My new favorite baseball cap arrived Thursday. It simply says “Notorious” in honor of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The second letter “o” has a picture of her face instead of the letter.
As I may have mentioned, she was one of my heroes. She was my hero as much for the life she led, as her outstanding career in the Supreme Court as a champion of women and minorities. Let me tell you a little about her.
Her Mother died before the day she graduated from high school, as valedictorian of her class. Her Mother, despite financial struggles, saved enough money for her to attend college, though she ended up with a full scholarship to Cornell. She made the Harvard Law Review while being a wife and Mother, then graduated at the top of her class at Columbia.
Unable to get a job with a big New York law firm, she ended up in Sweden on a grant to study the Swedish legal system. Her husband, Marty, fully supportive in every move, was a gourmet chef, an outstanding lawyer in his own right, Hers was a life well lived, and dedicated to a calling higher than herself.
So, where were you on September 18, when she passed? I just finished my first two weeks as a Red Cross volunteer. And even though we knew she was ill, and fighting pancreatic cancer, the news hit hard. We knew a legal giant had passed, and a big fight was coming to fill her seat on the Supreme Court. The recent book, “RBG” chronicles her life, as well as her landmark cases.
And my second hero:
Contrast that to when I learned Muhammad Ali had passed away. I was at a Paul Simon concert at the Greek Theater on the U.C. Berkeley campus. It was June 3, 2016. The concert was nearing its end, and Paul Simon had sung numerous encores. We knew one more song had to be sung.
While he was strumming the intro to “The Boxer”, he casually, but heartfully said that the great Muhammad Ali has passed away. And of course, we were stunned. “On 3 June 2016 at his concert in Berkeley, California, Paul Simon again stopped singing partway through “The Boxer”, this time to announce in one sentence breaking news: “I’m sorry to tell you this in this way, but Muhammad Ali passed away.” He then finished the song with the last verse modified as: “In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade…” Naturally, we sang along with him, every word, particularly the last verse:
In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down or cut him
‘Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”, but the fighter still remains
How could he have known, when he wrote “The Boxer” that his words would be so profound? The song was released March 21, 1969. Experts say the lyrics are largely autobiographical, and partially inspired by the Bible. It was written during a period when Simon was unfairly criticized. The lyrics discuss poverty and loneliness. I think phrases such as “workman’s wages” and “seeking out the poorer quarters” was biblical.
The original recording took over 100 hours to produce. The original version includes a pedal guitar, bass harmonica, and a piccolo trumpet. The song has only one drum beat. During the recording of “The Boxer, Artie met his future wife, Linda Grossman.
My favorite verse of “The Boxer” goes like this:
Now the years are rolling by me—
They are rockin’ evenly.
I am older than I once was,
And younger than I’ll be.
That’s not unusual;
No, it isn’t strange:
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same;
After changes we are more or less the same.
Good night, RBG and Ali. You are my heroes.
BTW: I met the greatest, Ali in 1976 in Miami, while we were both jogging outside the Fontainebleau Hotel in the Florida humidity. I had the audacity to ask him to be our fourth for tennis, then I realized who he was. Nice man!