Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Cruel To Be Kind" by Nick Lowe and Rockpile

Appearing here on Top of the Pops with Rockpile, it's birthday boy Nick Lowe, whose vocals rocketed Cruel To Be Kind up the American charts in 1979.
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Pop History Moment: Elvis Presley Was Drafted


If I live to be a hundred*, I'll never believe that the drafting of Elvis Presley on this day in 1958 wasn't an attempt by the US government to stifle the social dissent amongst young people being caused by rock and roll, of whom Elvis was even then the greatest icon. It failed, of course, as subterfuge of this kind inevitably does; it did, however, shift the axis of popular music from the US to the UK**, and so bring about the British Invasion of the early 1960s.

Reporting for duty at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas, Presley was accompanied by a media whirlwind, which seems to have taken the base's information officer Captain Arlie Metheny entirely by surprise. For his part the singer undertook his military service studiously, despite the fact that he could have easily fought for and won deferment. 'The Army can do anything it wants with me,' he is reported as saying.

Despite his training at Fort Hood, Texas, and service in Friedberg, West Germany - during which time he developed hankerings for amphetamines, karate, and 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu - between the time of his induction and his discharge in March 1960 Presley had ten Top Ten hits, including Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, the best-selling Hard Headed Woman, and One Night in 1958, and (Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I and the number one A Big Hunk o' Love in 1959.

*At the rate I'm going, not even a remote possibility...
**Which has a professional army, untainted by conscription or 'selective service', to use the odious euphemism of the US government.
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"Pity The Nation" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Today marks the 91st birthday of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers and one of the last surviving members of a scene which shook the literary establishment in the 1950s.

Best known for A Coney Island of the Mind, first published in 1958, Ferlinghetti's scorching indictment of the American bourgeoisie has been drawing criticism that the left is anti-American for half a century now, despite the fact that his has always been a criticism meant to inspire self-improvement of both citizen and state rather than the mindless devotion to national symbolism, which without vigilance is as prone to entropy as anything.

Or, y'know, whatever...
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Remembering... Queen Mary

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Her Majesty Queen Mary - consort to George V and the current Queen's grandmother - died in her sleep at Marlborough House after a lengthy (and secret) battle with lung cancer on this day in 1953, just ten weeks before the much-anticipated coronation of the new Elizabeth II; one of her last acts was to insist that her death not be allowed to postpone the ceremony, and indeed it wasn't. Even as London was being scrubbed down and hung with bunting, mourners were filing past her coffin in Westminster Hall or else lining the route along which she was taken to be buried next to her husband in St. George's Chapel, Windsor.

Initially she'd been brought to England in 1891 as a prospective match for Queen Victoria's eldest grandson - and thus the heir presumptive - Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence; he promptly died, six weeks after their engagement was announced, and she ended up marrying the Duke of York instead, thanks to a bit of matrimonial switcheroo the Royal Family has used on occasion before although - as with the case of Catherine of Aragon - usually with tragic results for the bride. By all accounts, though, theirs was a love match; George V famously took no mistresses. She became Princess of Wales following the accession of her father-in-law Edward VII in January 1901, and Queen upon his death in May 1910.

In character and bearing, Queen Mary was a Victorian; even as the first half of the 20th Century wrought immense changes to the United Kingdom - and not a few to her own family as well - hers was the sort of stalwart presence currently represented by her granddaughter. Her diligence restored to the once great Royal Collection the possessions of the Crown - which rightly belong to the people, and are held in trust by the sovereign - that had over the past century been pilfered and stashed throughout the Nation's noblest homes; she was also inordinately fond of jewellery, and the precious stones she was able to secure in her lifetime are considered every bit as prestigious (not to mention priceless) as the Crown Jewels themselves. Her duty compelled her to continue with public life, despite having outlived three of her six children, even as it compelled her to shun one of the surviving ones - The Duke of Windsor - for the damage she felt his abdication had caused to crown and country.

The biography of record remains Anne Edwards' exceptional Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor, first published in 1984.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Elizabeth I


Her reign - coming as it did after a brief but vicious period of religious tyranny under her aptly nicknamed half-sister Bloody Mary - was greeted by the populace as nothing short of the start of a Golden Age; poets and playwrights sang her praises, and as her procession approached Westminster Abbey on the day of her coronation she met the cheering, exuberant crowds who lined the route with cheering and exuberance of her own. Given those initial high expectations, then, it's almost inevitable that her reign should close on a disappointing note; as exceptional a figure as she was, not even Elizabeth I could live up to that kind of hype.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 - without a doubt the apogee of the Elizabethan era - had come at a terrific cost; fifteen years later, as the queen who'd so bravely rallied her troops at Tilbury was dying in Richmond Palace the people were still paying for it. At the same time, some of the worst weather of the century had plagued the harvest during her final years. No doubt many of her subjects - still prone to superstition either of the heathen of Christian variety - blamed the queen herself, either for not marrying and providing an heir or for otherwise refusing to clarify the matter of the succession.

Of course, she was right to leave her thoughts on the matter private; given that the idea of a queen regnant - let alone the idea that one could be successful - was still a revolutionary one in much of Europe, she had every reason to believe that upon naming her successor she might find herself rather callously despatched. Having spent her entire reign as the subject of plots and conspiracies to separate her body from her throne (not to mention her life from her body) and having only recently succeeded in putting down a rebellion by the Earl of Essex - a former favourite - she'd come by her paranoia honestly; 45 years as a Queen will do that to a person.

As much for the good of the kingdom as for his own career, it was her secretary of state Robert Cecil who finally took matters into his own hands, conducting secret negotiations with Scotland's King James VI (son of Elizabeth's great rival Mary, Queen of Scots) to provide for a smooth succession when the time came. Having been well-schooled by his father - the great statesman Lord Burghley - in the ways of dealing with the recalcitrance of this particular monarch, Cecil was particularly diplomatic in his persistence; having also picked up a few pointers from the Queen's famous spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham likewise ensured he wouldn't be caught playing both ends against the middle and thus risk execution for treason.

Meanwhile, following the February 1603 death of her friend Catherine Carey, Countess of Nottingham - her once-handsome beauty ravaged by age, a near-fatal bout with smallpox in 1592, and tooth decay - the Queen sank into what was called a 'settled and unremovable melancholy'; for two weeks before she died she either sat propped up against cushions or stood all day, lost in contemplation, seemingly without sleep and taking very little food. Her last recorded words, on the day before her death, were 'I wish not to live any longer, but desire to die,' following which she allowed the Earl of Nottingham to carry her to her bed. When Robert Cecil approached her bedside and persisted in his enquiries concerning James VI she responded by holding her hands above her head in the shape of a crown.

Elizabeth I, who'd once breathed fire at her brother-in-law Philip II and his ill-fated flotilla, breathed her last shortly before 3 AM on this day in 1603, aged 69; she was discovered - still warm - by her attendant Lady Scrope. Although news of the Queen's death met with grief up and down the country, there was also a sense of relief that her moribund reign had come to an end. With the closing of her once-bright eyes, so closed the vivid chapter of English history that was known as the Tudor dynasty, born 117 years earlier with her grandfather Henry VII on the battlefield at Bosworth...
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Pop History Moment: The Exxon Valdez Disaster

On this day in 1989 an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground in Prince William Sound off the Alaskan coast, spilling 240,000 barrels (42,000 m³) of crude oil into the sea; given the remote location of the accident and the time of year, the cleanup effort was severely hampered. Rumours have continued to dog the ship's master Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood that he was drunk at the time of the accident...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe story has an interesting Vancouver angle; my buddy Nyac (pictured) was rescued from the muck and brought to live at the Vancouver Aquarium as a pup - where she lived, alongside her buddy Milo, until her death in 2008. Although Nyac was 20 years old when she died - twice the age she could have expected to attain in the wild - when she died she was the first sea otter ever to have been diagnosed with leukemia - likely as a reult of her exposure to crude oil as a pup all those years ago.

In fact, for years I had a picture of them linking paws on my keychain, as well as pictures of the two of them cavorting on my hard drive which are now treasured mementos.

In another one of those spooky coincidences that occasionally happens, another oil tanker (this time the Amoco Cadiz) caused another, much worse, oil spill off the Brittany coast of France on the same day, only in 1978.
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POPnews - March 24th

[The tarring and feathering of Mormon leader Joseph Smith - shown here in a scene by C. C. A. Christensen - was all well and good for 1832, but today's modern Christianist wingnut has become attuned to such treatment, and might even liken it to the tortures endured by Christ; in fact, methinks some of them even get off on it a little bit, and their battery-operated underwear or whatever it is they wear simply cannot cope. For their egregious support of Proposition 8, for their interference with and denial of the civil rights of others, for their refusal to believe anything but the bunkum taught from their pulpits without any critical thinking being employed whatsoever, only the mockery and derision of the modern Internet will do.]

1455 - Pope Nicholas V died; he was succeeded by Pope Callixtus III on April 8th.

1603 - James VI of Scotland became James I of England following the death of Elizabeth I, although the so-called Union of the Crowns was to be a personal rule only; the Acts of Union in 1707 - ratified under his great-granddaughter Queen Anne - would be needed to formalize the arrangement.

1765 - The first Quartering Act - which required householders in the Thirteen Colonies to house British troops - received the royal assent of King George III; one of the so-called Intolerable Acts issued in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of December 1773 - along with the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, and the Administration of Justice Act - their heavy-handedness virtually assured the inevitability of the American Revolution.

1832 - A group of men tarred and feathered Mormon leader Joseph Smith, Jr. in Hiram, Ohio.

1868 - The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was formed.

1878 - The British frigate HMS Eurydice sank off the Isle of Wight; only 2 of the 378 on board survived.

1882 - Robert Koch announced the discovery of mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis.

1900 - Mayor Robert Anderson Van Wyck broke ground at the corner of Bleecker and Greene streets in Greenwich Village for a new underground 'Rapid Transit Railroad' that would link Manhattan and Brooklyn; in what seemed like no time at all the New York City Subway was the largest in the world.

1934 - The US Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act allowing the Philippines to become a self-governing commonwealth.

1958 - Elvis Presley was officially inducted into the US Army as Private #53310761, having been granted a deferral the previous December to complete work on the film King Creole; he completed his basic training at Fort Hood, in Texas.

1959 - The Party of the African Federation (PFA) was launched by Senegal's Léopold Sédar Senghor and Modibo Keita of Mali.

1965 - NASA's Ranger 9, equipped to convert its signals into a form suitable for showing on domestic television, brought images of the Moon into ordinary homes before crash-landing exactly as planned in the crater Alphonsus.

1976 - Argentina's military deposed President Isabel Perón and started the National Reorganization Process.

1980 - Archbishop Óscar Romero was killed by government troops while celebrating Mass in San Salvador; an outspoken advocate of liberation theology, Romero had embraced Marxist ideology but had also run afoul of the Vatican for his attempts to help the poor in a 20th Century fashion as well as his support for human rights.

1981 - Fugitive Ronnie Biggs - who was kidnapped from his home in Brazil by John Miller and Patrick King among others and transported to Barbados in hopes that his captors could claim the reward on his head - was rescued and returned to Brazil. Despite its status as a Commonwealth nation, Barbados has no extradition treaty with the UK, rendering the entire operation a total failure. Biggs, of course, was best known for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963; he escaped from HM Prison Wandsworth in 1965, but returned voluntarily to Britain in 2001.

1989 - After running aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound the Exxon Valdez spilled 240,000 barrels (or about 20% of its total cargo) of petroleum; far from the largest in terms of volume, the Exxon Valdez oil spill nevertheless united environmentalists and sportsmen alike against the carelessness of oil companies when transporting their hazardous material through otherwise pristine wilderness areas. At the time of the accident ship's master Joseph Hazelwood was in his cabin, allegedly drunk.

1992 - Britain's satirical Punch magazine - founded in July 1841 - ceased publication after 150 years; it was revived in 1996 by Mohamed Al-Fayed but folded again in May 2002.

1998 - At the Jonesboro massacre Andrew Golden, aged 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, fired upon teachers and students at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. All told five people were killed - Natalie Brooks (11), Paige Ann Herring (12), Stephanie Johnson (12, no relation), Brittheny R. Varner (11), and Shannon Wright (32) - and ten were wounded; both shooters were released from custody on their 21st birthdays, having essentially gotten away with murder.

1999 - 39 people died when a Belgian transport truck carrying flour and margarine caught fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel which connects France and Italy beneath the Alps.
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