Monday, May 31, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Execution of Adolf Eichmann


On this day in 1962
Adolf Eichmann was hanged at a prison in the Israeli city of Ramla for crimes against humanity he committed during the Second World War, specifically in regards to his role in establishing the concentration camps; his was the only civil execution ever carried out in the beleaguered country, which does not generally use the death penalty.  Eichmann's capture - in Buenos Aires in May 1960 - set off a political firestorm both around the world and in Argentina, where the far-right extremist group Tacuara Nationalist Movement took to the streets with an organized campaign of terrorism in reaction.  Following his execution Eichmann was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Mediterranean beyond Israel's territorial limit, in order to ensure that the place of his burial would not become a shrine to neo-Nazis.

Journalist Hannah Arendt wrote dispatches to The New Yorker about Eichmann's trial and execution, which she later compiled into a book, entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem (and which she pointedly subtitled A Report on the Banality of Evil).  Arendt's research revealed no particular anti-Semitism or zeal in Eichmann's personality*, other than a willingness to follow orders; needless to say, her theory regarding the banality of evil remains a controversial one...

*A point disputed by Eichmann scholar David Cesarani.

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"Turn The Beat Around" by Vicki Sue Robinson

The disco era seems to have had more than its fair share of one-hit wonders; ah, but what hits they were! It's difficult to explain to people who can't or won't appreciate disco - and I've already expended enough breath in the defense of gay folk music to have inflated a sizable blimp - so I will spare the delicate sensibilities of my readers (not to mention my own lungs) any further rhetoric on my part.

This particular tune is called Turn the Beat Around, and was made famous by Vicki Sue Robinson; for that special camp flavour, the video is slightly out of synch, just like most of the queens who used to sashay this around countless dance floors ten thousand midnights ago. Be thankful, then, that unlike them her dress is on straight, she isn't grinding her teeth, and her makeup isn't visible from space.

Today would have been Ms. Robinson's 56th birthday; alas, she was taken far too soon, dying of cancer in April 2000, just as her career was experiencing a resurgence when disco came back into fashion as part of the retro craze of the mid-1990s. Thanks to modern technology, though, some part of her will always be with us - just like it can be 1976 whenever we want, and in the best possible way as well: in safe, three minute doses.
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"O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman

O CAPTAIN! my Captain, our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen Cold and Dead.

NOTE: In addition to When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, Walt Whitman wrote O Captain! My Captain! as an elegy to slain President Abraham Lincoln.

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In Memoriam: Walt Whitman

His was the first really American poetry; prior to the self-publication of his masterwork Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman in 1855, most writers (as was the case with painters and performers of various kinds) still looked to Europe for their inspiration, conventions, and very often their audience as well...

PhotobucketWhitman helped to change all that, by giving his poetry a uniquely American voice; proof that he was really on to something was the criticism his work drew, although it would have been less obvious to cultural workers then than it is now that controversy in one generation usually means acclaim in the next. Certainly, Whitman had many wildly popular contemporaries who are now nearly forgotten (especially among poets) while his own fame - and, more importantly, the fame of his work - endures. Yet for every bluestocking who reviled his verse as obscene, there came to be a growing crowd who rejoiced in it, among the more famous of them Ralph Waldo Emerson. Condemnation, after all, is just a judgemental form of PR.

Born on this day in 1819, as a young man Whitman worked a variety of jobs, frequently on newspapers or in print shops of one kind or another. His affection for and affinity with Nature appears to have developed around this time, but it's impossible to know much about him for sure; as an older man, with his fame fully grown, Whitman cropped, re-arranged, and even outright invented his past to suit his future - even unto frequently contradicting himself - in what can only be considered a deliberate act of obfuscation.

What Whitman was hiding can only be deduced; judging by the tenor of his poetry, it's safe to say that sexual attraction to (and possibly even sexual experiences with) men are likely the principal targets of his personal revisionism. Yet even as he burned diaries and notebooks, he more or less left his poetry intact, despite frequent revisions* to the text as a whole, and for that we can be grateful.

*Between six and nine versions of Leaves of Grass were published, depending on which scholarly account is considered.

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"Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin

How better to celebrate the life of John Bonham (born on this day in 1948) than to show him doing what he did best - playing live before a stadium filled with screaming fans...

Black Dog was the first single from Led Zeppelin IV, one of the most successful albums of the rock era; released in 1971 with Misty Mountain Hop as its B-side, the title does not refer to depression (which is occasionally called the Black Dog) but to a Labrador retriever who took up residence in the studio at Headley Grange where the album was recorded. Despite this, the lyrics have nothing to do with a black dog at all, but are merely the product of Robert Plant at his most obtuse.
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Remembering... John Bonham

PhotobucketBy the time John Bonham - born on this day in 1948 - received his first drum kit at the age of fifteen he'd already been at it, banging out beats on coffee tins and anything else he could find, for a decade. Without a single lesson, but with an intuitive feel for music, he became the template by which every other rock drummer who came after him would be measured...

Despite his reluctance to join Led Zeppelin, from the first time they played together Bonham (along with bandmates Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones) knew they'd captured magic. Over a dozen years and as many albums together - not to mention hundreds of thousands of miles on the road and untold number of shows - they were proven right.

Bonham's tragic death in September 1980 proved to be the death of the band, and for many years they refused all offers to reunite; the surviving members were finally convinced to headline a one-off charity concert in tribute to Ahmet Ertegün at London's O2 Arena in December 2007. On drums was Jason Bonham, son of the late John Bonham; critics and fans alike raved, amazed that the band's power to rock was still intact after so many years apart, and with its once-furiously beating heart having been so successfully transplanted.
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In Memoriam: Rainier III

In 1955 Rainier III was an obscure princeling, ruling over a tiny country known mainly to that class of person who owned an ocean-going yacht and could afford to throw tens of thousands of francs every night at a baccarat table; one Cannes Film Festival, one fateful meeting, and two royal weddings later he's the husband of one of the most beautiful and glamourous movie stars of all time, suddenly an international celebrity in his own right, and yet still as obscure as ever.

PhotobucketIt may be because he was naturally reserved; after all, it's a wise monarch who keeps his own counsel. It is not the custom of rulers to give interviews, and so even though he was known to give a few, these were generally short on personal detail and long on extolling the virtues of Monaco as a place to do business. Or it may be that given the circumstances of his family's past he relied on reticence to keep it all under wraps.

Born on this day in 1923, the story of how he came to the throne is a long and convoluted one; the family tree of the House of Grimaldi has many rotten roots, and would not even exist today had it not been for several major grafts over the years. Nevertheless, in 1949 when his grandfather Louis II died, Rainier's legitimized mother Princess Charlotte ceded her succession rights to her son, who became Rainier III.

During the 56 years of his reign, His Serene Highness turned the fortunes of his principality around as surely as if they were on a roulette wheel; from a neglected possession 95% reliant on gambling at the outset, Monaco became a centre of international banking, a tax haven and über-resort whose coffers at the time of his death in April 2005 were only 3% enriched by the casino. Still, for all his business acumen, Rainier never could contain the Grimaldi abandon in his children... His son and heir (the current Albert II) can't seem to stop impregnating women out of wedlock, and his daughters Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie seemingly never met a playboy they didn't like, although the former's second marriage - to Stefano Casiraghi - may one day save the realm by providing it an heir.

For all the headaches his children must have provided, the worst day of his reign had to be that terrible day in September 1982 when Princess Grace suffered a stroke while driving, and plunged her Land Rover down a ravine, killing her; his grief was much in evidence at her funeral in Saint Nicholas Cathedral, and despite three decades' worth of tabloid rumours that theirs was more a business arrangement than a marriage, on that day this was a man whose ashen face and defeated posture belied a loss far greater than that of a colleague.

Rainier never remarried; he died in April 2005, aged 81, and was buried next to his beloved...
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"It's Like That (That's Just The Way It Is)" by Run-D.M.C.

It's a sad fact of our life here at the Pop Culture Institute that a full half of our traffic comes from approximately five posts; as much as a quarter of it, in fact - by far the largest percentage of any single post - comes as a result of my having rather innocently posted this video on January 21st of 2009, on what would have been the birthday of Jam-Master Jay.

Accordingly, today is Darryl McDaniels' birthday (he's the DMC in Run-D.M.C., dontcha know?) and so here it is again, utterly without apology; I can guarantee you, on Joseph 'Run' Simmons' birthday in November you will see it again, and on and on down through the years. Actually, the song itself has had such an interesting life, I may yet post it a fourth time, in March, on the anniversary of the date it was released.

It's Like That first appeared on Run-D.M.C.'s self-titled debut album in 1984; by the time the video was produced in 1997 the song had been remixed (by DJ Jason Nevins*) into the version you see here. And a decade later still I get between 5 and 15 hits every day because of it - hits from all over the world, not just the hip-hop capitals of New York and LA but Saudi Arabia and Thailand and Slovenia even. In a very real way, I see proof of this song uniting disparate peoples from around the globe every time I log onto Site Meter, making this song the embodiment of what the Pop Culture Institute is trying to achieve.

*I'm still looking into when his birthday is, so I can publish it a fifth time annually. Seriously, I may be a comment whore, but I'll take hits like Hendrix if that's all I get.

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POPnews - May 31st

[The original Mi'kmaq inhabitants of what is now Prince Edward Island called their home 'Abegweit', which meant 'cradled on the waves'; it would have made an excellent name for the Confederation Bridge as well, cradled as it is on the waves of the Abegweit Passage and replacing as it did the passenger ferry M/V Abegweit which used to bring people to and from the mainland before the so-called 'fixed link' was built. In the end the Government of Canada decided to underline the Island's role in Confederation yet again - PEI hosted the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864 that forged the Dominion of Canada out of British North America, an event already commemorated in the Confederation Trail among others - following the country's narrow victory in the 1995 Quebec referendum...]

1279 BCE - Rameses II (also known as Rameses the Great and Ozymandias) became pharaoh during Ancient Egypt's 19th Dynasty.
1223 - During the Mongol invasion of Cumania, at the Battle of the Kalka River, the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan led by Subutai defeated Kievan Rus and his Cumans.
1669 - Samuel Pepys made the last entry in his famous diary, insisting that his failing eyesight made it impossible to continue. He'd kept the diary for ten years, and lived for thirty years after its completion. It is available today online in blog form, and provides an invaluable glimpse into a truly exciting period of English history in precisely the way a typical blog doesn't.

1678 - The Godiva Procession - a ceremonial ride through her hometown of Coventry commemorating one legendarily taken by Lady Godiva in part to shame her husband Leofric for his harsh rule - began as part of the Coventry Fair; the ritual continued until 1826, when it was discontinued, although it was revived between 1848 and 1887, and continues to be observed to this day.

1775 - The Mecklenburg Resolutions were adopted in the Province of North Carolina; proclaiming that all laws originating from the king or Parliament were thereafter null and void, they were presented to the Continental Congress (then convening in Philadelphia) by Captain James Jack where they were received by the assembled delegates but not adopted as a whole. Given that they were made just a month after the hostilities at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the (possibly legendary) Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence would be the first such document in American history - more than two years prior to that more famous Declaration of Independence that gets all the attention these days.

1790 - The United States enacted its first copyright statute, the Copyright Act of 1790, which was signed into law by President George Washington.

1813 - Australian explorers William Lawson, Gregory Blaxland and William Wentworth, reached Mount Blaxland, effectively blazing the first trail across the Blue Mountains, 20 days after they'd departed Sydney.

1884 - Corn Flakes were patented by John Harvey Kellogg, reputedly as a cure for masturbation. However, they're only effective dry, as anyone who's ever tried to masturbate with them will tell you; once they're soggy, though...

1889 - The Johnstown Flood killed 2,200 people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

1902 - The Treaty of Vereeniging ended the Second Boer War and ensured British control of South Africa.

1910 - The Union of South Africa was created.

1911 - RMS Titanic was launched at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

1916 - The British Grand Fleet under the command of Sir John Jellicoe and Sir David Beatty engaged the Kaiserliche Marine under the command of Reinhard Scheer and Franz von Hipper at the Battle of Jutland in both the largest naval battle of World War I and the only direct clash of battleships during that conflict - even though it would prove indecisive. The battle remains embedded in the pop consciousness for two reasons: the sinking of the battleship the HMS Queen Mary and the service in the battle of her namesake's son, the future George VI, on board the HMS Collingwood.

1921 - A 16-hour race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, injured more than 800 people, left 10,000 homeless, destroyed 1,256 residences in 35 city blocks by fire, and caused $1.8 million in property damage (the equivalent of $17 million today). The official death toll of 39 (including 10 whites) has since been revised upwards; as many as 300 blacks (and maybe more) may have been killed in the melee.

1961 - The Republic of South Africa was created.

1962 - The West Indies Federation was dissolved; initially created by the United Kingdom in 1958 with the intention of making its ten member colonies a self-governing nation (in the Canadian and Australian model) it eventually collapsed owing to internal discord.

1981 -The burning of Sri Lanka's Jaffna Library was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm in the 20th Century; in total 97,000 unique books and manuscripts of utmost importance to the Tamil people - one of the largest collections in Asia - were lost.

1997 - The Confederation Bridge - connecting Borden-Carleton in Prince Edward Island to mainland Canada at Cape Jourmain, New Brunswick - opened; previously the sole means of access to PEI had been via ferry from Pictou, Nova Scotia.  This service is still offered seasonally.

2005 - The identity of Deep Throat - the linchpin in the Watergate scandal who toppled the corrupt administration of President Richard Nixon - was revealed in Vanity Fair magazine to be W. Mark Felt.

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