October 27, 2015

“Not fade away…”


[An updated version of a previous post. Thanks to the readers who emailed corrections to me.]

On October 27, 1957, American Rockabilly and rock music pioneer Buddy Holly and his band the Crickets released their second 45 rpm single, as a follow-up to their first smash hit “Peggy Sue.” This new single featured “Oh Boy” on one side and “Not Fade Away” on the other.

“Not Fade Away” was actually the “B” side of the record. But it eventually became more widely known.

It’s a classic rock ode with a Bo Diddley beat about a guy whose love for a girl is “bigger than a Cadillac” – a love, the guy claims, that’s real and “not fade away.”

Holly was killed in a tragic plane crash a little over a year after “Not Fade Away” was released. (The date of his death, February 3, 1959, was memorably called “the day the music died” by Don McLean in his 1971 hit song “American Pie.”)

Although Holly’s song popularized “not fade away” as a hip phrase, it had been used in literature as far back as the early 1800s.

And, it’s likely a vernacular echo of an earlier phrase found in the King James Version of the Bible: “fadeth not away.”

In I Peter 5, Saint Peter, the apostle of Jesus who is considered to be the first Pope of the Catholic Church, gives some advice to leaders of the growing number of Christian congregations.

Among other things, he tells them they need to take care of their flocks and set good examples for them.

If they do, he explains, they will be rewarded with a crown of glory that won’t fade away when Jesus returns in the Second Coming to take true believers to heaven.

In verse I Peter 5:2-4 of the King James Version of the Bible, Peter’s words are given like this:

     “…Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

Of course, no one says “fadeth not away” nowadays unless they are quoting the Bible.

But the phrase “not fade away” is heard fairly often.

My favorite recent example was its use as the title of an episode of the AMC Network TV show “Fear the Walking Dead.”

And, in the decades since Buddy Holly’s death, the song “Not Fade Away” has certainly not, well, faded away.

It has been covered by many other great musicians and bands, including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, The Byrds, Tom Petty, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and the Grateful Dead.

For more background on the song, see the in-depth post about it on the American Songwriter website.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in 2009, on the day when I was writing the first draft of this post, I heard that William Safire had died. Safire's “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine and his many excellent books about the origins of famous quotations and phrases that grew out of it were among the inspirations that led me to create this blog. He was one of the great quote mavens of our time. May his legacy not fade away.

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October 21, 2015

The day Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” made the earth move…


On October 21, 1940, Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was first published by Charles Scribner's Sons.

It’s a classic war story about an American, Robert Jordan, who goes to Spain to fight with anti-Fascist rebels during the Spanish Civil War. Along the way, he falls in love with a rebel girl named Maria.

The title of the novel is taken from a famous line written by British poet John Donne: “...never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 

Those oft-quoted words are from Donne’s book Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1624. They come at the end of a passage that includes another famous quote by Donne: “No man is an island.”

Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls was a huge bestseller that generated some famous lines of its own.

The first comes in Chapter 7. As Robert and Maria are about to kiss for the first time, Maria asks the somewhat unbelievably naïve question: “Where do the noses go?”

That quote was immortalized by the immensely popular 1943 film adaptation of the book, in which Ingrid Bergman, as Maria, says it to Gary Cooper, playing Robert Jordan.

In Chapter 13 of the novel, there’s another famous quote: “But did thee feel the earth move?” (Hemingway used “thee” and other antiquated terms of speech in the novel supposedly as a way of translating what was being said in Spanish.)

Jordan poses this question to Maria after they have sex. According to a flowery previous paragraph describing their coupling, it did move for Jordan. He supposedly “felt the earth move out and away from under them.”

Maria answers Jordan’s question in the affirmative. Later, when one of the rebel leaders asks Maria if something happened between her and Jordan, she says simply: “The earth moved.”

When the novel was published in 1940, the use of the phrase “feel the earth move” was not a yet a humorous reference to enjoyable sex.

But the use of the phrase in both the book and the movie made it familiar enough to make it that – and to give songwriter-singer Carol King the title and refrain of her hit song “I Feel the Earth Move” (1971).

In Chapter 43 of For Whom the Bell Tolls, there’s another oft-quoted line: “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.”

It’s included in many books of quotations and one of its many admirers is Senator John McCain. He used the variation Worth the Fighting For as the title of his autobiographical book published in 2003.

Ironically, McCain’s campaign nemesis, President Barack Obama has named Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls as one of the books that have inspired him.

I live near Key West, where Ernest Hemingway lived from late 1920s to the late 1930s.

He worked on some of his most famous novels and stories there, including For Whom the Bell Tools, A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not and the short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

Hemingway’s former house in Key West, now called the Hemingway Home and Museum, is a big tourist attraction that is famous for the dozens of “polydactyl” (six- and seven-toed) cats that hang out there.

They’re descendants of the polydactyl cats Hemingway had there in the Thirties.

As a Keys resident, I should probably like Ernest Hemingway more than I do. But the truth is his books and stories never really made the earth move for me.

Plus, I’m just not macho enough to appreciate the fine arts of bullfighting, big game hunting and killing beautiful big fish – three of Hemingway’s favorite sports.

Nor do I find it easy to overlook the way he treated his wives, lovers and kids.

But I really like his polydactyl cats.

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October 17, 2015

“I am not a crook!”

In retrospect, it’s ironic that one of the slogans used by Richard M. Nixon during his first presidential campaign in 1968 was: “The ‘I’ in Nixon stands for integrity.”

Today, the more remembered “slogan” is the one used against Nixon during the 1972 presidential election, a quip attributed to comedian Mort Sahl: “Would you buy a used car from this man?”

Of course, Nixon managed to beat Democrat George McGovern in the November 1972 election by a landslide.

But the pesky scandal that came to be called “Watergate,” which started with the bungled break-in at the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. on June 17, 1972, got steadily worse after Nixon was reelected.

By the summer of ‘73, a Congressional Committee and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox were conducting official investigations to find out if Nixon was involved and determine whether he had tried to cover up his involvement.

Naturally, Nixon denied it for as long as he could.

On November 17, 1973, during a televised press conference, Nixon tried to make it seem like he welcomed the Watergate investigations and uttered one of his most famous quotes: “I am not a crook.” (Sometimes given as “I’m not a crook.)

“I made my mistakes,” Nixon said, “but in all my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service. I’ve earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their President’s a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

Most observers found the welcoming part especially hard to believe. Just a few weeks earlier, Nixon had fired Archibald Cox and abolished the Office of the Special Prosecutor, in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

But the Congressional Watergate investigation continued and the dominoes kept falling for Nixon. It became clear that covert operatives working for him had conducted the Watergate break-in and that he and his administration had tried to cover it up. Eventually, to avoid impeachment, Nixon become the first U.S. president to resign, on August 9, 1974.

Shortly after Nixon announced his resignation, his Vice President, Gerald Ford, was sworn in as president. Ford’s brief acceptance speech that day included another famous political quotation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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October 13, 2015

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism.”


It’s difficult to pigeonhole Teddy Roosevelt.

He was a Republican for most of his political career, including his two terms as President of the United States from 1901 to 1909.

Then, in 1912, he decided the Republican Party had become too cozy with big corporate interests.

So he left the GOP and founded the Progressive Party (nicknamed “the Bull Moose Party” after Roosevelt told reporters he was fit to run for president again and feeling as “strong as a bull moose”).

Some of statements Teddy uttered during his long political career make sound him like a right-wing conservative. Some make him sound like a left-wing liberal.

On October 12, 1915, he gave a controversial speech to the Knights of Columbus in New York City that managed to combine Tea Party-style anti-immigrant rhetoric with comments that FOX News commentators would likely attack as liberal, anti-business and soft on the issue of illegal aliens.

This was the speech that launched the famous and still controversial term “hyphenated American.”

“There is no room in this country,” Roosevelt bellowed, “for hyphenated Americanism…German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

Those words sound like something Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump might say.

And, many conservatives would certainly applaud the part of the speech in which Roosevelt said immigrants to the United States should be required to learn English.

They might find it harder to embrace other parts of Roosevelt’s “hyphenated Americans” speech.

Like the part when he said:

“Any discrimination against aliens is a wrong, for it tends to put the immigrant at a disadvantage and to cause him to feel bitterness and resentment during the very years when he should be preparing himself for American citizenship. If an immigrant is not fit to become a citizen, he should not be allowed to come here. If he is fit, he should be given all the rights to earn his own livelihood, and to better himself, that any man can have.”

This speech and others that Roosevelt gave on immigration and immigrants continue to generate controversy.

People on both sides of the current debate over “illegal aliens” have used excerpts from his speeches to support their views.

Ironically, there’s an element of truth to both uses of his quotes — because it’s just as difficult to pigeonhole Teddy Roosevelt today as it was when he was alive.

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NOTE TO HISTORY BUFFS: You can read the story the New York Times published on October 13, 1915 about Roosevelt’s “hyphenated Americans” speech by clicking this link.

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October 10, 2015

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but…”


The Izaak Walton League is one of America's oldest conservation groups. It was founded in 1922 by sport fishermen who wanted to preserve fish and wildlife habitat for future generations.

The League took its name from the avid English angler Izaak Walton (1593-1683).

By profession, Walton was an “ironmonger” (a dealer in iron and hardware). During his time off, he loved to fish. He also enjoyed writing.

Walton’s best known work is The Compleat Angler, one of the earliest and most celebrated books ever written about recreational fishing.

It was first published on October 10, 1653 and has been in print ever since.

There’s a famous quotation The Compleat Angler that’s included in many books of quotations.

But it’s not about fishing. And, it wasn’t coined by Walton himself.

It’s an observation about strawberries and God that Walton credited to “Dr. Boteler,” who is generally believed to be the English physician, Dr. William Butler. (Variant spellings of names and words were common back then.)

The famed quote is in this passage comparing the pleasures of angling to those ruby fruits:

“No life, my honest scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well-governed angler; for when the lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams, which we now see glide so quietly by us. Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of angling, as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did’; and so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”

The strawberries referred to in The Compleat Angler were not the big ones modern consumers are familiar with.

Those weren’t developed until the early 1800s.

In Walton’s time, the strawberries eaten in Europe were either wild strawberries or cultivated varieties of wild strawberries that were smaller than today’s varieties.

The large strawberries we buy today were “made” by humans through the process of selective breeding.

Of course, if you’ve ever eaten wild strawberries when they are perfectly ripe, you know that man still hasn’t made a better berry.

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October 04, 2015

“The physician can bury his mistakes…”


Many books of quotations include a famous humorous quote by the eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright:

      “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the 
         architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”

This quote is usually given without any context, except to say that it comes from an article in the October 4, 1953 issue of The New York Times Magazine. (It’s sometimes simply cited as being from The New York Times, but was technically in the paper’s “magazine” section.)

I had once assumed that the quote was from an interview. However, when I looked it up in the online New York Times archive, I discovered that the article was written by Wright himself and that origin of the famous quote actually dates back to 1931.

When the NYT article was published in 1953, Wright was 86 years old. He was renowned as one of the greatest architects in the world. And, he was working on two of his final major projects: the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (his only skyscraper) and his amazing, spiral-shaped masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Wright’s NYT article was essentially his own overview of his career, starting in 1893 when he left the firm of his mentor Louis Henry Sullivan and began designing his famed “Prairie Houses.”

He opened the article with this anecdote:

       Of course, I will never forget the sensations when the Winslow House was built in 1893 in Oak Park [Illinois], the year I left Adler & Sullivan and started my own practice. All Oak Park and River Forest began prowling around the place: I remember climbing up into an upper part of the building during construction to listen to comments. I pulled the ladder up and waited. In came a young fellow with a couple of young women and the fellow said, “Have you seen the man who built this? God, he looks as if he had a pain.” Another one said, “They say this cost $30,000, but I can’t see it.” So I learned my lesson: I never listened like that again.

Wright went on to mention many of his most famous buildings and innovations in the article, including his new projects, the Price Tower and the Guggenheim.

He ended the article by noting some advice he’d given to young architects in a 1931 lecture in Chicago.

In the NYT piece, Wright briefly summarized that advice and gave the following version of his view on the difference between doctors and architects:

“The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines — so they should go as far as possible from home to build their first buildings.”

The first part of that quote is what shows up in most books of quotations.

The second part that advises architects to build their first buildings far from home may reflect Wright’s unpleasant eavesdropping experience at the Winslow House back in 1893.

In Wright’s 1931 lecture (published later that year in his book Two Lectures on Architecture), the two parts of the famed “plant vines” quotation are reversed. They appear as the 11th of 14 key recommendations Wright gave to young architects. Here are all 14…

     1. Forget the Architectures of the world except as something good in their way and time.
     2. Do none of you go into Architecture to get a living unless you love architecture as a principle at work, for its own sake — prepared to be as true to it as to your mother, your comrade, or yourself.
     3. Beware of the Architectural school except as the exponent of engineering.
     4. Go into the field where you can see the machines and methods at work that make the modern buildings, or stay in construction direct and simple until you can work naturally into building-design from the nature of construction.
     5. Immediately begin to form the habit of thinking “why” concerning any effects that please or displease you.
     6. Take nothing for granted as beautiful or ugly, but take every building to pieces, and challenge every feature.  Learn to distinguish the curious from the beautiful.
     7. Get the habit of analysis—analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.
     8. “Think in Simples” as my old master used to say—meaning to reduce the whole to its parts in simplest terms, getting back to first principles.  Do this in order to proceed from generals to particulars and never confuse or confound them or yourself be confounded by them.
     9. Abandon as poison the American idea of the “quick turnover.” To get into practice “half-baked” is to sell out your birthright as an Architect for a mess of pottage, or to die pretending to be an Architect.
     10. Take time to prepare. Ten years’ preparation for preliminaries to Architectural practice is little enough for any Architect who would rise “above the belt” in true Architectural appreciation or practice.
     11. Then go as far away as possible from home to build your first buildings. The physician can bury his mistakes—but the Architect can only advise his client to plant vines.
     12. Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken-house as to build a cathedral. The size of the project means little in Art, beyond the money-matter. It is the quality of character that really counts. Character may be large in the little or little in the large.
     13. Enter no Architectural competition under any circumstances except as a novice.  No competition ever gave to the world anything worth having in Architecture. The jury itself is a picked average. The first thing done by the jury is to go through all the designs and throw out the best and the worst ones so as an average, it can average upon an average. The net result of any competition is an average by the average of averages.
     14. Beware of the shopper for plans. The man who will not grubstake you in prospecting for ideas in his behalf will prove a faithless client.

I think some of Wright’s advice has application far beyond the realm of architecture. My favorite is the last part of #12: “It is the quality of character that really counts. Character may be large in the little or little in the large.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959 (the year the Guggenheim Museum was completed), clearly brought a huge amount of character to everything he did.

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October 03, 2015

“The forgotten middle class…”


On October 3, 1991, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, held a press conference in Little Rock to announce that he was officially running as a candidate to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. 

It became become closely associated with him after he won the Democratic nomination and used it in subsequent stump speeches during the 1992 presidential election.

In his speech on October 3, 1991, Clinton spoke of “the forgotten middle class” three times.

At the beginning, after thanking his wife Hillary, his daughter Chelsea and his friends and supporters, he said:

“All of you, in different ways, have brought me here today, to step beyond a life and a job I love, to make a commitment to a larger cause: preserving the American Dream; restoring the hopes of the forgotten middle class; reclaiming the future for our children.”

In the middle of the speech, Clinton said:

“Together I believe we can provide leadership that will restore the American dream — that will fight for the forgotten middle class.”

Finally, he closed by saying:

“This is not just a campaign for the Presidency – it is a campaign for the future, for the forgotten hard-working middle class families of America who deserve a government that fights for them.”

After that, Clinton used and reused the term “the forgotten middle class” many times in his stump speeches on the way to winning the Democratic nomination and then the presidential election of November 1992.

So, it’s no wonder that his use of the phrase is the most famous.

But he didn’t coin it.

Republican politician Alfonse D’Amato used the slogan, “A Fighter for the Forgotten Middle Class” in his successful 1980 campaign to win a New York Senate seat.

Before that, in 1977, “the forgotten middle class” was used in newspaper interviews by Pat Caddell, the pollster and political strategist for then Democratic Presidential Candidate Jimmy Carter.

Before that, it was used by a number of other politicians and candidates in the 1960s.

And, of course, “the forgotten middle class” was inspired by a similar rhetorical phrase made famous in the early 1930s by Franklin D. Roosevelt: “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

But we’re not quite at the bottom of the quote pyramid yet.

Roosevelt’s famed phrase was inspired by the “the forgotten man,” a term coined by Yale social scientist William Graham Sumner.

He used it as the title of a scholarly essay that was published in his 1883 book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other.

Sumner may have been inspired by some earlier phrase but, if so, it has apparently been forgotten.

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