the road and hit a tree. Camus was killed instantly, and Michel Gallimard died a few days later; his wife and daughter survived. No one is sure what caused the car to go out of control — there is a new theory that the KGB wanted Camus dead and tampered with the tires — but it was probably just too sporty of a car to be traveling on an icy road that wasn’t very well maintained.
After the crash, police found the contents of Camus’s briefcase scattered all over. They found photos, a copy of Othello and a book by Nietzsche, a diary, and the manuscript of his unfinished novel. The manuscript was very rough, written messily and oftentimes without punctuation, but Camus’s wife typed it up, and many years later his daughter Catherine edited and finalized it. Le Premier Homme (The First Man) was finally published in 1995.
Today is the birthday of the French-Polish scientist who changed our understanding of physics, Marie Curie, born Marja Sklodowska into a family of teachers in Warsaw (1867). Both her parents were nationalists at a time when Poland was under Russian rule, and her father was repeatedly fired and demoted from teaching positions over his loyalties. To help with the growing financial strain, the family took in boarders, and when Marie was just eight, her older sister caught typhus and died. Just three years later, her mother died of tuberculosis. Her father continued raising the kids himself, reading the classics and teaching what science he could to them at night, and they each excelled in school.
Marie and her sister were hungry for higher learning, but women were banned from the university, so for a time, they attended a revolutionary illegal night school called “The Floating University,” which constantly switched locations to avoid the Russian authorities. Determined to get a proper education, the two sisters made a pact to take turns funding each other’s schooling. Marie took work for three years as a governess on a sugar beet plantation, while she funded Bronya to study medicine in Paris. She filled the lonely hours away from home trying to teach herself math and science whenever possible. When she finally got her own chance to study at the Sorbonne in France, Marie traveled fourth class with her own chair on the train, and found an apartment in the Latin Quarter. She kept warm by wearing every piece of clothing she owned and would get so engrossed in study that she often fainted for lack of food. Within a few years, she graduated top of her class in physics and math.
Looking for lab space, Marie was put in touch with a pioneering researcher named Pierre Curie. Their professional relationship soon turned romantic, and the two were married in July 1895 in a simple ceremony, bicycling across France for their honeymoon. Always economical, Marie said: “I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark, so that I can put it on afterwards and go to the laboratory.” The couple settled in France, but Marie still held strong feelings for Poland. When she got her first significant paycheck for her research, she used it to repay a scholarship she had received so that another Polish girl might have the chance to study as she had.
Marie was intrigued by the recent discovery of X-rays by a German physicist. While X-rays were getting all the attention of the scientific community, a peripheral discovery of uranium rays wasn’t. Marie made this the focus of her research. Her discoveries would soon shake up the very foundation of scientific understanding by revealing that atoms, which had been believed to be indivisible, could radiate even smaller particles, electrifying the air around them. Teaming up with her husband, Marie also successfully isolated the elements polonium (which she named for her native Poland) and radium. She coined the term “radioactivity” to describe the property of emitting rays and believed it held great promise in the treatment of cancer. During World War I, she established hundreds of X-ray stations throughout France, and created mobile units for ambulances to use on the front, sometimes driving them herself.
Though known for her humility, she became the most celebrated woman scientist of the 20th century. Albert Einstein said of her, “Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted.” She died of pernicious anemia in 1934, probably due to high levels of radioactive exposure she had received. More than a hundred years after her lab work, her journals are still too radioactive to handle, and are kept in a lead vault.
Marie Curie said: “I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is […] also a child placed before natural phenomena that impress him like a fairy tale. […] We should not allow it to be believed that all scientific discovery can be reduced to mechanisms, machines, [or] gearings …”