Sunday, May 19, 2024

Quote of the Day (Timmy Fisher, on the ‘Rich History’ of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’)

“If you played a musical instrument as a child, it's likely that you learnt ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ The melody is a gift for beginners: cheery, repetitive, largely stepwise. The words, meanwhile, are easy to adapt, making it a favourite for group singalongs. You'll hear it passed around campfires or belted from football terraces. Indeed, few songs in the western world are better known — a fact recognised by the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 when it was awarded ‘Towering Song’ status for having ‘influenced our culture in a unique way over many years.’ But, unlike ‘Happy Birthday to You’, ‘Over the Rainbow’ or any of the other 19 songs recognised in this way, ‘When the Saints’ has no standard version and no known composer—just a rich history of transformation.”—Music critic, editor, and podcaster Timmy Fisher, “The Life of a Song: ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’” The Financial Times, May 18-19, 2024

Fisher traces this classic American song past the jazz rendition that Louis Armstrong popularized, even beyond its first recording in 1923 by the New York gospel group, the Paramount Jubilee Singers, back to—if you can believe it—the plainchant “In Paradisum,” which became part of the Catholic requiem mass after being written down sometime between 996 and 1011.

Now, I’m not going to argue with Fisher’s credentials as a well-informed music maven. But I can assure him that nothing in the “rich history of transformation” he mentions compares to the rendition of this song on the sideline of football games played by St. Cecilia High School (what else did you expect?) in Englewood, NJ.

At the zenith of my alma mater’s gridiron glory, stretching from Vince Lombardi’s start as a football coach to a couple of years before it closed in 1986, “Saints” cheerleaders would lead the packed stadium with syncopated hand clapping and shouts as fans sensed victory.

I can assure Fisher that, no matter what he might believe, nothing before in the history of this much-played song could compare to the groundswell of glorious noise on these occasions—and, at this increasingly late stage in my life, I doubt that anything from now on ever will.

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Albert Schweitzer, on ‘The Spirit Generated by Truth’)

“One belief of my childhood I have preserved with the certainty that I can never lose it: belief in truth. I am confident that the spirit generated by truth is stronger than the force of circumstances. In my view no other destiny awaits mankind than that which, through its mental and spiritual disposition, it prepares for itself. Therefore I do not believe that it will have to tread the road to ruin right to the end."—Nobel Peace Prize-winning surgeon, missionary, and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography, translated by C.T.  Campion (1931) 

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Quote of the Day (Somerset Maugham, on One Woman’s Gift for Conversation)

“She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit, and having for thirty years known more or less intimately a great many distinguished people, she had a great many interesting anecdotes to tell, which she placed with tact and which she did not repeat more than was pardonable."English man of letters W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), “The Creative Impulse” (1916), reprinted in Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular (1931)

Friday, May 17, 2024

Quote of the Day (William Galston, on Partisanship and Geography)

“[W]ith today’s deep polarization, voters in the minority experience the enactment of one-party programs as an attack on their deepest convictions. As they lose hope of turning the tide, many respond by leaving their states for others where the majority shares their beliefs. This further intensifies the link between partisanship and geography.

“If this trend continues, our nation will become a patchwork in which citizens live under fundamentally different legal regimes.”— American author, academic, political advisor, and Brookings Institution senior fellow William Galston, “Florida Turns Right, Minnesota Turns Left,” The Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2023

The accompanying photo of William Galston was taken Jan. 8, 2012, at a Civics Ed panel at the Brookings Institution by Medill DC.

TV Quote of the Day (Kevin Hart, Imagining a Medical Procedure That Makes Him Tall)

“I'm 6'6"….Now I can't put my hands in my pocket… I still wear a size 7 sneaker….Now I can't support the new body. My balance is off. I look like that thing that be at the car dealerships, that man... that air man.”—Stand-up comic, actor, and entertainment entrepreneur Kevin Hart, in Kevin Hart: Reality Check (2023), teleplay by Kevin Hart, directed by Leslie Small

The image accompanying this post, showing Kevin Hart at the red carpet premiere of Ride Along, was taken Mar. 6, 2014, by Eva Rinaldi.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Quote of the Day (Stephen Colbert, on Cynicism, ‘A Self-Imposed Blindness’)

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.”—American comic and late-night talk-show host Stephen Colbert, Commencement Address at Knox College, Galesburg, IL, June 3, 2006

The traditional commencement exercises that had been scheduled for yesterday by my alma mater were cancelled a few days ago.

I’m not going to retrace the words and actions that led to this decision. But I thought I would offer for students there and elsewhere in this tumultuous year a replacement of sorts, a throwback to another commencement address, from Stephen Colbert nearly two decades ago.

Extreme idealism—demands expected be fulfilled immediately—is also blindness. But the deformed moral vision that Colbert identified is more deadly in the long run, because it withers the soul day by day.

If you want to know something close to my philosophy on change, I can think of few lines better than these, from Bernard Malamud’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Fixer:

“I am somewhat of a meliorist. That is to say, I act as an optimist because I find I cannot act at all, as a pessimist. One often feels helpless in the face of the confusion of these times, such a mass of apparently uncontrollable events and experiences to live through, attempt to understand, and if at all possible, give order to; but one must not withdraw from the task if he has some small things to offer—he does so at the risk of diminishing his humanity.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Quote of the Day (Ralph Waldo Emerson, on ‘The Form of Government Which Prevails’)

“[T]he form of government which prevails, is the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it.”— American philosopher, essayist, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), “Politics” (1844)