Fee Fi Fo Fum! Also, the origins of the word “dildo.”

Posted in History and Politics on February 24th, 2014 by byronkho

I was a little curious to where the nursery rhyme, “Fee! Fi! Fo! Fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman!” came from and after a few brief forays into the wilderness, I found that Thomas Nashe, an English pamphleteer, had a few words for me (and for his fellow pamphleteer and bitter rival, Gabriel Harvey – inventor of the word “jovial”!). “O, tis a precious apothegmatical Pedant, who will find matter enough to dilate a whole day of the first invention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the blood of an English-man,” says Nashe in the 1596 pamplet “Have With You to Saffron-Walden.” I cannot be considered an Englishman… but being concise and meaningful, or, ahem, overly concerned with trivial points of learning… that’s probably true. But back to the matter at hand. If there have been arguments in 1596 over the first usage of the rhyme, then doubtless it appeared before then – but we have no direct proof of that. Shakespeare does use a modified version of it in King Lear, 1605: “His word was still, Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man.” The 1621 “first time in print” telling of the “History of Tom Thumbe” calls up the smell of a “dangerous” man (despite being the first fairy tale printed in English, was not Tom Thumb British? Or perhaps giants are not wise to national labels.) Lest we forget the other British fighters of giants, may I present Jack the Giant Killer (whose advent, it seems, was in the long-running feud between the Christian Welsh and the pagan giants… er, Anglo-Saxons)? 1761, “I smell the blood of an English man” and hurrah, the giants are finally equipped with British smell-o-vision! In other versions, the British become “Christian” men, because, again, many of the fairy tales with pure heroes and savage giant beasts as opponents were nothing more than a veiled depiction of the Christian struggle against paganism.

One more bit of trivia: in 1592, Thomas Nashe wrote what is considered to be the first usage of the word “dildo,” along with an extraordinarily detailed description of what it was and how it was to be, er, used. A bawdy poem in the style of ancient Greek erotica, “The Choise of Valentines Or the Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo” was written as a first offering for his patron Henry Wriothesby, Earl of Southampton (and also Shakespeare’s patron!), and also to be shared among the lusty perverts that gathered around the 5th Earl of Derby, Lord Strange (I’m sure the name matched his honor particularly well). Says Nashe: “My little dilldo shall suply their kinde: A knaue, that moues as light as leaues by winde; That bendeth not, nor fouldeth anie deale, But stands as stiff as he were made of steele” [sic sic etc.]. And who should skulk in the sidelines but his old nemesis, Gabriel Harvey! In an attack pamphlet, Harvey accused Nash of writing and publishing a pamphlet about “Dildos” – how he heard about a poem that was never formally published and only passed around as a manuscript, we don’t know. And that must have been an extraordinarily fulfilling feud, seeing as it lasted upwards of 7 years…

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A few thoughts on “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”

Posted in Opinion on February 24th, 2014 by byronkho

Just saw Porgy and Bess at the Academy with the full national tour cast. Technically, this revival is a hacked apart and remixed version of the 1935 original. Meant to be an opera, it’s been sliced and diced to become more of a musical. Apparently, Diane Paulus felt modern audiences needed either more backstory, or a shorter work. Thank goodness she chose the latter. While part of me says “no! Gershwin wanted this to be an opera!,” I can’t say that P&B didn’t work as a musical. It did, and Sondheim be damned. (Sondheim wrote a letter to the New York Times decrying the spoilage of the original. I do, however, agree with his assertion that they should be ashamed for cutting out DuBose Heyward when they renamed the show “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”)

Much of the recitative was turned into spoken dialogue, and the musical score was retooled to make it jazzier and brass-ier. These physical changes to the libretto/score cut the run-time down a whole hour. A few lines were also changed to make Bess a little more sympathetic. And I say little, because the show doesn’t commit the mistake of turning Bess’s character arc into something about redemption and with some sort of happy sendoff, like many revivals are wont to do to placate people that can’t handle darkness or personality flaws.

Bess begins the show as a drunkard and implied purveyor of feminine charms (as local busybody Marian puts it, “liquor-guzzling slut!”) and also lover to a violent murdering hulk. When he goes on the lam, she is left to find a way to get along – and everyone, including her, knows that she’s the type to find some man to help her get along. And Porgy, the local cripple, fits the bill. He offers his home, and she follows. The sexual politics of the move can’t have been lost on anyone. Everyone assumes she’ll take what she needs and then move on to more virile examples of the masculine persuasion; and in the end, she does that not once, but twice. The point is hammered home to Porgy when she returns home from a picnic, supposedly raped by her returning felon of an ex-lover, and she admits that she’ll follow him if Porgy isn’t able to stand in her way. It’s a painful reminder of every life lesson he’s had to this point: no one’s ever wanted him, and even when he finally nabs a woman, perhaps she was never his at all. But Porgy has hope! After killing Bess’s former lover, Porgy exults: “Bess, Bess, you got a man now!” When he gets caught by the police and disappears for a few days, she decides against him again; her life with him seems to be over, and ever the practical soul, she follows a local dandy turned pimp and coke dealer – aptly named Sporting Life – to the Big Apple. Bess may have sang her way into Porgy’s heart, but she never really proves it. And still, he can’t help but cling to that hope. In the last scene, after Bess has already left and everyone has told him so, he decides he can’t do without her and trundles off down the road to New York with one last song. “Oh Lawd, I’m on my way…”

I was happy to see that there were no editorial changes that I could really complain about; indeed, it was great that they were able to reduce the patronizing tone of the original. I’m not sure how racial dignity should be presented or talked about so I find it hard to have an adequate discussion about the right way to do it… but I can sense that generalizations and character stereotypes are probably hard to swallow for modern audiences. So it’s sensible that a lot of dialect was pared back, and that the characters have dialogue that doesn’t sound as histrionic, and that they’re not written as too completely credulous (though there’s no way to get around a song like Doctor Jesus – in which they pray for the sick to get well rather than treating them – without just cutting the entire number). The most pleasing change, though possibly the most controversial, was making Porgy into a cripple with a cane and leg braces rather than a cripple with a goat cart. That last scene works well with Porgy hobbling off toward a light pointed upstage – somewhat reminding us that he’s marking his own path to heaven – but rather less than dignified if he was doing it in a goat cart. Thus, the famous line “won’t nobody bring my goat?” becomes “won’t nobody bring my cane?”

Tags: , ,

Jon Stewart on his job tending bar at City Gardens.

Posted in History and Politics on February 20th, 2014 by byronkho

That time Jon Stewart showed up for his bartending shift at City Gardens in December 1986 and was like, Natalie Merchant, what are you doing hangin out and reading Salinger at my bar? And she says, “because the night belongs to us…” And then walks on stage and just kills it.

Stewart: “You know, whether it was ‘90 Cent Dance Night,’ where people would just dance by themselves to The Smiths, or the all-ages hardcore shows, where you’d see Dead Milkmen or GBH or Agnostic Front or those bands. Or you know, GWAR or Ween or Bad Religion … All different kinds. It was an oasis. The Butthole Surfers, I think, was an all-ages show … You know one of the bouncers that night was the guy from LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy?”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte D’ARTAGNAN.

Posted in History and Politics on February 19th, 2014 by byronkho

Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte D’ARTAGNAN, was born into nobility. He had been given the surname d’Artagnan following an order from Louis XIII, who noted that d’Artagnan’s mother was a descendant of Henri de Montesquiou d’Artagnan, a beloved subject who had served him well in the Musketeers of the Guard, and thus the name should live on.

According to his own memoirs, the Comte d’Artagnan committed a rash act upon his first entrez into Paris. He had just left his estate at Castelmore in the province of Bearn, and found his first Paris lodgings at an inn on the Rue des Fossoyeurs. He knew nobody in Paris save for one Isaac de Porthau (PORTHOS), a distant relation to friends of his in Bearn. Upon visiting Porthos, d’Artagnan took offense at the too-carefree method in which he had been received and so challenged Porthos to a duel. Unfortunately, Porthos was rather involved with another affair: along with his cousins Armand, Seigneur de Sillègue, d’ATHOS and Henri, Seigneur d’Aramitz (ARAMIS), Porthos was already engaged to fight a duel with three of Cardinal Richelieu’s Guards at the Pre aux Clercs. As a fellow Gascon, Porthos reportedly requested d’Artagnan’s assistance in fighting off said guards rather than commit the folly of fighting fellow brothers-in-arms. Athos and Aramis were displeased, but were later to agree that it was a good thing after d’Artagnan saved Athos’s life during the duel. With his heroic duty done, the road was paved for a swift introduction to the King and then recruitment into the Musketeers of the Guard.

Through his career as a a Musketeer and after their disbandment in 1646, d’Artagnan carried out highly sensitive espionage missions for his benefactor, Cardinal Mazarin, and Louis XIV. On one particularly exciting mission, Cardinal Mazarin had sent d’Artagnan to England with secret messages for Oliver Cromwell – but due to a botched withdrawal, he ended up in the Bastille for five weeks before the Cardinal was roused to free him. He would endure many years of foreign battles, passionate duels, and tempestuous affairs with beautiful ladies up and down France; he was, by all accounts, a 17th century James Bond. Later, he joined the Gardes Francaises, and then the Musketeers again when they were revived in 1657.

D’Artagnan was finally made captain-lieutenant and effective commander of the Musketeers after he had successfully completed two important tasks on behalf of Louis XIV: the diplomatic mission to Charles II offering formal congratulations from the French court on his restoration to the English throne, and the arrest of Nicolas Fouquet, the embezzling and ostentatious Finance Minister. (It never pays off to outdo a king in displays of wealth.) By this time, the other three Musketeers had left the service: Athos died in 1645 and was buried near the duel site where they had all first met; Porthos eventually became secretary for the provincial Bearnais Parliament; and Aramis took up his family profession by becoming lay abbe at Aramits after his father’s death.

D’Artagnan died a hero’s death at a battle at Maastricht in 1673. Louis XIV had just sent a messenger to d’Artagnan to offer him the marechal’s baton – a high military distinction – when d’Artagnan was hit in the throat by a musket ball, while the king watched. In sadness, Louis XIV wrote a poem that translates roughly to:

“The royal heart by grief sincere
Is touched, this direful news to hear,
And sorrow reigns the Army through;
Scarce can they bear their hero’s death,
They cry, as in a single breath,
With d’Artagnan dies Glory too!”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1/3 of Jedi Mind Tricks plus Honey Watts.

Posted in Music on February 19th, 2014 by byronkho

Sweet beats for a rainy day. 1/3 of Jedi Mind Tricks plus great sad indie folk voice? And Philly homies too!

Tags: , , ,

Off he came…

Posted in History and Politics on February 18th, 2014 by byronkho

They lay soe close together, they made me much to wonder;
I knew not which was wether, until I saw her under.
Then off he came, and blusht for shame soe soon that he had end it;
Yet still she lies, and to him cryes, “one more and none can mend it.”

From “Walking In A Meadowe Greene,” a 1650 “loose song” from the 1765 English ballad compilation “Reliques of Ancient Poetry”.

This bawdy verse (poor couple!) is the first recorded usage of the word “came” in a sexual context. “Reliques…” was compiled by Thomas Percy, Bishop of Dromore, County Down, Ireland, and was a direct predecessor to the ballad tradition of the Romantic movement, led by Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Dr. Percy’s first literary work, curiously, is a translation of “The Fortunate Union,” considered to be the first Chinese novel translated into English.

Tags: , ,

First usage of OMG.

Posted in History and Politics on February 17th, 2014 by byronkho

September 9, 1917: “My dear Winston [Churchill]… Are we really incapable of a big Enterprise! I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis – O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) – Shower it on the Admiralty!! Yours, Fisher.”

Admiral of the Fleet John Arbuthnot “Jacky” Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher, was First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy during World War I. In 1905, Fisher built and launched the HMS Dreadnought, the 1st “all-big-gun” battleship that was also namesake for all other ships of that type. The motto on his baronial coat of arms was “Fear God and dread nought.” Real trendsetter, this guy – he was totally a cool dude like 100 years ago. OMG.

Tags: , ,

The first Chinese visitor to Britain, and the first Chinese to become a British citizen.

Posted in History and Politics on February 17th, 2014 by byronkho

The FIRST RECORDED Chinese man to visit Britain was a Qing Dynasty government bureaucrat turned world traveller by the name of Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung.

Fu-Tsung’s first brush with Europe came while in the Portuguese colony of Macao, where he met the Procurator of the Chinese Jesuit Missions in Rome, Philippe Couplet, and was converted to Catholicism. Their shared travels took him to the Spanish Netherlands, now known as Belgium; to Rome, where Couplet was tasked with obtaining a papal dispensation for the Mass to be translated into Chinese; to France, where Fu-Tsung taught King Louis XIV to use chopsticks, and which triggered a reverse “visit” of French Jesuit mathematicians to the Chinese court in Nanjing; and finally, England.

In 1686, Fu-Tsung met with King James II, who was so enamored of the visit that he commissioned a portrait of Fu-Tsung by Sir Godfry Kneller, to be hung (weirdly) in his bedchamber. Fu-Tsung went on to catalogue the Chinese collection at the Bodleian Library, before his lucky decision to leave in 1688 – just before James II was overthrown. The timing of both his visit and departure were impeccable: James II’s predecessors, and his later replacement, would not have been sympathetic to the entry of a Catholic priest, and if he had arrived any sooner or later, he may not have ended up being the first.

His later stops found him in Oxford, Berlin and Vienna, where he answered linguistic questions from academics, and finally to his last European port of call: Lisbon. Here, he finally joined the Jesuits and began preparations to return home for the purposes of proselytizing. Unfortunately, he was killed on board a ship somewhere near Portuguese Mozambique in 1691. Couplet ran into similar luck trying to return home; after translating the Confucian “Four Books” into Latin and sorting out disciplinary issues for the Chinese missions, he was killed by a falling chest on board his return vessel, somewhere near the Portuguese colony of Goa, India, in 1693.

An interesting sidenote: the Chinese visitors to Britain directly after Fu-Tsung were mainly businessmen that worked with the English East Indies company to arrange logistics, labor, housing and other practical items for Chinese sailors and other experts associated with arranging their trade in Chinese tea, ceramics and silk. In March of 1805, one of these Chinese businessmen – John Anthony – was able to pile up enough wealth and influence to successfully petition Parliament into making him the first British citizen of Chinese descent.

“Mr. John Anthony, a native of China, and interpreter to the East India company, had the oaths of abjuration and fidelity duly administered to him, previous to the second reading of the bill for his naturalization, then upon the table. Which proceeding having taken place, the bill was referred to a private committee. — Adjourned.”

Unhappily, he died in August 1805 after 6 years of service, leaving behind a wife, Esther Anthony, and a brother-in-law, Abraham Gole, that would take over his role at the EEI. To get a picture of what Anthony’s wealth might have been (and enough to persuade Parliament!), I put forth the fortune made by his successor; over a decade, Gole was able to sock away 117,958 pounds, which in today’s money, is roughly equivalent to $6.25 million USD.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Drive the Cold Winter Away!

Posted in History and Politics on February 16th, 2014 by byronkho

Cold winter, warm pubs, good companions.

Be merry my hearts, and call for your quarts,
and let no liquor be lacking,
We have gold in store, we purpose to roare,
untill we set care a packing.
Then Hostis make haste, and let no time waste,
let every man have his due,
To save shoes and trouble, bring in the pots double
for he that made one, made two.

Sung to the tune of “Drive the Cold Winter Away,” melody collected by John Playford in “The English Dancing Master,” 1651. Lyrics are from “A health to all good-fellowes: or, The good companions arithmaticke,” printed by A. Mathewes for Henry Gossen, 1637

Tags: , , ,

Carolina Reapers…

Posted in History and Politics on February 15th, 2014 by byronkho

August 2013: PuckerButt Pepper Company of South Carolina releases the Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, clocking in at an average of 1,569,383 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) and arguably the hottest chili currently produced in the world. At its hottest, it reaches up to 2.2 million SHUs. Writer Steven Leckart, for Maxim, notes that eating one was “like being face-f%@!ed by Satan.” Its leading competition is the Moruga Scorpion, produced at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico – though its peppers are an average of 1.2 million SHUs, one single pepper hit 2.009231 million SHUs. Just to give some scale: your regular jalapeno caps out at 8,000 SHUs, habanero peppers generally are in the 200,000 SHU range, and pepper spray – made from diluted capsaicin, the active chemical in chilis – are around 100,000 SHUs. Eating a couple Carolina Reapers should probably get you a good strong case of ring sting… breathing a lungful of its fumes would probably kill you.

Tags: , , ,