David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Music, Names and Titles

Music

• Oscar Levant went to analysis for years, but he remained an unhappy man. When a friend asked what good psychoanalysis had done for him, Mr. Levant replied, “I’m still unhappy, but at least I have some place to go everyday.” Of course, Mr. Levant was known for his morose, grumpy personality. Once, a friend said to him, “Oscar, you sound happy.” Mr. Levant replied, “I’m not myself today.” By the way, early in his career, Mr. Levant played piano at a little girls’ ballet school. He later told his friends, “My work was child’s play.”

• Tenor Enrico Caruso once seriously studied the flute. A man tried to sell him a new recording machine, and to test the machine, Mr. Caruso played the flute, then listened to the recording. He then asked the salesperson, “Is that how I sound?” The salesperson replied, “Yes, can I sell you the recording machine?” Mr. Caruso said, “No, but I’ll sell you the flute.”

• Wealthy people sometimes receive insincere praise. Nathan Rothschild, a tremendously wealthy man, once listened to a violinist, then congratulated him on his music. Mr. Rothschild then jingled a few coins in his pocket and said, “That’s my music. People listen to it just as carefully. But somehow they don’t respect it as much.”

• When Sophie Tucker needed an accompanist, she told Ted Shapiro to audition, and if he was good enough, she would give him a contract. Forty years later, Mr. Shapiro was still accompanying Ms. Tucker, and he still didn’t have a contract.

Names and Titles

• Stan Freberg’s ancestry is Swedish, but despite not being named Johnson, he comes by his name honestly. When his grandfather, Paul Johnson, came to America, the immigration official told him, “What? Not another Johnson? Do you know how many thousands of Swedes I’ve logged in here with the name of Johnson? Forget it! What don’t you change it to something else?” Mr. Johnson thought about what name he wanted the immigration official to put down in writing, and because his mother’s name had been Elna Friberg, he spelled her last name for the official, who pronounced it Fry-berg. Mr. Johnson explained that in Swedish the i was pronounced e, as in Free-burg. The official said, “OK, Freberg,” wrote down the name, and the newly named Paul Freberg began life in his new country.

• Balanchine ballerina Allegra Kent was named Iris Margo Cohen when she was born, but anti-Semitism led to the change of her last name. Her mother simply got tired of being turned away by anti-Semitic landlords, and so when Allegra was two years old (she was born in 1937), her mother substituted “Kent” for “Cohen.” Her name change from “Iris” to “Allegra” came about because of her sister, who changed her name frequently after becoming sixteen years old. At one point her sister became Wendy Drew — “Wendy” came from Peter Pan, and “Drew” came from the Nancy Drew mysteries. Before her sister became Wendy, she made a list of names to choose from. On that list was “Allegra,” among other names. Iris liked the name “Allegra” so much that she became Allegra Kent.

• Peter Benchley’s first novel was the mega-best seller Jaws, which he and his editors had a difficult time naming. They tried out many different titles, and they finally noticed that the only word they liked in any of the titles was “jaws.” With time running out, they decided to name the novel Jaws, a title that really didn’t satisfy anyone. According to Mr. Benchley, they felt that “the bottom line was, who cares? Nobody reads first novels anyway.” (Mr. Benchley’s father, Nathaniel, the son of humorist Robert Benchley, earlier had suggested the title Who’s That Noshin’ on My Laig?)

• The HMS Beagle is famous because Charles Darwin sailed on it and collected evidence that supported the theory of evolution. However, the Beagle was very small and very crowded — only 90 feet long and with 74 crewmembers. Mr. Darwin’s quarters were large in comparison with the quarters of most of the crew, but even he barely had room to turn around. Of course, Mr. Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle to gather evidence that supported the theory of evolution is well known. Less well known is that British sailors referred to the Beagle and ships of its type as “coffins,” because of their unfortunate tendency, during bad weather, to sink.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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