Today in History: Oct. 17

He had pouchy eyes, smoked a cigarette, and sat at the kitchen table in an undershirt, black tuxedo pants, and bare feet. His fingers danced nervously on the valves of his brilliant gold-plated horn.
On weekend nights, Chernecke played in the Blue Moon, which was under the el, three blocks from his house. Now on a rough, fuzzy Saturday morning after a bust-out night at the Blue Moon, he had me, this Catholic school kid who instinctively blew his notes louder when an el train passed. The only thing you’re learning is to compete with an el, he said. But he had such deplorable personal habits that he needed the three dollars for a lesson desperately.
—from a new story by Jimmy Breslin, “Trumpet Lessons, Life Lessons

I first encountered Jimmy Breslin, who turns 86 today, in the pages of the New York Daily News in the 1970s, when I first fell in love with newspapers. (Like all things related to love, my immediate affection for newspapers was inexplicable and still fills me with joy.)

My father used to buy the News on Sundays for reasons I never learned but I think had to do with making sure there was more than one colorful comics section available in the house to amuse my sister and me. I loved the comics sections, but I also read every columnist.

I understood that I did not understand Jimmy Breslin, and I understood even then that this had more to do with me being ten years of age and lacking life experiences than anything Breslin was failing to provide. He couldn’t turn me into a forty-year-old who lived in New York City, no matter how much I wished anyone could instantly turn me into that. I knew his columns were an example of great, clear writing. He could make me see the sidewalk as he was walking down the street. I wanted to write like him. I never did.

Last month, The Daily Beast published the first new work from Jimmy Breslin in more than a decade, a 2500-word work of what is being called “autobiographical fiction” entitled “Trumpet Lessons, Life Lessons.” The online magazine has been re-publishing classic Breslin columns for the last several years; John Avlon, the editor-in-chief, is a Breslin fan.

Judging from the positive response online, even from some readers’ comments here on my website, many readers are fans of Jimmy Breslin, and they are, like me, looking forward to the next sections of his new work.

* * * *
Tennessee Ernie Ford died 25 years ago today.

* * * *
Arthur Miller was born on this date in 1915. Rita Hayworth was born on this date in 1918. Montgomery Clift was born on this date in 1920. Tom Poston was born 95 years ago today. Evel Knievel was born on this date in 1938.

* * * *
Paxton Whitehead is 79 today. Jim Seals is 75. “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts:

Michael McKean is 69. He and his wife, Annette O’Toole, wrote the Oscar-nominated song “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” for the film A Mighty Wind. Here they are performing it with Harry Shearer:

George Wendt is 68. Margot Kidder is 68. Norm MacDonald is 53. Ziggy Marley is 48. Wyclef Jean is 47. Eminem is 44.

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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