Friday, December 12, 2014

Only 4 More Days Until Beethoven's Birthday!

Thank goodness for Charles M. Schulz (affectionately known as "Sparky" to friends and colleagues). If it weren't for him, I never would have known that Ludwig Von Beethoven was born on the sixteenth of December. 

When I was a kid, back in the sixties, one of the greatest things in the world was getting to read the latest Peanuts comic strip anthology. We were big fans of good ol' Charlie Brown in our old house on Wayburn ( as well as Walt Kelly's Pogo and Johnny Hart's B.C. ). 

Back then, I just thought it was funny to see Schroeder proudly carrying a sign which read, "Only 41 more days until Beethoven's Birthday!", followed by Snoopy who was holding his own sign that said, "Or did you already know that?" 

Three weeks worth of strips later, Schroeder's sign reads, "Only 20 more days until Beethoven's Birthday". Three panels after that, Snoopy holds up the one that says, "If you'd keep track yourself, we wouldn't have to do this!" 

But, as with much of the Peanuts strip humor, there is a message embedded not too deeply below the surface. Sparky tips his hand in a strip that has Lucy talk to the boy standing next to her: "Beethoven's Birthday is Dec. 16th, Shermy..." she says sweetly. "Have you decided what you're going to get me?" 

"Yes!" Shermy responds, curtly. "I'm not going to get you anything!" 

At that point, he marches off stage left, frowning, as Lucy and Patty (who appears suddenly from stage right) watch expressionlessly. 

Lucy then turns to Patty and asks, "What kind of a holiday is it where you don't give girls presents?" 

Just in case some of the audience is oblivious to wry subtleties and clever hints, Schulz has Schroeder walk by a couple of weeks later with another sign. This one is emblazoned with the declaration: "Only 5 more shopping days 'til Beethoven's Birthday". For a change of pace, it is Lucy who carries the equally bold follow-up sign which warns: "Stores open until nine o'clock". 

Schulz often offered various reactions to social and cultural currents through the mouths of his many different characters in, more often than not, a very humorous fashion. Being a newspaper strip cartoonist ( and a very successful one, at that! ) he was all too familiar with the workings of the commercial world. I tend to believe that this was one of his satirical jabs at our habit of attempting to generate bucks out of commemorative dates and holidays. 

Not that Schulz made any attempt to avoid commercialism and merchandising himself. But, surprisingly enough... I really don't mind too much, simply because that stuff had some real substance to it. It was charming, clever, thought-provoking, deep, delightful... and just plain fun. 

So, sometime in the next few days, I'm going to slip Vince Guaraldi's score to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in the CD player of my Jeep, and drive down to Paperback Writer Books to see if
 maybe I can find a Peanuts book.

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