A dark week in early December

A week of death, punishment, and destruction. This week: deaths on M W F, punishment on Tu, destruction on Th.


(#1) John Cleese as the host on Monty Python’s “It’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” show

Hello again, and welcome to the show. Tonight we continue to look at some famous deaths. Tonight we start with the wonderful death of Genghis Khan, conqueror of India.

Well, acually, today, the 4th, is Frank Zappa (1993). Friday, the 8th, is John Lennon (1980). And Wednesday, the 6th, is Wolfie M. himself (1791). Tomorrow, the 5th, is Krampusnacht, when the Christmas demon Krampus punishes naughty children (the night before St. Nicholas rewards the good ones, on his feast day). And Thursday, the 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of the Japanese bombing of the naval base in Honolulu, which brough the United States into World War II.

There are good things in there, notably St. Nicholas’s Day and the birthdays of a number of my friends and family. But mostly it’s steeped in the unpleasant untimely deaths of three remarkable and extraordinarily productive musicians. Mozart at 35, of a never-identified disease; Lennon at 40, shot to death on the street; and Zappa at 52, of prostate cancer.

December 4th: Frank Zappa. From Wikipedia:


(#2) Zappa’s 1974 album Apostrophe (‘); you can listen here to its “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” Suite

Frank Vincent Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was an American musician, composer, activist and filmmaker. His work was characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his era.
As a self-taught composer and performer, Zappa’s diverse musical influences led him to create music that was sometimes difficult to categorize. While in his teens, he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical composers such as Edgard Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern, along with 1950s rhythm and blues and doo-wop music. He began writing classical music in high school, while at the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands; later switching to electric guitar. His 1966 debut album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated sound collages. He continued this eclectic and experimental approach, irrespective of whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz or classical.

December 5th: Krampusnacht.


(#3) Krampus with two terrified captive children

Krampus details earlier on this blog: on 11/24/14, here; and on 11/28/14, here.

December 6th: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The great Mozart was in fact baptized Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart and known at first as Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart (Theophilus ‘love of God’), but preferred the Latin translation of his middle name, Amadeus. I mention that small fact here because for his play (and later movie) about Mozart and Salieri, Peter Shaffer chose the title Amadeus, in part because that name is almost uniquely associated with Mozart in public consciousness, and in part because Shaffer wanted to emphasize the parallel between Mozart’s troubled relationship with his father and Salieri’s troubled relationship with his God.

Kim Darnell and I had the pleasure of watching a film of the National Theatre Ensemble’s stunning 2016 production of Amadeus some time ago, and I intend to write up some commentary on the staging, the music, and the acting — but here I’ll just show you one photo from the production, of Adam Gillen as Mozart:


(#4) Fabulously attired, childishly silly, and freakishly talented

The Wikipedia notes on Mozart’s appearance:

Mozart’s physical appearance was described by tenor Michael Kelly, in his Reminiscences: “a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain”. His early biographer Niemetschek wrote, “there was nothing special about [his] physique. […] He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius.” His facial complexion was pitted, a reminder of his childhood case of smallpox. He loved elegant clothing. Kelly remembered him at a rehearsal: “[He] was on the stage with his crimson pelisse [an ankle-length cloak]

December 7th: Pearl Harbor Day. From Wikipedia:


(#5) Battleships going under during the bombing on 12/7/41

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, on the morning of December 7, 1941. The attack, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, led to the United States’ entry into World War II. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions they planned in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

“A day which will live in infamy”, FDR pronounced the next day (using restrictive relativizer which, by the way, so that I think of December 7th as Pearl Harbor Day, my cousin Lynda Zwicky Hood’s birthday, and Restrictive Which Day, all rolled into one).

December 8th: John Lennon. The Wikipedia nutshell version: “an English singer, songwriter, musician, and activist who co-founded the Beatles, the most commercially successful and musically influential band in the history of popular music”.


(#6) (Photo by Iain Macmillan)

Delusional fan Mark David Chapman is still in prison for murdering John on 12/8/80 — he was 25 at the time — and will probably pass the rest of his life there.

2 Responses to “A dark week in early December”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    The new British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is to be commissioned by Queen Elizabeth today. Fancy choosing Pearl Harbour Day to commission a naval ship.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    How significant do the British consider Pearl Harbor Day to be? They’d been at war in Europe since 1939, and the Dunkirk evacuation took place in 1940. So for them Pearl Harbor represented (another) expansion of the war, to the Pacific. Is that much in the British consciousness?

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