Five Superstitions Of Extraordinary People
All illustrations by Ms Ellen Weinstein. Courtesy of Chronicle Books
The lucky charms of the likes of Mr Michael Jordan and Dr Seuss.
“When you believe in things that you don’t understand/ Then you suffer/ superstition ain’t the way,” counselled Mr Stevie Wonder. But Recipes For Good Luck by Ms Ellen Weinstein, a new book that collects “the superstitions, rituals and practises of extraordinary people”, suggests that you can prosper while holding unfounded and often frankly bizarre beliefs.
It’s important to distinguish between wrongly ascribing outcomes to supernatural causes and instituting routines that help cue certain actions or frames of mind: reading the paper every morning like Nobel Prize-winning author Mr Gabriel García Márquez can hardly be called a “superstition”. But it’s also nice to know that some noteworthy personages are as crazy as the rest of us. Here, from Ms Weinstein’s book, we look at five strange behaviours of the rich and famous.
As musicians’ riders go, an ironing board has to be one of the least rock’n’roll requests conceivable. But that’s precisely the pre-performance stipulation of Mr Robert Plant, the Grammy-winning bluegrass singer and former frontman of metal gods Led Zeppelin, whose legendary excess in their 1970s heyday spawned the clichés of trashing hotel rooms and defenestrating TV sets. Now almost in his seventies, Mr Plant told friends that the un-diva-like behaviour of ironing his own shirts “gets him in the mood”.
Basketball legend Mr Michael Jordan set trends with his red-and-black sneakers – actually the obscure Nike Air Ship – that famously contravened the NBA’s “uniformity of uniform” rule. But His Airness also initiated the shift to longer shorts in order to obscure what lay beneath: the lucky shorts that he wore to score the jump shot that in 1982 won the University of North Carolina Tar Heels its first NCAA Championship for 25 years. Presumably the five-time NBA MVP didn’t don them for his ill-fated foray into the MLB.
Speaking of air, 18th-century polymath Mr Benjamin Franklin took “baths” in it. Every morning, the author, scientist and politician spent between 30 minutes and an hour sitting naked in front of an open window. By way of explanation, he wrote that he found the shock of cold water “too violent”. Indeed, lest you think the air bath – apparently a London fashion – an inventive form of procrastination, the ever-productive Mr Franklin would write or read. At least he didn’t have to worry about getting his materials wet.
Author and illustrator Mr Theodor Seuss Geisel – who assumed the pen name “Dr Seuss” because his father had wanted him to practise medicine, only to become an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth – boasted an eclectic collection of more than 300 hats amassed over a period of 60 years. When inspiration refused to strike, he went to his secret closet (where he also concealed paintings), chose one and wore it. Guess that’s where he got the idea for The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins – and The Cat In The Hat.
By not shaving for Wimbledon, glacially cool tennis ace Mr Bjorn Borg supposedly instigated the “playoff beard” custom subsequently adopted by athletes in many other sports. (He also often wore the same Fila shirt.) Whether his skill and fitness were more responsible for the five straight titles that the Swede scooped at the All-England Club from 1976-80 or his beard is debatable. But then this correspondent cannot grow respectable facial hair and has never won Wimbledon. Coincidence?