365 AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS for 2021: The Starry Starry Night Birthday Party

(Stock image from Unsplash)

“Starry Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, one of the most joy-giving paintings in the history of art, is a major crowd-pleaser at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art, NYC). Hold on, mama, MOMA is our destination for “The Starry Starry Night Birthday Party.”

Mr. van Gogh, pardon me, Meneer van Gogh is correct for this Dutchman working in the South of France, painted “Starry Starry Night” in June, 1889. I digress to mention Vincent van Gogh worked really, REALLY fast. On his more manic days, he would often paint one painting in the morning and then another that afternoon. Though he only sold one painting during his lifetime, many of his works now sell for more than $100 million each. Not too shabby for a few hours labor in the beautiful French countryside.

“Starry Starry Night” was the dazzling landscape view from Vincent’s room in the Saint-Paul asylum (Remy, France), where he was in rehabilitation following a stultifying period of depression.

Dear joy-seeking reader, if you are fighting the winter holiday blues, please indulge yourself with a mug of hot cocoa and pull up Meneer van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night” on your computer screen. You will feel your spirits joyously lifted immediately.

Vincent was allowed to paint, read and withdraw from the anxieties of his world to the comfort of his asylum room. The energized, magical way he paints the star-strewn heavens make art historians wonder whether the former Christian missionary might have developed an interest in astronomy.


You feel the joy as we enter the MOMA gallery and see the deep, heavenly blues and bright star yellows on the table-setting of “The Starry Starry Night Birthday Party.” Frank Sinatra is crooning, “Would you like to swing on a star? Carry moonbeams home in a jar? You could be better than you are. You could be swinging on a star.”

One of America’s most important astronomers, Annie Jump Cannon, is showing Taylor Swift and the other guests how to scan the joyful, starlit skies with a telescope she used as a star professor at Harvard University.

HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! (Note: The comments attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)


Dec. 11—ANNIE JUMP CANNON was an American astronomer instrumental in the development of contemporary stellar classification during the early part of the 20th century. Miss Cannon chose not to marry or have children. Her joyful, confident personality was described as “ebullient.” For more than 40 years she worked in astronomy, ultimately becoming the chief astronomer of Harvard University. As a legacy, she created the Annie J. Cannon Prize given to “the woman of any country, whose contributions to the science of astronomy are the most distinguished.”

Since we are enjoying another holiday season with our hopes soaring to the star-blessed skies, here are some quotes about stars:

“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”—Vincent van Gogh

“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”—Sarah Williams

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”—William Shakespeare

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.”—Marcus Aurelius

“There wouldn’t be a sky full of stars if we were all meant to wish on the same one.”—Frances Clark

“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.”—John Green

“Maybe that’s what life is…a wink of the eye and winking stars.”—Jack Kerouac

“Look up at the stars, not down at your feet.”—Stephen Hawking

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dec. 12—FRANK SINATRA (born Francis Albert Sinatra in Hoboken, NJ) was a singer and actor, generally regarded as one of the greatest musical artists of the last century. Having sold 150 million records worldwide, he is one of the best-selling recording stars of all time. Sinatra, who was very influenced by the easy-listening style of Bing Crosby and who never learned to read music became a star as a solo artist after fronting bands of the “swing era.” He won 11 Grammys.

“Ol’ Blue Eyes” as he was nicknamed because of his bright blue eyes, became a movie star in films such as “Guys and Dolls,” “On the Town,” “High Society” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” He won an acting Oscar for “From Here to Eternity” and a Golden Globe acting award for “Pal Joey.” Sinatra was given a Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center Honors. He remains an iconic, entertainment star.

Dec. 13—TAYLOR SWIFT (born Taylor Alison Swift in West Reading, PA) is one of the best-selling singer-songwriting stars of the 21st century, having sold more than 200 million records. Her narrative songs are often inspired by the joys and challenges of her personal life.

Swift began her career in country pop, but has explored other genres including rock and electronic music, and even urban rap. Her accolades include 11 Grammys, 12 Country Music Association Awards, 25 Billboard Music Awards, 34 American Music Awards, an Emmy and 52 Guinness World Records. This blazing star uses her celebrity as an advocate for artists’ rights and female empowerment.

Dec. 14—SPIKE JONES (Lindley Armstrong Jones) was a crackerjack musician and bandleader specializing in joyful “spoof” arrangements of popular songs and classical music. Hyper-sincere ballads were hijacked by Jones and punctuated with whistles, hiccups, burps and outlandish comedic vocals. He recorded and toured a talented band known as Spike Jones and His City Slickers. The star’s hits included: “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” “Cocktails for Two,” “Hawaiian War Chant,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Clink, Clink, Another Drink!”

Dec. 15—TIM CONWAY was a comedian, actor, writer and director. He was known as a star who added joy to scripts with his witty ad libs and spontaneous gestures which often caused such hilarity in his co-stars they couldn’t control bursting out of character and into spasms of laughter. Conway portrayed the inept Ensign Parker in the 1960s sitcom, “McHale’s Navy.” He won four Primetime Emmy awards for his work on “The Carol Burnett Show,” including one for his comedy writing. Conway was also the voice of Barnacle Boy for the animated series, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Dec. 16—BILL HICKS was who many humorists believe to have been “America’s Greatest Social Satirist.” The Valdosta, GA native was a stand-up comedian and talented musician-songwriter. He began at age 16, still in high school, performing stand-up at comedy clubs. Hicks toured popularly in the U.S. throughout the 1980s but it was in the U.K. that he amassed a huge fan base. He died of pancreatic cancer at age 32. Posthumously, his star has risen as a new generation has discovered his comic genius and formed a devoted cult following. “Rolling Stone” magazine ranked Bill Hicks at #13 of “Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time.”

Dec. 16—JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, teacher and hot tamale cart vendor. The New Orleans, LA native and cultural icon became a stage performer at age 10 doing comic impressions and acting. He received an academic scholarship to Tulane University and after graduating, studied creative writing at Columbia University while teaching simultaneously at Hunter College.

Toole is known as a “one hit novelist wonder” for the posthumously published “A Confederacy of Dunces.” This picaresque novel features the misadventures of protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, obese, misanthropic, self-styled scholar. The title of the best-selling novel and modern literary classic refers to this epigram by Jonathan Swift—“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.”


“The best revenge is massive success.”—Frank Sinatra

“People have not always been there for me, but music has.”—Taylor Swift

“When the audience knows you know better it’s satire, but when they think you can’t do any better, it’s corn.”—Spike Jones

“I’ve never really taken anything seriously. I enjoy life because I enjoy making other people enjoy it.”—Tim Conway

“I’m tired of this back-slapping ‘Isn’t humanity neat’ bullsh*t. We’re a virus with shoes.”—Bill Hicks

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”—John Kennedy Toole

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says to love your enemy.”—Frank Sinatra

“Words can break someone into a million pieces, but they can also put them back together.”—Taylor Swift

“When der Fuehrer says we is de master race, we heil, heil right in der Fuehrer’s face.”—Spike Jones

“I spend a lot of time thinking of the Hereafter—each time I enter a room I wonder what I’m here after.”—Tim Conway

“If you are living for tomorrow, you will always be one day behind.”—Bill Hicks

“You can always tell employees of the government by the total vacancy which occupies the space where most other people have faces.”—John Kennedy Toole

“Baby, you may be a puzzle, but I like the way the pieces fit.”—Frank Sinatra

“Just be yourself, there is no one better.”—Taylor Swift

“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, then I could wish you ‘Merry Christmas’.”—Spike Jones

“My parents were very funny even though they didn’t know it. They were actually sharing an IQ.”—Tim Conway

“Any organization created out of fear must create fear to survive.”—Bill Hicks

“You could tell by the way he talked though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”—John Kennedy Toole

“The best is yet to come and won’t that be fine.”—Frank Sinatra

“The rest of the world was in black and white and we were in screaming color.”—Taylor Swift

“Now, Little Bo Peep has lost her Jeep, oh my why must her joy end? Now her little Jeep is layin’ in a heap and the guardhouse has her boyfriend.”—Spike Jones

“I resent my barber when he charges the full cost after he cuts my hair, but he says he’s charging me for finding it.”—Tim Conway

“I am a misanthropic humanist…Do I like people? They’re great, IN THEORY.”—Bill Hicks

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”—John Kenney Toole

“We should love not fall in love because everything that falls gets broken.”—Taylor Swift

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.”—Frank Sinatra

“Clink, clink, another drink; plenty in the cellar when it’s gone. Drink, drink, the glasses clink, making music ‘til the dawn.”—Spike Jones

“Making people laugh is a much better way to solve a problem than by using your fists.”—Tim Conway

“I ascribe to Mark Twain’s theory that the last person in the U.S. who should be President is the one who wants it the most. The one who should be picked is the one who would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the White House.”—Bill Hicks

“The heart is important at any age, I’m afraid.”—John Kennedy Toole


APPETIZER—John Kennedy Toole New Orleans Cheese Dip (tastykitchen.com)

SOUP/SALAD—Taylor Swift Red Pepper Soup (tasteofhome.com)

ENTRÉE—Bill Hicks Georgia Peach Pork Ribs (tasteofhome.com)

SIDE DISH—Tim Conway “McHale Navy” Beans with Ham (yummly.com)

BREAD—Annie Jump Cannon Christmas Star Bread (kingarthurbaking.com)

BEVERAGE—Spike Jones Spiked Christmas Punch (see below)

DESSERT—Frank Sinatra Ol’ Blue Eyes Topless Blueberry Pie (allrecipes.com)

ONE TO GROW ON—John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Confederacy of Dunces,” is a chunky doorstop with joy and imagination giving heft to every page. Check local bookstores or look for a deal online with free shipping.

Conversation at this star-studded event ran a glittering gamut from the scientific observations on stars by astronomer, Annie Jump Cannon, to Bill Hicks, John Kennedy Toole and Tim Conway enlightening all about their favorite, joy-giving comedy stars. Spike Jones added to the fun by playing the birthday tune on all the Champagne flutes and silver serving pieces.

“The Starry Starry Night Birthday Party” ended with the lights at MOMA dimmed and the candles on a cake illuminating the most-recognized painting in Western civilization.

“Starry starry night” are the first words of the song, “Vincent,” written by American singer-songwriter, Don McLean. He had been teaching in a public school and planned to share a biography of Vincent van Gogh with his students. One morning at home having a cup of coffee before leaving to teach, he opened the book to a print of Vincent’s “Starry Starry Night” and wrote the lyrics on a brown paper bag.

Ol’ Blue Eyes was joined by Taylor Swift to sing these shimmering words:

“Starry starry night

Paint your palette blue and gray,

Look out on a summer’s day

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.

Starry starry night,

Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,

Swirling clouds in violet haze

Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of China blue.

Now I understand

What you tried to say to me,

And how you suffered for your sanity,

And how you tried to set them free.

They would not listen; they did not know how.

Perhaps they’ll listen now.”


                                               SPIKE JONES SPIKED CHRISTMAS PUNCH

         (Eggnog is a tasty tradition but after a cup of creamy Christmas cheer, this is my “go to” holiday cocktail.)


1 ¼ ounce Bourbon

1 ¼ ounce Grand Marnier

1 ¼ ounce Sweet Vermouth

¼ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Thin slice of lemon for garnish

Serve on the rocks in a tumbler with a quick squeeze of lemon at the finish and a thin slice of lemon as a garnish. CLINK! CLINK! ANOTHER DRINK! JOY TO YOUR WORLD! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!


Ben South