Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Old Crow Medicine Show - Down Home Girl

This is a fine example of genius amongst the simple.

The irony is in solid, true-blue mountain music played with the city as a backdrop. Listen and look.

You'll see what I mean.

Silent Cal

Calvin Coolidge was the best president of the 20th Century.

What did he do? You might ask.

Not much, I answer.

Which is why he was pretty good. Relatively speaking, he was the best in a century.

Government makes our lives better in proportion to how much it leaves us to make our lives ourselves. "Activist" governments, therefore, are among the worst. We have seen too many. May we see much fewer, and, God willing, no more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ad Murdock

Quando podeces te regi eorum fecerunt?

P.S. I neither forgive nor forget: nemo me impune lacssit.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Follow me on this:

My wife's cousin's husband turned me on to a modern bluegrass/mountain music band called The Old Crow Medicine Show. He did this after showing me a thing or two on the banjo.

It took a couple of listenings, but I am now a devoted follower of O.C.M.S. Thanks, Beave.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Mormon v. a Demon

Too many people are fixating on the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon.

Most of the people who abhor this seem, at least to me, to do so on the lines that Mormonism is rather unorthodox Christianity (it's pure absurdity, if you ask me).

Too few, however, fixate upon the fact that Hillary "Rodham" Clinton is Satan.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Alamo

On February 23, 1836, 180 or so Texans, some Anglo-Americans, but including several Tejanos (Mexicans born in Texas) took refuge in an old Spanish mission called the Alamo. They were part of a movement in Texas, a joint Anglo-Tejano rebellion, to defend the loosely-constructed Mexican constitution of 1824 from the centralizing tyranny of Mexico's Napoleon, Generalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

They held out until March 6, a full 13 days, against a much larger force, nearly 6,000 men strong, supported by heavy artillery and commanded by Santa Anna himself.

On that day, Santa Anna launched a full-scale assault, in which he sustained losses exceeding 600 men (about 1/3 of those involved in the attack), but the Mexican army succeeded in taking the Alamo and killing every defending combatant.

Ever since that day, the Alamo has acquired a mythological status. It has been honored in letters and in film, in poetry and in song.

Each has tried to answer the simple question: why did the men stay in the Alamo when they knew that they would all be put to the sword (Santa Anna had his bugles play "Deguello," meaning "throat slitting" or "beheading)?

To answer this question, modern mythology has reached back to ancient history. In 480 B.C., a small army of a few thousand Greeks, led by the Spartan king, Leonidas faced an army of several hundred thousand Persians under the command of their king Xerxes.

While there were, indeed, only about 300 Spartans, they were not the only Greeks present. However, before the final Persian advance, Leonidas sent the bulk of the Greek forces away in retreat and stayed with his 300 Spartans--and about a thousand other Greeks--hence the myth.

Before his advance, Xerxes offered Leonidas the chance to surrender his men's weapons, to which he replied, "Come and get them."

Leonidas was lucky to be defending in a mountain pass. The narrow ground prevented the Persians from simply overwhelming him, and it is said that he inflicted between 20,000 and 30,000 Persian casualties before being overwhelmed. The Spartans, including Leonidas, were slaughtered, but they had held the Persians at bay for a precious three days--long enough, apparently, for the rest of the Greek forces to escape, link up with others, and eventually defeat the Persians and send Xerxes back to Asia.

And this brings us to our Alamo myth.

To explain why the defenders at the Alamo stayed to die, the story of Leonidas was invoked:

The Texans at the Alamo died in order to give Sam Houston more time to assemble effective resistance.

In a striking parallel to Leonidas, one of the first episodes of the Texan revolution involved a rebel cannon which the Mexicans tried to seize but the Texans replied, "Come and take it"--note the similarity to what Leonidas replied to Xerxes. This cannon was present at the Alamo and captured on March 6.

Since the destruction of the Alamo was soon followed by Houston's absolute victory at San Jacinto, after which Santa Anna was captured--thus securing Texan independence--, the idea that the Texans fought at the Alamo to buy time for Houston seems plausible.

However, General Sam Houston, commander of the Texan forces, had ordered the Alamo razed and San Antonio evacuated. The defense of the Alamo went against his expressed orders. We honestly don't know why Col. Travis, James Bowie, David Crockett, and all of the others defied these orders and stayed. No one wants to think that 180 brave men died for nothing, but that's pretty much what happened.

It seems more honorable to adopt the Thermopylae angle, but it is simply not the case. Yes, it makes for "cooler" history, but if history is really something valuable, something by which we might learn true lessons, then there is no place for such fanciness.

Since Travis sent dozens of messengers with essentially the same message--Send us some help!--it is most likely that he and the others assumed that help would arrive. By the time they figured out that no help was coming, it was too late--so they stayed and fought like brave soldiers until the end. Houston was right to shout, "Remember the Alamo!" at the moment of his assault at San Jacinto, and well we should remember the Alamo. However, in our quest to find meaning in tragedy, we mustn't fudge the facts, cutting and pasting as we see fit until the story gives us the appropriate number of goosebumps.

The men at the Alamo died because they misjudged their friends' ability to support them. In this light, they were foolish to stay, but they could not have known that, so they are blameless. They were heroes, certainly, for they died for a good cause, but there story and their honor is diminished by simply making them up to be the Spartans at Thermopylae. Let the Spartans have Thermopylae, and let the Texans have the Alamo.

Quiet Desperation

Henry David Thoreau observed that the average man lives his life in a state of "quiet desperation."

There are times when I feel it, to be honest. Every time that I sit down to think about my novel, and I just know that it can be wonderful but at the same time the right words, the right sequence of events, the right characterizations just never emerge. So I pick up a book written by someone else.

Or when I sit down to my piano or with my guitar or ukulele, and I feel the power to compose a brilliant melody, but all I do is play a few chords and pick a few arpeggios. So I listen to a song written and performed by someone else.

It's when I sit to write or pick a tune that I feel that "quiet desperation" of which Thoreau spoke. There is something inside me, and it's not just gas. Alas, I haven't figured it out, yet. I guess that for now I'll have to be content with being CEO of Vandelay Industries.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

New Site Alert!

I wanted to keep posting funny videos, but I decided to make a special place for such amusements.

Check out my alternate blog at for such material.

SNL -- Apocalypto Recut

Now this is funny.

Cat Stevens - Father and Son

It was the summer during which I turned 13. I was on an extended camping trip with my Uncle Steve, and as we drove from campsite to campsite throughout Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, he "made" me listen to a bunch of his mixed tapes. That's when I first met Cat Stevens.

"Father and Son" is by far his best song. It is lyrically poignant, and also cleverly performed.

It begins with the father, lower in tone and slower, more deliberate.

It then turns to the son, and you can tell because the octave changes (higher) and because the voice sounds more restless, desperate even.

It alternates and in the studio version, there is a soft back and forth dialog that sweetly pervades the background of the last two verses.

I've heard that the song is supposed to tell the story of a father trying in vain to keep his son from joining a revolution. Whether it is the American Revolution or any other is not important. It's a conversation that has gone on for eons.

My favorite line is, "For you will still be here tomorrow, / But your dreams may not."

Still Losing (and I'm not talking about the Lions)

Down 14 pounds as of Thursday. No pics yet, Golf Guy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Slavery and Haggis--Ick!

Saying that the United States invaded and conquered the Confederate States because slavery is awful is tantamount to suggesting that the English invaded and conquered Scotland because Haggis is disgusting.

Both are repulsive (one morally, the other physically), but neither provoked the loss of life that resulted from either invasion. Both invasions, by the way, were acts of naked aggression made by empire builders.

Kids (and mine are smarter than yours)

There are different forms of intelligence, that is for sure. However, I decline to accept the popular "multiple intelligence" theory that strives only to identify everyone as intelligent. Compared to other animals, yes, humans are "intelligent." However, amongst humans, the average person is hardly "intelligent."

For a long time, we thought that our daughter was gifted but that our son was, shall we say, average. However, I've watched the boy over the years (almost four at this point), and I've observed in him a deep intelligence, probably close to the English word for "cunning."

Natalie is obviously gifted. She and I work on multiplication and division (though she doesn't know it; I just ask, so if we're buying three Slurpees at 1.25 a piece, then how much am I spending?; or If I have 12 cookies, then how much do I give to myself, mom, you, and Mark?). She's also, as I bragged about earlier, reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on her own. By the way, in case you don't know, she'll turn just seven in a month.

Mark is another case entirely. While Natalie could count into the hundreds by pre-school, Mark won't count for us at all. If I hold up seven fingers and ask, "How many fingers am I holding up?" he'll either just stare at me, state something ridiculously random, or ask me if I know how many fingers I am holding up. Nonetheless, I can give him green beans for dinner, and he'll say, "Why did you give me eleven green beans?" Then I'll look and see 11 damn green beans.

Mark figures things out independently, and far better than Natalie. I showed him some on-line Sesame Street games, and he not only plays them (which means that he knows the alphabet, numbers, and can understand sequences--for many of the games demand such knowledge), but he navigates between them on his own.

Mark is an interesting boy. He's prone to stubbornness--which I am told is a trait that runs well in my family, especially amongst the XY chromosomes--, and has violent tantrums--again, an especially masculine attribute in my bloodline. And yet, he's the one who, at two years old, locked my wife out of the house (she had stepped out to grab the dog--then a puppy--who had darted out after some kind of imaginary game) and went to the kitchen table to eat cookies without interference. My wife did not have a key handy, so she just watched him through the window. I returned home from work about ten minutes later, and I didn't know whether to be angry, proud, or flabbergasted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

And Another Thing

Picture me glowing with pride. Chubby, yes, but still better looking, smarter, and slightly more charming than you.

My six year old daughter (though she'll be seven in less than a month) is reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We read the first three hundred pages together, but having put down a few novels of her own thus far, I wagered that she had the confidence to take on the latter few hundred of The Goblet of Fire. So I told her that if she finished the book on her own, I would reward her handsomely.

My wife thought for a moment that I was asking to much of Natalie, but Natalie took the challenge. She's actually reading the book on her own. When she finds a word that she doesn't know and cannot decipher via context clues, she asks one of us. Thus far, she's doing fantastically.

I am glowing, and jiggling--though slightly less, as I am down ten pounds now.

I was a smart kid, but I think that she's smarter. In the very least, she has parents who know the value of a challenging education.

Alas (again)

Whatever reduces the economic power of the people in general is harmful to the economy in general.

Raising taxes (for whatever reason) reduces the economic power of the people in general.

Therefore, raising taxes (for whatever reason) is harmful to the economy in general.

And yet, for this so many in Michigan are crying. Even though it is well documented that the less a government interferes in people's ability to produce, distribute, and consume goods and services, the wealthier the country is.

Alas, the average man is a dolt.

Alas, the average man rules in a democracy.


Monday, May 21, 2007

A Challenge to Murdock

I will make posts--thoughtful and intelligent posts--at a ratio of at least 3:1 to Murdock's silly "Mindless Ramblings."

Here's this moment's thought.

The present federal government is able to do bad things not because it is under a bad administration but because the powers granted to said government are perverse in their vastness.

The more power that a man has, the worse he is. The more power that a government has, the worse it is. No government should be able to do more than what any random man ought to be able to do.

The Civil War Had Little (if anything) to Do With Slavery

If slavery caused the Civil War, then it must mean that the Union's objective was to abolish slavery, and that the Confederacy's objective was to preserve it.

And yet, when Lincoln supposedly freed the slaves (the Emancipation Proclamation), he freed them only in rebel states which would not recognize his authority. In any areas controlled by Lincoln's thugs (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana), Lincoln kept African-Americans there in chains.

The average Confederate soldier did not own slaves. Is it to be assumed that he fought, killed, and died (by the hundreds of thousands) for someone else's property?

The average Union soldier was not an abolitionist. In fact, the average Union soldier was a racist--not in the "I hate blacks" form, but in the "Blacks are inferior" form. Is it to be assumed that he fought, killed, and died (by the hundreds of thousands) for people whom he despised?

If slavery was the issue, then why did Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia fight so well and so long against impossible odds for the rightful secession of his state and the establishment of his country?

That some men wished to use the war as a vehicle to abolish slavery is not an adequate rebuttal. Lincoln himself claimed over and over again that he did not seek to abolish slavery in the Confederate states, and when he finally did it was a meaningless gesture meant to appease radicals and prevent the British from overtly aiding the Confederacy.

Slavery was abolished in the United States a full eight months after Lincoln's death and the effective end of the war, and it was designed not to liberate men but to bring the South's aristocracy to its knees.

African Americans were free, but they were free to starve and to suffer. The "benevolent" federal government did next to nothing to secure their civil rights. President Grant pursued the Ku Klux Klan only after the Klan had accomplished its mission to throw Republicans out of state offices and secure African-Americans as secondary citizens--since they could no longer be slaves. Look at the freedmen's lot--sharecropping and tenant farming--and tell me that the boys in Washington, D.C. cared about them.

To know for certain that the Union did not give a crap about African-Americans but cared only about subduing the South, look at reconstruction policy.


A very good friend of mine, and one of the few colleagues whom I respect as a near intellectual peer has written 24 off as too unrealistic. According to him, it is no longer possible to suspend disbelief regarding Jack Bauer and how he ekes his way out of disaster after disaster.

Yet my friend's favorite show is Battlestar Gallactica, and he eagerly awaits the season finale of Heroes.

Contradiction? Of course.

Bauer does nothing impossible. What he does is highly unlikely, but not implausible. The irony is that this guy supports Darwin's theory of evolution--the highly unlikely theory that consciousness was born via random genetic mutations. To use a C.S. Lewis analogy (for a different purpose), believing in evolution is like suggesting that if you spill a carton of milk, the splatter will form a map of England.

Bauer is awesome. He is unlikely, sure, but he's my modern-day fictional hero.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A discovery

On the left, you see my great-great-great grandfather. He enlisted in the Union army (alas!) in the early summer of 1862. He saw action at Antietam and the Wilderness--I'm not sure about in between, and must have been present with the rest of his regiment--the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry--at Lee's surrender at Appomattox, for the old man was mustered out in May of 1865.

Until today, all that I knew was that he had been in the war. My grandfather had thought that David (his great grandfather) had served as a drummer boy. Well, as it turns out he enlisted as a private, so he was not a drummer boy. Also, until today I had been led to believe that he had been from Missouri. Now I know Pennsylvania, and perhaps with that detail I can find out about his ancestors, about whom I know absolutely nothing.


Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone--so very alone, in fact--assassinated President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

If you are among the multitudes who believe in a conspiracy, I wonder which conspiracy, and why is this conspiracy should be considered valid and the others faulty? Your conclusions have probably been influenced by Oliver Stone's JFK. Of course, if you take that for gospel, then you must also believe that there is an actual Peter Parker who lives in New York City who moonlights as the great SpiderMan.

If you're looking for the results of real research into the event, read Gerald Posner's, Case Closed.

For a more elementary approach, go to

Seriously, if you haven't read Posner's book, don't approach me on this. There are dozens of conspiracy theories. If you count the branches of the theories, then they number in the hundreds or even the thousands. Which is right? None of them. They are conspiracy theories posited by people who simply wish for a conspiracy. What this means, Occam's Razor in hand, is that Oswald was the lone gunman.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Veracious Accusation

When a politician says to a problem, "There is nothing that I can do," what he or she means is that there is nothing that he or she is willing to do. Ironically, what they often should do is nothing, but instead they do something because--as I said--they are not willing to do what should be done.

When Clinton should have done something (e.g. kill bin Laden), he did nothing, and thousands of Americans and unquantified thousands of others are dead now with more to come.

When Lincoln should have done nothing (secession was valid), he did something and 3/4 of a million people died.

Correction: Clinton did do something, but I like to smoke good cigars and don't like talking about what he did with them.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hard Times

School districts throughout Michigan are poised to slash budgets via layoffs et al. All because the governor is unwilling to accept the reality that the programs espoused by liberal democrats (such as herself) are detrimental to the economic well-being of the populace at large.

Oh well, if we cannot be free, at least we can be equal--as in equally impoverished. Screw industry and the middle class as long as you can get votes from Detroit and Flint.

Biggest Loser Update.

Since last Friday (seven days ago), down four pounds to 296.

Weight loss sucks. Why is it so damn easy to pack on the pounds and so damn hard to drop them?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fair Warning

I have a phobia. It is a silly one to most, but to me it represents gut-wrenching terror. Certain friends who have recently uncovered this phobia have come to mock me for it. That is fine. As I said, it seems silly. I will accept the ridicule.

However, these same friends allude to a plot against me: a prank if you will. Allow me please to issue the following warning.

While I will withstand the teasing, I will not tolerate anything more. Do not provoke my wrath, for it will come down with hellfire not seen since the Lord smote your ancestors at Sodom. I don't know how your gene-pool survived that biblical holocaust, but you remain Sodomites from head to toe (especially that area in between). Press me on this--and this is not a dare, it is a warning--and there will be consequences that not even Job could tolerate.

So please, go ahead and poke fun at me, but don't go any farther. Please, for the sake of friendship and the sake of my thus far perfect criminal record: just leave it at that.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My Little Reader

It's time for me to brag.

My daughter, aged six years, is now reading novels so independently that I am blown away. At the age when most of us were reading about Dick, Jane, and Spot, she has already finished Bridge to Tarabithia, Stone Fox, and is now reading some silly ghost story--though it's about 120 pages.

Every parent thinks that their child is a genius, but I have proof.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Fat Man Speaks

I am presently as heavy as I have ever been. I weighed in on Friday at a full three hundred pounds (gasp).

I find this unacceptable. I will not blame it on glands or anything other than my poor eating and exercise habits. No medical treatment is necessary at all. I can fix this, and I will. If I don't, then it is all my fault. Those who try to escape blame for their bodyweight are cowards, and I am not a coward. If this attempt at remedy fails, than my will alone is to blame.

Mark my words: 240 lbs by Labor Day; 220 lbs by Thanksgiving.

Of course, it is likely that I will become satisfied with my weight loss and resume the same bad habits that put me in large pants. Again, this will neither the fault of my body nor the fault of the diet. It will be a fault in my desire.

I hope very much to be able to claim victory over my urges. I will post occasional updates on this topic (hopefully to brag, of course).

Murdcock's Backpack

Emasculation is a harsh word. Just the sound of it makes any man cringe.

And yet Howlin' Mad Murdoch strode about today with a Dora the Explorer backpack...

However harsh the word may be, sometimes emasculation is the most accurate.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Must Reads

Years ago, I read Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer. At the time, I recommended it to nearly everyone I knew, including people who I suspected as intellectual rivals (there are few, indeed).

At this point in my life, given the advancement of my experience and education, I still recommend it. Krakauer's narrative is both personal and objective, for he was witness to the tragedy which he describes on Everest. The book is a true page turner, and I state again that you should read it.

Because of Into Thin Air, I am bound to watch any documentary on Mt. Everest. I can watch and rewatch any recollections and depictions of the expedition of which Krakauer writes. Read it.

I have read another book by Krakauer, Into the Wild. I enjoyed it as well, though I could not help but think that the protagonist deserved what came to him in the end. This protagonist condemns civilization and commits himself to a life--and a short one at that--in the wilderness. Mankind is foolish to think of nature as a kind mother. Only one thing kills more ruthlessly than man, and that is nature (which includes bears, Dan).

Rumor has it that Sean Penn is presently working on a film adaptation of this book. I can only hope that Penn, a self-evinced idiot--though he won't dare admit it, yet he opens his mouth almost daily to prove it--will get the story right.

However, I suspect that he will somehow blame Christopher McCandless's death on George W. Bush.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Herr Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was born seemingly equipped for both personal tragedy and greatness. His father, Johann van Beethoven was a court musician and tenor vocalist who made a living but never lived up to his musical ambitions.

Lacking the natural ability, self-discipline, or simply opportunities necessary for recognition, Johann pinned his hopes (and his pain) on Ludwig. Relentlessly and mercilessly, Johann drilled young Ludwig, trying desperately to form a child-genius akin to Mozart. Whenever Ludwig faltered in his energy or made a mistake, he risked anything from a whack on the hand to a savage alcohol-induced beating.

While modern psychologists would predict that such treatment would cause young Ludwig to detest playing music, let alone composing it, the boy developed the talent that must have been within him all along. He began performing in public by age seven, and before he was a teenager he was a published composer with his Nine Variations for Piano in C Minor achieving modest acclaim. He earned his first court appointment as a musician at the tender age of 14 (at 14 I was pretty good at the NES), and world-class musicians began to take note of him.

When Beethoven was 17 years old, he met and played for none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who quipped something like "Watch this lad, one day he will force the world to talk about him."

While Beethoven was trained in the mathematically precise style of classical music, as in Mozart or Hayden, his turbulent personality began to form a new age in music. Nearly everyone noted his disheveled hair and haphazard dress, and no one could ignore the look in his eyes, as if he was ready to explode. To say that he was moody would be an understatement. His natural talent, coupled with the countless beatings at the hands of his father had forged a new kind of music; a music not just of the mind, not just of the soul, but a music of the inner pathos: passion--passionate love and passionate rage. His compositions were a blend of mathematical proportion (a la classical style) and a new blood stirring, emotional quality. When famed classical composer Joseph Hayden first heard Beethoven performed, he was disturbed by the turbulent nature of Beethoven's music. He would later train under Hayden's supervision, but nothing that Hayden could teach seemed to control Beethoven's style. Other's, however, recognized Beethoven's new spirit and admired him for it. Observing him in later years, John Russell described Beethoven at the piano:

"He seems to feel the bold, the commanding, and the impetuous, more than what is soothing or gentle. The muscles of the face swell, and its veins start out, the wild eye rolls double wild, the mouth quivers, and Beethoven looks like a wizard, overpowered by the demons whom he himself has called up."

Beethoven not only composed music outside of the norm, he distributed it abnormally by working essentially as a free agent, selling his works and organizing concerts for profit. Ironically, this stage of his life brought the moments when he started to recognize the first signs of his impending deafness. At first it was seemed, perhaps, like nothing but paranoia: just a slight causeless noise in the background. However, by 1801 the sound that he described as a buzzing or whistling noise became constant. Soon, he could not make out low tones, especially in speech, and any background noise overwhelmed him.

Could there be a worse fate for a virtuoso and master composer, to know slowly, painfully slowly, that he was losing his most treasured of the five senses? In a letter of July 1801, Beethoven confessed to his friend, Karl:

"How often I wish you were here, for your Beethoven is having a miserable life, at odds with nature and its Creator, abusing the latter for leaving his creatures vulnerable to the slightest accident. . . . My greatest faculty, my hearing, is greatly deteriorated."

As the symptoms progressed, Beethoven withdrew from friendships and society, to wallow in his secret shame: "How can I, a musician, say to people, "I am deaf!" I shall, if I can, defy this fate, even though there will be times when I shall be the unhappiest of God's creatures. . . . I live only in music." At other times, he was as obstinate as his reputation: "I will seize Fate by the throat. It will not wholly conquer me! Oh, how beautiful it is to live, and live a thousand times over!"

One thing became clear: Beethoven could no longer perform in concert. He could retire completely and sink into an alcoholic abyss (as his father had), or he could turn to the music of his heart. The music that he could hear inside, even if he could hear nothing outside. He began to compose.

As he came to grips somewhat (he never really did) with his handicap, Beethoven began to appreciate more the things that he saw. Nature became his muse, and his Second Symphony was written as a tribute to it. But still, he writhed back and forth between inspiration and despair, to the point that many believed he had gone mad.

He would at one moment be hopeful and at the next morose. But soon he felt inspired by the dashing Corsican in command of an army meant to spread a new ideal. The ideals were liberty, equality, and fraternity; and the Corsican was Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven himself was a revolutionary of sorts, in music, and his music was the dawn of a new age. In Napoleon, he saw a different branch of that new age, and he latched on to it as a surrogate hope.

Beethoven composed his Third Symphony Eroica for Napoleon. And as Napoleon tore down the vestiges of old Europe, Eroica tore down the axioms of classical music. It was, perhaps, more revolutionary, for Napoleon betrayed his revolution when he pronounced himself Emperor--to which Beethoven raged to a friend, "Now he will crush the rights of man. He will become a tyrant." But while Napoleon played Judas, the Eroica never turned on itself. It left many listeners baffled. Others were horrified. But most were simply awed. What came across in so many ways as random, uncontrolled tonal emotion had behind it an order. It was not mathematical precision, as in Mozart or Hayden. It was mathematical passion.

And the passion deepened.

His Fifth Symphony, perhaps his most famous (though not his best--that would be the Ninth Symphony) Beethoven faced his arch-nemesis, Fate (those notes at the beginning? That's Fate knocking at the door), and he took it by the throat.

His Sixth Symphony was another dedication to nature. The man oscillated such.

He would compose three more symphonies, all of them brilliant. Nothing, however, touches the Ninth, known for its "Ode to Joy" chorus, based upon the poem by Friedrich von Schiller. I will not attempt to describe the music beyond saying that it is the most beautiful thing ever composed, and it makes the heart leap and the soul sing. Hearing it, one can scarcely believe that the man who composed it was completely deaf.

Schiller's words are translated from Beethoven's original score as follows. Reputedly, the vocal part of the 4th Movement (the "Ode to Joy Chorus" is one of the most challenging tasks for even the most skilled singers).

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter fire imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.

Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.

May he who has had the fortune
To gain a true friend
And he who has won a noble wife
Join in our jubilation!

Yes, even if he calls but one soul
His own in all the world,
But he who has failed in this
Must steal away alone and in tears.

All the world's creatures
Draw joy from nature's breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path.

She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave lust for life to the lowliest,
And the Cherub stands before God.

Joyously, as his suns speed
Through Heaven's glorious order,
Hasten, Brothers, on your way,
Exulting as a knight in victory.

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter fire imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary.

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss for all the world!
Brothers!, above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell.

Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss for all the world!
Brothers!, above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell.

Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.

Joy, daughter of Elysium
Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss for all the world!
Brothers!, above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell.

Joy, beautiful spark of Gods!,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of Gods!

Over many protests, Beethoven decided to conduct the orchestra for the symphony's first audience. Since he could hear nothing, colleagues placed an alternate conductor behind him and ordered the musicians to follow the alternate's timing. Unaware of the conductor behind him, unaware that the musicians paid him no heed, unaware that he was even before an audience of hundreds, Ludwig van Beethoven conducted his final symphony. At the moment of its final note, Beethoven's arms fell to his sides, and he stood there motionless. He could not hear the music stop, but he knew it. What he did not sense, what he had to be taken gently by the shoulders and turned to see was the audience. The audience of dignitaries, wealthy men and women, sophisticated types, were on their feet cheering and applauding in a grand ovation.

He died three years later, still composing, still defying fate. In his final moments, from his deathbed, Beethoven lifted his head and opened wide his eyes. He raised his fist with "a serious, threatening expression on his face," then relaxed and died.

With his final match with Fate over, friends recovered several documents including his will, sealed with instructions that it be opened only after his death. Beethoven wrote it twenty-four years before his passing, but it sums the last half of his life, and echoes the sentiment of and breaths logic into his later works. These words, though only a fragment of the original, express in language what Beethoven expressed in music:

"O you men who accuse me of being malevolent, stubborn, and misanthropical, how you wrong me! You do not know the secret cause. Ever since my childhood, my heart and mind were disposed toward feelings of gentleness and goodwill, and I was eager to accomplish great deeds; but consider this: for six years I have been hopelessly ill, aggravated and cheated by quacks in the hope of improvement but finally compelled to face a lasting malady. . . . I was forced to isolate myself. I was misunderstood and rudely repulsed because I was as yet unable to say to people, "Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf." . . . With joy, I hasten to meet death. Despite my hard fate . . . I shall wish that it had come later; but I am content, for he shall free me of constant suffering. Come then, Death, and I shall face thee with courage."

Thanks to Bill at for many of the factual particulars in this post, including several of the quoted passages. Thanks to you, also, if you read this far.

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