Sunday, July 04, 2010

Bonus Video: "America" from "West Side Story"

I've posted it before, and I'm likely to post it again, but when a thing is as excellent as this - containing, as it does, three kinds of win: the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim collaboration America, a scene from the 1961 film West Side Story, and Rita Moreno* - you know I'm gonna continue to look for reasons to post it again and again!

*Oh, and the altogether scrumptious George Chakiris as well!
share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: Lou Gehrig Announces His Retirement

Throughout his career in baseball, Lou Gehrig was known as 'the Iron Horse' for both his speed and strength; over the course of 15 consecutive seasons with the New York Yankees he was a reliable hitter - and not just because of his reliability in the dugout. All told, Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games* during which he racked up an amazing 23 career grand slams, a record which still stands more than 70 years after his retirement. His lifetime batting average was .340, lifetime on-base percentage .447, and lifetime slugging percentage was .632; these are the kind of stats that aren't found too readily in the game today - and are even more incredible when considering that they were achieved without either performance enhancing drugs or the benefit of modern sports medicine and/or the rest of the rigamarole** currently available to professional athletes.

All of which made his retirement - on this day in 1939 - the more shocking; he was, after all, just 36 years old and otherwise at the top of his game, although his final season had been off, especially compared to the performance he turned in during 1937. Gehrig had been stricken by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) - a disease which would forever after bear his name; it would take just under two years for the disease to render the once-superlative athlete a withered corpse...

In all 61,808 fans - including his one-time rival Babe Ruth and New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia - gathered at Yankee Stadium on 'Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day', as witnessed by the footage posted above. Between games of an Independence Day double header with the Washington Senators Gehrig was hailed by all and sundry, presented with a trophy by team manager Joe McCarthy, became the first player in the history of major league baseball to have his number (4) retired, and made a speech which has continued to resonate ever since, in which he left no gut unwrenched by categorizing himself as 'the luckiest man on the face of the Earth'...

When it comes to history Hollywood often doesn't get it right; when they do, though, do they ever - and they really knocked one out of the park with The Pride of the Yankees. Starring Gary Cooper, an actor every bit as revered for his low-key nature and quiet masculinity as Gehrig was, director Sam Wood's 1942 biopic managed to be hyperbolic and accurate simultaneously, mainly because his subject was just that good a man. Teresa Wright co-starred as Gehrig's wife Eleanor, and Gehrig's team-mates Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig and Bill Dickey appeared in the film as themselves, so as to honour the memory of their fallen colleague.

*A record only broken by Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles in September 1995.
**Diet, exercise, massage, acupuncture, dating Madonna, and so on and so forth...
share on: facebook

"America" by Allen Ginsberg

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
share on: facebook

POPnews - July 4th

[Located midway between Montreal and Quebec City - where the Saint-Maurice River empties into the St. Lawrence River across from the city of Bécancour - Trois-Rivières is Canada's oldest industrial city; a foundry known as Forges du Saint-Maurice existed there as early as March 1730, although today the city is better known as the 'National Poetry Capital of Quebec'.]

836 CE - Pactum Sicardi - a peace treaty between the Principality of Benevento and the Duchy of Naples - was signed.

993 CE - On the authority of Pope John XV Ulrich of Augsburg became the first Catholic saint to be officially canonized by the Vatican (rather than by public acclaim), twenty years to the day after his martyrdom.

1120 - Jordan II of Capua was anointed as prince after the death of his infant nephew, Richard III of Capua.

1187 - At the Battle of Hattin the Ayyubid commander Saladin defeated Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem.

1253 - At the Battle of West-Capelle, John I of Avesnes defeated Guy of Dampierre.

1359 - Francesco II Ordelaffi surrendered the fortified town of Forlì to the Papal commander Gil de Albornoz.

1456 - As part of the Ottoman invasion of Europe, the Siege of Belgrade began; defense of the city was prepared by John Hunyadi, who was ultimately successful in repelling the forces of Mehmed II but not so fortunate in warding off the plague, which would claim his life in August.

1534 - Christian III was elected King of Denmark and Norway in the town of Rye.

1634 - The city of Trois-Rivières - only the second permanent settlement in New France - was founded by the Sieur of Laviolette.

1837 - The Grand Junction Railway - the world's first long-distance railway - opened between Birmingham and Liverpool.

1840 - The Cunard Line's 700-ton wooden paddle steamer RMS Britannia departed from Liverpool bound for Halifax on the first transatlantic crossing with a scheduled end.

1879 - During the final battle of the Anglo-Zulu War the Zululand capital of Ulundi was captured by British troops and burnt to the ground, forcing King Cetshwayo to flee.

1886 - The first scheduled Canadian transcontinental train arrived in the British Columbia town of Port Moody, an event still celebrated there as Golden Spike Days.

1918 - Sultan Mehmed VI ascended to the throne of the Ottoman Empire, little knowing he would be the last to do so.

1941 - Nazi Germany's massacre of Polish scientists and writers occurred in the captured Ukrainian city of Lwów.

1950 - Radio Free Europe made its first broadcast - from Munich, into Czechoslovakia.

1976 - Israeli commandos raided Uganda's Entebbe Airport, rescuing all but four of the passengers and crew of an Air France jetliner seized there by Palestinian terrorists the previous week.

1982 - Four Iranian diplomats - Ahmad Motevaselian, Seyed Mohsen Mousavi, Taghi Rastegar Moghadam, and Kazem Akhavan - were kidnapped by militia at a checkpoint in northern Lebanon; they were never released, nor were their remains ever found, and no one ever claimed responsibility for their deaths.

1987 - In France, former Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (also known as the 'Butcher of Lyon') was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment; he died four years later of leukemia, still a kinder death than any of the 4,000 he personally committed.
share on: facebook

"America" by Simon and Garfunkel

In honour of the Fourth of July (and by way of reparations for the last video I posted) I decided to choose a decidedly more patriotic clip to show this time around.

America first appeared on the 1968 Simon and Garfunkel album Bookends, and is one of my favourite songs about the US; when I first posted it, I used a now lost clip from The Concert in Central Park* - a reunion of former harmonizers Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who broke up in 1970 but seem to have stayed on pretty good terms despite it all. I've had to replace it now with a newer clip of them performing the song on Late Show with David Letterman.

*As many as 750,000 people attended the concert, which was held on the Great Lawn of New York City's Central Park in September 1981.
share on: facebook

Happy Birthday Koko

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Koko is a lowland gorilla who was born in San Francisco on this day in 1971; according to her trainers, Koko (a diminutive form of Hanabi-Ko, or 'fireworks child' in Japanese, seeing as she was born on a day renowned for its pyrotechnic displays) can understand more than 1,000 signs in American Sign Language and understand 2,000 words of English besides.

As early as 1977 Koko was attracting attention for her ability to communicate using sign language. She has also created art using both brush and camera, kept pets (such as cats), and has a pronounced fetish for nipples (whether male or female).

There is a debate among scholars whether Koko's intellect is spontaneous or merely as a result of acculturation; either way, as long as she keeps everybody guessing, the Pop Culture Institute will continue to hail our talented cousin.  Heck, if she can learn to write down any of those 2000 words she can even have a job here - despite being totally over-qualified!
share on: facebook

In Memoriam: Louis B. Mayer

Would it surprise anyone to learn that one of the foremost merchants of the American Dream was a scrap metal dealer from Minsk, who came to Hollywood by way of Saint John, New Brunswick, and was born on this of all days?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhile such a revelation might startle only a few of the most naive people today, back in the Thirties and Forties it might have been quite a shock indeed; yet Louis B. Mayer was just such a man.

Mayer's imprint upon the American film industry is indelible. He is generally credited with the expansion of the star system (if not its creation, which can better be credited to the Biograph Studios, who created the first movie star*). While chairman of MGM - he was the second M - the studio's slogan boasted 'more stars than there are in the Heavens', which was not entirely hyperbolic. Most of MGM's movies from that era did not have casts so much as constellations; even the supporting artists and extras were famous at MGM.

Mayer was the first studio head to earn more than a million dollars a year, which he did beginning in 1936; he made MGM so profitable, even during the Great Depression, that the studio was the only one to pay its shareholders dividends in every year of the 1930s. And to think it all started from the Gem Theatre, a dilapidated burlesque house in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which Mayer renovated and opened as the Orpheum in November 1907.

Mayer was also instrumental in the establishment of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with its annual reacharound festival known as the Oscars; he died in October 1957, just as the studio system in which he so fervently believed was beginning to crumble.

*The delightfully named Florence Lawrence.

share on: facebook

"That's America" by Bruce McCulloch

The degree to which the accompanying clip offends you is likely to be in direct correlation to how true you think it is; even if deployed with the best of intentions, the truth hurts, and alas some of the sentiments contained herein may sting. I would rate this NSFW*.

It's not the best quality version of this piece, which Bruce McCulloch - founding member of Canada's pioneering comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall - originally performed on their show in the early 1990s, and later refined for his uproarious 1995 album Shame-Based Man; for one thing, whomever recorded it cut off the last line, which is: 'America, a place for Americans...'

Still, would the Fourth of July at the Pop Culture Institute be complete without a little genial, well-intended, even light-hearted poking of fun at a country that could easily wipe Canada (and thus the PCI) off the map with just ten well-aimed nukes? No, I say; indeed, non as well.

*Not Suitable For Wussies.

share on: facebook

POPnews (US) - Fourth of July Special Edition


1636 - The city of Providence, Rhode Island - the jewel of Narragansett Bay - was founded by Roger Williams, a religious kook who was too religiously kooky even for the Massachusetts Bay Colony which had exiled him.

1712 - 11 slaves were executed in Manhattan for their alleged part in a slave revolt; there exists no credible evidence that any such uprising was in the offing, which didn't stop Bancroft Prize-winning historian Jill Lepore from crafting an exquisite work entitled New York Burning from the story, although her work chiefly concerns another equally spurious albeit more famous conspiracy from 1741.

1776 - The Declaration of Independence was proclaimed by the Second Continental Congress.

1803 - The Louisiana Purchase was announced to the American people; this single act by the Administration of President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the country, as well as opening up the Mississippi River to shipping.

1817 - Construction of the Erie Canal was begun near Rome, New York.

1827 - Slavery was abolished in New York State.

1845 - Henry David Thoreau embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts; the result of his experience later formed the basis for his book Walden.

1855 - Walt Whitman's landmark book Leaves of Grass was published in Brooklyn.

1886 - The people of France offered the Statue of Liberty to the people of the United States.

1894 - The short-lived Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed by Sanford B. Dole; the republic was annexed by the United States on the same day four years later.

1910 - African-American boxer Jack Johnson knocked out white boxer James J. Jeffries at a heavyweight boxing match promoted by Tex Rickard in Reno, sparking race riots across the United States.

1939 - New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig announced his retirement from professional baseball, telling a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium that he felt like 'the luckiest man on the face of the Earth'; he died of amyotrophic lateral sclerois (ALS, known as Lou Gehrig's disease) in June 1941.

1966 - President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act, which went into effect the following year.

1969 - The Ohio Fireworks Derecho killed 18 and destroyed over 100 boats on Lake Erie.

1970 - American Top 40 made its radio debut, hosted by Casey Kasem. Kasem left the show in 2004; it's currently hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

1992 - The USS George Washington (CVN-73), a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, was commissioned at Norfolk, Virginia.

1997 - NASA's Pathfinder space probe landed on the surface of Mars.

2006 - Space Shuttle Discovery was launched towards the International Space Station on its mission, known as STS-121.

2007 - The Zaca Fire started in Santa Barbara, California, becoming the second-largest fire in California history.
share on: facebook

Good Fourth of July!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

To all my American readers (and those - like me - who love them) have a safe and happy Fourth of July!
share on: facebook