Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parting Shot: Jack O' Lantern


Many thanks to Gavin over at Y|O|Y, for this bewitching seasonal image... I have no idea where it came from, but I do love it. I've even seen it being used by a few of my Facebook friends for their profile pics, so I figured it was safe to lift it.
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Happy Birthday King-Father Norodom Sihanouk

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne of the things I like best about blogging is the learning I get to do; before writing this, for instance, I had no idea that the former King of Cambodia holds the Guinness Book's world record for the person who's held the greatest variety of titles in one government. In this case, these include: two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, and one as Cambodia's non-titled head of state, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments-in-exile.

A close second, though, involves the surprises; I had one such surprise today, while researching this post, and it involves His Majesty's support for same-sex marriage. Given the reverence in Cambodia for the 87-year-old King-Father (a term not unlike Queen Mother) his support gives marriage equality an invaluable boost in Southeast Asia.
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In Memoriam: John Candy

In the all-too-brief 15 years that spanned the career of John Candy, it can be safely said that he made no enemies, but only friends; and while it looked, a few years ago, like his memory might fade from the public consciousness altogether, the advent of DVDs means that much of his work has been re-released and is enjoying something of a renaissance...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1950, John Candy got his start with Toronto's famed improve theatre troupe, The Second City; while there he also appeared in many low- or no-budget films, as well as small (usually uncredited) roles in larger films, such as Class of '44. The characters he developed at Second City became mainstays of that sketch comedy alternate universe Second City Television (SCTV).

As the 80s progressed, so did Candy's career... An appearance in 1979's Steven Spielberg comedy 1941 soon led to greater and greater roles in films like The Blues Brothers, Stripes, and National Lampoon's Vacation. While his role in Ghostbusters ultimately went to fellow SCTV alum Rick Moranis owing to a clash over artistic differences, Candy got his big breakthrough that summer anyway, when he appeared in Splash.

From there the roles came fast and thick: Spaceballs, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Who's Harry Crumb?, and Uncle Buck to name just four; nearly devoid of ego when it came to billing, Candy had no problem alternating between leading and supporting roles, even performing the occasional cameo if it appealed to him. Despite a few critical bombs, Candy entered the 90s as both the guy audiences wanted to see, as well as the one other actors wanted to work with, which made him a rare breed...

While his weight had always been a problem, Candy had also been a heavy smoker, and the combination of the two (as well as the heart disease to which he was genetically predisposed) soon caught up with him; he died in his sleep in March 1994 while on location in Mexico shooting Wagons East!. He was 43. Candy was survived by his wife Rosemary and Jennifer and Christopher, in addition to distraught former colleagues, friends, and fans the world over.
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Onion News Network: Has Hallowe'en Become Over-Commercialized?

I've long been an admirer of The Onion, whether in its tree-hating paper version, snazzy online incarnation, and lately courtesy of their YouTube channel; to a certain degree* it was The Onion's snarky, appallingly honest, and alternate dimension approach to news that inspired the work I've tried to do here at the Pop Culture Institute.

This, then, is their take on Hallowe'en...

*Although not to such a degree that I might be subject to prosecution, word...

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Gratuitous Brunette: Michael Landon

For an amazing thirty years, Michael Landon was a fixture on American television, starring on three hugely popular series back to back to back; first he played Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza from 1959 to 1973, then Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie from 1973 to 1984, and finally Jonathan Smith in Highway To Heaven from 1984 to 1989 - representing more than 700 hours of television, all of it on NBC.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLandon (born this day in 1936) was universally revered in Hollywood; that good-guy image he portrayed was no act. Warm and caring, with an ever-ready smile and a heart as big as the outdoors he loved, his early death in July 1991 was greeted with genuine remorse.

He also had a wicked sense of humour, and loved to play practical jokes, especially on Johnny Carson; having heard that Carson ran over a cat with his car, Landon invited him to dinner at a restaurant where he'd had many of the menu items changed to include the word 'cat'.

Former Little House co-star Melissa Gilbert has said that Landon was like a second father to her, especially after her own father died when she was just 11; Landon had nine children of his own, so opening his home and heart to a tenth must have been the easiest thing in the world for him to do. Gilbert and her husband Bruce Boxleitner named their son after him in 1995.

Despite a fit physique and a positive attitude, though, Landon was a heavy smoker and ate a poor diet, all of which caught up with him at the age of 54. He was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer which quickly spread to his lymph nodes, and in what seemed like no time at all he was gone...
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Houdini

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPop lore states that Harry Houdini died of multiple blows to the abdomen delivered by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, following a performance in Montreal on October 22nd, 1926. Modern medical science, however, discounts that Houdini's acute appendicitis could have been caused by any physical trauma; it appears that the blows he suffered were not fatal, but aggravated an existing undetected illness.

When Houdini arrived at Detroit's Garrick Theatre two days after what would be his fatal blow, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 40°C (104°F); despite his condition, Houdini took the stage.

Afterwards, he was taken to Room 401 of Detroit's Grace Hospital, where he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 PM on this day in 1926, at the age of 52. After taking statements from witnesses, Houdini's insurance company concluded that the death was due to the incident on the 22nd and paid double indemnity.

Probably the fact that Houdini was a believer in spiritualism (combined with the fact that he died on the day he did) has given his death the eerie connotations it has picked up over the years. For a full decade after his death Houdini's widow Bess used to hold a seance every October 31st, hoping to contact his spirit; she discontinued the practice in 1936, after he steadfastly refused to show up. Death proved to be the one thing from which Harry Houdini couldn't escape...

Still, it all makes for a suitably ghoulish story for bloggers to rehash every Hallowe'en, so I think in the spirit of the season I'll just go with it.
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Johnny Marr Describes Meeting Morrissey

If Morrissey gave The Smiths their voice, Johnny Marr gave them their pulse; although The Smiths were only together for five years (1982-1987) in that time their partnership - along with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce - created some of the best British pop music ever.

Here then is a little clip of birthday boy Johnny Marr describing how he met Morrissey, and how they bonded over a shared love of Motown girl groups; if, after you're done watching, you haven't sated your need for him, here's the link to his own website.
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"To Autumn" by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
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In Memoriam: John Keats

The poetry of John Keats was the subject of much critical derision over the course of his short life; clearly, this means he must have been on to something... People who are popular in their own day* often tend to be considered old-hat quite quickly after their death - if not long before - and fade inevitably into oblivion. Keats' work, on the other hand, is still finding new ways to inspire more poets and lovers than ever nearly 200 years after he died - no mean feat in an age rife with such defiantly unromantic fare as hardcore porn and gangsta rap!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKeats - who was born on this day in 1795 - had bigger things to worry about, though, than the bitterness of the failed poets who typified his critics. His life was afflicted by tuberculosis long before he was; his mother died of the disease in 1810, after which Keats went to live with his grandmother. Within the decade she would also be dead, and he would be in charge of his brother, who was by then sick as well...

Tom Keats succumbed to his tuberculosis in December 1818; afterwards, Keats went to live at the home of his friend Charles Armitage Brown in Hampstead. Over the next 12 months, which Keats scholars refer to as 'The Great Year', the poet would produce much of his most famous work; it's also the year he met the love of his life, next-door neighbour Fanny Brawne.

As is often the case, the poet's passion provided more stress than solace, likely because in this instance it may have been an unrequited love, and was at best very complicated. When, by 1820, Keats was also showing signs that he, too, had contracted TB, he removed himself to Rome with his friend Joseph Severn. Brawne's diary rather brusquely recorded his departure thusly: 'Mr. Keats has left Hampstead.' Nevertheless, their romance is the subject of Jane Campion's 2009 film, Bright Star.

Keats settled into a house at the foot of the Spanish Steps (now a museum to him), but despite a drier clime and attentive medical care didn't last long, dying in February 1821, aged 25; he was buried in Rome's Protestant Cemetery beneath a tombstone bearing a bitter epitaph written by Charles Brown and Joseph Severn:

'This grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart, at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.'

As it states, only the final phrase was requested by Keats himself...

Still, those in Keats' circle insisted (as in the words of Lord Byron) that their friend's life was 'snuffed out by an article' - in this case, a scathing review of his work Endymion (thought to have been written by William Gifford but later proved to be the work of John Wilson Croker) which had appeared in the Quarterly Review shortly before his death; clearly it wasn't as yet well-understood that in order to be an artist one must be sensitive, but to survive as an artist one must be made of cast-iron, a dichotomy easily spoken but not easily lived, and as it turns out well-nigh impossible for John Keats...

*You know the type I mean - the 'flash in the pan'...
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"Quicksand" by Ethel Waters with Count Basie

Taken from the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen, here then is Ethel Waters (who was born on this day in 1896) singing a little ditty called Quicksand with the Count Basie Orchestra.
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Pop History Moment: The Assassination of Indira Gandhi

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Having ordered Indian troops to fire upon the holiest Sikh shrine in India - the Harimandir Sahib (or Golden Temple) at Amritsar - during the disastrous and ill-considered Operation Blue Star in June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi continued to employ Sikh bodyguards - for what reason I cannot possibly fathom...

It was on this day, just shy of five months to the day after Operation Blue Star had been carried out, Gandhi was walking in the garden of the Prime Minister's Residence (now a memorial to her) on New Delhi's Safdarjung Road, on her way to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov. As she passed a wicket gate, guarded by two of her bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, they opened fire with machine pistols. A melee ensued, during which her two attackers and one other guard were killed.

Gandhi died on her way to the hospital, in her official car, but wasn't declared dead until many hours later; she was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her and reportedly removed 31 bullets from her body.

Almost the instant her death was announced, India erupted in anti-Sikh rioting, during which thousands were killed or injured, most of them Sikhs. Of this violence, Gandhi's son and successor Rajiv later said: 'When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.' She was cremated on November 3, near Raj Ghat at Shakti Sthal, which means 'Place of Power'.
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"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen

It seems oddly appropriate for Hallowe'en that Bohemian Rhapsody was released this day, seeing as it is itself an opera disguised as a pop song...

Despite being released as long ago as 1975, it also has a video; this, then, must surely count as one of the earliest music videos, as it was created specifically for promotion (and not merely excerpted from some program or other, like a lot of the available musical performances from the 1960s and 70s).

It's name doesn't appear in the lyrics, it's got no chorus but more bridges than Venice, and the lyrics may or may not contain some cryptic meaning; nevertheless it is consistently cited as one of the greatest pop songs ever. Like the bumblebee - that shouldn't be able to fly, yet does - Bohemian Rhapsody soars on Freddie Mercury's vocals and is kept aloft by Brian May's prototypically head-banging guitar riffs alike.
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The Death of River Phoenix

River Phoenix often hinted at a childhood marred by sexual abuse, later claiming to have blocked it out; as a child his family belonged to the Children of God cult, about whom Phoenix subsequently had nothing good to say, and around which rumours of child abuse of every kind have always swirled...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDespite the best intentions of the conscious mind, however, the subconscious never forgets. As good and well-meaning as Phoenix was in the present he was still being stalked by an awful trauma from the past; prone to fits of depression, he gradually began to self-medicate in order to deal with feelings of which he may not even have been aware.

Not helping matters was the matter of young fame, renowned for its toxicity, as well as having been raised after leaving the cult as a hippie (which he himself likened to the role he played in 1986's The Mosquito Coast); insufficiently vaccinated with the antibodies to fame that eventually saved his contemporaries from their own self-immolation, Phoenix quickly spiralled out of control.

More than just a lovely young man (both inside and out) died on this day in 1993 - at the age of just 23 - on the pavement outside the Viper Room... A promising career went with him as well.

From his early appearances in 1986's Stand by Me, to his shot-in-Vancouver A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988), to later work in My Own Private Idaho and Dogfight (both 1991), Phoenix's fifteen movie roles are imbued with a certain compassion for the suffering which is inherent in the human condition. There's no telling what he might have accomplished had he lived, only wondering...
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POPnews - October 31st

[America's love affair with the open road resulted in the Lincoln Highway, which passes through 14 states, 128 counties, and more than 500 cities, towns, and villages over its 3389 mile (5454 km) length.]

475 CE - Romulus Augustulus - often considered the last Roman Emperor - was proclaimed.

1517 - Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg - or so the legend has it.

1822 - Mexico's Emperor, Agustín de Iturbide, attempted to dissolve the Mexican Empire.

1864 - Nevada became the 36th US state.

1912 - The first gangster film - D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley - premiered.

1913 - The Lincoln Highway Association dedicated the Lincoln Highway, the first continuous automobile road across the United States; the highway also became the first national tribute to fallen president Abraham Lincoln, nine years before the opening of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The road, which came to be known as 'The Main Street Across America', connects New York City's Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

1918 - The short-lived Banat Republic was founded as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing.

1923 - The first of 160 consecutive days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at Australia's Marble Bar.

1926 - Magician Harry Houdini died of gangrene and peritonitis that developed after his appendix ruptured.

1940 - The Battle of Britain ended when the United Kingdom prevented a German invasion.

1941 - After 14 years of work, drilling was completed on Mount Rushmore; alas, its creator Gutzon Borglum did not live to see it completed, having died seven months earlier; work was finished by Lincoln Borglum, the sculptor's son.

1959 - Future presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to renounce his American citizenship at the US Embassy in Moscow.

1961 - Joseph Stalin's body was removed from Lenin's Tomb.

1968 - Citing progress with the Paris peace talks, US President Lyndon B. Johnson offered the nation its first October surprise when he announced that he had ordered a complete cessation of 'all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam', effectively ending the Vietnam War; while Johnson's announcement was intended to improve the Democrats' chances electorally and therefore the outcome of the 1968 presidential election, Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon handily defected Democrat Hubert Humphrey and American Independent leader George Wallace anyway.

1973 - Seamus Twomey, J.B. O'Hagan, and Kevin Mallon - three Provisional Irish Republican Army members - escaped from Dublin's Mountjoy Prison aboard a hijacked helicopter that landed in the exercise yard; a band called the Wolfe Tones later wrote a song celebrating the escape called The Helicopter Song.

1975 - Queen released their most famous single, Bohemian Rhapsody.

1984 - Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh security guards - Satwant Singh and Beant Singh - in retaliation for her ordering a military offensive against Amritsar's Harmandir Sahib during Operation Blue Star.

1986 - The 5th Congress of the Communist Party of Sweden opened, during the course of which the party name was changed to the Solidarity Party and a program of non-communist policies was adopted.

2003 - Mahathir bin Mohamad resigned as Prime Minister of Malaysia after 22 years in power.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

POPnews - October 30th

[The Bosphorous Bridge has proven more effective at joining Turkey to Europe than Turkish legislators, who have dragged their heels on passing the kind of progressive legislation that could make it happen.]

1137 - The Battle of Rignano pitted traditional rivals Ranulf of Apulia and Sicily's King Roger II against each other; in this case, the victory went to Ranulf of Apulia and his allies Robert II of Capua and Sergius VII of Naples.

1270 - The Eighth Crusade and a siege of Tunis ended by an agreement between Sicily's King Charles I (brother to King Louis IX of France, who had died months earlier) and the Sultan of Tunis.

1340 - The Battle of Rio Salado pitted Portugal's King Afonso IV and King Alfonso XI of Castile against Morocco's Marinid dynasty commanded by Abu al-Hasan 'Ali and Yusuf I of the Kingdom of Granada; the Marinid defeat marks the last time a Muslim army was able to invade the Iberian Peninsula, an important turning point in the Reconquista.

1470 - England's Lancastrian King Henry VI was 'readepted' to the throne after the Earl of Warwick - known as the Kingmaker - defeated Yorkist troops in battle during the Wars of the Roses, marking the first and only time in English history a sovereign was returned to power after being deposed. It was not to last... Henry VI was murdered in the Tower of London the following May.

1485 - Henry VII was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey after usurping the throne from his predecessor Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22nd.

1501 - At a banquet called the Ballet of Chestnuts - held by Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, in the Papal Palace - fifty prostitutes or courtesans were in attendance for the entertainment of the guests.

1831 - Escaped slave Nat Turner was captured and arrested in Southampton County, Virginia, for leading the bloodiest slave revolt in US history ten weeks earlier.

1863 - Denmark's Prince Wilhelm arrived in Athens to assume the throne as George I, King of the Hellenes.

1864 - The Second War of Schleswig - which finally answered the Schleswig-Holstein Question - ended with the signing of the Treaty of Vienna, following which Denmark renounced all claim to Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg; the territories thenceforth came under Prussian and Austrian (now German) administration.

1905 - Tsar Nicholas II was presented with the October Manifesto; in accordance with its terms he granted Russia its first constitution and gave greater powers to the Duma, in order to end a short-lived but bloody revolution.

1929 - The Stuttgart Cable Car was opened in the German city of Stuttgart.

1938 - Orson Welles broadcast his radio play of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, causing a nationwide panic.

1944 - Anne Frank was deported from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen where she died, in March 1945, weeks before the camp was liberated.

1957 - Britain's House of Lords announced plans to begin admitting its first female peers, which happened following the passage of the Life Peerages Act 1958; the act also allowed for the creation of life peers.

1973 - Istanbul's Bosphorus Bridge was completed, connecting two continents over the Bosphorus for the first time in history in much the same way Turkey is the symbolic bridge between Europe and Asia; it wouldn't be joined by a second crossing until July 1988, when Prime Minister Turgut Özal drove the first car over the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.

1974 - A boxing match dubbed The Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman took place at the Mai 20 Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire; promoter Don King's first venture only came about through the intercession (and deep pockets) of the country's president, Mobutu Sésé Seko.

1975 - Prince Juan Carlos became Spain's acting head of state, taking over for the country's ailing dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

1995 - Quebec sovereignists narrowly lost a second referendum - 50.6% to 49.4% - for a mandate to negotiate the province's independence from Canada; the first such loss occurred in May 1980.

2005 - The rebuilt Dresden Frauenkirche (destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II) was reconsecrated after a thirteen-year rebuilding project.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Commendatore Scene" From Mozart's "Don Giovanni" by

On this day in 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni was first performed, at the Estates Theatre in Prague.
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Pop History Moment: The Debut of Asterix


Blah blah blah...
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Happy Birthday Winona Ryder

There was a time, it seems, when she was in every movie I liked; although it was only a span of two years, she appeared in Beetlejuice (1988), Great Balls of Fire! and Heathers (1989), Mermaids, Edward Scissorhands, and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990)...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSince then, of course, in addition to memorable television appearances (The Simpsons in 1994, Strangers With Candy in 2000, and Friends in 2001) Ryder continued with a string of great movie roles, including The Age of Innocence (1993), Reality Bites (1994), and Girl, Interrupted (1999).

Then came her little mishegas at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills in December 2001; the ensuing show-trial and tabloid maelstrom cost her the better part of her reputation (although, as the photo at right clearly shows, Your Honour, she was desperately in need of coverage). Shoplifting (as I well know) is an affliction which is easily overcome, unlike, say, being a Republican, so despite the scandal she's continued to work, although she's been keeping a much lower profile.

Will Winona Ryder be able to return to the Hollywood pantheon to resume her rightful place there, or will she join the ranks of fallen stars who litter our reality television and infomercial landscape? Only time will tell. So far, though, celebrity astronomers such as myself see the scandal more as a wobble in her orbit and, although it was accompanied by a supernova of publicity, the gravity of her popular appeal should be enough to keep her (and her career) from becoming a black hole.
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"Tidal Wave" by The Sugarcubes

Like the last video, Tidal Wave original appeared on The Sugarcubes' 1989 album Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!; also like the last video, the song relies more on the tortured vocal stylings of birthday boy Einar Örn Benediktsson rather than on the similarly idiosyncratic but considerably less dissonant vocals of Björk.
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Remembering... Gustav V

The life of King Gustav V is one which is not well-known in North America, yet was as exciting and tumultuous as any in the early part of the 20th Century; he presided over Sweden's transition from executive to constitutional monarchy, and managed to remain King (as well as keeping Sweden neutral) as in their turn first the Kaiserreich and then the Nazis engulfed the rest of Europe...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in June 1858, he ascended to the throne in 1907, following the death of his father Oscar II, just two years after the Treaty of Separation liberated the country from Norwegian rule. Gustav V was the last King to interfere directly in affairs of state, in 1914, over defense spending; he was also the last King to be Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces. Deeply conservative, he was opposed to various democratizing moves which were afoot in the world at the time, Sweden included.

Despite his conservatism (today we might say because of it) he was involved in one doozy of a scandal during his reign, known as the Haijby affair; often accused of collaborationist tendencies (although, to a certain extent, some of these may be blamed on his German wife Victoria), Gustav V occupies an uncomfortable place in Swedish history.
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Happy Birthday Dan Castellanata

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As the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellanata enjoys the best of both worlds: he's both famous and well-paid, but his natural pinky skin tone renders him unrecognizable as a Simpson. Although, frankly, after two decades on the air and dozens of talk show appearances, I think a few people would recognize him as himself.

On The Simpsons, Castellaneta provides the voices for Homer Simpson, Abraham 'Grampa' Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty the Clown, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Joe Quimby, Hans Moleman, Sideshow Mel, Itchy, Kodos, Arnie Pie, Scott Christian and other characters - which takes real genius, let me tell you!
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"Eat The Menu" by The Sugarcubes

Eat The Menu better shows the contribution made to The Sugarcubes by Einar Örn Benediktsson; indeed, many in the music punditocracy credit his distinctive vocals for hurting sales of the album, which was a disappointment after the band's strong debut, Life's Too Good.

The song originally appeared on the band's 1989 album Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!, the title of which was inspired by Mr. Toad, from by Kenneth Grahame's children's classic The Wind in the Willows.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Rufus Sewell

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I will confess, I don't know anything about Rufus Sewell except that he's hot, that he was discovered by Dame Judi Dench, and he often plays broody men in British movies. And the thing about Dame Judi I learned last...

Instead of concocting a lot of BS to make myself look smarter than I am - which, I must confess, I do enjoy, even though it gets tiring - I'll just stare at his picture until you leave your comments about him; which will be no burden to me as I could look at this picture for days.
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Happy Birthday Madam President

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed in my job I consider what Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's job entails - namely, bringing democracy to Africa - and suddenly I feel a whole lot better.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFirst elected to the Presidency of Liberia in November 2005, she quickly earned the nickname 'Iron Lady', which is just as well; given the obstacles she's facing (not to mention the grenades, bullets, and landmines she'll have to face in order to face those obstacles) iron is preferable to even Kevlar.

35 years in the government of Liberia (save for 5 years when, after criticizing the government of former President Samuel Doe, she went into exile in Kenya) will have given her some insight into how that government works (or doesn't work) and her role as the chair of Liberia's Commission on Good Governance immediately prior to her election as President shouldn't hurt either.
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"Coldsweat" by The Sugarcubes

Birthday wishes go out today to Einar Örn Benediktsson, co-vocalist and trumpeter for Iceland's pop pioneers The Sugarcubes; the band owes its unique sound as much to the participation of female vocalist Björk as it does to the contrast between their two voices. Then, of course, there's the Iceland Factor*...

Coldsweat first appeared on The Sugarcubes' 1988 album Life's Too Good, but had been released as a single in the previous year, just like the band's breakthrough single Birthday.

*The so-called Iceland Factor - initially isolated and identified by Mr. Gagne when I first posted "Glósóli" by Sigur Rós - is the subject of much research here in the Applied Pop Culture Laboratory at the Pop Culture Institute. In brief, it posits that music from Iceland is usually all trippy and shit, and seeks to understand why...

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POPnews - October 29th

[For years the Kray Twins terrorized the hard men of London's gangland, until such time as they began to feel they were above the law; from there it was a short while til a long fall brought Ronnie and Reggie under the law again.]

437 CE - Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III married Licinia Eudoxia - daughter of his cousin Theodosius II, Eastern Roman Emperor - in Constantinople, thus unifying the two branches of the House of Theodosius.

1268 - Conradin - the last legitimate male heir of the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors - was publicly executed along with his companion Frederick I, Margrave of Baden by Sicily's King Charles I, a political rival and ally to the Roman Catholic church. The 16-year-old Conrad and 19-year-old Frederick were executed for having fallen in love...

1618 - Adventurer, writer, courtier, and former favourite of Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded for allegedly conspiring against James VI & I of Scotland and England.

1787 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni was first performed, at the Estates Theatre in Prague.

1792 - Oregon's Mount Hood was named after the British naval officer Alexander Arthur Hood by Lt. William E. Broughton who spotted the mountain near the mouth of the Willamette River.

1901 - Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of US President William McKinley, was executed by electrocution at Auburn Prison in Upstate New York.

1923 - Under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey became a republic following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, with its capital at Ankara.

1929 - The New York Stock Exchange crashed for the second time in a week on 'Black Tuesday' in what would soon be called the Crash of '29, ending the Great Bull Market of the 1920s and beginning the Great Depression.

1956 - Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and pushed Egyptian forces back toward the Suez Canal, precipitating the Suez Crisis.

1960 - In Louisville, Kentucky, local fighter Cassius Clay - who later took the name Muhammad Ali - won his first professional fight.

1967 - London criminal Jack 'The Hat' McVitie was murdered by the Kray Twins, leading to their eventual imprisonment and downfall.

1969 - The first-ever computer-to-computer link was established on ARPANET, and the Internet was born.

1989 - After years of delays, the 63rd Street Tunnel opened for service, the first expansion of the New York City subway system since 1967.

1991 - The American Galileo spacecraft made its closest approach to 951 Gaspra, making it the first probe to visit an asteroid.

1992 - The Food and Drug Administration approved Depo Provera for use as a contraceptive in the United States.

1994 - Francisco Martin Duran fired over two dozen shots at the White House; Duran was later convicted of trying to kill US President Bill Clinton.

1998 - The Space Shuttle Discovery blasted off on mission STS-95 with 77-year-old John Glenn aboard, making him the oldest person to go into space; previously, he had been the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962, and later a Senator (D-Ohio).

1998 - Hurricane Mitch, the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, made landfall in Honduras.

2005 - Three bombs directed at the transit system of Delhi killed more than 60 and injured nearly 200.
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Diamonds on the Inside" by Ben Harper

Born on this day in 1969, one month to the day before me*, Ben Harper is - dare I say it? - the thinking man's Lenny Kravitz. That's right. I said it.

Altogether more popular in Europe than he is in North America, the Pop Culture Institute would like to do whatever it can to remedy that situation, including playing this soulful song, with its accompanying video, replete with images of multi-racial hotness and earnest lyrics.

From 2003's album of the same name, it's Diamonds on the Inside... As per usual, this performance is from an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, while the song's superlative music video is being held hostage by the near-sighted schmucks at his record label.

*Subtle, innit?
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Remembering... Ted Hughes


Ted Hughes' professional life took off well enough, hit a major rough patch in the middle, and by the time it glided to a halt on this day in 1998 he was not only held in the greatest official esteem but had nearly seen his personal reputation rehabilitated as well...

Born in August 1930, Hughes spent his formative years in the West Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd, exploring the nearby moors more or less unimpeded; at the age of six his family moved more than 50 miles away to the industrial town of Mexborough, where his parents ran a newsagent and tobacconist.

While his early life had given Hughes an abiding respect for Nature, in this new setting Hughes' teachers began encouraging his nascent writing ability, and at 16 he published his first works in the school's magazine, The Don and Dearne. A two year hitch (1949-51) with the National Service at a remote listening post in East Yorkshire provided him with ample time in which to read and re-read Shakespeare while serving as a ground wireless mechanic for the RAF. Spying on the Russians seems to have had no effect on him, although his tenure there would give him the grounding in the subject he needed to later make himself a major scholar of the Bard.

While studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge he started a magazine with some friends, entitled the St. Botolph's Review; it was at a launch party for the magazine he met his future wife, Sylvia Plath. Their tempestuous relationship would produce two children - Frieda Rebecca and Nicholas Farrar - not to mention fodder enough for them and their literary heirs to postulate on the Hughes-Plath dynamic in perpetuity, and (thanks largely to Plath's subsequent actions) nearly enough ammunition to ruin Hughes into the bargain.

Hughes handled the fallout from Plath's February 1963 suicide in a way that seemed to encourage his enemies in demonizing him, especially as his late wife's works began to attract the attention of militant second-wave feminists. Whereas he could have leapt to his own defense at the time, it wasn't until Hughes published Birthday Letters (1998) that he began to be seen in a better light. Few if any now refer to Hughes as a murderer with regards to Plath's taking her own life like they might have done in the mid-60s.

Act Three of his extraordinary career saw Ted Hughes serve his Queen and country as Poet Laureate following the death of Sir John Betjeman (Philip Larkin having respectfully declined the post); shortly before his own death Hughes was awarded the Order of Merit, which is in the personal gift of the sovereign. Act Four, coming as it does after his death, has seen Hughes portrayed by Daniel Craig opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2003 film Sylvia.
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Happy Birthday Your Serene Highness


You'll be forgiven for having never heard of Liechtenstein's Hereditary Princess, Sophie, who today turns 43; either royalty from Catholic countries are so much better behaved than their Protestant counterparts or they're better at covering it up*. In fact, Liechtenstein's best-kept secret must be Sophie's sister-in-law, Princess Angela.

Nevertheless, Sophie's wedding - to Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein in July 1993 - ought to have been big time media fodder: a beautiful church in the picturesque capital Vaduz, a beaming blonde bride, and a HPLILF** for a groom. Clearly the Princely Family of Liechtenstein either has a very smart or a very stupid press secretary.

In the fullness of time Her Serene Highness will become the first lady in the land of the quaint mittel-European principality currently under the watchful eye of her father-in-law Hans Adam II and his wife Princess Marie Aglaë which she and her husband will, in turn, groom for their son, Prince Joseph Wenzel.

*Either way, no one messes around or up quite like the good ol' House of Windsor, am I right? Where my whiteys at?
**Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein I'd Like to Fuck.

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"You're Just In Love" by Cleo Laine and The Swedish Chef

Today's flimsy excuse for posting a clip from The Muppet Show is the birthday of none other than the very talented singer Dame Cleo Laine...

Laine appeared on the show's Episode 216, in which she sang this charming duet of You're Just in Love with The Swedish Chef as he prepares what must have been the world's worst salad. The last time I saw a salad tossed that badly -- Er, well, let's never mind about that and just enjoy the video, shall we?
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In Memoriam: Jack Soo

Having only seen Jack Soo in the classic 70s sitcom Barney Miller, it came as something of a shock to watch him break out singing in the 1961 film Flower Drum Song! Yet Jack Soo's antics in the 12th Precinct were not merely the last he would record for posterity, they came at the end of a long and fruitful career on Broadway, in Hollywood, and over as many airwaves as nightclub stages.

PhotobucketThat most of Jack Soo's career accolades came in the second half of his life is only remarkable when considering how poorly the first half of his life went; born on this day in 1917, the Oakland native found himself at Utah's Topaz War Relocation Center for the duration of America's involvement in World War II. Following his release his first thought was... Entertain. Entertain the very same people who'd enthusiastically oppressed his community for no other reason than their appearance; then again, it's no surprise when considering that while he was incarcerated, he spent a goodly amount of time entertaining his fellow inmates as one of the most popular detainees, and likely responsible for a good measure of their morale through difficult times into the bargain.

He's a better man than me, that Jack Soo.

Following a decade on the nightclub circuit, Soo's big break came when he was cast in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song; his next big break came when he was cast (through the intercession of his longtime pal, producer Danny Arnold) as Sgt. Nick Yemana in Barney Miller at the start of the second season in 1975. For the next three seasons, until he succumbed to esophageal cancer in January 1979, Jack Soo could be counted on to ladle out drollities and reap the rewards of entertainment in what would become a stereotype-busting role.
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Happy Birthday Julia Roberts

Hollywood's Pretty Woman is past 40? How can that be? Why, it seems like only yesterday I was watching her in her breakout role as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie in Steel Magnolias... Okay, so it was only yesterday; what I meant was, for the first time.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe pride of Smyrna, Georgia, is one of the most popular and wealthy actors in Hollywood; the 30 films in which she's appeared have grossed over $2 billion at the box office, making her well worth the reported $25 million she commands in salary.

Though she's recently taken a few years off to have a family - twins Hazel and Phinnaeus were born on my birthday* in 2004, and little Henry in June 2007 - her recent Hollywood vehicle, the Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson's War, nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination, effectively announcing her return to the big screen. It was followed by an indie called Fireflies in the Garden, co-starring super-hunk Ryan Reynolds. In 2009 she appeared in Duplicity, opposite former Gratuitous Brunette Clive Owen, and she's currently filming both Valentine's Day and Eat, Pray, Love for release in 2010.

All in all it's good to have her back again; I don't know what it is, but there's something reassuring about her. I know as well as anyone that a public persona isn't worth any more than the publicist who created it, but there's something genuine and honest and lovely about our Mrs. Moder (at least on screen) that makes me hope hers is a long and fruitful life - not to mention career!

*November 28th... Not that I'm dropping any hints or anything.
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Charo on "The Carol Burnett Show"

Okay, this is a special treat for y'all, but for Mr. Davey especially...

Birthday wishes go out today to Charo who is, it should be pointed out, a brilliant musician, in addition to a unique breed of comedienne.

Here she is guest starring on The Carol Burnett Show with (in order of their appearance) Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway, and the great Carol Burnett herself, rockin' that Mackie like no one else - with the possible exception of Charo - ever could.
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Edith Head Gave Great Wardrobe

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As head of the costume department for Paramount Studios - and later, Universal - Edith Head was nominated for 34 Oscars and won a staggering eight of them, the most ever for a woman, and a record unlikely to ever be beaten. She used to keep them handsomely arrayed in her atelier at the studio; they were meant to let anyone who came into her lair know who the talented one was, an act she herself admitted was a bluff meant to conceal her own insecurity.

Born on this day in 1897, Edith Posener started out as a schoolteacher; within a few years she grew bored of that and, taking a handful of someone else's sketches and passing them off as her own, she was soon hired by Paramount. Whatever breach of ethics was involved in the subterfuge, she obviously backed up her bravado, working steadily from the silent film era of the 1920s until her last film - 1982's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid - which was released posthumously and dedicated to her.
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In Memoriam: Canaletto

So accurate are the landscapes of Canaletto that modern-day archaeologists often use them before digs; he was talented, of course, but that kind of hyper-realism only comes from the use of camera obscura... Whatever other techniques he used, he guarded those secrets well. I've only seen one Canaletto up close - at the National Gallery in Ottawa - and it looked more like a window than an oil painting to me. In fact, it was so beautiful I wished I could step into it...

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Born on this day in Venice in 1697, Giovanni Antonio Canal was the son of a painter, and so served his earliest apprenticeship alongside his father and brother; in turn, Canaletto would come to mentor his nephew Bernardo Bellotto as well. His father, Bernardo Canal, specialized in theatrical scenery, which could account for the reason why Canaletto's works are typically vast canvases depicting wide open spaces. Later, the gifted pupil studied in Rome, returning to Venice in 1719.

Canaletto admired the work of Roman vedutista Giovanni Paolo Pannini, and later studied under Luca Carlevaris. Quickly he surpassed his masters, and soon his views of Venice were being snapped up by visiting nobles, especially from England; these canvases, vast as they were, became the postcards of their day. As early as the 1720s, the British consul in Venice was acting as Canaletto's broker, and many of his early works can be found adorning the stately homes of England still.

So popular were his works there that in 1746 Canaletto moved to England, where he created lush portraits of Georgian London as well as other British locales; when he finally returned to Venice in 1755 it was under something of a cloud. Given the quantity of work he produced it was inevitable that some of these later paintings would lack the elan of his earlier masterpieces; while still masterful they had become stiff and predictable, which is the side-effect of working for commissions. At one point he was forced to paint for an assembly of 'gentlemen' to prove that his work was his own, and not that of an imposter; neither the great artist's pride (nor his reputation) ever really recovered.

In 1763 Canaletto was elected to the Venetian Academy, and he continued to paint up until his death in 1768, sometimes from sketches, sometimes from life. Even when he was still alive the asking price for a Canaletto was high, so it seems only right that they should have held their value once he'd set down his brushes for good; in 2005, nearly 250 years after his death in April 1768, one of his paintings fetched £18.6 million at Sotheby's, which is the record price ever paid for a Canaletto, and an amount that would no doubt astound him.
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"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

On a brass plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is
wrought an immortal poem -
The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'
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POPnews - October 28th

[For me, Lady Liberty defines what America is all about in a way that the likes of Caribou Barbie defines the (thankfully) complete and total failure of neoconservative ideology and the apocalypse it's intended to provoke...]

1538 - The first university in the New World, the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, was established in the Dominican Republic.

1664 - The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot - currently the UK's Royal Marines - was established.

1776 - During the American Revolution the Battle of White Plains handed George Washington an early defeat as General William Howe's larger British and Hessian force arrived at White Plains, in Upstate New York, attacking and capturing Chatterton Hill.

1886 - In New York Harbor, US President Grover Cleveland dedicated Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's monumental Statue of Liberty, a gift to America from the people of France; the statue embodies Libertas, the ancient Roman goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny.

1891 - The Mino-Owari Earthquake, the largest earthquake in Japanese history, struck Gifu Prefecture.

1893 - Tchaikovksy's Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Pathétique premiered in St. Petersburg, only nine days before the composer's mysterious and untimely death...

1905 - George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession was first performed in New York. The play had already been censored in the UK by the Lord Chamberlain and so had to be staged there at London's New Lyric Club, rather than in a theatre; the American performance, then, was to be its first on a public stage - and it was raided by police as well! Better that Mrs. Warren should be unemployed, I guess...

1919 - The US Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, paving the way for Prohibition to begin the following January.

1922 - On the third day of their March on Rome, Italian fascists led by Benito Mussolini arrived at their destination and took over the government.

1929 - Black Monday, the first day of trading following Black Thursday in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, also saw major stock market upheaval.

1936 - US President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-dedicated the Statue of Liberty on the 50th anniversary of her debut.

1942 - The Alaska Highway (also called the Alcan Highway) was completed, connecting British Columbia's Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, Alaska.

1943 - The alleged Philadelphia Experiment supposedly occurred.

1954 - The modern Kingdom of the Netherlands was re-founded as a federal monarchy.

1962 - Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had ordered the removal of Soviet missile bases in Cuba, effectively defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1965 - Nostra Aetate - the 'Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions' of the Second Vatican Council - was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, which absolved the Jews of their role in the death of Jesus Christ, reversing Innocent III's declaration from 760 years previous. Apparently, though, no one thought to tell Mel Gibson.

1971 - Britain launched its first (and, as of 2009, only) satellite, Prospero, into low Earth orbit atop a Black Arrow carrier rocket, containing a single experiment to test solar cells and a tape recorder which failed in May 1973 after 730 plays. Still in orbit, it can be heard on 137.560 MHz, and is expected to stay aloft for another hundred years.

1986 - The centennial of the Statue of Liberty's dedication was celebrated in New York Harbor; leading the festivities was US President Ronald Reagan.

2005 - Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, US Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted in the Valerie Plame case; he resigned later that day. Libby did, that is; as for Cheney he refuses to go away.
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