Sunday, May 02, 2010

"Smile" by Lily Allen

Birthday wishes go out to British songstress Lily Allen, whose ragga-nated song Smile topped the UK charts in December 2006; the first genuine pop star to be produced by the MySpace generation, Allen released this - her first single - digitally, via iTunes, before her debut album Alright, Still was offered for sale in CD form.

The video was directed by acclaimed video director Sophie Muller, who's won much acclaim - especially by the uppity rabble at the Pop Culture Institute - for her work with Annie Lennox and Eurythmics.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson


The son of one professional wrestler, Rocky Johnson, and grandson of another, Peter Maivia, it would seem natural for Dwayne Johnson to go into the family business... Before becoming the Rock - and the multi-talented actor/performer he has - though, Johnson played for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. It's taking all my strength not to make the expected joke*, but I think the restraint shows my growth as a person**.
Johnson (born on this day in 1972) doesn't regularly feature in the kinds of movies I like - The Scorpion King, Walking Tall, Be Cool - but his appearance on Saturday Night Live had the desired effect of showcasing talents many might not have suspected he had, including a pretty decent impersonation of President Barack Obama.

*Tight end!
**Besides which, having to play for the Calgary Stampeders is enough of a joke as it is.
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In Memoriam: Faisal II

Given the current schamozzle in Iraq, the casual observer could easily be forgiven for forgetting that the country once had a snowball's chance in Basra of becoming a democracy, but it did; at one point in the 1950s, when it was still allied with its fellow Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Iraq's King Faisal II was hard at work with his cousin King Hussein to ensure that the same pan-Arab nationalism (which was then, as it is currently) seeking to return the Arab world to the 14th Century would neither catch nor sink their own countries as well.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1935, Faisal was the son of King Ghazi and Queen Aliya; Ghazi was killed in a mysterious motoring accident when Faisal was 3, and thereafter his uncle 'Abd al-Ilah served as regent.

Educated at the UK's famed Harrow School (alongside Hussein), Faisal came of age on this day in 1953, at which time he set about trying to combat the various sectarian stresses which have plagued Iraq since it was rather haphazardly carved out of the Ottoman Empire under a UK mandate by the League of Nations in August 1921.

It was not to last, or indeed produce much in the way of results, although not for lack of trying. Despite his youthful vigour and the promise of a marriage to Egypt's Princess Sabiha, in July 1958 Faisal, along with his uncle Crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, Abdul Ilah's wife Princess Hiyam, Abdul Ilah’s mother Princess Nafeesa, the King's aunt Princess Abadiya, and several servants were all executed by a firing squad under the command of Captain Abdus Sattar As Sab in the courtyard of their palace in Baghdad on the orders of Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim, who had just seized the government. The following day the Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was also killed. Iraq has been a dictatorship ever since, whether under the thumb of Saddam Hussein or held hostage by insurgents (who, it scarcely needs saying, generally aren't Iraqi).

Jordan, on the other hand, has experienced exactly the kind of progress of which the two cousin kings once dreamt, and is currently a bastion of moderation in the Islamic world - thanks in large part to the guiding hand of the late lamented King Hussein.
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"Jukebox Hero (Live)" by Foreigner

Whether or not birthday boy Lou Gramm was ever himself a 'jukebox hero / with stars in his eyes' will have to remain a mystery for now; what's an even deeper mystery, though, is how a band that could rock the roof off like Foreigner should be best known for such insipid drivel as I Want to Know What Love Is.

What's no mystery, though, is how awesome this song is - especially live; it's Juke Box Hero, from Foreigner's 1981 album 4, which only got to Number 26 in the US in February 1982 but is nevertheless one of their all-time fan favourites.
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In Celebration of Christine Baranski

What's a exceptionally talented singer, dancer and comedienne to do if all she's got to rely on are a figure for days*, a killer smile, and legs up to here?

PhotobucketWell, if she's Christine Baranski she proceeds to take Broadway then Hollywood by storm, that's what!

Born in Buffalo on this day in 1946, she had to know from a very early age that relationship wasn't gonna last forever; sure enough, before long she found herself at Juilliard, and from there it was just a short cab ride (and a few years of intensive study) to the Great White Way.

Whether playing a controlling preppie bitch sorely in need of an enema in the film Addams Family Values, an overbearing alcoholic on the TV sitcom Cybill, or the sexy bundle of neuroses that is Mrs. Lovett onstage in Sweeney Todd as part of the 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration, if it's a supernova in slingbacks you're after, call Christine Baranski!

*As opposed to my figure, which takes days, as in a traversal.

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Happy Birthday Bianca Jagger

Although it was her May 1971 marriage to rock god Mick Jagger that brought her into the Jet Set lifestyle of the Seventies, it was Bianca Jagger's work on behalf of civil rights that made her such a compelling figure at the time.

PhotobucketI always felt that of the whole Studio 54 set - a frisson of boldfaced names like Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Halston, Truman Capote, and Calvin Klein - she was the only one who seemed to have anything to say, her husky contralto and earnest outlook being constantly drowned out by the high-pitched cacophony made by her glittery friends.

Early in 1979, while her friends stayed home and worked on their coke face, Jagger returned to her homeland of Nicaragua with the International Red Cross to observe conditions there under the Somoza Regime; upon her return to Manhattan her outspoken opposition to President Anastasio Somoza Debayle and his policies no doubt hastened his fall from power in July of that year - a figurative assassination by media that came just a year before his very literal assassination by bazooka in Asunción in September 1980.

The moral of the story is: don't fuck with Bianca Jagger.
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"Judy's Turn To Cry" by Lesley Gore

Birthday wishes go out today to Lesley Gore, who in 1963 got the Baby Boom dancing with an infectious little ditty called It's My Party. She was just 16 herself at the time. Although it was the era of 'call and answer' records, which were all the rage, Gore may be the first person in pop music history to answer her own call record, with Judy's Turn To Cry.

As is often the way, the greater part of her career lasted less than five years, at which time fickle fans moved away from bubblegum pop into psychedelic sounds; undoubtedly the pinnacle of her career was a January 1967 appearance on the ultra-campy TV series Batman, in which she played Pink Pussycat, one of Catwoman's minions, during which she performed two of her last two solo singles, Maybe Now and California Nights. Although she was nominated for an Oscar as a songwriter for her work on the soundtrack to the movie Fame in 1980, she didn't return to recording until 2005; coincidentally, that's also the same year she came out.
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Pop History Moment: New Labour To Rule Britannia

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On this day in 1997 Tony Blair made a meteoric rise to power as his New Labour were elected in a landslide after 18 years of Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major crumbled with the loss of 178 seats*; it was the heaviest defeat for the Tories since the Duke of Wellington failed to form a government and William IV was forced to reinstate Earl Grey's Whigs in December 1832 - although for my liking not nearly heavy enough.

In all Blair would lead New Labour to three successive election victories, the most ever for a Labour Prime Minister... Early in his mandate he helped the nation navigate the paroxysm of grief which attended the death of Diana, Princess of Wales; in many ways it would be his finest hour. Unfortunately, it came earlier, rather than later in his tenure, by which time his Presidential style, zeal for 'change for change's sake' dressed up as reform, and friendship with George W. Bush meant he could have really used the good PR.

The Blair Era has been most hilariously chronicled by Sue Townsend in her books Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years and Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction.

*The Tories had 333 seats going into the election, to Labour's 271; when the last ballot was counted the Tories had been reduced to 165, while the ranks of Labour had swollen to an astounding 418, having secured 43.2% of them for themselves. The perennial third party Liberal Democrats benefited as well, adding 30 seats to their previous 16.

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POPnews - May 2nd

[A great deal remains of Expo 86 in the Vancouver streetscape - Canada Place, BC Place Stadium, the Plaza of Nations, and the Expo Line of the SkyTrain, as well as the geodesic dome of Science World (shown, above, as photographed by yours truly!) are all iconic both locally and globally. And yet... The city's real estate developers are as famously rapacious as its contruction unions - both hit hard by a recently burst economic bubble over-inflated by their own hot air; combined with a nouveau-riche elite whose contempt for the character of heritage isn't even thinly veiled means none of these things will ever be truly safe from the onslaught of the wrecking ball.]

1194 - England's King Richard I granted Portsmouth its first Royal Charter.

1230 - William de Braose, 10th Baron Abergavenny was hanged at Garth Celyn by Prince Llywelyn the Great of Wales, having been caught in flagrante delicto* with Llywelyn's wife Joan, Lady of Wales, daughter of England's King John. She was put under house arrest for one year, during which time she may have given birth to de Braose's daughter; the low-lying area where His Lordship was executed is now commemorated as Gwern y Grog, or 'The Hanging Marsh'.

*Latin for 'Gittin' it ON'...

1568 - Mary Queen of Scots escaped from Loch Leven Castle, where she had been imprisoned by the Earl of Morton; it would prove to be a short-lived liberation, followed by an even longer imprisonment...

1670 - England's King Charles II granted a permanent charter to the Hudson's Bay Company to open up the fur trade in North America; they remain a major force in Canadian business to this day, despite no longer being Canadian owned after more than 300 years.

1808 - At the beginning of the Peninsular War the good people of Madrid rose up in rebellion against their French occupation during the Dos de Mayo Uprising; the scene was later immortalized in a painting by Francisco Goya, entitled The Second of May 1808.

1816 - Léopold of Saxe-Coburg and Charlotte Augusta were wed at Carlton House, and lived thereafter at Claremont, which was a wedding gift from the nation; as daughter of England's Prince Regent, Charlotte was Heiress Presumptive.

1863 - American Civil War hero Stonewall Jackson was wounded by friendly fire while returning to camp after reconnoitering for the Battle of Chancellorsville; he succumbed to pneumonia 8 days later.

1869 - The Folies Bergère opened in Paris.

1885 - Cree and Assiniboine warriors won the Battle of Cut Knife, their largest victory over Canadian forces during the North-West Rebellion.

1945 - The Soviet Union announced the Fall of Berlin as Red Army soldiers hoisted their flag over the Reichstag; elsewhere German forces began to surrender en masse as the Third Reich - once trumpeted as being capable of lasting a thousand years - crumbled after just a dozen.

1946 - At the Battle of Alcatraz, San Francisco's Alcatraz Federal Prison was taken over by six inmates - Marvin Hubbard, Joseph Cretzer, Mirian Thompson, Clarence Carnes, and Sam Shockley led by bank robber Bernard Coy - following a failed escape attempt. Two guards and three inmates were killed in the fracas, with 11 guards and one inmate injured over two days of fighting.

1952 - Winging passengers from London to Johannesburg, the De Havilland Comet 1 - the world's first ever jet airliner - made its maiden voyage, ushering in the Jet Age.

1955 - Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

1969 - RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 of the Cunard Line departed Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York City.

1982 - The British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano in one of the fiercest days of fighting during the Falklands War; in all 321 military and 2 civilian personnel were killed.

1986 - The 1986 World Exposition - nicknamed Expo 86 - was opened in Vancouver by The Prince of Wales, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

1999 - Mireya Moscoso became the first woman to be elected President of Panama.

2000 - Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands unveiled the Man With Two Hats monument in Apeldoorn; nine days later she would unveil another one in Ottawa, symbolically linking both Holland and Canada for the latter's assistance of the former throughout the Second World War.

2008 - Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Burma - which the Pop Culture Institute steadfastly refuses to call Myanmar - killing over 130,000 people and leaving millions of people homeless.
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