Daily Archives: January 29, 2016

Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Paul_Gustave_Dore_Raven14Edgar Allan Poe finished his popular and unique poem “The Raven” in January 1845. Set on a cold December night, it makes perfect sense that it was released in January. It made him famous, but not what he also craved to be… rich.

Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a “non-reasoning” creature capable of speech. He decided on a raven, which he considered “equally capable of speech” as a parrot, because it matched the intended tone of the poem. Poe said the raven is meant to symbolize “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens.

Poe really knows how to create a mood, to make his reader feel the shadows, the creepy noises in the room, the croak of the bird. This is a poem that pulls you into a moment. Like anything that scares you in a fun way, this is all about making you feel like you are experiencing the story while you read it. It’s spooky and a little spine-tingling, like a good horror movie. It’s fun to read – it’s meant to be read out loud. Try it and see how satisfying these lines are when they roll off the tongue. He’s trying to make his poem as musical, hypnotic, and captivating as possible. All of this complicated rhyme and rhythm aims at drawing you more completely into the world of the poem.

It’s interesting to think that people have been excited (and scared) by stories like this for hundreds of years. Folks in the 19th century read Poe for the same reasons we read Stephen King: that creepy thrill in reading about scary things happening to other people. When you read a story about someone slowly losing his mind, you might be horrified, but it’s also pretty hard to put it down.

And now a little about Poe the man:

Edgar_Allan_Poe_2He was born to traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. By the age of three both of his parents had died, and he was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his family in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Allan tried to raise him in his own image as a businessman and a Virginia gentleman, but Poe had dreams of being a writer like his childhood hero, Lord Byron. By the age of thirteen, Poe had compiled enough poetry to publish a book.

In 1826 Poe attended the University of Virginia, where he excelled in his classes while accumulating considerable debt. To teach him frugality, he was sent to college with less than a third of the money he needed, so he soon took up gambling to raise money to pay his expenses. By the end of his first term Poe was so desperately poor that he burned his furniture to keep warm. Angry and humiliated by his poverty, he returned to Richmond to visit the home of his fiancée, only to discover she was engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he left Richmond, vowing to become a great poet and to find adventure. He published his first book Tamerlane by age eighteen and then he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later he heard that Mrs. Allan, the only mother he had ever known, was dying of tuberculosis, who was hoping to see him before she died. By the time Poe returned to Richmond she had died and had already been buried. He and Allan briefly reconciled, and Allan helped him gain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Before going to West Point, Poe published another volume of poetry. While there he found out that Allan had remarried without telling him or even inviting him to the ceremony. He threatened to get himself expelled from the academy. His wish came true; after only eight months at West Point he was thrown out, but he soon published another book.

Virginia Clemm

Virginia Clemm

Broke and alone, Poe turned to Baltimore, hoping to find relatives in the city to stay with. His aunt, Maria Clemm, became a new mother to him and welcomed him into her home.  Her daughter Virginia first acted as a courier to carry letters to his lady loves but soon became the object of his desire.  He started publishing his short stories; one won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visiter. This allowed him to publish more stories and eventually gain an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He had found a home as a magazine writer.  In 1836, when he was twenty-seven, he married Virginia (she was 13!). After six plus years of marriage, his beloved wife died of tuberculosis. (1847) No wonder he wrote of dark and depressing things. His life was depressing. And all his life he was a true, starving artist.

He kept trying to find a better paying job, moving to Philadelphia and to New York, but it wasn’t until he published The Raven that he began to be a household name. Unfortunately, he only lived another two years after his wife died, dying from mysterious causes (still unknown, even to this day) at the age of forty-nine in Baltimore. Oddly enough, after his death he finally became more famous because of author Rufus Griswold. Poe strongly criticized his works, so upon Poe’s death Griswold struck back, but it backfired. It only made Poe more popular.

Interesting facts:

  • Obsessed with cats, Edgar often wrote with a cat on his shoulder.
  • Edgar’s one and only novel Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was about a boat capsizing and the crew members drawing straws for who would be eaten; they drew straws and ate Richard Parker. The book bombed. Even though Poe said it was a true story, in his time most of the critics didn’t believe him. They were right to think so because at the time Poe’s book wasn’t true, but just 5 years later a similar wreck happened with the same lead character name Richard Parker, but no cannibalism. Then in 1884 there was another shipwreck where there was cannibalism, and the one who was eaten was indeed Richard Parker. (And don’t forget the Tiger in The Life of Pi was named Richard Parker. Concidence?)
  • The Mystery Writers of America have named their award Edgar, after the great E. A. Poe.the-edgars-banner
  • He introduced the first recorded literary detective in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The detective character would lead to become the prototypical detective we know today
  • He was early adopter of the genre of Science Fiction. In 1844, he published “The Balloon” in Sun Newspaper. He described a lighter than air balloon that transversed the Atlantic Ocean in three days. The accounts were so believable that the newspaper had to retract the story two days later. However untrue the story was, the Sun newspaper made a lot of money off of newspapers, and they did not give Poe a cent. From then on, Poe hated the Sun newspaper.
  • “The Raven” was a personal challenge Edgar imposed upon himself. He wanted to write 100 line poem, enough for one sitting. He ended up with 108 lines, which apparently was good enough for Poe.
  • Edgar changed the writing and publishing world. Before Poe, writing was a noble profession where not many were able to make a living off of solely writing. Edgar insisted that writing would be his career, and he made major strides to find an audience for his entertaining articles, which would become the initial spark of the magazine industry. He even was given $1,500 the last week of his life to start a magazine. However, in his life he was plagued by international copycats where he had no protection that we have now with international copyrights. In many ways, he paved the way for writers to be compensated enough to have a career.




Take it to the limit one more time… Glenn Frey 1948 – 2016

By Stephen McClain, Reference DepartmentPhoto_AfterHour_300RGB-1

Glenn Frey, singer/songwriter/guitarist and founding member of the Eagles died at age 67 on January 18, 2016. He was born in Detroit, Michigan where he began piano lessons at age five and later switched to guitar. Like many aspiring musicians from the Great Lakes industrial belt; he headed for a warmer climate and more opportunity. Before leaving the Motor City, he worked with fellow Detroit rocker Bob Seger who wrote a single for Frey’s early band the Mushrooms. Glenn would also sing back-up vocals and play acoustic guitar on Seger’s first national hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” He soon moved to Los Angeles where he would meet J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne. It was also in southern California that Glenn met Texas native Don Henley. After playing a tour with Henley as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band in 1971, they would form the Eagles with guitarist Bernie Leadon and bassist/vocalist Randy Meisner later that year. While it was Glenn Frey who was the founder and visionary of the Eagles, he and Henley were songwriting and musical partners in the band. On the heels of the History of the Eagles tour and after Frey’s death, Henley would say,” I’m not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet.” No doubt. While reviled by some as being fluff and too soft, the music of the Eagles influenced so many people to either pick up guitars or pick up and move. Glenn Frey was quoted as saying that people did things TO the music of the Eagles; they partied, travelled, broke-up… Love them or hate them, that meeting of Frey and Henley would eventually result in the bestselling album of the 20th century, “Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-75.”

EaglesThe band broke up in 1980 (well, took a vacation) and Frey and Henley each had successful solo careers, Henley’s being the most successful (which certainly prompted a song by Mojo Nixon called “Don Henley Must Die.” Written in jest, I’m sure, and perhaps distasteful to bring up at this time, I always thought it was funny: “He’s a tortured artist, Used to be in the Eagles, Now he whines, Like a wounded beagle.”). Of Glenn Frey’s solo hits, my two favorites were “Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City.” “Smuggler’s Blues” from Frey’s solo album “The Allnighter,” was a cool little tune with a great, bluesy slide guitar part. The video for the song inspired an episode of Miami Vice, in which Glenn played the part of a drug smuggler. The B side of “Smuggler’s Blues” was the track “You Belong to the City,” written specifically for Miami Vice. Glenn played all of the instruments on the recording except the drum and saxophone track. The song has such a great street-like feel and the sax typifies the nighttime urban atmosphere. “You Belong to the City” peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on Billboard Top Rock Tracks.

Then in 1994, fans welcomed the long awaited reunion. Glenn wasn’t even sure that anyone would come to the shows. The “Hell Freezes Over” live album and tour featured four new studio cuts and surprised fans with a stripped down “unplugged” version of Hotel California. Glenn joked at the beginning of the live album, “For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation.”

il_340x270.886348558_skdbMy first Eagles record when I was a kid was the double live album that came out in 1980. I already knew most of the songs from hearing them on the radio, but there was something different about the energy, the sound of the crowd and the fact that the songs were a little unlike the studio cuts. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that this album was one of the most heavily overdubbed “live” albums in history. Regardless, it’s the way the music makes you feel that matters. Those were the days when you sat down with the album in front of the stereo, read the liner notes and looked at the pictures as the music washed over you. Much like disappearing into a book, you entered another world, where you could draw up all kinds of images in your brain. This was a double, fold out album so there was even more to look at and read, including a huge, 6-panel poster. It went straight up on my bedroom wall, alongside dozens of KISS posters (don’t judge) and an iconic print of Farrah Fawcett in a red one-piece bathing suit, sitting in front of a striped beach towel, a-hem…I digress. Colorful, live shots of the band: Don Felder, Timothy B. Schmidt, Joe Vitale* and right in the top center of the poster between Don Henley and Joe Walsh was Glenn Frey, smiling with an acoustic guitar. (*Vitale played keys for the Eagles live shows and had met Joe Walsh when they were both students at Kent State University.)

I remember in high school, we used to sit around with acoustic guitars and sing “Seven Bridges Road” from the Eagles’ Live album. Like we could ever come close to that five part harmony, but it was fun. The song was written by Steve Young and was on his “Rock Salt and Nails” album in 1969. Young originally didn’t like the Eagles’ cover version but admitted that the more he heard it, the better it sounded. You can clearly hear Frey and Henley’s voices in the wall of vocal harmony on the Eagles Live album and without Randy Meisner’s tenor, it just would not have happened.

Probably my favorite Eagles song sung by Glenn Frey is “New Kid in Town.” Eagle’s biographer Marc Eliot said it best when he wrote, “New Kid in Town” captures “a precise and spectacular moment immediately familiar to any guy who’s ever felt the pain, jealousy, insecurity, rage and heartbreak of the moment he discovers his girlfriend likes someone better and has moved on.” But for me, it was more about the chord changes and the structure of the song. It is so well written with a bit of a Spanish sound …and those major 7 chords, minor 7 chords, there’s a key change after the beautifully constructed bridge then another key change back to the original key of E after the last chorus. Who writes like that today? Honestly, plenty of people do, but you won’t hear it on the radio anymore. “New Kid in Town” peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977.

Glenn_FreyGlenn Frey was the epitome of the American dream. He was a Detroit rock fan who grabbed his guitar and headed for the coast, met some guys, did some drugs, wrote some songs and changed the world. And although he left the Motor City, he never forgot where he came from. Bob Seger said in an interview, “He was so much more than people knew he was … He would never fail to start with telling me how grateful he was that audiences were still there. He loved the band. He loved the fact he could keep doing this. And he kept doing this until six months before he died.” Glenn Frey is gone way too soon. Why do we mourn our rock stars more than other celebrities? Probably because of what they represent and how they and their music shaped our youth and our lives. True rock stars from Glenn Frey’s era were actually what the original moniker characterized. They didn’t care what you thought. They gave the middle finger to the man and conformed for no one. The writers of this timeless music seem invincible and when we lose one, it reminds us of our own mortality, both individually and as a group. So, thank you, Glenn Frey. The Eagles music was the soundtrack to so much of my life. And it’s the music, along with the somber reminder of impermanence and evanescence that makes me want to sit back with a beer and sing while I still can. Or better yet, put me on a highway, and show me a sign. And take it to the limit…one more time.

*Opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way reflect the philosophy or preferences of the Williamson County Public Library, its staff members, their families, friends, or pets.

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