Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In Memoriam: Saul Steinberg

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In his most famous work - the March 29th, 1976, cover of The New Yorker (sometimes called View of the World or some derivation thereof) - Saul Steinberg both celebrates and chides the supposedly sophisticated Manhattanite's parochial view of the rest of the world. It was quite a bold statement to make in the Bicentennial Year, but if it offended any New Yorkers they refused to show it. The image was a best-selling poster for many years, and not just in the city itself either, but in that emotional diaspora which mysteriously exists even in the hearts of those who've never been there*.

And to think - it almost never came to be; born on this day in 1914, Steinberg's entry to the United States in 1942 was sponsored by the magazine that would be his home for the bulk of his professional life. Had founding editor Harold Ross not been successful, the man and all of his talent would likely have perished in the furnaces of Fascism.

The 85 covers and over 1200 drawings Saul Steinberg crafted for The New Yorker are elegance and simplicity themselves, confections made richer by a considerable dollop of wit; his distinctive style features strong inked lines and surreal visual elements, indicative of the man's redoubtable good nature and unique perspective on the world. Enjoy them all (and many, MANY more) in The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, edited by Robert Mankoff and featuring all 70,000+ cartoons, doodles, scribbles, and scratchings published in the pages of the magazine between 1925 and 2006.

*Although for the life of me I can't think of anyone I know who's like that. Nope... Not one.

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"Spaceman" by Bif Naked

Taken from Bif Naked's second studio album, 1998's I Bificus, Spaceman concerns a young woman recalling a childhood encounter with an extra-terrestrial; the song made it all the way to #2 on the Canadian charts, the album as much as its single establishing Bif's cred in her adoptive country, which is proud to call her its own.
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Pop History Moment: The Signing of Magna Carta

On this day in 1215, England's unpopular King John was forced to sign Magna Carta by what can best be described as a passel* of disaffected nobles; the document was affixed with the Great Seal in a meadow at Runnymede, outside London. Said to be the first piece of legislation designed to curb the powers of a monarch, it is today considered the basis of English common law and is symbolically the load-bearing wall of the British Constitution, even though it was copied almost verbatim from the earlier Charter of Liberties, issued by Henry I in 1100**.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIts preamble - to be followed by 63 fun-filled clauses - reads: JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.

The document was signed by many prominent nobles and clergymen thusly:

KNOW THAT BEFORE GOD, for the health of our soul and those of our ancestors and heirs, to the honour of God, the exaltation of the holy Church, and the better ordering of our kingdom, at the advice of our reverend fathers Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England, and cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry archbishop of Dublin, William bishop of London, Peter bishop of Winchester, Jocelin bishop of Bath and Glastonbury, Hugh bishop of Lincoln, Walter Bishop of Worcester, William bishop of Coventry, Benedict bishop of Rochester, Master Pandulf subdeacon and member of the papal household, Brother Aymeric master of the knighthood of the Temple in England, William Marshal earl of Pembroke, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Warren, William earl of Arundel, Alan de Galloway constable of Scotland, Warin Fitz Gerald, Peter Fitz Herbert, Hubert de Burgh seneschal of Poitou, Hugh de Neville, Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip Daubeny, Robert de Roppeley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and other loyal subjects...

Clearly, the whole 'separation of church and state' thing came later; in fact, any day now...

*If you know a better collective noun for a whole bunch of riled up aristocrats, feel free to suggest one...
**Also, the version still on the books in England and Wales isn't the one signed on this day at all, but one reaffirmed by Edward I in 1297.

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Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" by Ella Fitzgerald

When Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut in November 1934 not even she could have known when she died - on this day in 1996, three years after her retirement - that her career would one day span 57 years, surviving and even thriving despite the vagaries of various culture wars and an increasingly capricious audience; when she stepped out onto the stage of Harlem's famed Apollo Theater on that fateful night all she wanted to do was dance. Intimidated by a previous dance act - the Edwards Sisters - Ella decided to sing instead; the rest, as we like to say around here, is pop culture...

Here she is, joined on piano by her fellow legend Duke Ellington, from a television special circa 1968; the song is one of his all-time classics, Don't Get Around Much Anymore*. In total, Ella and Duke recorded two live (Ella and Duke at the Cote D'Azur and The Stockholm Concert - both 1966) and two studio (1957's The Duke Ellington Songbook and 1967's Ella at Duke's Place) albums together, and this clip demonstrates the total ease with which they worked together.

*Also known as Never No Lament; lyrics by Bob Russell.

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POPnews (US) - June 15th

[Arlington House - formerly the estate of the family of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Lee (nee Custis, a descendant of Martha Washington) - was seized by the US government in 1864, which claimed that taxes hadn't been paid on it; it was then decided to bury the Union dead on its grounds to ensure that Lee would never return there to live. While neither General Lee nor his wife ever sued for the return of their property their eldest son Custis Lee did; despite $26,800 having already been paid for the property, after having the land returned to him in 1877 Lee turned around and sold it to the US government for a tidy profit - $150,000! The Greek Revival mansion with its views of the Potomac River and the National Mall is now the centerpiece of an idyllic tribute to the country's most illustrious dead, including President John F. Kennedy, and even serves as a memorial to Robert E. Lee himself.]

1752 - Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is electricity. 

1775 - George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. 

1804 - New Hampshire approved the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution, thereby ratifying it.

1836 - Arkansas became the 25th US state.

1846 - The Oregon Treaty established the 49th parallel as the border between the United States and Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

1859 - Due to an ambiguity in the Oregon Treaty concerning the ownership of the San Juan Islands the 'Northwestern Boundary Dispute' - more colourfully known as the Pig War - erupted between American and British Columbian settlers on the treaty's 13th anniversary.

1864 - Arlington National Cemetery was established when 200 acres (0.8 km²) around Arlington House - formerly owned by Confederate general Robert E. Lee - were officially set aside for that use by US Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

1867 - The Atlantic Cable Quartz Lode gold mine was located in Deer Lodge County, Montana.

1877 - Henry Ossian Flipper became the first African-American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

1904 - A fire aboard the steamboat General Slocum in New York City's East River killed more than 1000.

1920 - Three black employees of the James Robinson Circus - Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie - were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota - not only for a crime they didn't commit but for a crime that was never committed by anyone; needless to say, no one was ever convicted for the very real crimes which actually were committed that night, although three men were later sent up to Stillwater State Prison for rioting. A nine-year-old boy named Abram Zimmerman witnessed the murders and eventually passed the memory onto his son, who in 1965 wrote a song about the event entitled Desolation Row. The city took nearly 40 years more to finally build its own tribute to the victims; when it was unveiled in October 2003, though, the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial became the largest anti-lynching monument in the United States.

1934 - The Great Smoky Mountains National Park - on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina - was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

1978 - Jordan's King Hussein married American Lisa Halaby, who took the name Noor-al-Hussein, or 'light of Hussein'.
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POPnews - June 15th

[The above scene of King John signing the Magna Carta was engraved by William Ryland after a picture by 18th Century neo-classicist painter John Hamilton Mortimer, whose romanticism was often wrought at the expense of accuracy; upon embiggening, please observe Exhibit A: a portrait of His Majesty looking altogether more handsome than he actually did in real life.]

923 CE - At the Battle of Soissons France's King Robert I was killed (legend has it by the usurper King Charles III himself); the so-called Charles the Simple was later arrested and imprisoned by Rudolph, Duke of Burgundy, who himself became king.

1184 - Norway's King Magnus V was killed at the Battle of Fimreite.

1215 - King John of England put his seal to the Magna Carta at the Thames-side meadow of Runnymede in order to thwart a rebellion by his aristocracy.

1219 - According to legend Dannebrog - the flag of Denmark and the oldest national flag in the world - fell from the sky during the Battle of Lyndanisse near Estonia's Toompea Castle, turning the Danes' luck.

1246 - With the death of Duke Frederick II, Austria's Babenberg dynasty ended.

1520 - Pope Leo X threatened to excommunicate Martin Luther in a papal bull entitled Exsurge Domine.

1667 - The first human blood transfusion was administered by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys.

1785 - Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier - co-pilot of the first-ever manned flight - and his companion, Pierre Romain, became the first-ever casualties of an air crash when their hot air balloon exploded during an attempt to cross the English Channel.

1888 - Germany's Crown Prince Wilhelm became Kaiser Wilhelm II following the death of his father Frederick III, making him third in the so-called Year of Three Emperors; he was also to be the last emperor of the German Empire.

1905 - Britain's Princess Margaret of Connaught married Gustav, Crown Prince of Sweden.

1913 - The Battle of Bud Bagsak in the Philippines concluded with a decisive US victory for General John 'Black Jack' Pershing over the Moro Rebellion.

1919 - John Alcock and Arthur Brown completed the first nonstop transatlantic flight at Clifden, in Ireland's County Galway.

1944 - In Saskatchewan, the CCF Party of Tommy Douglas was elected, forming North America's first socialist government.

1945 - The General Dutch Youth League (ANJV) was founded in Amsterdam.

1954 - The UEFA (Union des Associations Européennes de Football) was formed in Basle, Switzerland.

1978 - Jordan's King Hussein married American Lisa Halaby, who took the name Queen Noor; at the time of their meeting Halaby - an architect and urban planner - was working on the Jordanian capital's Amman Intercontinental Airport.

1985 - Rembrandt's painting Danaë was attacked at St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum by a man later judged insane, who threw sulfuric acid on the canvas and cut it twice with his knife. Restoration of the eight by ten foot masterpiece took nearly 12 years.

1991 - The first federal political party in Canada that supported Quebec nationalism, the Bloc Québécois, was founded by former Conservative MP Lucien Bouchard.

1996 - A terrorist bomb in the UK injured over 200 people and devastated a large part of Manchester's city centre.
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