Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Born With a Broken Heart" by Kenny Wayne Shepherd

This song is a favourite of mine, which explains so much; shown here recorded before a live audience in 1996, Born With a Broken Heart is the first song on Kenny Wayne Shepherd's first album Ledbetter Heights, and showed that straight out of the gate the boy was a man.

The actual Ledbetter Heights - also known as 'St. Paul's Bottoms' - is a traditionally black neighbourhood and former red-light district in Shreveport*, an area which spawned blues god Huddie 'Leadbelly' Ledbetter and was later named after him in an effort to rehabilitate the district's image...
All of which begs the question: what kind of a sorry state would a neighbourhood have to be in that naming it after a blues musician would improve it?

*Kenny Wayne Shepherd's hometown, yo.
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Happy Birthday Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA blues prodigy, self-taught by age 7, Kenny Wayne Shepherd recorded his first album Ledbetter Heights at age 17. In it, not only is his playing as sharp as a seasoned veteran's, his vocals growl and yelp and ache more like a man of 71 than 17. His second album, Trouble Is..., holds the record for the longest duration on the American Blues chart.

Today at 33 he is the author of five albums and tours extensively, often playing with the likes of B. B. King and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown. In 2006 he married Hannah, the eldest daughter of Mel Gibson and together they have two children.
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In Memoriam: Anne Frank

Both a remarkable young woman and her remarkable book were born on this day: the girl in 1929, and the book 13 years later, in 1942; that such a simple birthday present as a diary could one day become the single most damning piece of evidence against the atrocities of the Holocaust not only staggers the mind but also makes the heart soar...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in Frankfurt, Anne Frank and her family fled to Aachen in 1933 after Hitler's election, finally settling in Amsterdam the following year. For awhile it seemed their flight had been successful, but they were soon trapped in Holland following the Nazi Occupation in November 1940.

Anne Frank's diary was begun less than a month before her family went into hiding, in July 1942; its earliest entries, while detailing the minutiae of her life, also offer glimpses of a growing awareness that her life was in danger. For two long years her family and four of their friends hid in a room in the back of the Opekta Works factory on the Prinsengracht (now a museum) which her father owned, until being arrested by the Gestapo in August 1944 - on a tip from a person whose identity remains unknown to history even if the sting of their betrayal survives.

Alas, the third act of Anne's life was not to be; seven months after her arrest she died of typhus in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, a few days after her older sister Margot. The exact date of their deaths remain unknown, but it was likely some time in March 1945, when an epidemic of the disease swept the camp. Since it was her dream to be a journalist one wonders how Anne, already a gifted and sensitive writer, would have described those last months of her young life, the liberation of the camps just six weeks after she died, or the ensuing Nuremberg trials when those responsible would be held accountable, having already written history's most damning account of Nazism by the age of 15.

Anne's father Otto Frank was the only survivor of the achterhuis, and upon his return to Amsterdam he was given Anne's diary, which was found and saved by Miep Gies, who'd aided the inmates during their hiding at great personal risk to herself. Today it is one of the world's most read books, and Gies is a national (indeed an international) heroine for having rescued it.

Anne's story was quickly adapted for the stage, and that play duly became a movie; the most chilling work on the life and death of Anne Frank, though, is Jon Blair's 1995 documentary Anne Frank Remembered; narrated by Kenneth Branagh and featuring excerpts of the diary read by Glenn Close, among the many treasures it contains* is the only known film footage of Anne Frank.

*Anne Frank Remembered also contains the longest interview Miep Gies ever gave about her involvement with the Franks, as well as their fellow captors, the Van Pels family - Hermann, Auguste, and 16-year-old Peter - and Fritz Pfeffer. It comes with the highest possible recommendation of the Pop Culture Institute.
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"Brass in Pocket" by The Pretenders

Birthday wishes would go out today to Pete Farndon - bass player and founding member of The Pretenders - if only he'd survived that ole devil called the rock and roll lifestyle, that is. Instead of a 57th birthday, though, he gets a brief mention on an obscure blog in the boondocks of the Internet. Oh joy...

Few bands have survived the number of lineup changes The Pretenders have over the years, mainly because despite her refusal to perform as Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders that is essentially what the band should be called; I highly doubt the band could survive the loss of her the way it did poor old Pete Farndon. His departure was doubly painful; not only was he fired by his fellow band mates (in June 1982) he'd once been Hynde's lover as well.

His dismissal came just two days after his 30th birthday; just two days later his fellow founding Pretender James Honeyman-Scott died of a heart attack caused by cocaine use. Farndon himself died in April 1983 - in the midst of forming a new band with Topper Headon, formerly of The Clash - having made an indelible mark on the world of rock thanks to songs like this one.

Brass in Pocket, the band's third single, was released in November 1979 and appears on the band's 1980 debut album Pretenders. The video, interestingly enough, was the seventh ever video shown on MTV following that channel's August 1981 launch; I've always liked its wistful whimsy, and I'm a sucker for a story video every time.
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Pop History Moment: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman Were Murdered

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On this day in 1994 Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were brutally murdered at her home on Bundy Drive in LA's tony Brentwood neighbourhood by person or persons unknown* wearing ugly shoes and gloves that didn't fit; alas, the crime took place in California, so it wouldn't have been possible to get a conviction even if the killer had been caught literally red-handed. Which, in a way, he was. As it is, O. J. Simpson had more of Nicole Brown's blood on him than she had left in her by the time he was done; so much, in fact, that not even the stunningly inept crime scene investigation unit of the LAPD could manage to taint, compromise, or obliterate all of it.

Still, the case riveted the world, as who doesn't love to see a famously arrogant celebrity fall from grace: from the sluggish high speed chase of the white Ford Bronco belonging to Al Cowlings on Interstate 405 through the various hairstyles of Marcia Clark and the wacky white supremacy of LAPD officer Mark Fuhrman to the verdict offered by Judge Lance Ito in October 1995...

Bad times...

*And by 'person or persons unknown' I'm being sarcastic; we all damn well know who did it.

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POPnews - June 12th

[Under the motto Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is charged with both preserving the relics and honouring the legacies of those men who have most excelled at playing the American pastime. But have they been too over-zealous in this latter pursuit? Author Zev Chafets thinks so; his book, Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame seeks to blow the white-wash off of some of the worst d-bags, bastards, and blackguards ever to shag a fly, swing the ash, or hurl the pearl.]

1381 - During England's so-called Peasants' Revolt rebels from Essex - led by John Ball, Wat Tyler and Jack Straw - arrived at Blackheath, which was then on the outskirts of London.

1429 - Joan of Arc led the French army in their capture of the city and the English commander, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, in the second day of the Battle of Jargeau.

1653 - During the First Anglo-Dutch War the Battle of the Gabbard began; it would last into the next day.

1776 - The Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted.

1860 - The State Bank of the Russian Empire was established.

1864 - During the Overland Campaign portion of the US Civil War, at the Battle of Cold Harbor, General Ulysses S. Grant gave Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee a victory when he pulled his Union troops from their positions at Cold Harbor, Virginia, and moved south.

1889 - 78 people were killed and 260 injured in the Armagh rail disaster - a crash involving a Sunday School excursion train near Armagh in what is now Northern Ireland.

1898 - General Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines' independence from Spain, appropriately enough with the Philippine Declaration of Independence.

1899 - The New Richmond Tornado - the eighth deadliest tornado in US history - killed 117 people and injured around 200 in that Wisconsin town.

1939 - The Baseball Hall of Fame was dedicated in Cooperstown, New York.

1940 - 13,000 British and French troops surrendered to Nazi Germany's Major General Erwin Rommel at Saint-Valery-en-Caux.

Photobucket1963 - Civil rights leader Medgar Evers (shown, at left) was murdered in front of his Jackson, Mississippi, home by Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith - a story told cinematically* by Rob Reiner in the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi, which contains a chilling Oscar-nominated performance by James Woods as de la Beckwith...  In the film Whoopi Goldberg as Evers' widow Myrlie and Alec Baldwin as her lawyer Bobby DeLaughter fight for justice at de la Beckwith's third trial - the first two (in 1964) having ended in mistrials resulting in acquittal. As per usual, any attempt to stop or even slow down the Civil Rights Movement with the murder of Medgar Evers was met with a redoubled effort by those more determined than ever to continue his work by preserving his legacy. In 1970 Medgar Evers College opened in Brooklyn, a fitting tribute to the man who once helped the first black student, James Meredith, attend the University of Mississippi, which had a strict whites-only policy.

*An earlier film - For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story starring Howard Rollins Jr. and Irene Cara - was made for American television and aired in 1983; Phil Ochs also tells Evers' story in the song Too Many Martyrs.

1964 - Anti-apartheid activist and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison by a court in South Africa for engaging in acts of sabotage.

1967 - The US Supreme Court unanimously decided in the case of Loving v. Virginia, declaring all state laws which prohibited inter-ethnic marriage to be unconstitutional, making today a big one for all fans of miscegenation.

1975 - India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was found guilty of corruption by the High Court of Allahabad based largely on complaints made by Raj Narain. Her punishment was being barred from holding elective office for six years; her response was to compel Indian President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a state of emergency which held for 21 months, during which time she rounded up and jailed her critics and clamped down on press freedoms - events most chillingly described in Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight's Children.

1978 - David Berkowitz - New York City's notorious 'Son of Sam' killer - was sentenced to 365 years in prison for committing six killings - those of Donna Lauria, Christine Freund, Virginia Voskerichian, Alexander Esau, Valentina Suriani, and Stacy Moskowitz; his other victims - Jody Valenti, Carl Denaro, Rosemary Keenan, Donna DeMasi, Joanne Lomino, John Diel, Sal Lupo, Judy Placido, and Robert Violente - survived his attacks, although in many cases were left severely injured. Berkowitz's bloody rampage is chronicled in Spike Lee's 1999 film Summer of Sam, in which the murderer was portrayed by Michael Badalucco.

1979 - Bryan Allen won the second Kremer prize - a none-too-shabby £100,000 - for a man-powered flight across the English Channel in the Gossamer Albatross; he'd also won the first Kremer prize as well - only £50,000, but still nice - in August 1977, also piloting a plane owned by Dr. Paul MacCready.

1987 - The Central African Republic's former self-proclaimed Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa was sentenced to death for crimes he had committed during his 13-year rule.

1990 - On a day now celebrated as Russia Day, the parliament of the Russian Federation formally declared its sovereignty.
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