Monday, April 12, 2010

"Now We Are Free" by Lisa Gerrard (with Hans Zimmer)

Fans of Dead Can Dance have known for years the power that's in the voice of Lisa Gerrard (who was born on this day in 1961); it took Ridley Scott, though, to bring her powerful gift to the widest possible audience...

Pairing her with Hans Zimmer, the two composed a haunting soundtrack for Scott's 2000 film Gladiator, for which they received a Golden Globe and were Oscar-nominated.
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Remembering... Josephine Baker

Ernest Hemingway called her '... the most sensational woman anyone ever saw...' and he must have meant it because it wasn't like Papa to gush; yet her daring wasn't just confined to the stage, it seasoned her whole outlook on life. Whether shaking her banana-adorned booty at the Folies Bergères or secreting papers out of France for the Resistance, all her life Josephine Baker lived it and loved it right on the edge.

PhotobucketBorn in St. Louis in June 1906, she dropped out of school at 12 to become a street performer; at 15 she traveled the US in vaudeville, which landed her in New York City at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Awarded the coveted spot of last girl in the chorus line* at the Plantation Club, she parlayed her cabaret success into roles on Broadway, in such revues as Shuffle Along (1921) and The Chocolate Dandies (1924).

Predictably, the offensive titles of these shows were the least offensive things about them; tired of American bigotry she set her sights on brighter lights - an entire City of Lights, in fact. Opening in Paris in October 1925 she soon became the toast of Europe. Initially a dancer, once out from under the thumb of Jim Crow she found her voice as well; eventually she added movies to her resume, starring in three perfect gems: the silent Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and her final film Princess Tam Tam (1935).

Following this success she attempted a return to the United States, appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936; it was a flop, and before the run had ended she was replaced by Gypsy Rose Lee. She returned to France, disgusted, and stayed away for years - she simply refused to play to a segregated audience, and later it would be her appearances in Las Vegas that helped integrate audiences there.

After her personal triumph over the Nazis in German-occupied Paris she continued to funnel money back to the US to support civil rights organizations; in fact, she was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington in August 1963. Putting her heart where her money is with regards to integration, years before anyone had ever heard of Mia Farrow or Angelina Jolie, Baker proceeded to adopt 12 orphans of various ethnicities, housing them at her home, the Château de Milandes.

Her final performance came on the occasion of her fiftieth anniversary on the Parisian etage; booked into Bobino nightclub in 1975 - with the high-profile patronage of Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - she gave a performance which had those in attendance (jaded jet-setters all) tripping over each other to find a superlative that was superlative enough to describe it.

Two days later she was discovered, unconscious, in her dressing room, surrounded by glowing reviews; two days after that, on this day in 1975, Josephine Baker died at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris.

*The last girl in the chorus line typically performed the complicated choreography required of the entire line in a comically haphazard fashion, following which she would perform it in an even more elaborate form for the encore; it was a signal honour to be awarded this spot in the line up, and earned Baker the epithet of 'highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville'.
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"Hug My Soul" by Saint Etienne

Birthday wishes go out today to Sarah Cracknell, one third of Saint Etienne (along with Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs) whose wistful 1960s-inspired electronica dominated the UK pop scene in the early 1990s; while their biggest hit was arguably a cover of Neil Young's 1970 classic Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band actually released 7* albums between 1991 and 2005.

Hug My Soul was the third single from the band's third album Tiger Bay, and originally appeared in 1994, following the singles Pale Movie and Like a Motorway. The last release from their original label, Heavenly Records, it - along with the album - was re-released in 1996 by their new record label, Creation Records, featuring different artwork and a slightly shuffled track listing.

*Or eight, depending upon whether or not one counts Fairfax High, which was only sold as as a bonus disc with 1998's Good Humor.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of FDR

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To those who led it - as much as to those who fought it - World War II was an unimaginable strain; at the head of the American effort was an extraordinary man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. First elected President in November 1932 as the Great Depression was beginning to deepen, things had just started to lift during his second term (thanks as much to the machinations of the military-industrial complex as to the New Deal) but as his third election loomed Hitler's thugs marched into Poland in September 1939. A much more worldly figure than many of his recent predecessors in the Presidency, FDR foresaw the threat to world democracy should the powers of Europe crumble under tyranny. That threat was finally brought home following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 at which point the United States finally entered the war; even then the President adamantly insisted on a policy of Europe First to aid British and French allies.

For guiding the United States towards war against Fascism the President nobly suffered the very worst name-calling available to his foes, many of whom already felt him a traitor to his class for deigning to assist the working class in the first place. In that reductive way which is second nature to the Republican Party they likewise turned the Second World War into being all about Jews - and why would anybody, even the man they vilified as 'President Rosenveld', want to help them? For all their subsequent posturing about how unpatriotic it is to criticize a Republican President during wartime, they attacked FDR now as savagely as Hitler attacked Holland, Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom...

Yet Roosevelt remained stalwart, infuriating his domestic foes by ignoring them as surely as he made his foreign foes irate with rhetoric. Following the Yalta Conference in February 1945, FDR traveled the Arabic world and Northern Africa, holding meetings with Egypt's King Farouk I, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia; he then had what would be his final meeting with Winston Churchill, and thereafter met with US ambassadors in Algiers.

When he addressed Congress in March (on the subject of the Yalta Conference) those assembled were shocked by his gaunt appearance. Formerly a sportsman who - despite his crippled legs - had a robust upper body, he was now a frail old man with a haggard face and the complexion of a ghost. He spent the month of March at his desk in the Oval Office - mostly chiding Stalin - but by the end of the month (having already won his record-setting fourth election) he was persuaded to take a break, and so went to his favourite spa, Georgia's Warm Springs, in advance of a proposed address to the founding conference of the United Nations.

On this day in 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to his bed, complaining of a headache; he never returned from it. He'd had, in fact, a massive cerebral hemorrhage, and died there at 3:55 PM, his former mistress Lucy Mercer by his side; his daughter Anna Roosevelt Boettiger had arranged for her to take care of him in her absence (her son was sick as well). When FDR was first taken ill First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had wanted to come, but was urged to keep her afternoon speaking engagement with the Sulgrave Club so as to not arouse suspicion. During a performance by pianist Evelyn Tyner she was called away and told by telephone to return to the White House as soon as possible. She watched the rest of the performance and left to thunderous applause; as soon as the new President was sworn in at 7 PM she left for Georgia.

The President's body was borne back to Washington by train, and all along the track Americans of every age and colour stood silently to watch it pass, many with tears streaming down their faces. Following a state funeral he was thence removed to his home at Hyde Park, New York, where he is interred at Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. Less than a month after FDR's death Adolf Hitler took a pistol and scurried, rat-like, beneath the rubble of Berlin, where he did the only right thing he ever did and ended the war. Roosevelt's Vice-President - now President Harry Truman - dedicated the V-E Day festivities to a man who, as much as any enlisted soldier, gave his life to keep his country free.
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POPnews - April 12th

[While few people had even heard of Terry Fox when he began the Marathon of Hope on this day in 1980, within weeks he was a national celebrity; by now - nearly thirty years after he was forced to quit his run just 143 days in, or at halfway across the country - he is Canada's greatest hero.]

467 CE - Anthemius was elevated to Emperor of the Western Roman Empire.

1204 - The Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, thus ending the Byzantine Empire, if only temporarily.

1557 - The city of Cuenca in Ecuador was founded by Gil Ramírez Dávalos.

1606 - The Union Jack was adopted as the flag of Great Britain - although it's only called a Union Jack when it's flying from a ship's mast. At all other times it's called the Union flag.

1861 - The American Civil War began when Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston.

1864 - During the American Civil War, Confederate forces under Nathan Bedford Forrest and James R. Chalmers massacred most of the African American soldiers who'd surrendered to them at Tennessee's Fort Pillow.

1917 - During World War I, Canadian forces successfully took Vimy Ridge from the Germans; the victory - at the end of three days of fierce fighting (and at a cost of 3,598 killed with 7,004 wounded on the Canadian side alone) - is considered to have been a pivotal moment in the emergence of Canada as a world power. The battle is commemorated at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France (which was rededicated by the Queen of Canada in 2007) and is the subject of Pierre Berton's aptly-titled work of populist history, Vimy.

1927 - Believing a Communist takeover of China to be imminent, Chiang Kai-shek purged them from the ranks of the Kuomintang; untold hundreds were killed and untold thousands went missing during the April 12 Incident. The massacre ended China's First United Front yet only postponed the Communist onslaught by a generation.

1934 - The strongest surface wind gust in history - 231 mph - was measured by the staff of the Mount Washington Observatory on the summit of New Hampshire's Mount Washington.

1935 - The Bristol Blenheim had its maiden flight.

1937 - English aviator and inventor Sir Frank Whittle ground-tested the first jet engine designed to power an aircraft, at Rugby.

1961 - Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space, on board the Soviet Union's Vostok 1; the event is still commemorated the world over as Yuri's Night.

1968 - Following an accident involving VX nerve gas at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah's Skull Valley, 4,372 sheep died - of which 2,150 had to be euthanized, and a further 1,877 were rendered unsalable due to their exposure - during what came to be known as the Dugway sheep incident.

1980 - Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope run across Canada in aid of cancer research by dipping his artificial leg into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John's, Newfoundland.

1981 - Columbia's STS-1 mission became the first for NASA's Space Shuttle program.

1992 - Disneyland Resort Paris - more commonly called Euro Disney - opened in the eastern suburbs of Paris, and was the second international Disney resort property (the first being Tokyo Disney Resort).

1994 - The legal firm of Canter & Siegel - husband Laurence Canter and wife Martha Siegel - posted the Internet's first commercial mass spam mailing on over 6,000 Usenet groups; entitled Green Card Lottery - Final One? and using a script written by a programmer known only as 'Jason', their actions set in motion a near crippling of the Internet. Not only does spam cost US business alone $13 billion it results in a slower service all around, and is rightly reviled as a practice despite being virtually unstoppable.

2002 - Pedro Carmona became interim President of Venezuela during a coup attempt against Hugo Chávez.

2007 - The Kremlin vetoed an investigation into the March 1968 death of Yuri Gagarin, who was - as previously noted - the first man in space.
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