Wednesday, March 7, 2012


While struggling in obscurity during his own lifetime, Vincent van Gogh has gone on to become one of the most famous painters of the 1800s. And while most of that has to do with the quality and style of his work, part of our fascination is in the strange lifestyle he lived. As years passed, elements of his life have been embellished or fabricated, so much so that many important “facts” of his life are completely false.
Van Gogh was forced into an insane asylum by his neighbors/family.
It was common knowledge to anyone that knew him that van Gogh had some mental/emotional problems (we imagine you’d have to, to slice off part of your ear and give it to a prostitute), so it’s not unreasonable that he may have made his neighbor’s a little uncomfortable. However, he actually admitted himself against the wishes of his family, or at least those of his brother, Theo.
Van Gogh feared for his safety and the safety of those around him, so he isolated himself at the St. Remy Insane Asylum. Theo tried to argue that he and his wife could take care of him if only he’d move to Paris, but Van Gogh rejected the offer, presumably because he had at some point met a Parisian.
It’s also possible that Van Gogh thought the isolation would somehow benefit his art. He continued painting and drawing while in the asylum (against the wishes of the asylum employees) but quickly discovered that subject matter would be severely limited, so he began to create interpretations of other artists’ work as well as variations of his earlier work. Some of his most well-known pieces such as “The Starry Night” come from this period and many of them include swirls as a motif.
neighbors family
The work of a crazy man.
His Ear Was Sliced Off By A Friend
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Van Gogh knows the infamous story of how he sliced off his left earlobe and gave it to a prostitute for safe keeping. This was seemingly done in a fit of rage after having an argument with friend and fellow artist Gauguin, who was staying with him at the time.
However, within the past few years a theory has been put forward that it was Gaugin himself who inflicted the injury and that the story was fabricated by van Gogh to protect his friend. Gaugin, an active fencer, had brought his equipment with him while staying with van Gogh. The story goes that at some point in the argument Gaugin drew his weapon to defend himself against an increasingly irrational van Gogh and accidentally sliced off the lower third of his ear. The story has its basis in letters to Theo wherein van Gogh mentions a “pact of silence.” However, if any such letter actually exists then it’s yet to be discovered. Gaugin had telegraphed Theo the morning after discovering his brother lying bleeding in his own bed, and the prostitute that received the ear piece notified police shortly afterward.
his ear
“I wear a hat for every artist I maim. Pray I don't wear another.”
Van Gogh Didn’t Commit Suicide
The official record states that van Gogh shot himself in the abdomen while either standing in a wheat field or in a barn. He didn’t die immediately, however, as the bullet ricocheted off a rib, dodged any vital organs and lodged itself in his spine. Surgeons who attended to him could do nothing, so he lit up a pipe and waited to die some twenty hours later like a boss.
Some folks have rejected this account primarily for two reasons: the gun he used was never found and there were no eye-witness accounts to the suicide attempt itself. Biographer Edward White Smith, also suspicious of the account, dug deeper to try and discover a more believable reason.
In his research he uncovered an interview with a businessman who claimed to have regularly teased van Gogh with his brother. This is only notable in that he met van Gogh in the final years of his life and he admitted to owning a malfunctioning pistol as part of a cowboy costume.
Smith then uncovered a second article from the year of van Gogh’s death. The author had asked the peasants working in Anvers (where he died) if they had any accounts of the day. Someone claimed that he’d been shot by two teenagers but for whatever reason didn’t tell the police, most likely because it was an accident involving the malfunctioning pistol.
However, as strongly as anyone can argue there’s no evidence supporting the suicide theory, there’s really nothing holding up the accidental murder thing, either, short of the words of strangers.
Van Gogh Never Sold A Painting in His Lifetime
This one is a little tricky. Van Gogh’s brother Theo supported him financially throughout his life. However, van Gogh was never really comfortable with the arrangement and feared he was a burden on his brother. To try and balance things out, van Gogh turned the donations into transactions; he would send paintings to his brother whenever he received money with the hope that he could then sell them and make his money back.
Unfortunately, Theo wasn’t able to sell many of the paintings. We know of one specifically, “Red Winefields at Arles,” which sold for the equivalent of one-thousand and two-hundred dollars. It’s possible that Theo may have sold a few other paintings but records of said sales don’t exist. Because all the paintings first went to Theo, it’s said that van Gogh never sold a single painting in his lifetime.
van gogh
Who could possibly pass on “Wacky Chair #3?”
The irony of course is that his work had become incredibly valuable after his death. Theo may have stood to make a small fortune with his remaining paintings, but he died of syphilis six months after his brother’s suicide.
His Last Painting Foretold His Suicide
Many people believe that van Gogh’s final painting is “Wheat Field with Crows.” In hindsight this makes perfect sense knowing what we do about his mental state and suicide and well, just look at it:
his suicide
The mood certainly isn’t a happy one. However, it can’t be placed for certain as his “final” work, nor that it alludes to his suicide. In his letters to Theo he regularly mentioned the pieces he was working on at the time. The final letter sent four days before the suicide only mention two pieces: “Daubigny’s Garden” and “Cottages with Thatched Roofs.”
Using his paintings as a time line, it’s reasonable to say that Wheat Field with Crows was painted in his final weeks; it depicts fully ripened grain while early works show the grain as still being green. As his then current canvas couldn’t be found after his death, it can’t be said for certain just what the last piece wa

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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