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Book Review: Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World Posted - Jul 10, 2020
“Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence.” So said Immanuel Kant in 1784, at the height of the Age of the Enlightenment. What Kant was saying was that man is smart enough and mature enough to find his own way without the paternal authority of church leaders, overlords, tyrants and kings. Kant urged man to understand his own nature, and the natural world, by the methods of science. In short, Kant’s words were a declaration of individual freedom. He and his fellow Enlightenment thinkers wanted men to shake off the overbearing hands of religious and political leaders, and to think for themselves.

The Enlightenment was hatched in Europe, but was put into practice in America, with the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. The effect the Enlightenment would have in Europe was delayed, long delayed, which is the subject of “Fire and Light,” a wonderfully informative book by James McGregor Burns.

The book begins with a refresher course on the Enlightenment’s most influential thinkers (Immanuel Kant, Frances Bacon, David Hobbes, Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume and Adam Smith). A world away, in America, their ideas were embraced by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison. They found in them the necessary literary ammunition they would need to declare independence from England, and to create a representative government based on individual liberty, private property, and the rule of law.

Meanwhile, Europe struggled with the acceptance of these very ideas, resulting in a long ordeal of bloodshed and war, especially on the continent. Burns focuses on the struggle of two countries—England and France.

The Enlightenment actually began in 17th century England, where rule of law rather than the rule of kings, had already taken hold, beginning with Magna Carta. One of the results was the creation of Parliament, but it hardly represented the welfare of the common man; rather it served the interests of wealthy landowners and the nobility. Burns points out that the industrial revolution brought about more change to government with the demands of the emerging middle class. Even so, progress on behalf of individual liberty and representative government took several centuries to evolve and be widely accepted.

The same was true of France; the French Revolution of 1789 resulted in a great deal of blood-letting but nothing in the way of lasting change. Throughout the 19th century, progress in France was a case of three steps forward and two steps back—painfully slow. One of the stumbling blocks to a truly democratic French government was the general lack of public education and the lack of a thriving middle class. As eduction began to spread and a growing middle class began to emerge (thanks to the French Industrial Revolution), representative government emerged with it.

Burns tells a story where the most effective weapon was not guns, but ideas. War is quicker with results—to oust a corrupt government—but without the power of transformative ideas behind it, the results change nothing, as one corrupt government tends to replacer another. Burns’ is a book of ideas—ideas of individual liberty and the freedom to choose, of tolerance and religious freedom—and of how these ideas took root—quickly in American, and gradually in Europe—and transformed Western Civilization.

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The Music of a Sentimental Gentlement
Posted - Jul 04, 2020
If you were a tunesmith, and needed lyrics, Johnny Mercer was your man. Known as the Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia, Mercer made a career of working with some of the best tunesmiths in the business, and contributed some of the best and most memorable lyrics in the Great American Songbook. Among songs bearing his lyrics are: "Moon River", "Fools Rush In", "On the Aitchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "That Old Black Magic", "My Shining Hour", "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive", "Charade", "The Days of Wine and Roses", "I Remember You", "One for my Baby", "Blues in the Night", "Laura", "Autumn Leaves", "I Wanna Be Around", "Skylark", "Satin Doll", and, most famously, "Hooray for Hollywood". On occasion Mercer would write both words and music, as he did with "Dream" and "Something's Gotta Give". In all, he wrote lyrics for 1,500 songs, 19 of which were nominated for Academy Awards; four went on to win Oscars for best original song.

In the world of popular song, Mercer's was the voice of the South, as opposed to the New York voices of lyricists' Larry Hart (of Rodgers and Hart), Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Ira Gershwin. Make no mistake, his wit and artistry were every bit as sophisticated as his northern counterparts.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1909, Mercer was humming music when he was six-months old. He attributed his musical talent to his mother, who would sing sentimental ballads, and to his father, who sang mostly old Scottish folk tunes. Mercer was an avid reader who, as a youth, wrote adventure stories. As a teen, he attended the exclusive Woodberry Forest School in Virginia. While not a top student, he was active in literary and poetry societies, and was something of the class clown. Early on he showed a propensity for writing cleverly rhymed verses, most of which he kept and later drew upon for song lyrics. While he loved to sing, he couldn't read music.

Southerner or not, at age 19, Mercer moved to New York City to get his start in the music business. Through a combination of luck and determination, he managed to hook up early with Hoagy Carmichael who, having scored big with "Stardust,", was in need of a lyricist to help with composing a follow-up song. The pair spent a year composing "Lazybones." One week after debuting on radio, the song became a hit, earning Mercer his first royalty check. It was during this time that he met a chorus girl named Elizabeth "Ginger" Mehan, whom he fell madly in love with, and married in 1931.

Having established himself as a successful lyricist, Mercer began working with songwriters on both coasts, particularly with Harold Arlen in Hollywood, who was already famous for having composed the music for "The Wizard of Oz". Among their successful collaborations were: "Come Rain or Come Shine", "That Old Black Magic", "My Shining Hour" (for a Fred Astaire musical), and "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive." Mercer's brief affair with Judy Garland proved to be the inspiration for two of their more famous songs: "Blues in the Night", and "One For My Baby"; both of which Frank Sinatra later recorded for his landmark saloon album, "For Only the Lonely."

BLUES IN THE NIGHT

Harold Arlen had said this about composing "Blues in the Night": "The whole thing just poured out. And I knew in my guts, without even thinking what Johnny would write for a lyric, that this was strong, strong, strong! . . . I went over his lyrics and I started to hum it over his desk. It sounded marvelous once I got to the second stanza but that first twelve was weak tea. On the third or fourth page of his work sheets I saw some lines—one of them was "My momma done tol' me, when I was in knee pants." I said, "Why don't you try that?" It was one of the very few times I've ever suggested anything like that to John."

When they finished the song, Mercer called singer Margaret Whiting, and asked if they could come over and play it for her. She suggested they come later because she had dinner guests (Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Mel Torme and Martha Raye). Instead, Arlen and Mercer went right over. Margaret Whiting remembered what happened next:

"They came in the back door, sat down at the piano and played the score. I remember forever the reaction. Mel got up and said, 'I can't believe it.' Martha didn't say a word. Mickey Rooney said, 'That's the greatest thing I've ever heard.' Judy Garland said, 'Play it again.' We had them play it seven times. Judy and I ran to the piano to see who was going to learn it first. It was a lovely night."

LAURA

One of Mercer's most successful songs was "Laura", the title song for the motion picture of the same name. It was a song so beautiful that both Cole Porter and Irving Berlin said they'd wished they'd written it. The music itself was composed by David Raskin, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, which Raskin rejected. Mercer was then invited to write the words. Said Mercer: "If a fellow plays me a melody that sounds like something, well, I try to fit the words to the sound of the melody. It has a mood, and if I can capture that mood, that's the way we go about it. 'Laura' was that kind of picture. It was predesigned, because 'Laura' was a mystery. So I had to write 'Laura' with a kind of a misterioso theme. That's hard, because there are so few notes. And because the intervals are tough, and the key changes are strange. And at the time it came out it was strange. But since it has become so popular, it's easier now. That kind of song is always difficult because you have to write a lyric that's going to be a hit, and you don't have many notes to work with."

"Laura" was yet another song Sinatra selected for another saloon album, this one was, "Where Are You?" Mercer and Sinatra became friends, and, in 1965, Mercer wrote both words and music for a song that was intended for Frank's next saloon album; the song was "Drinking Again". Sinatra duly recorded the song, but the album never materialized.

Mercer was a sucker for a good melody. Having fallen in love with a German song, "Der Sommerwind", he rewrote the lyrics, and the song became the "Summer Wind". Sinatra recorded the song for his next swing album, "Strangers in the Night."

Mercer did the same thing with "Le Chevalier de Paris" a popular french song composed by Philippe-Gerard and Angele Vannier. With some retooling to the lyrics, the song became "When the World Was Young," yet another hit for Frank Sinatra.

Mercer did more than just provide great songs for Sinatra to record. In the early 1950s, when Sinatra's singing career was on the rocks and he was without a recording contract, Mercer helped him get signed with Capitol Records, a label Mercer had helped create in the 1940s.

The 1940s was a particularly fruitful period for Mr. Mercer, where he wrote both pop tunes and songs for films, published more than 250 songs, sixty of which became bona fide hits. He also began a second career as a recording artist, and racked up 27 hit records.

MOON RIVER

In the 1960s, composer Henry Mancini tapped Johnny Mercer to write the lyrics for three songs for various movie soundtracks. The songs were: "Moon River", "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Charade." The first two won Oscars for best original song.

The lyrics for "Moon River" are reminiscent of Mercer's childhood in Savannah, with the moon reflected on its waters. In summer, Mercer had picked huckleberries, and in the song connected them with his carefree childhood and with Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn."

The timelessness of Mercer's compositions was demonstrated with two of his songs from the 1940s, that were resurrected in the 1960s, and for a second time become hits. The songs were "Fools Rush In", which became a top 40 hit for Rick Nelson, and "I Remember You", by Australian Frank Ifield, that topped the charts in the U.K. and in the U.S. reached number two on Billboard's Hot 100.

Mercer died June 25, 1976, and was buried in Savannah's historic Bonaventure Cemetery.

DISCOGRAPHY–below is a sampling of Mercer's best songs.

FRANK SINATRA SINGS THE SELECT JOHNNY MERCER

Sinatra scored a number of hits with Mercer's songs on Capitol Records, which are all collected in "Frank Sinatra Sings the Select Johnny Mercer." Songs included "Too Marvelous for Words", "Laura", "Fools Rush In", "When The World Was Young", "That Old Black Magic", "Autumn Leaves", "Dream", and, of course, his two saloon classics, "Blues in the Night" and "One For My Baby (And One For the Road)". 15 songs in all; sung in Sinatra's inimical style.

ELLA FITZGERALD SINGS THE JOHNNY MERCER SONG BOOK
Another of Lady Ella's Classic Song Books, and the only one of the series strictly dedicated to a lyricist; 12 songs in all, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Songs include "Something's Gotta Give", "Laura", "Early Autumn" and "I Remember You"; amply displays Ella's purity of voice, over Riddle's subtle yet jazzy arrangements.

ELLA FITZGERAL SINGS THE HAROLD ARLEN SONGBOOK

Harold Arlen worked with a number of lyricists; this set features his music with lyrics mostly by Johnny Mercer, Ted Koehler and Yip Harburg, including several of the classic songs from "The Wizard of Oz", as well as the famed saloon songs, including "Blues in the Night" and "One For My Baby (And One For the Road)". Other standouts include "Get Happy", "I Gotta a right to sing the blues", "Ill Wind", "It's Only a Paper Moon", "My Shining Hour", "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive"; 28 songs in all, arranged by swingin' Billy May.


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Book Review: Lincoln on the Verge
Posted - Jun 24, 2020
What this book does masterfully well is show how the president-elect shored up northern morale in preparation for the coming Civil War, while at the same time found his voice as our nation's 16th president. This is a wonderfully informative book about Lincoln's train trip to the nation's capital, that reveals yet another facet for Lincoln admirers to appreciate. The writing by author Ted Widmer is crisp and compelling, and the book's length–some 467 pages–hardly seems long at all, such is the author's gift for story-telling.

The statistics of the Washington trip are mind-numbing: in 13 days, Lincoln traveled 1904 miles, through eight states, along 18 different railroad lines, and gave 101 speeches, some to as many as 10,000 people.

At the beginning of each chapter, the author selects a short, appropriate passage from Homer's "The Odyssey". This seems fitting, as Lincoln's journey was fraught with danger (he received a number of death threats, and on several occasions was nearly crushed to death by the press of the crowd). It was an exhausting trip as well, with overnight stops and speeches along the way, in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Albany, and New York City. The author expertly summarizes a number of these speeches. Perhaps the most telling was the one Lincoln gave at Philadelphia's Independence Hall on Washington's birthday, where he said, "I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence . . . that Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. . . ." With the issue of slavery threatening civil war, the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence was being questioned openly; Lincoln made the issue of equality the centerpiece of his administration.

The trip began in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where, on February 12th, 1861 the president-elect, his family, political advisers, security guards, and members of the press, boarded The President's Special (a private train comprised of a locomotive, one baggage car, a passenger car, and a private car, for Lincoln and his family). At the same time, the author contrasts Jefferson Davis's train trip to the Confederate capital in Montgomery, Alabama via the South's primitive, circuitous railroad network.

Lincoln was loaded for bear, with a file of prepared speeches for each of the train stops, each meticulously labeled and placed in separate envelopes, including his inaugural address. As it turned out many of the 100-plus speeches he delivered were ad-libbed off-the-cuff remarks delivered from hotel balconies and from the rear platform of his train.

While the South was gearing up for war, the north was in political disarray under the hapless and corrupt leadership of outgoing president James Buchanan (since rated by historians as our nation's worst president). How bad was the state of the North? Democracy itself was under siege, says the author. "The lessons of history are hard to ignore. Every democracy ever known had failed, beginning with the Greeks twenty-four centuries earlier. They had succumbed one by one, to all the well-known vices of the people: corruption, greed, lust, ethnic hatred, distractibility, or simply a fatal indifference." Regarding the state of the nation's leadership, the author says, "As the Buchanan administration was sinking under the weight of its corruption, the public learned that it had awarded contracts for work on the Capitol to insider friends, who then outsourced the labor and pocketed the profits." The Buchanan administration also looked the other way while southern sympathizers raided federal armories of canons, guns and ammunition.

Meanwhile, safely ensconced in Montgomery, Jefferson Davis issued a number of threats. With Lincoln still en route to Washington, Davis made a speech in which he predicted that Northerners would soon "feel Southern steel." Unfortunately for the south, writes the author, most of that Southern steel was produced in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Indeed, one of the stops on Lincoln's trip was in Pittsburgh, for the very reason that "the steel city" represented a source of industrial power that Davis and the Deep South could only dream about. The author explains that a number of industrial and engineering advantages the North held over the South were mainly due the institution of slavery. For example, the advanced northern railway infrastructure that Lincoln enjoyed while en route to Washington was made possible by German immigrant engineers, who chose to live in the free North over the slave-holding South, because that's where the job opportunities were. By contrast, the South's railway system was badly antiquated; a combination of mixed-gauge tracks and old technology, that greatly hindered the South's war effort, and would not be updated until late in the 19th century.

Among the people Lincoln encountered on his journey was a Scottish immigrant (and captain of the steel industry), Dale Carnegie, who years later recalled: "I never met a great man who so thoroughly made himself one with all men as Mr. Lincoln."

What was Lincoln's secret? Quite simply, he trusted people and, in turn they trusted him. According to historian and Lincoln biographer Benjamin Thomas, Lincoln had supreme faith in the people's right-mindedness, provided they could be made to understand, and he never questioned their powers of comprehension when the facts were presented to them simply and honestly.

That, in a nutshell is what Lincoln did on his 13-day journey through the North, is to inform the people that equality was at the root of democracy, and would be the source of Northern strength in the coming cataclysm.

Lincoln survived the threat of death and arrived safely in Washington, exhausted by the ordeal, but buoyed by his deeply-held belief in democracy. Concludes the author: "By his words, and presence, he had shored up America's flagging belief in her institutions. Millions of Americans had glimpsed a top hat parting a sea of humanity, or seen a bearded man wave from the back of a speeding train, or bow from a hotel balcony, and felt a connection to their government. Most had never seen a president and never would again. . . . Despite exhaustion, Lincoln had grown throughout the ordeal. After a few missteps, his speeches became masterful, especially near the end, when he began to discover the mystical power that would lift his oratory to the heights he achieved at Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural. No president has ever climbed to a higher altitude. He restored a sense that America's words mean something."

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Requiem for the world's greatest race car driver
Posted - May 16, 2020
Racing great Stirling Moss died in his London home on April 12, 2020, age 90, following a long illness. In the early 1960s, Stirling Moss was not only the best racing driver on the planet, but the best-known sports figure in the world, and the highest paid. In 1999, his native England bestowed upon him its highest honor: the Order of the British Empire (OBE), making him Sir Stirling Moss.

While never crowned world champion, it was often said that he was the best driver NEVER to win the world championship. An inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, he won 212 of the 529 races (a 40 per cent winning average). His best year was probably 1958, in which he won four Grands Prix (three more than that year's champion Mike Hawthorne), and missed the world title by a single point.

Moss broke just about every bone in his body, from a number of accidents. In early 1962, he nearly died from a particularly bad crash that ended his career. While recovering he wrote a controversial book entitled "All But My Life", in which he said he gave motor racing his absolute all, indeed, gave it all but his life. In the book he broke a number of taboos by writing frankly about death and motor racing's inherent danger, and about his sex life. He wrote: “Of course, racing is dangerous. I like it that way. Without danger there wouldn’t be any point to it, really.”

His greatest victory is often said to be the 1955 Mille Miglia, Italy's grueling thousand-mile race over the open roads of the Italian peninsula, from Brescia in the north down to Rome in the south, and back again. He was the first non-Italian to win the event, and set a record time never to be broken. However, in ex-motor cycle racer Dennis Jenkinson, he had a co-pilot who knew the roads intimately and who kept him informed of what lay ahead, through ingenious hand-signals the pair had perfected in the days leading up to the race. In the Mercedes Benz 300SLR, Moss had the fastest and most technically advanced sports racing car in the world. Driving an identical car, his teammate Juan Fangio of Argentina finished second, which means that if Moss had faltered, Italy's hold on the event would have been broken anyway.

My choice for Moss's greatest race is the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix, where he beat the superior might of Team Ferrari, in a year-old underpowered car. His disadvantage was such that to win he had to drive absolutely flat-out for nearly every one of the race's 100 laps. The slightest mistake or let-up and he would have finished second or worse. What follows is my analysis of the race, and more about Moss.

Stirling Moss stood an athletically fit 5-foot 8-inches tall–the ideal height of tennis players, golfers. and NFL linebackers. He was not merely a great racing driver, but a superb athlete. He possessed boundless energy and an unflagging enthusiasm for life. Those who knew him well, couldn't recall ever seeing him tired. Moss made his home in London, but he was a citizen of the world, recognized wherever he went. He also was a promoters' dream. If you were holding a motor race in some far-off place, say down in New Zealand, or in South Africa, or in Brazil, and Stirling Moss was entered, you were guaranteed a sellout crowd. Moss was always good for one or two pithy quotes for the media, and he always made time to to sign autographs for racing fans. He was a true gentleman, and a never a poor loser. He often said, "I can lose a race, even lose the world championship, and the next day be out enjoying myself."

'61 MONACO GRAND PRIX

Wedged between the coastal mountain range of Southern France and the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco had no real roads to hold a motor race, merely “ledges on the face of a cliff” as some wag put it. That said, when the president and founder of the Automobile Club de Monaco, Anthony Noghes, was given the task of creating a Grand Prix circuit, he found a way. Possessed with a can-do attitude, he scouted the principality's narrow streets and alleyways, walked the harbor front, used his imagination, and came up with a circuit so ingenious that it has remained little changed since the first Monaco Grand Prix back in 1929. The Monaco circuit is 1.9 miles of hairpin curves, and two short straights. On such a tight circuit, a driver has no room to relax.

Every May, as if on cue, the dry scirocco winds blow in off the North African desert, into Southern Europe, signaling the arrival of summer–and the kickoff of the Grand Prix season, beginning at Monaco. Then the transporters arrive, from Italy and France, and from England, Germany, and the Netherlands. Temporary bleachers are erected, the streets are blocked off, and practice begins for the Monaco Grand Prix.

The biggest star by far at the '61 Monaco Grand Prix was Stirling Moss.
However, a Grand Prix wouldn't be a Grand Prix without Ferrari. With their blood-red paint scheme, and flashy wire wheels, Ferraris are candy for the eye. The three Ferraris F1s parked on pit row stand out from the herd of Lotuses, Coopers, BRMs and Porsches, that comprise the rest of the field. That said, Moss’s dark blue Lotus attracts lots of attention, but only because it’s Moss’s Lotus.

This is the first year of a rule change in Formula One. All the teams are faced with the same problems: new smaller displacement engines, new weight restrictions, new safety rules; in effect, having to start over. Cooper Cars, which has won the world championship the previous two seasons, finds itself in the same boat as Lotus, BRM and the independents: saddled with a four-cylinder Formula Two engine that puts out barely 150 horsepower. This anemic engine is merely a stop-gap measure, until English engine supplier Coventry Climax develops of a new more powerful V8 engine. Porsche likewise is behind schedule, running its flat-four F2 engine, while awaiting a new flat-eight engine. The only team truly prepared is Ferrari. The V6 beneath the Ferrari bonnet is jewel-like in appearance, and boasts a whopping 25-horsepower advantage over the competition.

Moss’s year-old Lotus is owned by Scotsman Rob Walker, of Johnny Walker Whiskey fame. If you’re Moss, it doesn’t matter that the rules have changed, or that you’re driving for an independent, or that Ferrari has a sizable horsepower advantage. Moss competes in all types of cars: in Formula 1s and 2s, in sports cars and in salons; in Coopers, Lotuses and Porsches; in Aston Martins and Maseratis, literally in anything with wheels, but rarely in Ferraris. With Moss the car is secondary. He usually wins in whatever he races, or breaks down trying.

Around one o’clock on race day, Moss leaves the sanctity of his hotel room and walks down to the harbor front, where the starting grid is located. People everywhere call out his name and wave to him: from hotel balconies, and from cordoned off side streets; from doorways and storefronts; and from the makeshift bleachers on the harbor quay, where 16 F1s await the start.

Moss is on pole, the number-one position on the starting grid, where logic and common sense says he doesn’t belong. His Lotus 18 is last year’s model, powered by the Coventry Climax Mark II, an updated version of the aging F2 motor. But Moss is Moss. He has made a career of beating Ferraris with lesser equipment. “I admit I like being the underdog,” he says, “coming from behind, doing things the hard way.”

Can he do it again? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as they await the 3 p.m. start. The Ferrari beside him on the front row is driven by American F1 rookie Richie Ginther. Next to Ginther, on the outside of row one, is Scotsman Jimmy Clark in the latest works Lotus 21. It’s slightly lower and better streamlined than Moss’s Lotus 18. This is Clark’s first Formula 1 race at Monaco. His front-row starting position has turned more than a few heads, but not Stirling’s; he knows talent when he sees it. Indeed, Clark will go on to win the 1963 and '65 world championships, and be heralded as his generation's greatest race car driver.

In row two are the cars of two drivers who are not related but share the same last name: the BRM of Englishman Graham Hill, and the Ferrari of American Phil Hill. Phil Hill is fast and experienced and favored to win the 1961 Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship. He likes Monaco and usually does well here. In row three is the third Ferrari, driven by Wolfgang von Trips, a German Count no less, with an estate in the Rhineland. Next to him is the Cooper of young Bruce McLaren, and the BRM of veteran Tony Brooks. In row four are the Porsches of Swiss driver Jo Bonnier and Californian Dan Gurney. Behind them are a bevy of independents that fill out the grid, mostly aged Coopers and Lotuses that have no chance of winning.

As he does everywhere he goes, Moss stands out at the drivers’ meeting. Most drivers already have their helmets on, but not Moss. He is bald, and is one of those rare men who looks better bald. His white cotton coveralls are tailored to accentuate his muscular build, are pressed and clean, unlike other drivers’ coveralls which are baggy, wrinkled and grease smudged. Drivers fidget and appear bored, having heard similar pre-race instructions countless times before. Not Moss. He listens intently to what Race Director Louis Chiron has to say, lest he miss a vital bit of information that might give him a slight edge. The meeting ends and Moss, always in a hurry, walks briskly out to his car.

Moss slips on his helmet, and steps down into the narrow Lotus cockpit, checks both side mirrors, and grips the steering wheel. His crew chief Alf Francis hovers over him like a doting father. For this race, he has removed the panels from each side of the cockpit, to dissipate cockpit heat from the front-mounted water radiator, heat that broiled Moss last year when he won the race in this very car. Exposed are frame tubes and the aluminum fuel tank behind his seat. For spectators, today will be like having x-ray eyes. They will be able to peer inside the cockpit and see Moss at work.

Wearing a white summer suit, race starter Louis Chiron steps to the front of the grid, as starter motors whir and engines roar to life. Chiron counts off the final seconds, waves the Monegasque flag, and the field roars away in unison, and bottles up rounding the Gasworks Hairpin. Exiting, the field spreads out accelerating up Boulevard Albert I.

Moss is not first away, which is uncharacteristic of him. He is third, behind Ginther and Clark. Making the fast climb up the hill to the Casino, he checks his mirror and is surprised to see the silver Porsches of Bonnier and Gurney, trailing him. Somehow the two Porsches got away fast, overtook the cars ahead of them, and now snap at his tailpipe. Approaching the Casino, Ginther has opened a slight lead on Clark. The field funnels between the Hotel de Paris and the Casino, and in a rush of acceleration descends the downhill grade to the sharp right-hander in front of the Mirabeau Hotel.

Back and forth across the road, Moss presses Clark relentlessly. In tandem they round the hairpin in front of the railway station, and set up for the right-hander that takes them beneath the railway arch, and on to another right-hander that puts them on the waterfront. Moss can see wisps of smoke flare from Clark’s tires as he brakes, turns, and accelerates. The Scof is unruffled and precise, and will not yield to Moss’s pressure. By now, Moss detects a misfire coming from Clark’s engine, and decides he won’t have long to deal with the Scot.

Spreading out now, the field flows through a tunnel then slows for the chicane at the harbor front. At 140 m.p.h., the chicane looks impossibly small, a tiny opening in a line of hay bales. Ease on the brakes to, say 60 m.p.h., and the chicane is taken with a quick left-right-left flick of the wheel. On the harbor quay now, with a row of yachts on the left, and a rock wall on the right; Ginther's Ferrari leads strongly into the tight Tabac left-hander, on past the makeshift pits and over the start/finish line to complete lap one. His cockpit temperature is already nearing 140-degrees, and sweat begins to show on his cotton coveralls.

As Moss suspects, Clark is having engine trouble. At the end of lap two, he pulls off into the pits. With Clark out, Moss is now in second place. His work is cut out for him: Ginther is driving like a man possessed and has increased his lead to seven seconds. Phil Hill, meanwhile, having overcome a slow start, has passed both Bonnier and Gurney, to take over third place.

Laps tick off as Moss whittles away at Ginther’s lead. On lap 12, he sees Hill’s Ferrari closing in from behind. Two laps later, Moss catches and passes Ginther, to take the lead. A lap later he sees not Ginther's Ferrari in his mirror, but Hill's. The crowd rises to its feet. This is what they have been waiting for–can Moss in a year-old Lotus hold off Hill’s newer and more powerful Ferrari?

Moss derives special pleasure from beating Ferrari with less powerful British racing cars, but he has paid a price for it. He can’t do it consistently, and it has cost him at least one and perhaps as many three world championships. Moss’s life might be easier if he drove for Ferrari, but he refuses to do so. Early in his career, Enzo Ferrari offered the Englishman a seat in one of his cars for a race in Bari, Italy. When Moss arrived, he was told the offer was withdrawn: Il Commendatore, the mercurial patriarch of Italian racing, had a change of mind, and without so much as an explanation or an apology, assigned the car to someone else. Moss was incensed, believing that Ferrari had not only insulted him but England as well. Then and there he swore never to drive a Ferrari. With rare exception, he hasn’t.

Moss’s crew is well-trained and highly inventive; they have gutted the year-old Lotus to meet this year’s minimum weight limit of 980 pounds, making it one of the lightest and flimsiest cars in the race. The bungy cord holding down the engine bonnet is a nice touch. In Alf Francis, Moss has arguably the best mechanic in the business. And the Climax Mark II engine mounted behind him has the full-factory support of Coventry Climax. Climax engineers swear they supply engines of equal horsepower to all the British teams, but everyone knows Moss’s engine is more equal than the others. In fact, it is the Walker pit where most of the Climax engineers congregate on race weekend. Moss’s Climax engine is the only one in the race that doesn’t smoke, pop, or bang at low RPM. The R.R.C. Walker Racing Team, while classified among the independents, is in fact, the de facto Coventry Climax factory team.

Phil Hill should be leading the race. He is the ranking Ferrari driver, he knows Monaco like the back of his hand, and he has a 25-horsepower advantage over Moss. But all is not as it seems at Ferrari, where politics sometimes takes a back seat to winning races. Enzo Ferrari is a hard-headed, stubborn man, and for reasons unknown to all but him, often stands in the way of his team's progress. Ferrari was the last to adopt disc brakes, the last to switch to a rear-engine chassis, and in 1961, still prefers wire wheels over lighter and stronger magnesium wheels. Since joining the team in 1957, chief engineer Carlo Chiti has fought an uphill battle to bring Ferrari up to date. In the Ferrari 156 “Sharknose” he has finally succeeded. After a couple of down years in F1, Ferrari has once again regained the upper hand, thanks to Chiti's engineering brilliance and persistence.

There is yet another problem at Ferrari: Ill Commendatore refuses to name a number-one driver. Hill is the obvious choice. He has been with the team longest, is the fastest driver, and has won the most races. But he is not named number-one so enjoys no special status and must fight for everything he gets. He does not enjoy the advantages of working closely with the mechanics, as does Moss with Walker, and defending world champion Jack Brabham with Cooper, or Clark with Lotus. At Ferrari, you tell the team manager what is wrong with your car, and pray something is done before the race. At Monaco, Hill does not even have the fastest Ferrari. As Ferrari's newest driver, Ginther has the hot new Ferrari. Ginther's machine has the more powerful 120-degree V6 engine, which puts out 190 horsepower, 10 horses more than Hill’s Ferrari. The 120-degree V6 is lighter, sits lower in the chassis, and has been moved further forward slightly, which means Ginther’s Ferrari not only has more horsepower, but handles better, and so is better suited to Monaco’s demanding streets. The official word is the car is too new, too untested, to give to a driver of Hill’s veteran status. But Ginther’s Ferrari still sounds crisp at the half-way point of the race, while Hill’s machine still makes the same blubbering sound around corners that it made in practice. It’s a problem with the downdraft carburetors, that had yet to be fully resolved by race time.

Carburetor problems or not, Hill has the bit between his teeth, and gets within five seconds of Moss, only to fade as his carburetor troubles grow worse, and his overtaxed brakes begin to lock while slowing for a curve.

On lap 78, the Ferrari team manager gives Ginther the "faster" sign. Ginther passes Hill (who yields) and begins cutting into Moss’s lead.

The race is closing in on the three-hour mark, and Moss is nearing physical and mental exhaustion. To stay in front, he has had to concentrate all his energy and driving ability on driving absolutely flat-out since the start. Moss would later say, “Every corner, every lap, as far as I remember, I was trying to drive the fastest I possibly could, to within a hair’s breadth of the limit, for at least 92 of the 100 laps.”

The crowd has been on its feet since lap 15, when Hill moved up to challenge Moss. For 85 laps, the crowd has been transfixed, wondering how long Moss can stay in front. The suspense has become unbearable for team owner Rob Walker. He cannot bear to see Moss lose now, and turns away.

With three laps to go, Moss’s lead is down to three seconds. Ginther is driving the race of his life, sliding the Ferrari through the hairpin curves with abandon. Two laps to go and the gap still holding at three seconds. If Moss can just hold out a little longer. . . .

Louis Chiron steps onto the tarmac and waves the white flag, the signal there's one lap to go. There are no guarantees in this business, and should Moss falter on the final lap it wouldn’t be the first time.

The crews along pit row turn to see who arrives first–Moss or Ginther? The first car to appear is the Scottish blue of Rob Walker's Lotus: it’s Moss, waving one arm jubilantly as he crosses the finish line.

Moss has achieved a miracle again, beaten Ferrari, and added to his reputation as one of the sport’s all-time giant killers. He will beat Ferrari once more, later this season, at the daunting Nurburgring. Looking back, it will be today’s win that gives him the most satisfaction because he had to work so much harder for it.

It turned out that Enzo Ferrari had had enough of seeing Moss beat his beloved red cars. That winter, he invited the Englishman to join his team for the 1962 season, and to sweeten the deal offered to paint Moss's car British Racing Green.

Sadly, it was not to be, Moss crashed heavily the following Spring and was badly hurt. Indeed, his skull was fractured and his brain injured, and for a long time he was in a coma. After recovering, he tried his hand once more behind the wheel, and ultimately decided too much of his racing skill had diminished from the crash, and so retired without achieving his goal of winning the world championship. Still, he had no regrets. Scores of men have won the world championship, and after a few years the larger world forgets most of them, while Moss's name lived on.

It wasn't winning so much that mattered to him, but as with most great athletes, it was competing he loved most, and in showing off his remarkable talent, as he did at Monaco in 1961.

- END -
 
Work of My Sons
 

Morning Softly - Water Echoes Movement
-Released in 2014. Bill made guitar riffs and synth tracks at home, got Lya Finston to write some lyrics and sing, and got Scott to provide some bass.

Morning Softly - Early Eerie Feeling
-Recorded in 2014. Songs written by Bill, at home. Synthesizers were added later. Some drumming done by Brendan Lenihan.

Scott Nisley - Brick City Skies
-Released in 2014. With his piano melodies and vocals, Scott entrusted the production of his album to several studio musicians.

The 45's - Roof-Hopping
-Recorded in 2010. A collaborative effort between Scott and Bill Nisley, Adam Sherman, and Zach Belka.


Oh, Yeah...
 

Richard Nisley's Brothers in Cars
Thanksgiving Day, 1967. From L to R: my brothers David, Charles, and Rob. Photo by John Nisley.
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