Birthday Buddies

me in my Yankees uniformToday is my birthday.

Like many of you, at some times in my life, I have looked up who else shares my birthday.

The names you find online are, of course, famous folks.  A part of me must have once believed that by some astrological magic we would share some characteristics.

Today is also the birthday of NY Yankee great Mickey Mantle.  I may have worn #7 as a young baseball player (everyone wanted that jersey but a kind-hearted coach let me have it because of the birthday connection) and I did usually get put into the outfield like Mickey, but I was no Bronx Bomber at the plate.  (More of a Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto.)

I do have a bad knee and back like Mickey, but luckily no drinking or liver problems.

NY Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez not only shares October 20 with me but was born the same year!

I was not a good first baseman, but my older son was a great one. Are there astrological genes? As a lifelong NY Yankees fan, it was impossible for me to be a Mets fan. Though they never posed a threat to the Yanks, they were in the local news and on TV all through my New Jersey childhood.

I did love Keith’s appearances on Seinfeld as himself. “I’m Keith Hernandez!” he declares after a moment of self-doubt.

Viggo/Aragorn
Viggo as Aragorn

I don’t see myself as all that similar to Viggo Mortensen who is an actor, author, musician, photographer, poet, and painter. Although in my own small ways I do work in all those fields.

I’m certainly not like his Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. But I do like many of his films, most recently two that he got Academy Award nominations for in Captain Fantastic (2016) and Green Book (2018).

Viggo founded the Perceval Press to publish the works of little-known artists and authors. Maybe I should contact my birthday buddy about my poetry manuscript. Unfortunately, they are not accepting submissions right now. Okay, I’m patient. I do like the name of his press. Perceval was the original hero in the Grail quest tales, before being “replaced” in later English and French literature by Galahad.

The late Tom Petty was a great singer, songwriter and guitarist who has the same birthday and was only a few years older than me.

I do play guitar (though I often refer to myself as a “guitar owner” rather than as a “guitarist”) but not at a level anywhere near Tom.

But I do like Tom Petty’s music.

Sir Christopher Wren, portrait c.1690 by John Closterman

As a young teen, I wanted to be an architect in the Frank Lloyd Wright style. I did some reading and came across Sir Christopher Wren who was born on October 20 way back in 1632.

He was an English anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist, but is best known as an architect.

He was responsible for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666. His masterpiece is  St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710. He caught a chill on a trip to London in February 1723 and died a few days later.

His remains were placed in the south-east corner of the crypt of St Paul’s (beside his daughter, sister and her husband. There is a plain stone plaque marking his resting place. But the inscription is also found on a circle of black marble on the main floor beneath the center of the dome. It reads:

“ SUBTUS CONDITUR HUIUS ECCLESIÆ ET VRBIS CONDITOR CHRISTOPHORUS WREN, QUI VIXIT ANNOS ULTRA NONAGINTA, NON SIBI SED BONO PUBLICO. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE Obijt XXV Feb: An°: MDCCXXIII Æt: XCI. ”

I wouldn’t mind such a tribute after I am gone – though I’ll pass on the Latin, which translates as “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 91.

In high school, I discovered that I shared a birthday with composer Charles Ives. I had never heard of him and was not much of a classical music listener. I found his records in that section of my town library but it turned out that Ives was an American modernist composer of experimental music. I listened to it and started to enjoy it and learned a bit about polytonality, tone clusters, and quarter tones – all of which I have mostly forgotten.

My favorite Ives back then was “Central Park in the Dark.” It is a mostly quiet piece and a bit creepy – like my impression at that time of the real Central Park at night. He first titled it “A Contemplation of Nothing Serious or Central Park in the Dark in ‘The Good Old Summer Time'” (good title change, Charles). This 1906 piece and his “The Unanswered Question” were tone poems to me as a teenager and I wrote some quite pretentious poetry based on his work.

I was pleased when I went off to college and got more serious about writing to discover that there were some poets who were birthday buddies.

Robert Pinsky was Poet Laureate of the U.S. (1997-2000) and is not only also a Jersey kid like me but also attended Rutgers as I did.

He’s a Jersey Shore kid (Long Branch) and I read his poetry before I knew that we shared a birthday. He is 13 years my senior, but I found some connections to my own life and work in his writing.

The first time I met him, I mentioned our shared birthday and he said, “And Mickey Mantle and Rimbaud!”

Rimbaud at 17The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (pronounced ræmˈbo)  was a libertine, restless soul, who had an at-times-violent romantic relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine.

As a poet, he was known as a Symbolist. His most famous work is A Season in Hell, which I bought and read, but didn’t really connect with as a young poet.

I read recently that Rimbaud has become the “Jim Morrison of poets” due to fans visiting his grave in a little cemetery in northern France and making it a kind of shrine (as fans have done with rock singer/poet Morrison in Paris).

Sadly, what appealed to me more about Rimbaud in those college days was that he seemed to be alone and unhappy which was a periodic state for me back then which I misunderstood as being literary and Romantic states of being.

I’m sure it would really piss off Arthur to know that near his grave you can buy Rimbaud plates, mugs, Rimbaud’s terrine, honey and confit, Arthur’s vintage craft beer cider, juice, lemonade or cola. Escape to Paris and you can stay at the Best Western Hôtel Littéraire Arthur Rimbaud with a framed poem in your room. Truly a season in Hell.

Rimbaud’s affair with Verlaine ended after Paul left his wife and child for Rimbaud and then shot Arthur (not fatally) when he tried to end their affair. Rimbaud left for Paris then traveled the world, fought as a mercenary on Java (now Indonesia), worked as an explorer and trader in Ethiopia and Yemen, and finally returned to France when he was struck by cancer that took his left leg and his life. He died at the age of 37 with only his sister at his side.

If you do a search for October 20 or your birthday on Wikipedia, you will turn up a long list of people that share your birthday and also events in history. Unless you are a believer in astrology, I don’t think you’ll find answers to your life’s mission by finding out who shares your birthday. I hand picked ones from the long list that I felt some kinship with, but there are many more that I feel no connection to via our shared day of birth. Still, it was a fun journey.

The Lightning Moon of August

Though the Moon will be “fullest” in Paradelle at 01:56:12 pm today, I will (like most of us) be looking up at it tonight.

One neo-pagan name for this August Full Moon is the Lightning Moon, and around Paradelle there has been a lot of thunder, lightning and rain.

This August Full Moon is also known as the Sturgeon Moon, since that large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water were most readily caught during this month. It may be called the Red Moon because, as the Moon rises, it appears reddish through any sultry haze.

The video visualization that tops this post tries to capture the mood of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” (moonlight in French) from 1905 with images from NASA of the Moon built from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. “Clair de Lune” is the third of four movements in his Suite Bergamasque, but this section is quiet, contemplative, and melancholy. It feels right for solitary gazing at the Moon, full or not, inside or outside.

Maybe you can combine the video and music with one of these relaxation techniques tonight and ease yourself into a gentler new week ahead.

Half Moon, Quarter Moon

When I really started paying attention to the Sun, stars and Moon many years ago, one of the things that confused me was why the Quarter Moons looked like Half Moons.

The Moon is at or near its last quarter phase tonight, February 6, and into tomorrow morning. (The precise time is tomorrow at 15:54.)  Take a look tonight and you will see half of the Moon. Half the moon always faces us, and half the moon is always lit by the sun, though we can’t see that. To astronomers, there are no ‘half moons.’

So why does this phase get the name Quarter Moon is we can see half of it lit?  First quarter moon means the moon is one-quarter of the way through the current orbital cycle. Tonight’s third or last quarter moon means the moon is three-quarters of the way through the cycle, as measured from one new moon to the next.

moon phases
The phases of the Moon as viewed looking southward from the Northern Hemisphere. Each phase would be rotated 180° if seen looking northward from the Southern Hemisphere. The upper part of the diagram is not to scale, as the Moon is much farther from Earth than shown here. Image: wikipedia.org

It is all about perspective. At first quarter moon, the near side of the moon (the part we see) is half-illuminated by sunlight and half in its own shadow, so we are seeing half the moon’s day side.

It may also seem curious that in the Southern Hemisphere tonight the right side is 50% lit and in my Northern Hemisphere it is the left side that is bright. Yes, when we enter the first quarter that will be reversed.

A third quarter moon always rises in the middle of the night. It will appear at its highest in the sky around dawn, and will set around midday.


To move away from the sky though, I do like the name “Half Moon.” Half Moon Bay is a town on the California coast that I visited once and the name seems kind of romantic. There is a song called “Half Moon Bay” from 1969 by a band that I followed, Mott the Hoople. The lyrics have nothing to do with the town and the Dylan-esque vocals don’t make the lyrics any happier or romantic. It was a song I liked for its Procol Harum-like organ back then – and the album’s Escher cover is still a favorite. (Listen  on YouTube)

Another more recent song with that same title is by Train.  This one is actually about the California town and more “romantic.”

This ain’t a threat but I think I better warn ya’
Gonna fall in love if you go to California
I did and this is how I know
By the beach north of San José
Met the right girl and it sounds cliché
But we decided not to take it slow

But remember, there may be a Half Moon Bay, but there are no half moons.

A Blue Super Full Moon and Eclipse to End January 2018

We get a Blue Moon when there is a second full moon in one calendar month. That happens on Wednesday, January 31. But our Moon will also pass through the Earth’s shadow to give us a total lunar eclipse. And the triple play comes with this also being the third in a series of three straight full moon supermoons.

There will be another Blue Moon in 2018, and supermoons occur every few months. Eclipses are rarer, but the three occurring all at once is rarer still. This will be the first Blue Moon total eclipse in 150 years for the Americas.

The Moon will be entirely inside the Earth’s dark umbral shadow (totality) for a bit more than an hour.

The term Blue Moon still makes me think of the song “Blue Moon.” It is an oldie, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. Lots of singers and groups have recorded it (Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé had early hits) and versions by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, The Mavericks, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Rod Stewart and even an adapted anthem version used by English Premier League football club Manchester City are out there.

But the recording that always pops into my head is the 1961 big hit for doo-wop group The Marcels.

The song pops up in one of my favorite horror-with-a-comedic-twist films, American Werewolf in London, which would be an excellent film to watch on Wednesday night.

If you are more of a listener than watcher, I suggest the film’s soundtrack which is full (no pun intended) of moon songs.

Shine On, Harvest Moon

Today is the Harvest Moon for 2017. It is often in September that the Full Moon is closest to the autumnal (fall) equinox, but this year that is the October Full Moon and not the previous one on September 6. It will be full at 2:40 pm for those of us on the east coast of the U.S.

Any actual harvesting in your area might already be done but traditionally it was because farmers could work later into the evening by the light of this moon. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice — the chief staples of Native Americans — were ready for gathering.

Usually, the moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night – just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe.

We notice the moon more when it stays out all night long, and that would be around the time of  the Full Moon. This is when the Moon is 180 degrees from the sun, or opposite the sun in our sky.

A Full Moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise. But after that, it is in a waning gibbous phase and rises later each night and sets in the west later each day after sunrise.

Harvest Moon reminds me of an old song that my parents would have sung and danced to in their youth – perhaps at a Harvest Moon Dance.  “Shine On, Harvest Moon” was a popular early-1900s song credited to the married vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth in the era of Tin Pan Alley songs. It became a pop standard, and is still performed today.

It is the tale of a guy who hasn’t had any loving for months and tonight he was ready to make his move on his girlfriend but the Moon wasn’t shining, so she was afraid to be out. He calls to the Moon to please shine.

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe

Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since April, January, June or July.
Snow time, ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.

I hope you have a nice Harvest Moon tonight that looks orange in color because that is the stereotypical way the October Full Moon is often portrayed. It looks very harvesty and Halloweenish. But this effect is not seasonal but is caused by the atmosphere of the earth. The reason for the orange color is due to the scattering of light by the atmosphere. When the moon is near the horizon, the moonlight must pass through much more atmosphere than when the moon is directly overhead.

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I’m trying to please to the calling
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
And all the night’s magic seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush

 

Indian Summer

There is no such season as “Indian Summer” but if you live in the U.S. you have probably heard the expression used around this time of the year.  The U.S. National Weather Service defines this as weather conditions that are sunny and clear with above normal temperatures, occurring late-September to mid-November.

Indian summer has become the way to describe a period of unseasonably warm, dry weather in autumn that feels like summer. It is especially used when we have a warm period after a killing frost when we assumed autumn was giving us a taste of winter.

But why call it Indian summer?

In the late 1800s, an American lexicographer named Albert Matthews tried to find out who coined the expression. The earliest reference he found in print was a letter from 1778, but from the context it was clear that the expression was already in widespread use.

It is supposed that the origin came from areas inhabited by Native Americans (“Indians”) and that Indians first described this weather oddity to Europeans as something that occurred most years.

The expression has traveled beyond American borders. In British English, the term is used in the same way as in North America. Originally, it referred to America but it gained wider currency in Great Britain in the 1950s. In the U.K,. this period is also associated with the autumn feast days of St. Martin and Saint Luke.

You can view Indian summer as a cruel weather tease that reminds you of the summer days that are gone, or as a happy respite from the cooler “normal”  weather of that time and the days to come. I prefer the latter, though when Indian summer ends, I tend to go with the former.

Indian Summer is a romantic notion that has inspired a number of songs. Some of the better known examples:

  • In 1969, Brewer & Shipley recorded ″Indian Summer″ for their ″Weeds″ album.
  • In 1970 The Doors recorded ″Indian Summer.″
  • In 1975, Joe Dassin recorded “Indian Summer” in French, English and Spanish and  “L’Été indien” went on to become his biggest hit, selling almost 2 million copies worldwide – but the lyrics are about a summer in India, so…
  • In 1977 Poco released the album, Indian Summer, which also contained the title track.
  • In 1978 Joe Walsh recorded “Indian Summer” for the album But Seriously, Folks… 
  • U2 included “Indian Summer Sky” on their The Unforgettable Fire album.
  • The Dream Academy recorded the song “Indian Summer” for the album Remembrance Days in 1987
  • Tori Amos released “Indian Summer” on her 2004 EP, Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures.