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Ian Tyson of Ian and Sylvia was born 90 years ago today
Ian and Sylvia, 1974
Photo from the Toronto Telegram
Ian Tyson was born 90 years ago today.
The Canadian singer-songwriter, best known for his song "Four Strong Winds,” was half of the duo, Ian & Sylvia.
Tyson was born to British immigrants in Victoria in 1933, and grew up in Duncan B.C. A rodeo rider in his late teens and early twenties, he took up the guitar while recovering from an injury he sustained in a fall.
He made his singing debut at the Heidelberg Café in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1956 and played with a rock and roll band, "The Sensational Stripes." After graduation from the Vancouver School of Art in 1958, Tyson moved to Toronto, Ontario where he worked as a commercial artist.
There he performed in local clubs and in 1959 began to sing on occasion with Sylvia Fricker. By early 1959, Tyson and Fricker were performing part-time at the Village Corner as "Ian & Sylvia." The pair became a full-time musical act in 1961 and married four years later.
In 1969, they formed and fronted the group, The Great Speckled Bird. Residing in southern Alberta, Tyson toured all over the world. Tyson's first marriage, to Sylvia Fricker Tyson, ended in an amicable divorce in 1975.
Their son, Clay, (Clayton Dawson Tyson, born 1966) was also a musical performer. He later moved to a career modifying racing bikes.
In 1989, Tyson was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Tyson died on Dec. 29, 2022 at age 89.
Here, Tyson performs his song, “Saddle Bronc Girl,” 2011
Sylvia Tyson, Washington Square Park, New York, 2013
Photo by Frank Beacham
Erik Darling, a songwriter and a folk music artist who was an important influence on the folk scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was born 90 years ago today.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Darling was inspired by The Weavers. In the '50s, he formed The Tunetellers, which evolved into The Tarriers with actor/singer, Alan Arkin. Their version of the "Banana Boat Song" reached #4 on the Billboard charts.
In April, 1958, Darling replaced Pete Seeger in The Weavers, although he continued working club dates with The Tarriers until November, 1959. Darling also recorded three solo albums. His second solo effort, True Religion, for Vanguard in 1961 was influential on younger folkies of the day.
Darling left the Weavers in June, 1962 to work as a soloist on the emerging coffeehouse circuit. That summer he formed a jazz-folk trio, The Rooftop Singers, with longtime friend, Bill Svanoe, and jazz singer, Lynn Taylor. Intended as a studio-only project for Vanguard, the group landed an unexpected #1 pop hit with the song, "Walk Right In."
Don McLean who became friends with Darling in 1961, looked back on Darling as “a genuine philosopher and perfectionist.” McClean said he appreciated the time Darling spent with him in his early days. “Undivided mental attention to every aspect of music making and performing is a hallmark of Erik’s work, and I believe some of that rubbed off on me,” McClean said.
In 1967, Darling and Paul Bennett were co-credited for writing the song, "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," by Quicksilver Messenger Service, which appears to be a medley of Darling's 1958 song "St. John's River," and Joan Baez's recording of "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," originally written by Anne Bredon.
Darling died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2008 from lymphoma at the age of 74.
The Weavers with Erik Darling perform “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”
Shel Silverstein, circa 1968
Photo by Alice Ochs
Shel Silverstein, poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter and author of children's books, was born 93 years ago today.
Silverstein grew up in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago and attended Roosevelt High School. Later, he went the University of Illinois before he was expelled. He then attended Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and Roosevelt University for three years, until 1953 when he was drafted into the Army. He served in Japan and Korea.
Silverstein began drawing at age seven by tracing the works of Al Capp. "When I was a kid — 12 to 14, around there — I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn't have anybody to copy, be impressed by,” he told Publisher’s Weekly.
“I had developed my own style. I was creating before I knew there was a Thurber, a Benchley, a Price and a Steinberg. I never saw their work till I was around 30. By the time I got to where I was attracting girls, I was already into work, and it was more important to me. Not that I wouldn't rather make love, but the work has become a habit."
After returning to Chicago, Silverstein began submitting cartoons to magazines while also selling hot dogs at Chicago ballparks. His cartoons began appearing in Look, Sports Illustrated and This Week.
In 1957, Silverstein became one of the leading cartoonists in Playboy, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal with reports from far-flung locales. During the 1950s and 1960s, he produced 23 installments called "Shel Silverstein Visits..." as a feature for Playboy.
Employing a sketchbook format with typewriter-styled captions, he documented his own experiences at such locations as a New Jersey nudist colony, the Chicago White Sox training camp, San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Fire Island, Mexico, London, Paris, Spain and Africa.
Silverstein's passion for music was clear early on as he studied briefly at Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. His musical output included a large catalog of songs — a number of which were hits for other artists, most notably the rock group, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.
He wrote Tompall Glaser's highest-charting solo single "Put Another Log on the Fire," "One's on the Way" (a hit for Loretta Lynn) and "25 Minutes to Go," sung by Johnny Cash, about a man on Death Row with each line counting down one minute closer.
Silverstein also wrote one of Johnny Cash's best known hits, "A Boy Named Sue." Other songs co-written by Silverstein include "the Taker" by Waylon Jennings and "On Susan’s Floor” by Gordon Lightfoot and a sequel to "A Boy Named Sue" called: "Father of a Boy Named Sue" which is less known, but he performed the song on television on The Johnny Cash Show.
He also penned a song entitled "F*** 'em" which is lesser known and contained a reference to "f*** children."
Silverstein styled himself as Uncle Shelby in some works. Translated into more than 30 languages, his books have sold over 20 million copies.
On May 10, 1999, Silverstein died at age 68 of a massive heart attack in Key West, Florida.
William Faulkner was born 126 years ago today.
A writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi, Faulkner wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career.
He is primarily known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a setting Faulkner created based on Lafayette County, where he spent most of his life, and Holly Springs in Marshall County.
Faulkner is one of the most important writers of the Southern literature of the United States, along with Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams.
Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Two of his works, A Fable (1954), and his last novel, The Reivers (1962), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel, The Sound and the Fury, as sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century. Also on the list were, As I Lay Dying (1930) and Light in August (1932).
Faulkner was known for his experimental style with meticulous attention to diction and cadence. In contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner made frequent use of "stream of consciousness" in his writing. He wrote often highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories of a wide variety of characters.
His characters included former slaves or descendants of slaves, poor white, agrarian or working-class Southerners and Southern aristocrats.
Faulkner suffered serious injuries in a horse-riding accident in 1959, and died from a myocardial infarction, at age 64, on July 6, 1962.
Roosevelt "Booba" Barnes was born 87 years ago today.
A Delta blues guitar player and vocalist, Barnes — along R. L. Burnside, Big Jack Johnson, Paul "Wine" Jones and James "Super Chikan" Johnson — were present-day exponents of an edgier, electrified version of the raw, uncut Delta blues sound.
Born in Longwood, Washington County, Mississippi, Barnes got his start in 1960 as a member of the Swinging Gold Coasters, a local Mississippi blues band. He relocated to Chicago in 1964, where he played in bars and clubs, but returned to Mississippi in 1971 and continued to perform locally into the early 1980s.
In 1985, he opened a nightclub, the Playboy Club, and played there with a backing group called the Playboys. They became regional blues favorites and eventually signed to Rooster Blues, who released Barnes's debut effort in 1990.
The album was hailed by Allmusic as "an instant modern classic,” and Guitar Player called Barnes "a wonderfully idiosyncratic guitar player and an extraordinary vocalist by any standard.” Barnes toured the U.S. and Europe following the album's release.
Barnes's career was interrupted in the middle of the decade when he was diagnosed with cancer, and he died of the disease in 1996 in Chicago at age 59.
Here, Barnes performs “Scratch My Back” in Greenville, Mississippi.
John Howard Lawson — one of the "Hollywood Ten" writers who went to jail — was born 129 years ago today.
A writer, Lawson was head of the Hollywood division of the Communist Party USA. He was also the organization's cultural manager, and answered directly to V.J. Jerome, the Party's New York-based cultural chief.
He was the first president in the Writers Guild of America, West after they changed from their name from Screen Writers Guild.
In 1928, Lawson moved to Hollywood where he wrote scripts for films such as The Ship for Shanghai, Bachelor Apartment and Goodbye Love. In the winter of 1930-1931, it was at this time during the Great Depression that Lawson wrote Success Story.
The Theatre Guild rejected the script, but Harold Clurman, a reader for them, had recently just formed the Group Theatre (New York) and needed new scripts. Clurman and Lawson reworked the play during the summer of 1932, and Success Story opened on September 26, 1932 for 121 performances.
During the 1930s, leftists accused Lawson of having a lack of ideological and political commitment. New Playwrights Theatre associate Mike Gold attacked him in The New Masses on April 10, 1934, calling him a "A Bourgeois Hamlet of Our Time" who wrote adolescent works that lacked moral fiber or clear ideas.
Lawson responded a week later in The New Masses in the article "'Inner Conflict' and Proletarian Art." He cited his middle-class childhood as the reason why he could fully understand the working people. He also recognized that his prosperity and Hollywood connections were suspect in the fight for workers' rights.
Due to the criticism, Lawson joined the Communist Party and began a program of educating himself about the proletarian cause. He would soon travel throughout the poverty-stricken South to study bloody labor conflicts in Alabama and Georgia.
While in the South, he would submit articles to the Daily Worker which got him arrested numerous times. These experiences would inspire his next play, Marching Song. It was put on by the radical Theatre Union and it opened on February 17, 1937 and ran for sixty-one performances.
Lawson, who joined the American Communist Party in 1934, made several films that were political, including Blockade (1938), which starred Henry Fonda. It was a film on the Spanish Civil War for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Story.
Lawson also wrote Counter-Attack (1945), a tribute to the Soviet-USA alliance during the Second World War. He also wrote more innocuous films, such as the critically acclaimed, Algiers (1938), and the Humphrey Bogart vehicles, Sahara and Action in the North Atlantic, in 1943.
After the World War II, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood.
These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses.” During their interviews they named several individuals whom they accused of holding left-wing views.
Lawson appeared before the HUAC on October 29, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and Ring Lardner Jr, he refused to answer any questions.
Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The HUAC and U.S. appeals courts, however, disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and Lawson was sentenced to twelve months in Ashland Prison and fined $1,000.
Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Lawson moved to Mexico where he began writing Marxist interpretations of drama and film-making such as The Hidden Heritage (1950), Film in the Battle of Ideas (1953) and Film: The Creative Process (1964). He also wrote one of the first anti-apartheid movies, Cry, the Beloved Country (1951) under a pseudonym.
After he was blacklisted, he taught at several universities including Stanford University, Loyola Marymount University and Los Angeles University of Judaism.
In his book, Film in the Battle of Ideas, Lawson asserted that "the rulers of the United States take the film very seriously as an instrument of propaganda" and that the influence of Hollywood movies is utilized to "poison the minds of U.S. working-class people" and that inaccurately describes the reality of U.S. working-class life.
Lawson’s writing on techniques in play and screenwriting are highly respected today.
Robert McKee used Lawson’s work in courses I took from him over the years and later borrowed and credited Lawson for many key ideas in his book, Story.
F for Fake, the iconic documentary by Orson Welles, was released 50 years ago today.
Known as Truths and Lies in French, F for Fake was directed by and starred Welles and co-written with Oja Kodar, his companion. It focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger.
de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, as well as the basis of the value of art. Loosely a documentary, the film operates in several different genres and has been described as a kind of film essay.
Far from serving as a traditional documentary on Elmyr de Hory, the film also incorporates Welles's companion, Oja Kodar, notorious "hoax-biographer" Clifford Irving and Welles as himself.
In addition to the 85-minute film, Welles also shot and edited a self-contained nine-minute short film as a "trailer," almost entirely composed of original material not found in the main film itself.
Several narratives are woven together throughout the film, including those of de Hory, Irving, Welles, Howard Hughes and Kodar. About de Hory, we learn that he was a struggling artist who turned to forgery out of desperation, only to see the greater share of the profits from his deceptions go to doubly unscrupulous art dealers.
As partial compensation for that injustice, he is maintained in a villa in Ibiza by one of his dealers. What is only hinted at in Welles's documentary is that de Hory had recently served a two-month sentence in a Spanish prison for homosexuality and consorting with criminals. de Hory would commit suicide a few years after the release of Welles' film, on hearing that Spain had agreed to turn him over to the French authorities.
Irving's original part in F for Fake was as de Hory's biographer, but his part grew unexpectedly at some point during production. There has not always been agreement among commentators over just how that production unfolded, but the now-accepted story is that the director, François Reichenbach, shot a documentary about de Hory and Irving before giving his footage to Welles, who then shot additional footage with Reichenbach as his cinematographer.
In the time between the shooting of Reichenbach's documentary and the finishing of the Welles film, it became known that Irving had perpetrated a hoax of his own, namely a fabricated "authorized biography" of Howard Hughes (the hoax was later fictionalized in the film, The Hoax).
This discovery prompted the shooting of still more footage, which then got woven into F for Fake. Interweaving the narratives even more, there are several pieces of footage in the film showing Welles at a party with de Hory, and, at one point, de Hory even signs a painting with a forgery of Welles' signature.
Some of Hughes' career is outlined in the form of a parody of the "News on the March" sequence in Citizen Kane.
Welles also draws parallels between the de Hory and Irving hoaxes and his own brush with early notoriety by including a recreation of part of his 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama, which had simulated a newscast about a Martian invasion and sparked panic among some listeners.
Exactly one hour before narrating Kodar's story, Welles promises that everything in the next hour of his film will be true. Exactly one hour later, the film tells a story where Kodar sits for a series of nudes for Pablo Picasso after getting him to agree to give her the finished portraits, and then selling not those very portraits but fake Picassos in their place.
The story climaxes with Welles and Kodar re-enacting a tense exchange between Picasso and Kodar's grandfather, the alleged forger of the paintings, before Welles reminds the viewer that he only promised to tell the truth for an hour and that "for the last 17 minutes, I've been lying my head off."
Here is the trailer for Orson Welles F for Fake.
Brigitte Bardot visits Pablo Picasso at his studio near Cannes, 1956