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TED2007

Rives: The 4 a.m. mystery

March 3, 2007

Poet Rives does 8 minutes of lyrical origami, folding history into a series of coincidences surrounding that most surreal of hours, 4 o'clock in the morning.

Rives - Performance poet, multimedia artist
Performance artist and storyteller Rives has been called "the first 2.0 poet," using images, video and technology to bring his words to life. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
This is a recent comic strip from the Los Angeles Times.
00:27
The punch line?
00:29
"On the other hand, I don't have to get up at four
00:31
every single morning to milk my Labrador."
00:33
This is a recent cover of New York Magazine.
00:35
Best hospitals where doctors say they would go for cancer treatment,
00:38
births, strokes, heart disease, hip replacements, 4 a.m. emergencies.
00:41
And this is a song medley I put together --
00:46
(Music)
00:49
Did you ever notice that four in the morning has become
01:09
some sort of meme or shorthand?
01:11
It means something like you are awake at the worst possible hour.
01:14
(Laughter)
01:18
A time for inconveniences, mishaps, yearnings.
01:19
A time for plotting to whack the chief of police,
01:24
like in this classic scene from "The Godfather."
01:27
Coppola's script describes these guys as, "exhausted in shirt sleeves.
01:29
It is four in the morning."
01:32
(Laughter)
01:34
A time for even grimmer stuff than that,
01:35
like autopsies and embalmings in Isabel Allende's
01:37
"The House of the Spirits."
01:40
After the breathtaking green-haired Rosa is murdered,
01:42
the doctors preserve her with unguents and morticians' paste.
01:44
They worked until four o'clock in the morning.
01:47
A time for even grimmer stuff than that,
01:50
like in last April's New Yorker magazine.
01:53
This short fiction piece by Martin Amis
01:56
starts out, "On September 11, 2001, he opened his eyes
01:58
at 4 a.m. in Portland, Maine,
02:02
and Mohamed Atta's last day began."
02:04
For a time that I find to be the most placid
02:08
and uneventful hour of the day, four in the morning sure gets
02:11
an awful lot of bad press --
02:15
(Laughter)
02:17
across a lot of different media from a lot of big names.
02:18
And it made me suspicious.
02:21
I figured, surely some of the most creative artistic minds in the world, really,
02:24
aren't all defaulting back to this one easy trope
02:28
like they invented it, right?
02:32
Could it be there is something more going on here?
02:34
Something deliberate, something secret,
02:37
and who got the four in the morning bad rap ball rolling anyway?
02:40
I say this guy -- Alberto Giacometti, shown here
02:44
with some of his sculptures on the Swiss 100 franc note.
02:48
He did it with this famous piece
02:51
from the New York Museum of Modern Art.
02:53
Its title -- "The Palace at Four in the Morning --
02:55
(Laughter)
02:58
1932.
03:00
Not just the earliest cryptic reference
03:03
to four in the morning I can find.
03:05
I believe that this so-called first surrealist sculpture
03:06
may provide an incredible key to virtually
03:10
every artistic depiction of four in the morning to follow it.
03:14
I call this The Giacometti Code, a TED exclusive.
03:17
No, feel free to follow along on your Blackberries
03:21
or your iPhones if you've got them.
03:24
It works a little something like -- this is a recent Google search
03:26
for four in the morning.
03:29
Results vary, of course. This is pretty typical.
03:31
The top 10 results yield you
03:33
four hits for Faron Young's song, "It's Four in the Morning,"
03:35
three hits for Judi Dench's film, "Four in the Morning,"
03:40
one hit for Wislawa Szymborska's poem, "Four in the Morning."
03:44
But what, you may ask, do a Polish poet, a British Dame,
03:48
a country music hall of famer all have in common
03:52
besides this totally excellent Google ranking?
03:55
Well, let's start with Faron Young -- who was born incidentally
03:58
in 1932.
04:03
(Laughter)
04:05
In 1996, he shot himself in the head on December ninth --
04:07
which incidentally is Judi Dench's birthday.
04:13
(Laughter)
04:16
But he didn't die on Dench's birthday.
04:19
He languished until the following afternoon when he finally succumbed
04:21
to a supposedly self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 64 --
04:24
which incidentally is how old Alberto Giacometti was when he died.
04:29
Where was Wislawa Szymborska during all this?
04:34
She has the world's most absolutely watertight alibi.
04:36
On that very day, December 10, 1996 while Mr. Four in the Morning,
04:40
Faron Young, was giving up the ghost in Nashville, Tennessee,
04:45
Ms. Four in the Morning -- or one of them anyway -- Wislawa Szymborska
04:48
was in Stockholm, Sweden, accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature.
04:52
100 years to the day after the death of Alfred Nobel himself.
04:57
Coincidence? No, it's creepy.
05:02
(Laughter)
05:04
Coincidence to me has a much simpler metric.
05:06
That's like me telling you,
05:08
"Hey, you know the Nobel Prize was established in 1901,
05:09
which coincidentally is the same year Alberto Giacometti was born?"
05:12
No, not everything fits so tidily into the paradigm,
05:17
but that does not mean there's not something going on
05:21
at the highest possible levels.
05:24
In fact there are people in this room
05:26
who may not want me to show you this clip we're about to see.
05:28
(Laughter)
05:32
Video: Homer Simpson: We have a tennis court, a swimming pool, a screening room --
05:33
You mean if I want pork chops, even in the middle of the night,
05:35
your guy will fry them up?
05:38
Herbert Powell: Sure, that's what he's paid for.
05:40
Now do you need towels, laundry, maids?
05:42
HS: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait -- let me see if I got this straight.
05:45
It is Christmas Day, 4 a.m.
05:48
There's a rumble in my stomach.
05:50
Marge Simpson: Homer, please.
05:52
Rives: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
05:54
Let me see if I got this straight, Matt.
05:56
(Laughter)
05:59
When Homer Simpson needs to imagine
06:01
the most remote possible moment of not just the clock,
06:04
but the whole freaking calendar, he comes up with 0400
06:07
on the birthday of the Baby Jesus.
06:11
And no, I don't know how it works
06:13
into the whole puzzling scheme of things, but obviously
06:16
I know a coded message when I see one.
06:20
(Laughter)
06:24
I said, I know a coded message when I see one.
06:25
And folks, you can buy a copy of Bill Clinton's "My Life"
06:29
from the bookstore here at TED.
06:32
Parse it cover to cover for whatever hidden references you want.
06:34
Or you can go to the Random House website where there is this excerpt.
06:37
And how far down into it you figure we'll have to scroll
06:40
to get to the golden ticket?
06:42
Would you believe about a dozen paragraphs?
06:45
This is page 474 on your paperbacks if you're following along:
06:48
"Though it was getting better, I still wasn't satisfied
06:51
with the inaugural address.
06:54
My speechwriters must have been tearing their hair out
06:56
because as we worked between one and four in the morning
06:59
on Inauguration Day, I was still changing it."
07:02
Sure you were, because you've prepared your entire life
07:06
for this historic quadrennial event that just sort of sneaks up on you.
07:09
And then --
07:13
(Laughter)
07:14
three paragraphs later we get this little beauty:
07:16
"We went back to Blair House to look at the speech for the last time.
07:21
It had gotten a lot better since 4 a.m."
07:24
Well, how could it have?
07:27
By his own writing, this man was either asleep,
07:29
at a prayer meeting with Al and Tipper or learning how to launch
07:31
a nuclear missile out of a suitcase.
07:34
What happens to American presidents at 0400 on inauguration day?
07:37
What happened to William Jefferson Clinton?
07:41
We might not ever know.
07:43
And I noticed, he's not exactly around here today
07:45
to face any tough questions.
07:48
(Laughter)
07:50
It could get awkward, right?
07:52
I mean after all, this whole business happened on his watch.
07:54
But if he were here --
07:56
(Laughter)
07:58
he might remind us, as he does in the wrap-up to his fine autobiography,
07:59
that on this day Bill Clinton began a journey --
08:03
a journey that saw him go on to become
08:06
the first Democrat president elected
08:08
to two consecutive terms in decades.
08:10
In generations.
08:13
The first since this man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
08:15
who began his own unprecedented journey
08:18
way back at his own first election,
08:21
way back in a simpler time, way back in 1932 --
08:24
(Laughter)
08:32
the year Alberto Giacometti
08:33
(Laughter)
08:34
made "The Palace at Four in the Morning."
08:36
The year, let's remember, that this voice, now departed,
08:38
first came a-cryin' into this big old crazy world of ours.
08:42
(Music)
08:47
(Applause)
09:11

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Rives - Performance poet, multimedia artist
Performance artist and storyteller Rives has been called "the first 2.0 poet," using images, video and technology to bring his words to life.

Why you should listen

Part poet, part storyteller, part philosopher, Rives is the co-host of TEDActive as well as a frequent TED speaker. On stage, his poems burst in many directions, exposing multiple layers and unexpected treats: childhood memories, grown-up humor, notions of love and lust, of what is lost forever and of what's still out there waiting to unfold. Chimborazo.

A regular on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, Rives also starred alongside model Bar Refaeli in the 2008 Bravo special Ironic Iconic America, touring the United States on a "roller coaster ride through the eye-popping panorama of American pop culture." Flat pages can't contain his storytelling, even when paper is his medium. The pop-up books he creates for children unfold with surprise: The Christmas Pop-Up Present expands to reveal moving parts, hidden areas and miniature booklets inside. 

His latest project—the Museum of Four in the Morning—is an ode to a time that may well be part of a global conspiracy. In a good way.  

The original video is available on TED.com
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