Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"Wunderkind" by Alanis Morrissette

Birthday wishes go out today to Alanis Morissette, whose 2005 song Wunderkind is developing a pretty impressive pedigree...  Written for the 2005 film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe*, Morissette also performed the song during the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

*Actually written on a Friday after she'd seen a rough cut of the movie, recorded on Saturday, and handed in on Sunday!

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Pop History Moment: The Release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

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On this day in 1967 Sgt. Pepper (courtesy of The Beatles) taught the world a new way to rock; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band either infused pop music with myriad new ideas or set the stage for the pomposity of art rock or maybe even did both, depending on your perspective.

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London over a period of 129 days, the album was a critical and popular success from the moment of its release; to date it has spent a grand total of 198 weeks on the UK chart. Prominent critic Kenneth Tynan called it 'a decisive moment in the history of Western Civilization'; while frequently given to hyperbole in his vitriol, he wasn't so inclined when it came to praise, so Tynan's review can be taken as sincere. Frank Zappa, on the other hand, pretty viciously parodied the album with one of his own, entitled We're Only in It for the Money, despite the fact that The Beatles openly named Zappa's album Freak Out! as an influence on their own ground-breaking work.

In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine named Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band the greatest album of the rock era, and in pop culture terms it certainly has the most evocative cover...
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Bonus Video: "Material Girl" by Madonna

Despite the video's heavy-handed irony (in which Madonna sings about being a 'material girl' on stage but pointedly refuses to be one backstage) as a nickname the song's title haunts her still, nearly 25 years later*; for a woman whose entire career has supposedly been about her own control over her image, this was one of the first major losses of it she suffered, mainly because the only thing in her career not in her direct sway also happens to be one of the largest factors of anyone's fame, namely the public's (not to mention the media's) reaction to their output. Fans still clamour for her to play the song, which she despises - she's been quoted as saying that if she'd known how successful it would become she never would have recorded it - and which has been absent from her concert set-list for years.

The video is famously an homage to Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, originally performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; equally famous as a pioneering music video (directed by Mary Lambert) with a then-innovative 'video within a video' technique, it costars Keith Carradine as the mogul who tries but fails to win the leading lady's heart with diamonds and flash, but ends up scoring with an old pickup truck and a handful of wildflowers.

Material Girl was the second single from Madonna's second album Like a Virgin. Trivia buffs take note: it was during the filming of this video - at Hollywood's Ren-Mar Studios - that Madonna first met Sean Penn.

*Although it's been tapering off recently since her British nickname 'Madge' has begun to gain traction worldwide.

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"Candle In The Wind" by Elton John

Before it was a mawkish but necessary balm for the world-wide grief surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales* in August 1997, Elton John's Candle in the Wind - from his 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - was a tribute to another extraordinary (and extraordinarily damaged) blonde beauty, Marilyn Monroe.

Not much of a hit upon its initial release in 1974** it gained new life after December 1986, when it was released as a single in support of John's Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.  This time it made it all the way to #5 in the UK and #6 in the US, and is still played on radio nearly a quarter of a century later.

*Even before he'd dedicated it to his friend Ryan White in concert at Farm Aid 4 in Indianapolis the day before White's April 1990 death from AIDS.
**Originally paired with Bennie and the Jets on its B-side, Candle in the Wind went to Number 11 on the UK chart; meanwhile Bennie and the Jets - which was later released as a single over John's objections - went to Number 1 around the world and on the US R&B chart as well as achieving success on pop radio.

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"I Wanna Be Loved By You" by Marilyn Monroe

The final line of the 1959 film Some Like It Hot has Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) asserting to the ersatz Daphne (Jack Lemmon)* that 'Nobody's perfect.' While that may be true for people, in the case of this film it's not only a damn lie but potentially libelous!**

Part of the reason for the film's cinematic attainment of perfection may be the able direction of Billy Wilder, Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan's clever story (from which Wilder and longtime writing partner I. A. L. Diamond were able to polish a diamond-like screenplay), the celluloid reverie of cinematographer Charles Lang, or the whip-smart instincts of its top-notch cast...

A lion's share of the credit, though, must go to the unique magic possessed by the film's female lead, birthday gal Marilyn Monroe, whose sultry rendition of the Herbert Stothart-Harry Ruby-Bert Kalmar classic I Wanna Be Loved By You shown above reminds listeners of Helen Kane and Betty Boop *** yet is entirely distinct from either.

*Who's just revealed that she's not a she but a he!
**Clearly the American Film Institute agrees with me...  In June 2000 it listed Some Like It Hot as the greatest American comedy film of all time.
***Who each helped to make it famous in the 1920s.

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"Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" by Marilyn Monroe

Taken from Howard Hawks' 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - which is easily one of the giddiest musical comedies ever made - I can think of no greater tribute to the lady herself on what would have been her birthday than a demonstration of some of her finest work.

In 1985 the scene involving Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend was the subject of a famous homage by Madonna, but in 1953 it was merely one of those which literally cemented the reputation of both Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell when, at the film's premiere, the two had their hand- and foot-prints preserved for posterity at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Alas, plans to have the pair's bust-prints likewise enshrined had to be scrapped, as they would have posed a major safety hazard*.

*Okay, I made that last bit up! ~ MSM

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In Memoriam: Marilyn Monroe

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She was more than a raving beauty; she was a beautiful soul...

Yet wherever she went, squalor followed her, from the charity ward of L.A. County Hospital where she was born to the orphanage and foster homes where she endured untold suffering, right into the tabloid pages where, seemingly overnight, Norma Jean became Marilyn Monroe.

She never stopped looking for happiness, though, and sublimated her suffering into the most sublime kind of comedy. Once she was able to overcome the bad coaching she'd gotten early in her career, she suffused the screen with a kind of naturalism that is normally the birthright of angels.

Whether she ever felt loved is something we'll ever know; hopefully, wherever she is now, she knows how loved she still is...
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Pop History Moment: A Royal Massacre In Nepal

On this day in 2001 Prince Dipendra, the Crown Prince of Nepal, killed most of his family before turning the gun on himself at a banquet being held in the Narayanhity Royal Palace in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu. Despite his attempted suicide, Prince Dipendra lingered on life support for three days, during which time he was the de facto King of Nepal. He was eventually succeeded by his uncle Gyanendra.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSlain by Prince Dipendra in the massacre were his father King Birendra, mother Queen Aishwarya, brother Prince Nirajan, sister Princess Shruti, former Prince Dhirendra (a younger brother who had renounced his title), the King's cousin Princess Jayanti, aunts Princess Shanti and Princess Sharada, and Princess Sharada's husband Kumar Khadga as well as an unspecified number of servants. Wounded were another aunt Princess Shova, Princess Shruti's husband Kumar Gorakh, Princess (now Queen) Komal, another of King Birendra's cousins Ketaki Chester, and Gyanendra's tearaway son and heir Prince Paras.

The whys and the wherefores of the massacre may never be accounted for; among the few survivors there are no tattle-tales and a book entitled Raktakunda (recently published in Nepal and purporting to be an eyewitness account) is said to be riddled with inconsistencies and has been labelled a 'fairytale'. The official line, though, is that Prince Dipendra had been forbidden to marry the woman he wanted, Devyani Rana; the conspiracies say that Gyanendra had engineered the massacre to restore himself to the throne*, that Dipendra hadn't even been the shooter, that the reason Gyanendra was spared is that he was conveniently in another part of the kingdom at the time, and on and on...

Only the results, as senseless as they are, seem to make any sense; anyway, what's done is done, and the reasons why scarcely matter any more. More than just a family died that day, though, but an entire royal house; the Shah Dynasty was abolished in May 2008, four days shy of the seventh anniversary of the massacre, having reigned since September 1768 and unable to regain the people's confidence following the tragedy that befell them.

The entire story is told in Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker's excellent book Love and Death in Kathmandu: A Strange Tale of Royal Murder. Part history tome, part journalistic expose, part travelogue, the book follows the Australian marrieds as they travel through the famously secretive mountain kingdom in search of answers. Along the way they encounter Chinese Maoists bent on destroying the people's love of their King by hook or by crook, a history of a royal family drenched in blood from way back, and strangely eerie astrological predictions of the disaster to come in a land which takes it's astrology very seriously, as well as a cast of characters rendered unforgettable merely by the fact that they actually exist, including a young woman who was briefly the Hindu goddess Kumari, despite being a Buddhist herself.

*Gyanendra had served as King before, from November 1950 to January 1951, while his grandfather King Tribhuvan was briefly in exile, and was said to be unhappy at having to renounce his position after Tribhuvan's return.

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POPnews - June 1st

[Lou Gehrig was still five years away from considering himself the luckiest man in baseball when millions of cards just like these found their way into millions of grubby little hands; the cause he's stumping for here, the Knot Hole League, no longer seems to exist, while its mantle has been taken up by the Knothole Gang (which encourages attendance at minor league games by families with preteens) and of course by the Little League.]

193 CE - Roman Emperor Didius Julianus was assassinated just 64 days after succeeding Pertinax, making him the second to serve during the Year of the Five Emperors. He himself was succeeded by Septimius Severus, and I think you can guess how that went...

1215 - Beijing - then under the control of the Jurchen Emperor Xuanzong of Jin - was captured by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, ending the Battle of Beijing.

1283 - Duke Rudolph II of Austria waived his right to the duchies of Austria and Styria under the terms of the Treaty of Rheinfelden.

1495 - Friar John Cor recorded the first known batch of scotch whisky.

1533 - Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

1660 - Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged for defying a law banning those of her faith from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because that's what Jesus would have done.

1779 - During the American Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold was court-martialed for malfeasance.  From an American perspective, however, the worst was yet to come; the event which made his name synonymous with treason - the so-called Betrayal at West Point - didn't occur until July 1780.

1792 - Kentucky became the 15th US state.

1796 - Tennessee became the 16th US state.

1831 - James Clark Ross discovered the North Magnetic Pole.

1868 - The Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed at Fort Sumner, allowing the Navajo to return to their lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

Photobucket1879 - France's Prince Imperial Napoleon Eugene was killed in battle during the Anglo-Zulu War, thwarting any hope the Bonaparte Dynasty might have had about regaining the throne once held by his father, Napoleon III. The only child of the king and his famous consort Eugénie, the young man still referred to as Napoleon IV in monarchist circles, was seemingly dogged by a death wish, having also come under fire during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Still, what's an heir in exile to do? Well, he could have married Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, or even the Spanish infanta María del Pilar, daughter of Queen Isabella II... Instead he enrolled in the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, following which he accepted a commission into the Royal Artillery, and went and got his fool self blasted to bits.

1922 - The Royal Ulster Constabulary was founded, headquartered in Belfast.

1925 - Owing to a change in lineup by New York Yankees manager Miller Huggins, Lou Gehrig took to the field as a pinch hitter for Paul 'Pee Wee' Wanninger, whereupon he proceeded to play the first in a streak of 2,130 consecutive games; at 14 years' duration, it would be the longest such feat of endurance in professional baseball history until it was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles in September 1995.

1941 - Battle of Crete - codenamed Unternehmen Merkur, or Operation Mercury - ended as Crete capitulated to Nazi Germany 12 days after the invasion by the 7th Flieger Division began.

Photobucket1943 - British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 777 was shot down over the Bay of Biscay by 8 German Junkers Ju 88s, killing all 17 passengers and crew aboard, including actor Leslie Howard; almost immediately the crash led to speculation that the aircraft was downed in an attempt to kill British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, but in fact the Luftwaffe may have actually been gunning for Howard, who was not only an effective propaganda tool and Jewish, but may have been a British spy as well. Howard's early death, while cutting his career short, seems to have preserved the films he'd already made - including such beloved cinematic spectacles as Of Human Bondage (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Gone with the Wind (1939) - in a kind of sentimental amber.

1974 - At the so-called Flixborough disaster an explosion at a chemical plant in the north of England killed 28 people.

1980 - Ted Turner's Cable News Network began broadcasting, thus beginning both the 24-hour news cycle and the stupidification of the media continued to this day by such outlets as Fox.

2001 - During the Dolphinarium massacre a Hamas suicide bomber named Hassan Khutari killed 21 people and injured more than 100 at a youth disco in Tel Aviv.

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