Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall…

R-2057737-1261406197.jpegWe modern, sophisticated, educated folk tend to dismiss the idea of prophets: people who can see the future and comment on what’s coming.

But give a listen to this song by Bob Dylan – who was just 22-years old when “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” was released on May 27, 1963 — on the album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

Freewheelin’? Not on this song.

Bob Dylan may well be the greatest poet writing in the English language since Shakespeare. Listen to his song – and read the lyrics. I will say no more.

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son
And where have you been, my darling young one
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Recall these lines – and think about them. This was a young man, barely an adult in the early 1960’s, and he saw – and sang about – these images…

I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans

I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children

Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’

Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’

I met a white man who walked a black dog

I met a young woman whose body was burning

Where the people are many and their hands are all empty

Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters

Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison

Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten

Where black is the color, where none is the number

How could such a young man see the future (and his present) so clearly?

Now, tell me there’s no such thing as prophecy…

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty, History, Music, Politics, rock & roll, Uncategorized

Vic & Paul & Obama & Mother Mary — Blog 2012: The Third Year In Review.

ClevelandObama bannerMom bannerDays after the year 2012 ended, I was delighted to join with my wife, daughters and Cleveland relations to celebrate the 80th birthday of my wonderful mother, Mary Barrosse. I knew I was tardy in posting my blog’s 2012 year-end review — but honoring my mom in the grand style she deserves came first.

img_04992012 was a very busy year on this blog — dominated by the “The Vic & Paul Show” Summer Tour and the momentous Presidential election. Vaudevillians Vic & Paul traveled to Chicago, Cleveland, Wisconsin, and Los Angeles — and President Obama covered even more ground than that (often in one day). We both emerged victorious — and when all was was said and done, Victoria and I might have come out slightly ahead because we don’t have to deal with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.

2012 was also the third year for this blog. And it was a very good year.

Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted over 129,900 views in 2012 — nearly doubling the number of visitors that dropped by during this blog’s first two years. (There were 62,900 visits in 2012.) I’ve posted 255 articles since this blog began and you folks have contributed 1,231 comments. Politics and history remain among the most popular topics.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little…

I continue to be honored that 118 subscribers have signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 31 more folks follow this blog on Twitter.) Are you a subscriber? If you’re not — then look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

Most of my posts focus on the main topics I established at the outset of this blog: history, adventure, politics, sailing and rock & roll — plus relentless promotion of The Practical Theatre, my band Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, and The Vic & Paul Show. But what posts were readers of this blog most attracted to this year?

What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2012.

Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. Victory at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower. Can we say that we’re a better nation after 9-11?

2. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. For some reason, it’s become one of the most-read post in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffooneryblackboc

The bold, brave and vital Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011 – but this post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of cowardly anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response?

4. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970Kent State

On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day.

5. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

6. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”midway

What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan.

7. A New Presidential Biography Reminds Us Why We Should Like Ikeike

Even if Los Angeles Times editor Jim Newton weren’t my good friend, I still would have written this September 28, 2011 post extolling the virtues of his excellent biography of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

8. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

singerbanner1

There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.

9. 150 Years Ago Today150 years

Since the spring of 2011, we’ve been in the midst of the American Civil War sesquicentennial: the war’s 150th anniversary. Between now and April 2015, there’s an opportunity every day to write the kind of post that I wrote on March 13, 2012.

10. The Wrecking Crew

Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Carol Kay, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell, Earl Palmer: the cream of Los Angeles studio musicians in the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s became known as “The Wrecking Crew”. I’m thrilled that my March 21, 2011 blog article celebrating Tommy Tedesco’s son’s marvelous documentary film about these rock & roll legends has proven to be such a popular post. If you haven’t done it already, start a Google search on “The Wrecking Crew” now. Until then, your rock & roll education is not complete.

So, that’s the best of 2012. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please post those replies!

Here’s to another adventurous voyage in 2013!

And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

2. Victory at Pearl Harbor

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffoonery

4. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was also the #3 post in 2010. 23 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

5. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.

6. Growing Up in the Space Age

7. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and I the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the great chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night LiveBehind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Can I retire now?

8. The Saints Come Marching In…

This was the #1 post in 2010 — and, like the Saints, has shown staying power. The New Orleans Saints got 2010 off to a great start by winning the Super Bowl. (What about that bounty scandal?) So, why does a man who was born in Cleveland, went to college and met his wife in Chicago, and moved to Los Angeles two decades ago care if the New Orleans Saints finally won a Super Bowl after years of epic gridiron failure? Simple: my daddy was New Orleans born and raised. Who dat say what about dem Saints? (Originally posted February 8, 2010)

9. History & Honeymoon: Part Four

2011 was the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the American Civil War – and that might be the reason that two of my “History & Honeymoon” posts are still among the most-read this past year, including this one, posted on July 26, 2010. This post covers everything from my wife Victoria and I battle tramping Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg –to our visit to Philadelphia and the eccentric, visionary artwork of Isaiah Zagar.

Leave a comment

Filed under Random Commentary

Blog 2011: The Second Year’s Voyage In Review…

My 2011 concluded on a fabulously positive note as “The Vic & Paul Show” enjoyed a successful two-week run at Mayne Stage in Chicago. It was a holiday homecoming that warmed the winter chill with a gathering of the very best, most supportive, fun, generous, talented, and entertaining friends that a person could  possibly cherish. Victoria and I consider ourselves truly blessed in the camaraderie department –and this holiday season proved what an embarrassment of riches our community of friends has become. (Including our new friends at Mayne Stage, who handled it all with class, professionalism and a welcome sense of humor.)

And speaking of talented and entertaining friends — New Year’s weekend rocked with two performances by Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation — one that closed “The Vic & Paul Show” at Mayne Stage, and another that rang in the New Year at The Prop Theatre. It was a raucous, celebratory sign-off on an eventful year: full of drama, politics, resurgent activism — and the ongoing clown car routine that is the Republican Party nomination process.

2011 was also the second year for this blog.

As of this writing, Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted over 67,000 views — with 44,750 in 2011 alone. That’s double the number of views (22,250) in 2010. I’ve made 165 posts since this blog began and all of you have contributed 935 comments. The blog saw it’s busiest day this year when, on March 17, 2011, 491 viewers checked out the site to read, among other things, “A Reply To My Conservative Friend.” Politics and history remain among the most popular topics on Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little...

I’m especially gratified by the 80 subscribers who have signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. Are you a subscriber? If not — just look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey, then look below the photo and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

My posts on this blog still largely stick to the main topics I established at the outset: history, adventure, politics, sailing and rock & roll. And to what type of posts were readers of this blog most attracted this year? What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Read Posts of 2011, listed in order of the most views.

Note: Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. For some reason, it’s become the most-read post in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

2. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the last year.

3. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was also the #3 post in 2010. 21 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. Last year, on our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

4. History & Honeymoon: Part Four

2011 was the 150th anniversary of the commencement of the American Civil War – and that might be the reason that two of my “History & Honeymoon” posts are among the most-read this past year, including this one, posted on July 26, 2010. This post covers everything from my wife Victoria and I battle tramping Pickett’s Charge on the third day of Gettysburg –to our visit to Philadelphia and the eccentric, visionary artwork of Isaiah Zagar.

5. The Saints Come Marching In…

This was the #1 post in 2010 — and, like the Saints, has shown staying power. The New Orleans Saints got 2010 off to a great start by winning the Super Bowl. So, why does a man who was born in Cleveland, went to college and met his wife in Chicago, and moved to Los Angeles two decades ago care if the New Orleans Saints finally won a Super Bowl after years of epic gridiron failure? Simple: my daddy was New Orleans born and raised. Who dat say what about dem Saints? (Originally posted February 8, 2010)

6. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and I the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the great chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night Live, Behind the Music and Bazooka Joe. Can I retire now?

7. 10 Rays of Sunshine…

The general worldview looked bleak on November 9, 2010, when I decided to list some positive stuff to focus on amid the gathering gloom, including a stunning victory by the lowly Cleveland Browns over the vaunted New England Patriots, an upswing on Wall Street, and the return of the delicious though gastronomically questionable McRib to McDonald’s restaurants. Obviously, many blog readers shared my desperate desire for a few shafts of light amid the darkness.

8. The Wrecking Crew

Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine, Carol Kay, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell, Earl Palmer: the cream of Los Angeles studio musicians in the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s became known as “The Wrecking Crew”. I’m thrilled that my March 21, 2011 blog article celebrating Tommy Tedesco’s son’s marvelous documentary film about these rock & roll legends has proven to be such a popular post. If you haven’t done it already, start a Google search on “The Wrecking Crew” now. Until then, your rock & roll education is not complete.

9. Baseball Season Opens: Of Mud Hens & More…

This is the third post on this list that appeared on last year’s most-read list. It was #4. It seems readers still love those Mud Hens. What was written as a tribute to The Practical Theatre Company’s contribution to the Chicago Theatre 16-inch Softball League became a post that hundreds of Toledo Mud Hens fans found online, attracted to the info and photos of Toledo Mud Hens history — especially that picture of Jamie Farr. Go figure. Cluck! Cluck! Cluck! (Originally posted April 6, 2010)

10. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post especially salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish my three daughters had grown up with anything half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

So, that’s the best of 2011. Stay tuned. Subscribe. Post those replies!

Here’s to another adventurous voyage in 2012!

4 Comments

Filed under Random Commentary

Aliens Among Us?

In his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, author Erich von Däniken speculated that the religions and technological advancements of some ancient civilizations were the work of ancient astronauts who were welcomed to Earth as gods.

Now, I dig contemplating the mysteries of Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and those crazy ancient lines dug into the rock on the Plains of Nazca in Peru (pictured below) – but I can’t say I subscribe to von Daniken’s theory.

However…

At various times in human history, certain people have appeared on the scene who were so far ahead of their peers — intellectually, artistically, scientifically, philosophically and morally – that you have to wonder just where the hell they came from. Were these geniuses simply the result of natural human evolution? Were they the special blessings of a loving God, eager to advance His human experiment? Or did they somehow drop out of the sky as the gift of extraterrestrial overlords, desirous of seeing human civilization grow and prosper for reasons we can’t yet fathom.

The following 15 great minds were so far advanced for their time that it seems entirely plausible that they were, indeed, space aliens plunked down among us to enlighten humanity and move us Earthlings forward: or at least the result of divine intervention. Either that, or humankind just got lucky.

I admit that this is an entirely Western list. I’m sure students of Eastern culture would rank Buddah and other Asian greats in this elite category. But I don’t know a damned thing about Eastern culture beyond the legend that claims Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy – which is hard for a proud Italian like me to endure. Maybe that’s why I’ve never delved much deeper into Asian studies.

At any rate, here’s my list of 15 possible alien geniuses dropped out of the sky into the world of mortal men.

1. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) What most school kids know about this leading light of ancient Greek philosophy is that he got in trouble for corrupting the youth of Athens and was made to execute himself by drinking hemlock. (Probably the first and only reference to hemlock most of us will hear in our lives.) Among those Athenian kids learning at Socrates’ feet was Plato, who also did some pretty advanced thinking of his own – and wrote a classic account of Socrates final days. Socrates work is the foundation for the study of Western philosophy. Tuition-paying parents can blame Socrates for the fact that their sons and daughters will earn a college degree that almost guarantees poverty. More than two centuries after downing his hemlock cocktail, Socrates is still corrupting the kids.

2. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) Another great Greek philosopher, Aristotle was a student of Plato. He taught Alexander the Great. (Which is a good thing if you’re Greek and a bad thing if you’re Persian.) Aristotle was a great writer — the first to explore logic (long before Star Trek’s Spock). He is considered one of the central figures of Western philosophy. Back in the day, Aristotle and his followers were known as the Peripatetic school, after the ancient Greek word peripatetikos, which means “given to walking about”. He must have been a fast walker, because, to this day, students find it hard to keep up with Aristotle.

3. Jesus (1-33 A.D.) For the moment, let’s just set aside the divisive two-millennia long debate over whether Jesus was a god or a man – or both. Even if he was no more than a Galilean carpenter’s son, his “love your neighbor as yourself” philosophy was revolutionary. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was certainly not the prevailing attitude of Jesus’ time – and few people live up to that Golden Rule today. But it’s a philosophy that could save humanity, if only we’d all live by it. Whether you’re a deist or not, read The Beatitudes — and marvel at all that wisdom flowing from an impoverished, poorly educated guy from an oppressed backwater of the Roman Empire. Turning water into wine was a nice trick, but the transformational ideas Jesus expressed were truly miraculous.

4. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Where in the hell did Leonardo da Vinci come from? Okay, so he’s one of the best painters of all time — and one of the great scientists and inventors, too. The same guy who painted The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa also drew up plans for a helicopter and a tank. His notebooks are filled with brilliant ideas – which he liked to write backwards! (My wife is the only other person I know who can do that with ease.) How good was Leonardo? Da Vinci was so good that Michelangelo was jealous of him. Leonardo was the quintessential Renaissance man: painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, engineer and jazz hipster. (I made up that last one.)

5. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Simply amazing. To call William Shakespeare the greatest writer in the English language still sounds like faint praise. A supreme poet, a brilliant wordsmith, and an unparalleled playwright, he created nearly 40 plays and about 150 sonnets – and they all kick ass. Hamlet not enough for you? MacBeth not enough? King Lear? Othello? Romeo and Juliet? It’s just silly how incredible the Bard’s body of masterworks is. You can’t go through life for a day – you can hardly live through one hour – without hearing or reading or seeing a phrase written by Shakespeare. And half the time you don’t even realize it! Bill Shakespeare is not simply the greatest writer in the English language: he is the English language.

6. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) The second great Italian on this list, Galileo was a revolutionary astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. He’s been called the “the Father of Modern Science – and for good reason. He’s the guy who figured out some fundamental things about gravity, the laws of motion – and that little business about the Earth moving around the Sun (rather than vice versa). The great authority of Galileo’s time, The Catholic Church, rewarded him for his discovery of this essential astronomical truth by charging him with heresy and threatening to torture him if he didn’t take it all back. Galileo was in his 70’s when they and took him to the church dungeons to show off the instruments of torture they planned to use on him if he didn’t recant. Knowing the Church had already burned his scientific predecessor Giordano Bruno at the stake for heresy, Galileo recanted and spent the last seven years of his life under house arrest. Nice, huh?

It was a memory of such state-sponsored religious tyranny that led people like the next man on this lost to espouse the separation of church and state.

7. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Ben Franklin is not just one of America’s Founding Fathers. Given his Olympian libido, he might be literally our founding father. But his infamous satyric exploits aside, Ben Franklin is still an incredible character: the most multi-faceted Renaissance man since Leonardo da Vinci. Franklin was an innovative author, humorist, printer, politician, inventor, and scientist. His legendary kite-flying experiments advanced our knowledge of electricity. He wrote hundreds of wise and witty sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, the odometer – and contributed to much of the philosophy and lawmaking that gave birth to the government of the United States of America. Oh yeah — and as our first ambassador to France, Franklin was instrumental in bringing the French into our revolutionary war against England. Game over. Bow down to Ben.

8. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) Born in a log cabin and largely self-educated, Abe Lincoln overcame the disadvantages of a hardscrabble frontier life on the edge of American civilization to become the central figure in saving the American experiment from itself. How did such a rough-hewn man become the supreme poet that wrote the Gettysburg Address – or his second inaugural address? (“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…”) And it’s not just Honest Abe’s flair for poetry that rings down the centuries – it’s also his uncanny leadership in the Civil War. No American president since George Washington (and possibly James Madison) faced a more grave threat to America. But Washington had already won his war before he took office as President – and Madison’s English invaders also had Napoleon to deal with. Lincoln faced a wholly internal threat. He persevered and won. And he freed the slaves, too. He was the right man at the right time. Did we just get lucky? Or were our alien overlords looking out for us?

9. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Naturalist Charles Darwin took a great scientific leap forward — and infuriated generations of Biblical fundamentalists — with his pioneering research on natural selection leading to his theory of evolution. Without Darwin’s tireless voyages and observations and his bold assertions of evolutionary theory, many of the great scientific and medical advances of the 20th century would have been impossible. No scientist since Galileo has pissed off more small-minded religious conservatives than Darwin. That alone is a fine reason to celebrate his landmark achievements.

10. Mark Twain (1835-1910) We all had to read Mark Twain’s books in school — but Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are just the tip of the Twain iceberg. Twain’s literary, journalistic, intellectual and humanist advancements are still underappreciated in his own land. But the more you read Twain’s works, the greater he becomes. In fact, Mark Twain may be the greatest writer in the English language since Shakespeare. What couldn’t this guy write? Drama? Check. Comedy? Check. Adventure? Check. Political commentary? Check. Travelogue? Check. Philosophy? Check. Twain wrote it all – and he did it in a voice that still sounds contemporary today. Do yourself a favor and get his newly published autobiography. Mark Twain is the American literary colossus. (And no, let’s not replace the N-word in Huck Finn with “slave”. Twain knew what he was doing.)

11. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) In his own time, Thomas Edison was like Bill Gates, Steven Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg combined. Is there any modern appliance that we now take for granted that Edison didn’t invent? The incandescent light bulb, sound recording devices, the phonograph and the film camera would be enough to make him a legend – but Edison did much, much more.

In his New Jersey laboratory, The Wizard of Menlo Park pretty much invented the modern world. Without Edison, there would be no vinyl records – and thus, no late 20th Century rock & roll. ‘Nuff said.

12. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) In a violent century marred by two world wars, pogroms, massacres, bloody civil wars, nuclear bombs and revolutionary struggles against colonial powers – Gandhi achieved independence for India through non-violence. And he did this in a region where tribal, religious and ethnic violence was a way of life. Gandhi showed humanity a way forward, just as Jesus did two millennia before him. And, like Jesus, Gandhi paid for his non-violent vision with his life.

13. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) Martin Luther King brought the non-violent humanism of Jesus and Gandhi to America – combined with soaring, moving poetry not heard in the political realm since Abraham Lincoln. As a result, he helped America to advance civil rights and form a more perfect union. What was Martin Luther King’s reward for his genius? Alas, the same reward that Jesus, Lincoln and Gandhi got. (Noticing a pattern here?)

14. Bob Dylan (Born May 24, 1941) How did a 22-year old kid from a backwater like Hibbing, Minnesota write “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’”? Bob Dylan became the voice of a generation by merging folk music and rock and roll with cutting-edge social, political and passionately human commentary. Dylan’s influence on popular culture since the early 1960’s is impossible to measure. My favorite Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, is the most romantic collection of love and loss poems since Shakespeare’s sonnets — and you can sing them. In my estimation, the greatest poets in the English language are Shakespeare, Lincoln and Bob Dylan.

15. Lennon & McCartney (Met Saturday, July 6, 1957) The only partnership on this list, Paul McCartney and John Lennon are the greatest songwriting team in history: their influence on popular culture in the second half on the 20th Century and beyond is immeasurable. Eleanor Rigby, In My Life, Yesterday, Let it Be, Across the Universe – the list of their undying classics goes on and on. What would your life be without Lennon & McCartney? Kind of like a life without Shakespeare. Maybe even worse. After all, you can’t dance to Titus Andronicus. We tend to discount the geniuses amongst us. It’s said that true genius is never appreciated in its own time. But Lennon & McCartney are either once-in-a-generation geniuses – or space aliens dropped into working class Liverpool during World War Two.

A couple observations about this list:

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is not on the list because his big scientific breakthrough (E = mc2) led to the atomic bomb. That may not be fair, but consequences matter. Nobody else on this list came up with anything that directly cost lives. UPDATE: The wise and fair minded Jim McCutchen reminds me that Einstein is NOT the only one on this list to have his work misused to the detriment of mankind. Jim is correct. Now, I am keeping Einstein off the list simply because I am not a big fan of math and because his hair looks too much like Mark Twain’s.

Of the 15 geniuses on this list, more than half were severely punished for their gifts to humanity: two were executed (Socrates and Jesus), four were assassinated (Lincoln, Gandhi, King and Lennon), and two were persecuted by religious fundamentalists (Galileo and Darwin).

Who would you put on this list?

Who would you take off this list?

And where do you stand on the whole Chariots of the Gods thing?

17 Comments

Filed under History