Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The Remedy (I Won't Worry)" by Jason Mraz

Birthday wishes go out today to Jason Mraz, whose surname is the Czech word for 'frost' but whose career is anything but cold, thanks to his third studio album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.... Mraz is precisely the sort of performer the Pop Culture Institute is pleased to support, since he's known for explicitly supporting the recording of concert bootlegs.

The Remedy (I Won't Worry) is the first single from his 2002 debut album Waiting for My Rocket to Come, and while it peaked at #15 in the US Mraz had to wait for his second album, 2005's Mr. A-Z to crack the Top Ten. He's seen here performing his first single on ABC-TV's Good Morning America in New York City.
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Monaco's Albert II To Marry Charlene Wittstock


After nearly three decades as the world's most eligible bachelor - resulting in countless column inches of speculation regarding a string of girlfriends* and the birth of two children out of wedlock** - His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco has today announced his intention to marry his companion of four years, the South African-born former Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock.  No date has been set for the impending nuptials, but by custom formal royal engagements in the jewel-like Mediterranean principality generally last at least six months.

The Prince and Wittstock have been seen together publicly since February 2006, when they attended the opening ceremony of that year's Winter Olympics together in Torino; they have also attended the Monaco Grand Prix, the Bal de la Rose, and the Princess Grace Awards Gala together.  Most recently they were seen together at the wedding of Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling - this past June 19th at Stockholm Cathedral - sparking rumours amongst royal watchers that the House of Grimaldi was about to add its newest member.

*Including (among others) Brooke Shields, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue, and Telma Ortiz Rocasolano - the sister-in-law of Spain's Prince of Asturias.
**The eldest, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, was born to Tamara Rotolo in March 1992; she was joined by a half-brother, Alexandre Coste, who was born to Nicole Coste in August 2003.

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"Touch Of Grey" by The Grateful Dead

Birthday wishes go out today to Robert Hunter, who wrote the Grateful Dead's most commercially successful song, Touch Of Grey, which the band first performed in 1982 and which later appeared on their 1987 album In the Dark; the video for the song - directed by Gary Gutierrez, who also worked with the band on The Grateful Dead Movie - is also the only video the band ever made. Coincidence?

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Happy Birthday Frances McDormand

The first movie I ever saw Frances McDormand in was Fargo (1996), which is not bad as these things go, since Fargo is one of the best movies I've ever seen*. What struck me most about the film, though, was how the Coen Brothers and their actors so expertly captured the North Dakota accent. I have some distant family in North Dakota, and even in Saskatchewan this is the regional accent; the area was heavily settled by Scandinavians, and 'Oh ya, they really do talk like that, sure'...

PhotobucketIt was by no means her first role, nor would it be her last, but McDormand's star turn in Fargo defined her in ways that subsequent roles in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and Curtis Hanson's celluloid vision of the Michael Chabon novel Wonder Boys never could. For one it pegged her as the kind of fearless actor who would don a fake pregnancy belly and mug her way through a very dark comedy while seeming preternaturally cheerful about what turns out to be some very gory goings-on indeed. Of course, the fact that she's married to the film's co-director Joel Coen might have something to do with the casting, but as for turning her performance as Marge Gunderson into a star turn - she did that all on her own!

McDormand was away from our movie screens for a few years in the middle of the decade, but re-emerged in a pair of films scheduled for release in 2008 - Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a period piece set in the years before World War II in which she plays the title character, was released in March; and Burn After Reading, yet another excursion into the exotic psyches of her husband and brother-in-law.  She is set to re-emerge in 2011 after a similar sabbatical, and I for one wish she would work more...

*The members of the Motion Picture Academy concurred; McDormand won the Oscar for Best Actress for her quirky, heartfelt performance of a small-town sheriff investigating some big time crime.

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In Memoriam: Alan Turing

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIf there's a lesson to be learned from the life of Alan Turing (and I believe there are many) it's that throughout history, nothing matters more to those in charge than the persecution of homosexuals. This is still true in the United States, where in recent years dozens of Arab language specialists have been thrown out of the military and the State Department for being gay; the momentary War on Terror, it seems, has been trumped by the ongoing War on Gays.

Turing - born on this day in 1912 - is considered the father of computer science, and was one of the team at Bletchley Park responsible for breaking the Enigma machine's codes during World War II; he was arrested for homosexuality in 1952, which led to his suicide by poisoning in 1954. Although he worried about the effect that homophobia would have on his legacy, it appears, in retrospect, to have been minimal. In fact, in recent years a memorial to him has been unveiled in Manchester's Sackville Park as well as another by sculptor Stephen Kettle at his old stomping grounds, Bletchley Park; additionally English Heritage has placed a Blue Plaque at two of his former London homes.

In the excellent 1996 BBC TV-movie Breaking the Code Turing was portrayed by Derek Jacobi.
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"Sign Of The Gypsy Queen" by April Wine

Birthday wishes go out today to Myles Goodwyn, front man of Canadian rock stalwarts April Wine; Sign of the Gypsy Queen appeared on the band's 1981 album The Nature of the Beast. Despite the fact that the single only made it to #57 in the US (and #16 in Canada) it remains a presence on radio in both countries and can be counted on to rock the house in concert as well.

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Pop History Moment: Canada's First National Park Was Created

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[The Banff Springs Hotel, surrounded by all its Banff-y goodness.]

On this day in 1887 the Rocky Mountains Park Act was passed, establishing Canada's first national park (and North America's second, after Yellowstone National Park) around Banff, Alberta. In 1930 it was renamed Banff National Park, and by 1949 had achieved its current dimensions: 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 sq mi).
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POPnews - June 23rd

[The above image is a detail taken from a three panel mural by William Hole, located in Edinburgh's Scottish National Portrait Gallery; it's just one of countless depictions of the Battle of Bannockburn which permeate Scottish life and inform the country's nationalism, the most recent of which is Mel Gibson's factually inaccurate but emotionally resonant 1995 film Braveheart, whose final scene depicts the battle in all its gory glory.]

1305 - The Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge was signed by France's King Philip IV and Robert III, Count of Flanders following the Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle.

1314 - During the First War of Scottish Independence the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn pitted England's Edward II against Robert the Bruce.

1565 - Turgut Reis, Dragut of the Ottoman Navy, died during the Siege of Malta.

1661 - A marriage contract between England's King Charles II and Portugese princess Catherine of Braganza was completed.

1757 - At the Battle of Plassey 3,000 British troops under Robert Clive defeated a 50,000 strong Indian army led by Siraj Ud Daulah.

1758 - During the Seven Years' War Anglo-German forces under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated the French troops of Le Comte de Clermont at the Battle of Krefeld.

1760 - During the Seven Years' War General von Laudon's Austrians defeated the Prussian forces of General Fouqué at the Battle of Landeshut.

1810 - John Jacob Astor formed the Pacific Fur Company.

1860 - Operations began at the Government Printing Office, which the US Congress had established in March of that year.

1865 - More than two months after the end of the American Civil War, General Stand Watie became the last Confederate commander in the field to surrender to Union forces, which he did at Fort Towson in the Oklahoma Territory.

1894 - The International Olympic Committee was founded at the Sorbonne in Paris upon the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

1919 - During the Estonian Liberation War the German Freikorps were defeated at the Battle of Cesis; the day is still celebrated as Victory Day in Estonia.

1931 - Wiley Post and Harold Gatty took off from New York City's Roosevelt Field in an attempt to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine plane.

1941 - The Lithuanian Activist Front declared the country's independence from the Soviet Union; it lasted only briefly, as the Nazis occupied Lithuania a few weeks later.

1947 - The US Senate followed the House of Representatives in overriding U.S. President Harry Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act.

1967 - During the Cold War US President Lyndon B. Johnson met with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey for the three-day Glassboro Summit Conference.

1969 - Warren E. Burger was sworn in as chief justice of the US Supreme Court by retiring chief Earl Warren.

1983 - Pope John Paul II met with Polish labour leader Lech Wałęsa, marking one of the rare times the hypocritical pontiff ventured into politics without committing hate crimes against gays and lesbians.

1985 - Thanks to the efforts of one Inderjit Singh Reyat, a terrorist bomb aboard Air India Flight 182 exploded, bringing the aircraft down off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 aboard.
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