History

Making the Most of Mother’s Day
That one day a year when we honor the ones who birthed us, even though we're still not sure why we can't jump on the bed.

Hey kids, Mother’s Day is this Sunday, which means it’s time to put down the scissors you’ve been running with, take the cat out of the drier and go beg dad to take you to the mall to buy a Mother’s Day card. Keep in mind he has forgotten as well, so you might learn a few new words while he drops the remote and grabs the car keys.

[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”asterisk”]You might also like “Fit to be Tied on Father’s Day”[/feature_headline]

The History

[pullquote type=”right”]That special day where moms everywhere get to pretend they like the last-minute gift of a pack of spark plugs they got from their husbands.[/pullquote]But first, a little history about Mother’s Day, that special day where moms everywhere get to pretend they like the last-minute gift of a pack of spark plugs they got from their husbands. Most people think that Mother’s Day was started by giant greeting card companies just to make mountains of guilt money, but it was actually started by Anna Jarvis in 1907, who loved her mother so much that she sold her to Hallmark. Ha ha! Just kidding; she actually led a campaign to establish Mother’s Day as an official National Holiday in honor of her mother, Ann. It was first designated as such by West Virginia in 1910, and then quickly by the rest of the states, because apparently West Virginia suggested that it would be a shame if some “accident” happened to the other states’ porch lights. Finally, on May 8 in 1914, Congress passed a law that designated the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, then drove away in their shiny new cars, generously donated by the Greeting Card Industry.

In Other Countries (even Timor Leste)

Many people don’t know that Mother’s Day is not just celebrated in the United States by children who are reminded by their father’s who were reminded by their wives that Mother’s Day is tomorrow, but also in many other countries. In Argentina, Mother’s Day is celebrated in October, probably because they get cheap cards leftover from us in May. In Timor Leste it is celebrated on November 3, because nobody knows where Timor Leste is so it won’t matter if you’re not there to celebrate it with them. In South Korea it is known as “Parent’s Day”, as South Korea has finally figured out that the best way to get dads to remember Mother’s Day is if they expect to get something, too.

Choosing a Card

Choosing an appropriate card for Mother’s Day is not nearly as crucial as, say, for your wedding anniversary, where that card that farted when you opened it seemed a lot more funny in the store. As far as your mom is concerned, you could give her a bar-mitzvah card as long as you signed it “love” and “XXXOOO” and she wouldn’t care, even if it did make a fart noise when you opened it (“Mazel Tofrrrrrrrrppp!”). Many children choose to go the time-honored route of the homemade card, where you draw a heart on the back of an old utility bill with a dirty stick, tape a cotton ball on it and watch your mom cry and put it on the refrigerator for the next 20 years. That is what makes moms great, and why dads get stuck with the “I’d-rather-be-golfing” fart cards.

So kids, remember that every day is children’s day, and dads, just try to remember where you left your car keys, but also remember that Sunday is the day to celebrate the moms who shower us with wisdom, love and occasional mild guilt. Now I need to get some bed jumping in before my daily run around the house with scissors.
[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)[/feature_headline]

Photo credit Taylor Ward

Horsing Around with Derby Days
We take the Kentucky Derby out for a Dubious Knowledge speed test.

The hint of spring is in the air, the tulips are blooming, and, unless you are a member of Congress, your taxes are done. That means it’s time for that historic springtime tradition featuring humongous hats, the Kentucky Derby. Much like curling in the Winter Olympics, except without the excessive boredom, this is for most of us our one chance a year to see tiny men coercing large animals around a dirt track. But the spectacle that is the Derby is more than just the race; it is the culmination of the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival, a party celebrating all that is horse racing in America, which we assume to mean gambling. Plus mint juleps; don’t forget those.

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The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports

[pullquote type=”right”]A large drape of 564 red roses, one for each of the million dollars lost by the last-ditch losers who bet on the 52-1 horse, is placed on the neck of the winner.[/pullquote]The race is one and a quarter miles, about the distance I’ve run the entire past decade, and is held at world famous Churchill Downs, so named because it was bombed by Winston Churchill during World War II. Or a guy named Winston got bombed there during two World Wars; we’re not sure. The race features colts (male horses) or geldings (male horses who no longer need to worry about creating more male horses). Fillies (attractive women in western movies) have their own race called the Kentucky Oaks, which they seem to be fine with, as the National Organization for Women does not include horses at this time. Derby horses are usually three years old, as the two-year-old’s think everything is “mine!”, and four-year-old’s are busy getting ready for preschool. The race is coined “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”, a  name it took when it surpassed Arm Wrestling in 1959. It also called “The Run for the Roses”, as “Prance for the Roses” seemed a little too horse-ish. A large drape of 564 red roses, one for each of the million dollars lost by the last-ditch losers who bet on the 52-1 horse, is placed on the neck of the winner. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown; the other two legs being the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness. The fourth leg is presumed missing, possibly stolen by a disgruntled jockey, giving the whole series kind of a wobbly feel in our opinion. Sir Barton became the first Triple Crown winner in 1919; we’re not sure what place his horse came in.

Derby Facts

  • The race was begun in 1875 by Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, who, despite having a famous name, still got beat up at recess. It has been run continuously since, although I imagine if the weather is really bad in the winter they take a break so the horses can come inside for some hot chocolate.
  • The first race was run on May 17, 1875, in front of 10,000 spectators, most of whom were just there to see a horse crash, and included a field of 15 three-year-old horses. A second, less-popular race of 3 fifteen-year-old horses was also run, some of who are still finishing.
  • The fastest time posted in the Derby was 1 minute, 59 2/5 seconds in 1973, when Secretariat won, handily beating Proletariat and Judas Iscariot In A Chariot for first place.
  • The Derby also has the largest purse of any of the modern stakes races; an immense, rose-patterned Vera Bradley bag kept securely in a vault on the grounds.
  • The mint julep, a drink consisting of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup, is the traditional drink of the race, and can also be used as a cough expectorant or aftershave.
  • [tweetability]Women traditionally wear large, elaborate hats, which are used to hide the fact that they are drinking so many mint juleps.[/tweetability] Men wear whatever they want, because, well, they’re men.
  • Another tradition is the playing of My Old Kentucky Home, by Stephen Foster, although he’s getting pretty old now and it’s getting kind of embarrassing when he can’t hit the high notes.

So if you’re ever in Kentucky in the spring time, make sure you plan to experience our nation’s “Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”. Unless, of course, there’s an arm wrestling tournament going on at the same time.
[feature_headline type=”left” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h6″ icon=”book”]This column is featured in the book Dubious Knowledge (Book One)[/feature_headline]

Photo Credit: WaveCult (luis.m.justino) cc, Deanna Wardin @ Tattoo Boogaloo cc

All About Beethoven: Part IV (The Part We Spell With an “I” and a “V”)
Our final installment about the Big B.

PART FOUR OF A SERIES (SEE PART THREE)

As Beethoven neared the end of his life, he was universally recognized as a master, even on Mars, because we said universally. Now moving into his “late period”, he began work on two of his most ambitious pieces, the Missa Solemnis (“A Big Mess”) and the 9th Symphony (“The One From the ‘Die Hard’ Soundtrack”). The 9th Symphony, which was performed on May 7, 1824 at the Kamtorten… Kamthertotenhamm… at a theater where they play music, was his last symphony, whose most notable feature was the incorporation of a choir, which most symphonies did not use, due to the fact that they usually fought with the orchestra over who got to use the wig powder first. Said the local newspaper Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, “Gesundheit! What a great show!”. Rolling Stone raved, “It might have been good but we don’t speak German,” and Mother Earth News said “Whoa, we dig the hair, dude!”. Unlike his earlier concerts, this one did not make him much money, as he had forgotten to set up his merch table and sell T-shirts and busts of himself.

Deafness and Woolen Bloomers

By 1814 Beethoven was almost totally deaf; in fact, at the end of a performance of the Ninth Symphony he had to be turned around to see the thunderous applause of the audience, as his hearing loss prevented him from hearing it. Nonetheless, cheap, painted hussies still threw their large, woolen bloomers on stage, as, as we have mentioned before, Beethoven was a stud, even with that hair that stuck out all over. Regardless, or maybe regarding, we’re not sure which works better here, he resolved to continue to live for his music, which is good because otherwise we would have nothing to write about.

Death, Thunderstorms and Beiber

[pullquote type=”right”]His last compositions were his later string quartets, which were so ahead of their time that people wondered if he had gotten hold of some bad wig powder.[/pullquote]His last compositions were his later string quartets, which were so ahead of their time that people wondered if he had gotten hold of some bad wig powder. They are now generally seen as masterpieces, which means you’d better say you like them or you aren’t a real musician. He became bedridden his last few months, and died on March 26, 1827 as a thunderstorm raged, because even nature knew Beethoven rocked. His funeral was attended by 20,000 Viennese citizens, because that’s who was living in Vienna at the time. And, just as my fingers are when I mishandle Super Glue, his legacy was cemented as one of the giants of musical composition, frequently mentioned as one of the legendary “three B’s”: Bach, Beethoven, and Beiber.

Finally Free to Romp in the Meadow

And so our troubled musical bard was left to rest in peace, at least until people started to make busts out of his head and put them on the grand pianos of piano teachers where he could glare at cowering students who couldn’t remember “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. His music has been deemed so important that it is featured twice on the Voyager space probe’s golden record that will greet any extra-terrestrials who happen to find it. Unfortunately, one of these recordings was mislabeled as “The Hippy Hippy Shake” by The Swinging Blue Jeans, but since it will take approximately 3.8 billion years for the probe to be returned for correction, they just decided to let it go this time. And now we, bid adieu to Beethoven, as he romps in the meadow, finally free from the evil Dr. Varnick and oh wait that’s the dog again.

All About Beethoven: Part III (Possibly The Last Part, Unless We Come Up With More Jokes)
More funny stuff about the life of Beethoven.

PART THREE OF A SERIES (SEE PART TWO)

A common myth is that Beethoven was deaf when he starred in that movie where he was the dog, but in reality, he was just tired of being asked for his autograph over and over and wanted a little peace and quiet, so he would just say “eh?” with one of those ear trumpet things until people left him alone. But, as fate would have it, because fate is like that, the jerk, he actually did begin losing his hearing at about the age of 26. The cause was determined not to be from listening to music too loud in his iPod earbuds, BUT THAT COULD STILL HAPPEN KIDS. By 1814 Beethoven was almost totally deaf, but he still continued to compose music, because, basically, Beethoven was a stud. This is the non-musical equivalent of Michael Jordan having lead weights tied on his custom-made Air Jordans (#22 – Lead Version – Not For Sale) and having to use a bowling ball to dunk with. Or maybe he had bowling balls tied to his feet, and had to wear lead shorts, and the basketball was a cabbage, but you get the idea.

Vienna and the Brown-Wigged Pig

[pullquote type=”right”]When Beethoven returned to Vienna, his musical style took a noticeable turn, employing the use of synthesizers and a decidedly more pop feel – no, wait, that was Van Halen, sorry.[/pullquote]In the spring of 1802 Beethoven’s Second Symphony was performed at the “Theater an der Wein” (translation: “Theater And Some Wine”). The concert was a financial success, as Beethoven was able to charge more than three times the usual cost of a ticket, even though Ticketmaster still took 30% of the sales. He was also beginning to have more works published, which was great, because, back then, publishing was like getting a spot on “Ellen.”

When Beethoven returned to Vienna, his musical style took a noticeable turn, employing the use of synthesizers and a decidedly more pop feel – no, wait, that was Van Halen, sorry. This compositional period is sometimes called his “middle period”, or “the period of the middle”, and maybe “the period that is not the beginning or the end”, but never “noisy loud times.” It featured a more animated style, with Beethoven flying around on wires during concerts – sorry, Van Halen again. Actually, it featured larger and longer works, such as his 3rd Symphony, Eroica (Junior High Boy Translation: “Erotica”) which some listeners considered to be a masterpiece, while others were just dragged there by their wives and wanted to get to the Brown-Wigged Pig before it closed. This period defined Beethoven’s style, and he was prolific in composing not only symphonies, but piano sonatas, fermatas, string quartets, cantalopes, concertos, rubertos, clementes and operas.

Sturm, Drang and the 5th Symphony

Of course his most famous work was his 5th Symphony, composed when he was done with his 4th Symphony, and boy, is it loaded with angst and stuff. Music historians call this style “Sturm und Drang” (literally, “Storm and Drang”), which, coincidentally, were also the names of Beethoven’s guitarist and drummer in his band “The Velvet Wigz” in High School. Ha ha! Just kidding; Beethoven never went to High School; as far as we can tell he graduated from somewhere with the word Polytechnik in it, as in North Berlinischestiktechkckckchhhh Polytechnik, or Gunter’s House of Polytechnik and Pawn.

As for his love life, Beethoven rekindled his relationship with Josephine Brunsvik in 1809 after her husband Count (“Really, I’m Not A Vampire”) Joseph Deym died in a mysterious wooden stake in the heart accident. He reportedly wrote her 15 love letters, which is pretty good, as he didn’t have a WiFi connection to his office printer and had to do it by hand. But his status as a commoner prevented her from being able to reciprocate, which led him to write “Layla”; no, that was Eric Clapton doggone it. Well, mostly because of his status, Beethoven remained unmarried, and got to wear whatever he wanted his entire life without having to go back and change it.

NEXT TIME: The Next Period, The One After This One, Where He Writes That Symphony For “Die Hard”.

All About Beethoven: Part II: The Next Part (After Part One)
More fun facts about the world's most scowly composer.

PART TWO OF A SERIES (SEE PART ONE)

Having left Bonn for Vienna, Beethoven began to realize that Vienna really didn’t make those little sausages. Despite this setback, he was more determined than ever to continue his musical studies, and so began to study violin under Ignaz Schuppanzigh (Gesundheit!), counterpoint with Johann Albrechtsberger (Gesundheit!) and Italian vocal style with Antonin Salieri, who killed Mozart in that movie, and was a Kappellmeister (Gesundheit!). But his most well-known teacher was Josef Hadyn, who at the time was a very popular composer, even though he didn’t always wear his wig.

Sausage bites and hot tubs

By 1793 Beethoven was able to support himself as a musician for the first time, and so was able to move out of his apartment with the empty giant wire spool for a table and into another apartment that had a shared hot tub and free cable. He was finally moving up in the world! He established himself as quite a piano “virtuoso” (German: “Show Off”) around town, playing, for example, variations of Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier in the parlors of swooning teenaged Viennese girls, probably tossing his hair around, and kicking his clavier bench over. In the midst of all of this swooning and tossing he secured his first public performance of one of his piano concertos in Vienna in March 1795, where, legend has it, he bit the head off a sausage on stage.

[pullquote type=”right”]He now felt sufficiently expert enough at composing to release his first Opus, which, once out of its cage, ventured tentatively out into the grass, sniffed the air, and them lifting its metaphorical wings to soar majestically into the air as it released a great honk.[/pullquote]He now felt sufficiently expert enough at composing to release his first Opus, which, once out of its cage, ventured tentatively out into the grass, sniffed the air, and them lifting its metaphorical wings to soar majestically into the air as it released a great honk. This is what Opuses do.

Quartets, quintets and hamburgers

And so by the early 1800’s Beethoven had reached his musical maturity, as up until that time he was still putting tacks on violinist’s chairs and rubber chickens in french horns. But now he was a card-carrying member of the Vienna Composers Society (Motto: “Please Give Us Money – We Don’t Want To Work At MacDonalds Again”) and so had to produce quartets and quintets and whatever comes after quintets, but probably not what comes after that. It was at this time that he wrote and had performed his first Symphony, landing him on the cover of the Rolling Stone (German: “Rollinischestmeschsch Stonischestmeschsch”), or, at least he should have, but it wasn’t published at that time. For the premier of his  symphony, Beethoven rented an old hamburger joint called the Burgtheater. Reviews were positive, and Beethoven was now being hailed as the heir to Mozart and Haydn, even though it was pretty apparent that they both couldn’t be his dad, but that’s the way it was back then. By the end of 1800 Beethoven’s music was much in demand, and his rookie baseball card was being sold on eBay for over 150 marks.

Falling in love with Josephine

It was also during this time that (cue violins) Beethoven fell in love with the daughter of Countess (Not A Vampire) Anna Brunsvik. Her name was Josephine, which apparently was a common name back then, much like most girls’ names now have to have a “y” in them somewhere. And so they began dating, even though he was a musician, and her momma told her on the phone “come on home girl”, but she was all like “but, try too understand” and her momma said “too soon to lose my baby”, and she said “he’s a magic man” and then they got married. Unfortunately, no, she actually ended up marrying a guy named Count Josef Deym, who, also unfortunately, was not a vampire. But don’t worry, Josephine will come back in the third part of our story, so get your hankies ready.

Where will the wings of adventure take our hero next? Will there be action and car chases, or just more boring music stuff? Where ARE Vienna sausages made? Tune in next time for another installment of All About Beethoven!

NEXT TIME: More Beethoven, Because We’re Not Done Yet

All About Beethoven: Part I (The Part Where He Is Born And Has To Be A Teenager For A While)
All about Schroeder's favorite composer, and then some.

PART ONE OF A SERIES (SEE PART TWO)

Most kids these days think Mozart is the name of Katy Perry’s chinchilla and Beethoven is that dog in the movie their parents showed them when they were kids to keep them quiet in the van after drinking too many Slurpees at the Qwikee Stop after soccer practice. Ha ha! Crazy kids! Little do they know about the world of adventure and suspicious diseases that awaits them in the study of music composers from the 18th century (Official Motto: “Well, At Least Some Of Us Have Toilets Now”.)

A crucial musical figure who straddled both the Classical and Romantic eras of music, Beethoven must have had an incredibly wide stance. But, this not withstanding, he was apparently also able to sit at a piano bench and compose a lot of music, which you can still hear today if you listen to that one station that broadcasts “All Things Considered”.

One bad apple doesn’t spoil the wig powder

[pullquote type=”right”]Beethoven’s first music teacher was his father, not unlike the Jackson 5, except without the stylish dancing and Afros.[/pullquote]Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, which, according to Wikipedia, “has developed a concept of international co-operation and maintains sustainability oriented project partnerships in addition to traditional city Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…… Sorry, dozed off there. I’m sure Bonn is a very exciting place, and when Beethoven lived there, he must have enjoyed roaming its fun-filled streets full of Germans and wig powder shops. Beethoven’s first music teacher was his father, not unlike the Jackson 5, except without the stylish dancing and Afros. Although tradition has it his father was a harsh instructor, often driving the young prodigy to tears, at least he didn’t have to sing “One Bad Apple” on the Flip Wilson Show.

Obeying official Child Prodigy Rules, Beethoven was expected to show off for snooty courtesans with fake moles on their cheeks at as young of an age as possible. Therefore, he made his first appearance in March 1778 at age 6, where posters show he opened for “Honey Hornblower and the Stuttgart Steppers” at the Kaiserkeller, beating The Beatles there by 146 years. His first three piano sonatas, called “Kurfürst” (literally, “Gesundheit”) were published in 1783 and turned him into an overnight nothing, because, let’s face it, no one cares much about piano sonatas.

Like most teenagers in Bonn, Beethoven also spent his share of time getting into trouble doing burnouts on the Kappellmeister’s lawn in his Chevy, and getting into baton fights with rival gangs of composers. Still, he persevered, and soon found himself ready to pursue his life’s dream of becoming a Full Time Composer (Official Motto: “At Least I’m Not A Painter, Mom”).

Leaving the Big Macs behind

After graduation, Beethoven, as most accomplished musicians have throughout history, worked at a MacDonald’s for a year while trying to make his way as a composer in the Big City. Soon he began to gain the attention of local music supporters, such as Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, who, despite his name, was, unfortunately, not a vampire. It was through supporters such as these that he was able to pursue his craft as a composer, and, more importantly, to vow never to eat a Big Mac again. Beethoven also supported his income by playing viola in the court orchestra, which familiarized him with many important viola jokes, such as, “Hans, what’s the difference between a viola and a violin?” (pause for effect) “A viola incorporates a longer combustible period relative to the width, girth and weight of the respective instruments.” Trust me, back then, that was a knee slapper.

In 1792, having grown as a musician and having finally paid his dues to the Local Musicians and Viola Joke Union 102, he left Bonn for Vienna, which is in Austria, where the Sound of Music was filmed, but without any Beethoven songs. Sending his  friend off to Vienna, Count Waldstein wrote in a farewell message: “Through uninterrupted diligence you will receive Mozart’s spirit through Haydn’s hands. Also, try the weinerschnitzel at The Brown-Wigged Pig! (Official Motto: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Wig, No Pig)”. So Beethoven left for Vienna in a broken down VW van with faded flower power stickers on it, determined to make his way as an established musician in Vienna.

Next Time: The Vienna Period (WARNING: No Sausages)