Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones

When the song Blitzkrieg Bop was released in April 1976 few involved (including members of the band, I'm sure) could have predicted that the Ramones' self-titled debut album would not only elevate these four misfits from Queens - Tommy, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Joey (who died on this day in 2001) - into the musical stratosphere but spawn an entirely new genre of music as well...
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"My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion

How could I blog about the sinking of the RMS Titanic and not include Céline Dion singing the Hell out of the instantly timeless ballad My Heart Will Go On? I mean, I could easily do it - especially given how I feel generally about her David Foster-esque caterwauling - but in the spirit of completeness (and padding) I've included it as well.

With music by James Horner and lyrics by Will Jennings, the song was a massive hit everywhere in 1998, helped in part by the video, which was directed by Bille Woodruff; the theme song of James Cameron's effects-heavy if screenplay-light 1997 blockbuster Titanic, Cameron originally did not want the song for his film - likely afraid it might take even a scintilla of attention away from him. Horner eventually convinced him to include the track, which went on to become not only the best-selling single of 1998 but one of the best-selling singles of all time, as well as winning the Academy Award for Best Original song, four Grammy Awards, and a Golden Globe among many other accolades.

Which just goes to show you a) what James Cameron knows, and b) what opportunity for free cross-promotion one of Hollywood's biggest egoes might have passed up were it not for the cooler (and smaller) heads around him*.

*In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I worked one day with James Cameron, on the series finale of Dark Angel - an episode called Freak Nation... He was a major-league douchebag. Not an artist with a vision, not a perfectionist, a great big steaming pile of bully!
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Pop History Moment: The Sinking of RMS Titanic

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Just before midnight RMS Titanic of the White Star Line under the command of Captain Edward J. Smith - while on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City (via Cherbourg, France, and Cobh, Ireland) - struck an iceberg on a calm, moonlit night in the North Atlantic. She sank just after 2 AM on this day in 1912, having broken in two.

Each country appointed its own commission to look into the disaster, and there was almost as much trans-Atlantic sniping as there was trans-Atlantic shipping for many years to come as a result. The US claimed the death toll was 1,517, while the UK reported the official death toll as 1,490; either way you look at it, there had been 2,229 passengers and crew on board, making for only 700 or so survivors. Current laws then required the ship to carry only 16 lifeboats for a maximum of 3,547 passengers; Titanic carried 20, although only 18 were launched in the disaster, and most of them weren't full.

While the majority of the casualties were in steerage, many prominent people also died on that night, including the ship's builder Thomas Andrews, British journalist William Thomas Stead, the owner of Macy's department store Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, author Jacques Futrelle, as well as millionaire socialites Benjamin Guggenheim and John Jacob Astor IV. Among the survivors were Margaret 'The Unsinkable Molly' Brown, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife couturiere Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon, silent movie actress Dorothy Gibson, and the White Star Line's managing director J. Bruce Ismay.

The unprecedented disaster brought about changes not only to maritime law, but also public attitudes toward corporate and media hyperbole. The ship had been declared 'unsinkable', though not by the White Star Line itself; in addition to life boats, subsequent seagoing vessels were also equipped with life vests, and the disaster brought about the formation of the International Ice Patrol.

The wreck was discovered in 1985 by Robert Ballard, and it has since been extensively photographed by him. More than 6,000 relics from the Titanic have also been brought to the surface, although without his collusion; Ballard has repeatedly likened such activity as tantamount to grave robbery. In fact, the site of the wreck - 2 miles southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland - has been so jeopardized by visitors and freeloaders alike that it may disappear altogether within the next 50 years.

The story of the Titanic disaster has been a popular subject for pop culture almost since it happened; Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember is most notable, but Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella Futility, was written a chilling 14 years before RMS Titanic's ill-fated voyage, and bears many eerie similarities to it. Lord's book was adapted into a movie, predictably called A Night to Remember (1958); the American version, entitled simply Titanic (1953) starred Barbara Stanwyck. And then there was the awesome spectacle and the shitty script of James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, which chillingly depicted the downside of technology while simultaneously offering Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet canoodling across class lines.
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"I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud" by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
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POPnews - April 15th

[Many's the performer who can be said to have died
on stage; Tommy Cooper, though, actually did it!]

1450 - At the Battle of Formigny, which was fought near the end of the Hundred Years' War, the French under the Comte de Clermont and Arthur III, Duke of Brittany, attacked and nearly annihilated Thomas Kyriell's English forces, finally ending the English domination of Northern France that began when Normandy's William the Conqueror invaded England in October 1066.

1632 - At the Battle of Rain - during the Thirty Years' War - Swedish forces under Gustavus Adolphus defeated the armies of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic League commanded by Count Johan Tzerclaes of Tilly.

1715 - The Pocotaligo Massacre triggered the start of the Yamasee War in Colonial South Carolina.

1738 - Serse - an opera, in Italian, by George Frideric Handel - premiered at London's King's Theatre, Haymarket.

1755 - Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published, by Richard Bentley, in London.

1802 - William Wordsworth was out for a walk with his sister Dorothy when he saw a 'long belt' of daffodils, inspiring him to write I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud - although, at Dorothy's insistence, he didn't open his poem with the line 'I wandered lonely as a cow' like he'd wanted. Smart lady...

1865 - US President Abraham Lincoln died, having been shot the previous evening by John Wilkes Booth; upon his death Andrew Johnson became the 17th President of the United States.

1920 - Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti allegedly murdered two security guards while robbing the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company in South Braintree, Massachusetts; in the more than seven years that followed prior to their August 1927 execution their case became a cause célèbre, involving the luminous likes of Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells among many others.

1941 - During the Belfast Blitz, two hundred Luftwaffe bombers attacked that Ulster city, killing more than nine hundred people, injuring 1,500 (400 of them seriously) and damaging half of the city's 70,000 houses - leaving 100,000 homeless in a population of 425,000.

1942 - The George Cross, Britain's highest civilian honour for valour, was awarded to 'the island fortress of Malta - its people and defenders' by King George VI.

1945 - The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated.

1947 - Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color line.

1955 - Ray Kroc opened his first franchise of a McDonald's restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois; although it was technically the ninth McDonald's overall, Kroc soon ended up taking over the entire company.

1957 - The British Columbia town of White Rock officially separated from Surrey and was incorporated as a new city; to be honest, though, the only reason I've mentioned it here is because both of them have since been gobbled up by Metro Vancouver.

1967 - Scotland defeated rival England 3-2 at Wembley Stadium, causing Scottish football fans to jokingly claim their side as 'Unofficial World Champions', creating the phenomenon of the Unofficial Football World Championships.

1984 - British comedian Tommy Cooper suffered a massive heart attack while performing on the ITV variety programme, Live From Her Majesty's; he was later pronounced dead on arrival at Westminster Hospital.

1986 - In retaliation for the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin on April 5th - in which two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman were killed - US President Ronald Reagan ordered major bombing raids against the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, which killed 60 people - including Muammar Gaddafi's 15-month-old adopted daughter, Hanna.

1989 - The death of Hu Yaobang ignited the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing; this last organized campaign aimed at bringing democracy to China was savagely suppressed by Communist authorities by June 4th.

2003 - US troops in Baghdad captured Abu Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, which killed American Leon Klinghoffer on the hijacked cruise liner the Achille Lauro in October 1985.
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