Monday, January 19, 2009
It was 200 Years ago today: EDGAR A. POE
The greatest writer America ever produced, was born on January 19, 1809.
His 200th birthday will be marked by many new books and tie-ins. Look for "Poe's Children," collecting horror stores by Stephen King and other contemporary writers, and "On a Raven's Wing" with Mary Higgins Clark and others knocking out stories in Poe's style. There's also a new Poe stamp at your local post office, and this modest tribute here at the Ill Folks blog.
Edgar's poetry has been adapted to music and sung by everyone from Frankie Laine to Harry Belafonte, and his stories have been turned into opera and rock opera ("Fall of the House of Usher" especially), and even jazz pieces. Almost a rock star in his own time (poems at the time were as popular as songs), Poe often staged a one-man show, and the centerpiece was his "greatest hit," a recitation of "The Raven."
Unfortunately for Edgar, he was a wild and crazy guy, so bizarre he was buried twice (as you can see from this marker for his original resting place). He was always getting into incredibly vicious feuds every time he joined a newspaper -- not always getting along with co-workers and outraging dozens of writers (including the greats of his day) by scalding them with literary criticism.
While today he's known as a poet and horror writer, back then he was also known for being a controversial magazine editor writing notoriously opinionated reviews. He could rapturously praise a poetess he might've fancied, and venemously put down the latest work of Longfellow, sometimes adding an accusation of plagiarism. The occasional physical confrontation only added to his notoriety. His problems with alcoholism didn't help. Suffering a typical freelance writer's lifestyle, he was perpetually broke and tormented...knocking out hack non-fiction to get by (often making up facts and then declaring the result merely a "hoax"). His marriage to his 13 year-old cousin has intrigued amateur psychologists. After her tragic death, he went on to romances with a variety of women, including the strange Sarah Whitman, who liked to breathe ether from a soaked handkerchief. Poe had no idea how deeply some loved him and others hated him, and in the latter case, unfortunately left his literary legacy in the hands of evil Rev. Rufus Griswold, who set about blackening Poe's name after death. Hardly a friend at all, Griswold instantly posted a mocking obit (under an assumed name) to accentuate Poe's alcohol problems and prickly disposition.
Poe invented the mystery story, and the first detective hero in Auguste Dupin. While his horror stories might've been "pulp fiction," designed to make him some fairly easy money from lurid mags of the day, he put a literary stamp on them and turned them into enduring, fascinating classics, probing deep into the soul and psychology of mortal man. He probably felt his main gift was in the essay, and in poetry.
He was a complex, surprising man, and unlike his wan image, in his early days he was a hearty swimmer and enjoyed boxing, and despite the miseries of his life, he was also capable of wicked parody and black humor.
The last full biography of him, one that is at least equal to the pioneering tome by Arthur Quinn, is by Kenneth Silverman. It's simply titled "Edgar A. Poe." That's the byline Poe chose for his works. Orphaned at 3, he despised his adopted "father" John Allan, and it was only after his death that fussy schoolmarms began writing out "Edgar Allan Poe" to go with Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Fenimore Cooper and the rest of the triple-threat names. So "Edgar A. Poe" it is. Or, you can call him "Eddy," as his wife and mother-in-law did.
Your download is a baker's dozen of musical oddities in all styles from emo and goth to psych and folk. The musical setting for "The Bells" is the musical adapation created by the Ill Folks favorite, Phil Ochs....here, performed by Jim & Jean. The Poe load opens with a song about Eddy as performed by Lou Reed, closes with Vincent Price reading "Dreamland" and in between you'll find:
The Lake (Simon Dreams in Violet), Alone (Neither Neither World), A Dream Within a Dram (Soul Parish), A Dream within a Dream (Glass Prism), Masque of the Red Death (Ivy League Trio), The Raven (Fettdog), Ulalume (narrative backed by the Buddy Morrow Orchestra), System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (Alan Parsons Project), Tell Tale Heart (Hydra), Cask of Amontillado and the Premature Brural (Michael Romeo), Annabel Lee (Society Islands), The Bells (Jim and Jean).
AK...Update October 2010...this link apparently died. Hopefully a new version will be up and running by Eddy's birthday, January 19th.
Re-Up: Poe, Poe, Pitiful He