Sunday, June 06, 2010

Blast From The Past: Harvey Fierstein in 1983

While searching YouTube for a clip to include with Harvey Fierstein's birthday I came across this startling bit of footage: the man himself as interviewed by Vito Russo in 1983 for the landmark WNYC television show Our Time. Russo, of course, was also the author of the book The Celluloid Closet*, the definitive work on the passive-aggressive homophobia which has always plagued Hollywood.

In the clip Fierstein discusses the success of his play Torch Song Trilogy, the typically surreal reception afforded him by David Letterman, and his role in the creation of the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles (alongside Jerry Herman).

*Last revised in 1987, shortly before Russo's death from AIDS in 1990, the book became a documentary, narrated by Lily Tomlin, in 1996.

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Happy Birthday Harvey Fierstein

'I do believe we're all connected. I do believe in positive energy. I do believe in the power of prayer. I do believe in putting good out into the world. And I believe in taking care of each other.' These words, from playwright, actor, and commentator Harvey Fierstein - one of only two people (the other is Tommy Tune) to win Tony Awards in four separate categories - pretty neatly sum up the goals he seems to have set out for himself in his career...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAcclaimed for the stage version of Torch Song Trilogy (which he wrote, natch) he was a standout in the movie version* as well. He then wrote the book for the hugely successful 1983 Jerry Herman musical La Cage aux Folles; Legs Diamond, a 1988 collaboration with Peter Allen, was not so lucky. Fierstein's narration of the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk gave that production the necessary gravelly gravitas.

Since the 1980s Fierstein has struggled a bit to find his niche as a performer; in 1994 when he appeared in the short-lived CBS sitcom Daddy's Girls (opposite Dudley Moore and a very young Keri Russell) his role became one of the few openly gay characters played by an openly gay man in the history of American television. In 1995 he released a concert album entitled This Is Not Going To Be Pretty, which resides in a place of honour in the collection at the Pop Culture Institute. In 2003 he triumphed again, originating the role of Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical Hairspray, a role previously played only by the divine Divine in the John Waters film of the same name. Alas, his name was not sufficiently big enough to star in the movie version of the musical, an honour which went to John Travolta - a bit of stunt casting which caused considerable grumbling by the blogosphere.

*As a sad aside, Anne Bancroft, Fierstein's costar in the film, died on this day in 2003.

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"Follow Me" by Uncle Kracker

Because I am a hardcore masochist I love - for the sake of blog fodder - to tell the story of the day I heard that Uncle Kracker (aka Matthew Shafer, born on this day in 1974) was getting married...
Like the comedian I am, as soon as I found myself among people I brought this up, and openly speculated about the identity of his bride*. In retrospect, given the deadly earnest nature of the group I was meeting with - and given the dearth, nay even the paucity, of a sense of humour inherent in that class - perhaps referring to this woman as Aunt Spread was not a good idea.

Indeed, it wasn't. I was instantly branded as worse than Hitler (and worse) for having just been a total misogynist and dupe to the patriarchy; similarly I was once likened to Dow Chemical by the same group for wearing scented deodorant, and I won't even bother you with the time I accidentally wore a t-shirt from the Vancouver Aquarium and made one of them actually burst into tears. But I digress... Throughout the rest of the evening I was made to feel like a shitheel for having just made a joke I knew many of them would be repeating as their own later**.

A n y w a y... Originally a protege of Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker came into his own following the release of 2001's Double Wide, which spawned the surprisingly mellow smash hit Follow Me - a paean to the joys of dating married women, but without the sleazy connotations a similar song by, say, Shaggy might have. It's apt to play it here, I think, because summer is soon upon us, and this is one of those songs that, whenever I hear it, makes me feel like I'm drifting down a river in an innertube at the height of summer - even though, sadly, I've never the occasion to do such a thing...

*A lovely woman, I'm sure, named Melanie.
**It probably goes without saying, but I have since severed all ties with these judgemental schmucks.

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Happy Birthday Sandra Bernhard

Sandra Bernhard appeared to me at a time when I most needed guidance, for which I will always consider her an angel...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI bought the cassette of her legendary one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing for a dollar in a second-hand store near my apartment in Ottawa in 1989, and over the next five years I played that thing for all it was worth, until I had it memorized. Good thing too, because that's when my 'friend' Shani 'permanently borrowed' it, and as far as I know it's been lost* forever. Which reminds me, I really should get on Facebook and razz her about that**.

The lessons I gleaned from this bravura performance are still with me today: Go big or go home, confound all expectations, and as long as you do your own thing eventually you'll draw a crowd.

Without You I'm Nothing was later made into a film, and although the CD of the concert wasn't available for many years it has been re-released through Bernhard's website, and is now available here.

*Not that it matters, since I haven't owned a tape deck in ten years.
**I have since razzed her about it to her face...

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Pop History Moment: The D-Day Landings

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1944 Allied troops made a massive, co-ordinated assault on France's Normandy coast during Operation Overlord in an effort to regain Europe from Fascism, during the most famous D-Day of them all...

In all, more than 850,000 troops were included in the amphibious landings at Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah beaches all along the coast at dawn, following an air assault which had taken place shortly after midnight. There were approximately 10,000 Allied casualties that day, of which 1,465 were American, 2,700 British, and 359 Canadian; these men died to defend my right to sit in my bathrobe and take bitchy swipes at politicians on this blog - which act of heroism I gladly honour today in all sincerity.

The Normandy Landings were depicted in all their queasy detail in Steven Spielberg's 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, as well as in the 1962 film The Longest Day.
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"Me So Horny" by 2 Live Crew

Thanks to the dim bulb illiterates who seem to form the bulk of Wikipedia contributors, I have been actively trying to confirm the following enticing bit of pop history:

June 6th, 1990 - U.S. District court judge Jose Gonzales ruled that the rap album As Nasty As They Wanna Be by 2 Live Crew violated Florida's obscenity law; he declared that the predominant subject matter of the record is "directed to the 'dirty' thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind."

My inability to confirm the accuracy of this item (at least as far as it regards today's date) means I couldn't in good conscience include it amongst the other POPnews items for today; try as I might to make POPnews as accurate as possible, I am as consistently thwarted in this aim by, for instance, the Julian calendar* as I am by the many pranksters Wackypedia seems to attract. Still, I was intrigued by it, and so in the name of free speech**, decided to put it in its own post anyway.

Me So Horny caused enough controversy to ensure its success when it was released in 1989; not only was it one of the first smash hits of the hip-hop era, the Dirty Rap ditty made it all the way to #26 on the Billboard Charts as well, and the video was in heavy rotation on MTV (albeit in a heavily censored form). This version, though, seems to be entirely uncensored, and is thus proudly presented here on the Pop Culture Institute.

*You cannot imagine how much I hate the Julian Calendar.
**Plus I was looking for a video to post.

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POPnews - June 6th

[The glittering skyline of Brisbane is just one of Queensland's many treasures...]

1513 - During the War of the League of Cambrai, at the Battle of Novara, Swiss troops defeated King Louis XII's French army under Louis de la Tremoille, forcing them to abandon Milan, whereupon Duke Massimiliano Sforza was restored to his throne.

1523 - Gustav Vasa was elected King of Sweden, marking the end of the Kalmar Union.

1654 - Charles X succeeded to the throne of Sweden left vacant by his cousin, the famed Queen Christina, who'd abdicated in order to become Catholic.

1674 - Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire, was crowned at the hilltop fortress of Raigad.

1752 - A devastating fire destroyed one-third of Moscow, including some 18,000 homes.

1808 - Napoleon's brother, Joseph Bonaparte, was crowned King of Spain.

1809 - Sweden promulgated a new Constitution, which restored political power to the Riksdag of the Estates after 20 years of Enlightened absolutism.

1813 - During the War of 1812's Battle of Stoney Creek a British force of 700 under John Vincent defeated an American one three times its size under William Winder and John Chandler.

1857 - Sophia of Nassau married the future King Oscar II of Sweden-Norway.

1859 - Queensland was established as a separate colony from New South Wales, a day still celebrated in that Australian state as Queensland Day.

1889 - The Great Seattle Fire destroyed the entirety of downtown Seattle, Washington.

1906 - Paris Métro Line 5 was inaugurated, with its first section connecting Place d'Italie to the Gare d'Orléans (now known as Gare d'Austerlitz).

1912 - The eruption of Alaska's Novarupta began; it would become the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, the largest being Mt. Pinatubo.

1933 - The world's first drive-in theater opened, in Camden, New Jersey.

1944 - Alaska Airlines commenced operations.

1968 - Presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy died of gunshot wounds received from Sirhan Sirhan during an assassination attempt the previous evening at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

1971 - Soyuz 11 was launched as part of the Soviet Union's Soyuz program.

1974 - A new Instrument of Government was promulgated, making Sweden a parliamentary monarchy.

1985 - The grave of one 'Wolfgang Gerhard' was exhumed in the Brazilian city of Embu... The remains found there were later proven to be those of Josef Mengele, the so-called 'Angel of Death' who was best known for conducting macabre experiments on the inmates of Auschwitz; Mengele is thought to have drowned while swimming in February 1979.
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