THE WRONG BROTHERS

Friends, as much as I have enjoyed telling you in recent posts of the inspiring exploits of The Wright Brothers, inventors of the aeroplane, things don’t always go the Wright way in this woebegone world. As we all know, friends, the best laid planes of mice and men oft go a-why? Shot down happens. But, ever looking for new girls–make that, new worlds–to conquer, mice and men are not deterred. Onward and upward! Winners never quit, etc.:

But enough of such air-brained schemes. Let us put these proceedings on a higher plane:

Yes, my friends, the moral of the story is when you hit a downer, don’t be a frowner; and when you hit a sour note, don’t let it get your goat. Never despair — there’s music in the air. Go for it!

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LET US TURN BACK TO THE WRIGHT, BROTHERS AND SISTERS

PROLOGUE:
We had to go ahead and discover everything for ourselves.
–Orville Wright, 1901

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Friends, Readers, Countrymen —

If you have spent many a sleepless night
tossing and turning ’til dawn’s early light,
wondering if I’d e’er host another post,
take such worries off thy plate — they’re toast.

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, thy long wait is o’er.
I’m back, and who of you could ask for more
although I must confess
that most may ask for less. 😦

Never-the-less, Brothers and Sisters,
it is written in the stars that I must return to the scene of my rhymes and other crimes. It’s Kismet.

Notwithstanding the never-the-less, Brothers and Sisters, I digress.
I come here not to berhyme the Wrights, but to praise them.

Thus this follow-up to my May 17 post, THE DAY THE WRIGHTS DONE ME WRONG, because, by ancient axiom, it’s the Wright thing to do (If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again). And if this discourse has the unintended consequence of being the sleep-aid you need to catch up on those zzzzz, the added benefit comes at no extra charge.

But I doubt that will be the case with THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, which, it so happens, is the title of a book I just finished reading (by my favorite historian, David McCullough). It’s no less than you’d expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning author: a masterful biography which (quoting from the dust cover) “draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including personal diaries, notebooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence, to tell the human side of a profoundly American story.”

The Wrights spent years of trial and air working to construct the world’s first ‘aeroplane,’ but as reader Don Frankel noted on May 17, America paid scant attention even after their successful first flight Dec. 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (and Don wasn’t just whistling Dixie in his comment). Finally, in 1906, after numerous improvements (including a more powerful engine) and many test flights, “much of the scientific world and the press [began] to change their perspective on the brothers”, and they started to attract commercial and government–especially French, not American– interest.

To the latter point, President (and fellow Ohioan) Wm. Howard Taft spoke as follows in presenting the two brothers with Gold Medals on June 10, 1909, in Washington D.C.:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done. I am so glad–perhaps at a delayed hour–to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American–by keeping your noses right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.

There are many stories within the story of THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, many twists and turns and mishaps along the way. The Wrights weren’t ‘stick’ figures with no interests and little to commend beyond their mechanical genius. Wilbur, for example, wrote home from France in 1906 of long walks and “the great buildings and art treasures of Paris, revealing as he never had–or had call to–the extent of his interest in architecture and painting.”

Read this bio and you will surely be taken along for the ride, as was I, by “the human side of a profoundly American story” of two men most of us know only from dry history books.

So fasten your life jackets and come fly with me.

EPILOGUE:
We dared to hope we had invented something that would bring lasting peace to the Earth. But we were wrong. We underestimated man’s capacity to hate and to corrupt good means for an evil end. –Orville Wright, 1943 (during WWII)

 

JAZZ DAYS IN THE JAZZ AGE

The 1920s were an era of great contradictions. After winning WWI, the United States seemed to be (on the surface) a more liberated country than previously, finally shaking off the restrictions of the Victorian era. Dresses became shorter, many more women entered the workforce, dancing became more exciting and sensuous, some movies actually hinted strongly at sex, the economy was prosperous, and jazz seemed to be everywhere as the country experienced something like a decade-long party [known as The Jazz Age and The Roaring 20s].
But a closer look reveals Republicans ruled the White House, liquor was illegal (even if gangsters and bootleggers made it widely available), the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its popularity (with lynchings of blacks commonplace), racism was institutionalized, big business had few restrictions, poverty was widespread, and there was no safety net. It was a great era to be rich and white, but the poor and blacks were barely tolerated by average middle-class citizens. –Scott Yanow, author of CLASSIC JAZZ*

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The above puts Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 nonstop transatlantic flight (see my last post) in broader historical context. ‘Fellow’ aviator Elinor Smith Sullivan later said, “It’s hard to describe the impact Lindbergh had on people. The twenties was such an innocent time.” This helps explain why songs like LINDBERGH, EAGLE OF THE USA and LUCKY LINDY were written by wantwits with words which would make wittier writers wince.

Thus, the wittiest composer/lyricist this side of the Atlantic, Cole Porter, put the Jazz Age in earthier terms:

In other words….

Our flight of fancy, like Lindbergh’s, ends in gay Paree with a song (recorded in 1930) from Porter’s 1929 musical FIFTY MILLION FRENCHMEN:

*Kindle edition available online for as low as $17.99 (highly recommended for classic jazz lovers)

 

 

 

IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE….IT’S CHARLES LINDBERGH!

Taking off from my last post (where I left the Wright Brothers up in the air and me breezin’ along with the breeze), we come to May 20, a day second to none in aviation annals.*

On this May day in 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from New York for Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis (his monoplane), to begin the second (and most famous) nonstop transatlantic flight in history. Yes, I said second — the first was made by paired English aviators in 1919, from Newfoundland to Ireland (about half the distance of Lindbergh’s solo flight).

On this date in 1932, Amelia Earhart took off from Newfoundland for Paris, but due to weather conditions, she had to ‘pull up’ short in Northern Ireland, nonetheless becoming the first woman to make a solo nonstop transatlantic flight.

We now turn to the musical portion of the program. Faster than you can say “It’s a bird,” Lindbergh’s fame brought songwriters down from the clouds to cash in, hatching a flock of insipid pop songs. Not so with Earhart’s feat, not even a peep of a song….although her lost flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 did inspire a few songs that didn’t long survive.

OK. If I had to eat crow in my last post, can I now soar like an eagle with these jazzed-up Lindberg hit tunes soaring over treacly lyrics:

Ladies and gendermen, the Spirit of St. Louis is coming in for a landing — and if we’re Lucky, Lindy will be in the spirit for a rousing finish.

*In addition to the Lindbergh and Earhart flights, May 20 was also the day Congress passed the Air Commerce Act licensing pilots and planes in 1926, and the date of the first regular transatlantic airmail flight (Pan Am, NYC to Marseille, France) in 1939.

 

 

 

THE DAY THE WRIGHTS DONE ME WRONG

Where were you on the morning of December 17, 1903? If you had been on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at 10:30 a.m., this is what you would have seen:

As for yours truly, that’s too long ago to remember exactly where I was on that date, but wherever I was, I was most likely trying to think what I would write about when I learnt to write right….which brings me to my good friends, the Wright Brothers, who owned a bicycle shop right up the pike from me in Dayton, Ohio (about 50 miles as the crow flies).

In those days, a fifty mile trip was no breeze (not even with a breeze, as a crow knows). The Wright Brothers offered to sell me a bicycle cheap, but, though the price was right, I couldn’t find a crow to take me to Dayton, and they wouldn’t deliver it (the bicycle, that is). So I told them to go fly a kiteplain and simple. Next thing I knew, they were off to Kitty Hawk to fly a light plane — almost, if not exactly, what my directive to them directed. So you see, by rights, I’m at least partly responsible for the first heavier-than-air flight in history, though never given credit. After that slight, needless to say, I no longer considered them friends.

There you have it. The Wrights done me wrong, but am I bitter? No way — not this bird. I’m above that kind of pettinest. As you can plainly sees, I’m just….

As they used to say back in the day, “That’s all she wrote.”

MAY IS OLDER AMERICANS MONTH (and don’t you forget it!)

May is OLDER AMERICANS MONTH. I’m pretty sure I qualify as an older American because, as George Washington told me, “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves”….or maybe I’m thinkin’ of Lincoln (incidental details, like who said what, can get a bit hazy at my age). No matter — either way, it proves I’ve been around long enough to establish my bona feces.

As long as I’m quoting bigwigs I have known or could have known (as the case may be), no doubt you will be interested in other memorable quotes that I remember, most of which admittedly weren’t said to me directly, but which I either overheard, or were whiskered to me in confidence by the quotees under their goatees (or beards, as the face may be):

Old age is no place for sissies. –Bette Davis (whose facial hair at the time was confined to a mustache, as I recall)

Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act. –Truman Capote

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened. –Jennifer Yane

If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. — variously attributed to  Eubie Blake, Adolph Zukor and Mae West, among others

There is no cure for the common birthday. —John Glenn

You’re only as old as the girl that you feel. –Groucho Marx

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. –Chili Davis

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician. –Anonymous

Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. –Anonymous

So there you have the story of my anonymous existence: just when I’m on a roll, I run flush out of time. C’est la vie. Take it on out, Pops (Louis) and Schnoz (Jimmy):

 

 

 

 

 

SOWING MY WILD QUOTES

….young men must sow their wild oats, and women must not expect miracles. –from LITTLE WOMEN, by Louisa May Alcott

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Usually, when I do a post of quotations, they’re organized around one subject….but, for this post (having amassed a wide range of seedy — correction: seed-bearing — reflections), I’ll throw caution to the winds and, as the saying blows — scatter and sow my wild quotes:

What I have seen of the love affairs of other people has not led me to regret that deficiency in my experience. –George Bernard Shaw

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. –Anatole France

The latter part of a wise person’s life is occupied with curing the follies, prejudices and false opinions they contracted earlier. –Jonathan Swift

Most African-Americans in this country will never know the true history of our ancestors. Our forefathers were densely packed into slave ships and transported across the Atlantic to be sold like common goods. Many died and their individuals histories with them. Those who survived had their ancestral names stripped from them and replaced with ones slave masters wanted them to have. Much of our African heritage has been irretrievably lost to the ravages of such as Gen. Lee, whose monuments pay tribute to individuals who took away and erased the history of thousands upon thousands of Africans through slavery, killing and destruction of black families by way of the auction block. Now some want to romanticize, revere and commemorate them as heroes. Well, excuse me if I’m not willing to buy that brand. Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for your loss. All I can say is, welcome to the club. –Kevin S. Aldridge

Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups. –John Kenneth Galbraith

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking. –Thomas Edison

Enough is what would satisfy us — if the neighbors didn’t have more. –from “20,000 Quips & Quotes,” by Evan Esar

And with that, I think you’ve had enough. Evan, if you want more.