Pianist Van Cliburn Passes Away at 78

Today, pianist Harvey Lavan “Van” Cliburn, Jr. passed away at age 78 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 27, 2013). Honestly, I have nothing more interesting to add. Mr. Cliburn is one of those names the local news media has been gloating about for the last few decades. By news media accounts Cliburn single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union (with a little help from Ronald Reagan).

Wikipedia states Van Cliburn won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958. Wiki says this feat of piano greatness was at the height of the cold war. I think the people of Cuba would greatly disagree (Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962). I’m not denying the man his due, Cliburn was one fine pianist, but impending nuclear war trumps piano concert.

I wonder whether Harvey Cliburn would have been nearly as famous as Van Cliburn. I know Harvey the rabbit was a big hit with Jimmy Stewart (Harvey, 1950). Harvey Keitel (a.k.a. The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, 1994) is one of my favorite character actors. And what would Lee Oswald have been without Harvey in the middle? Harvey may have helped the previously mentioned, but there something about Van. I definitely think the Van pushed Cliburn to stratosphere of success. Or maybe it was his piano playing.

If you think I am being disrespectful to a talented musician, then you are missing my point. Our local media (and yours too) is star struck. If your name is Kennedy, Oswald, Dallas, Cowboys, Cliburn or thunderstorm warning (I knew a guy named Stormy Weatherford), then you’ll be the lead story on all five news outlets. It is truly sad.

Somewhere at the top of the food chain for every news media outlet sits an editor who remembers where he was when Kennedy was shot. Or he knows the media owner likes talking about famous people. And it is up to this old person (I know, ageism) to fill air time or news pages with easy pickings, like Van Cliburn.

I never met Mr. Cliburn, but I have driven on Van Cliburn Way (renamed from Arch Adams Street in 2009). It is one of my favorite streets in all of Fort Worth. The street runs between the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (two of my three favorite Fort Worth museum). Van Cliburn Way is a really nice road unless cars are parked on both sides of the street. This only means parking is full and so are the museums. sigh

So here’s the good news (at least for me). Now that Mr. Cliburn has passed, I’ll finally get to meet him, or at least visit his grave (unless he is cremated). I’m sure he’ll be interred somewhere in the great state of Texas, probably in Fort Worth. My guess is that Van Cliburn will be a few plots away from philanthropist Amon G. Carter, golfer Ben Hogan1 and television announcer Rod Roddy (The Price is Right) in Greenwood Memorial Park, the ritziest cemetery in Cow Town.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cliburn.

For the Offended Few

Yes, what I wrote above can be considered disrespectful and rude. Making fun of someone, anyone, so soon after their passing is cheap and spiteful. This is often the price a person must pay in the attempt to make others laugh, or in this case, open their eyes a little.

My grandfather passed away in the early 1990s. I was there with my grandmother waiting for the funeral to start. Do you know what we were doing before the procession began? We were telling each other jokes; the dirtier the better. I knew it was out of place to tell jokes before my grandfather’s funeral, but my grandmother sure could use the laugh. I love to make people laugh. It’s my way of taking away some of the hurt.

So, unless you are a kin to Harvey Cliburn, then you don’t have a dog in this fight. The few that I upset with my writing attacked me solely on the basis that Van Cliburn was a great pianist and that I was nothing. True. I can take criticism about me, my photography and my opinion. At the end of the day I will be remembered for creating something and my critics will have faded away. I can live with that.

I would wager that most of my detractors have never hear Cliburn play. They don’t own any of his albums. None of Cliburn’s performances are on their media player.

“I hate our national anthem. Do any of you have it on your iPod?” – Danial Tosh

I, on the other hand, did purchase one if his albums this week. In my quest to find out what was so great about Van Cliburn, I have been listening to his performance. And with nearly 100 percent certainty, I can say Cliburn is definitely better than me … on the piano. Cheers.

1 Notice that I did not use the word legendary, which is akin to mythical. Mr. Hogan’s golfing record is well documented. It is not a tall tale.

About Mr. Holga

Mr. Holga is a film photographer specializing in Holga camera photography with Kodak film. Mr. Holga enjoys using any old film camera, especially a camera fifty plus years old or older. Mr. Holga is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. Mr. Holga is also the walkabout photographer and reporter for Dallas Art News. Mr. Holga published a collection of Holga images in his book, Death by Holga: 11.22.63, which was about the Kennedy assassination.
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