Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Man On The Moon" by REM

I've decided to do the expected thing here and post REM's Man on the Moon. Although the song is ostensibly about Andy Kaufman, Kaufman was a known moon landing skeptic (in addition to having one of those 'out of this world' imaginations) which is where the title gets it dual meaning; the song was not only featured in Miloš Forman's biopic of Kaufman, but also gave the film its name.

Man in the Moon originally appeared on the band's 1992 album Automatic for the People; the video features black and white footage of Michael Stipe looking the best he ever has under the direction of Peter Care, who filmed the rest of his bandmates - including Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills - in the town of Lancaster in California's Antelope Valley.

This isn't the only time REM were inspired to write a song about an individual, though; their song Monty Got A Raw Deal - about Montgomery Clift - appears on the same album as this one.
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Pop History Moment: The Moon Landing

That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind...

With these famous words Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle on this day in 1969 and became the first human being to set foot on another planet; he and Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin then proceeded to spend about two-and-a-half hours on the moon - making notes, taking photographs, and drilling for core samples - while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins remained in orbit above them and the luminous surface of the Sea of Tranquility.

Following their planting of the flag the two astronauts spoke to President Richard Nixon via radio-telephone; for Nixon, though, the moment must have been bittersweet, since the dream of putting a man on the moon had been that of his keenest political rival John F. Kennedy, who from beyond the grave deprived Nixon of the ideal opportunity for self-aggrandizement during what was pretty much the only positive event of his presidency.

Of course, while a part of Nixon might have wished the Moon Landing hadn't taken place, there have always been those who vehemently denied it had, frequently using the most specious reasoning to do so; conspiracy theories are as common as nitrogen on this planet, and since a certain percentage of people seem to get off on being disagreeable, their crackpot notions can easily be discounted for this very reason*. While I am instinctually disinclined to believe anything the US Government says, I am also astute enough to know that the number of people required to keep a secret that big could not keep a secret that big under any circumstances. From this devastatingly logical line of reasoning is derived my belief that the event did indeed occur.

Nevertheless, I still don't believe that NASA has given the public the whole story regarding the Apollo Program; why, for instance, did the Moon missions stop so abruptly after just six visits, and why hasn't anyone gone back since 1972? Hm?

*In fact, agreeing with them could be considered counter-productive.

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Remembering... Sandra Gould

Far be it from the Pop Culture Institute to impugn the good work Alice Pearce did in aid of that archetype of suburban nosiness Gladys Kravitz during the first two seasons of the legendary sitcom Bewitched; while Pearce was the ideal black and white version of the character*, though, the show's transition to colour at the outset of Season Three demanded an actress who was also in colour, and Sandra Gould - whose vivid hair the colour of tomato soup made her the mortal counterpart to Endora - more than filled the bill.

PhotobucketHer performances were as vivid as her hair colour, to such a degree that to this day just by shrieking 'Abner! ABNER!!' even a middling impressionist can reduce me to a giggling mass.

After Bewitched went off the air in 1972 Gould never lacked for work; by the time she died - on this day in 1999 - she'd also appeared in The Brady Bunch, Punky Brewster, Friends and Veronica's Closet as well as reprising her role in the short-lived 1977 Bewitched spin-off Tabitha. On the big-screen, her accomplishments include an appearance in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken with no less a comedy legend than Don Knotts.

*Pearce died of ovarian cancer in 1966, during the filming of Season Two.

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"Nights In White Satin" by The Moody Blues

Birthday wishes go out today to John Lodge, bassist with progressive rock pioneers The Moody Blues, whose biggest single was Nights in White Satin; the song first appeared on their 1967 album Days of Future Passed but wasn't the success it later became until it was re-released in 1972, at a time when the drugs people were taking caused them to eschew short, punchy pop songs with straightforward lyrics about love in favour of seven- and eight-minute mini-epics with utterly obtuse lyrics ostensibly about love.

Here Lodge and his bandmates perform their smash hit in August 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival. At the time it was held, the 1970 concert was considered the largest human gathering in history - at 600,000 it beat Woodstock's attendance by 100K - a record which wasn't surpassed until Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973.

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In Celebration of Diana Rigg

While Diana Rigg is best known for portraying Emma Peel in The Avengers, in personal terms she assayed a far more important role in the 1981 film The Great Muppet Caper, playing fashion designer Lady Holiday; so impressed was I by her performance* that I decided then and there to not only seek out the roles she'd played previously but to keep my eyes open for her in future...

PhotobucketAlas, many of her earliest roles were in the theatre, and so have disappeared beyond the mists of time; one later performance, though, which thankfully was made on film was the amazing 1993 TV-movie Genghis Cohn, in which she portrayed Baroness Frieda von Stangel, a German aristocrat with a decidedly kinky uniform fetish. The film combined magic realism with Antony Sher** as the ghost of a Holocaust survivor come back to Earth to haunt his unpunished tormentor (played by Robert Lindsay) who was also the lover of Rigg's character.

Surely, though, any thrill Rigg might have had being remembered by history as Tracy Bond - the only Bond Girl to succeed in getting 007 out of bed and down the aisle (in the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service) - would have been tempered by the fact that it was with neither Sean Connery or Roger Moore she shared her scenes but George Lazenby, the gap-toothed Australian one-off usurper of the role.

Speaking of bad reviews***, Rigg has always maintained a circumspect and slightly bemused attitude towards her work and the notoriety it engenders; the year after exhorting The Muppets to recover her priceless 'Baseball Diamond' from its pilferers, she relied on her showbiz pals to help her compile a collection of the worst theatrical reviews in history. Entitled No Turn Unstoned, it includes examples from as far back as Ancient Greece; while not well-received upon its first release, the book quickly gained the cult status it enjoys today. In it, she included a particularly ghastly notice of her own by the critic John Simon, regarding a nude scene she'd done with Keith Michell in Abelard and Heloise, to whit: '[Miss Rigg] is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses'.

A summation, no doubt, with which the generations of teenage boys who experienced their sexual awakening watching her slinking about in a leather catsuit with Patrick Macnee would most vehemently not concur.

Born on this day in 1938, Diana Rigg was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1988 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1994.

*After all, not many actors could successfully keep their dignity while being barraged by the corny jokes of a couple of dozen puppets.
**As winning a combination as there ever was.
***Not to mention extremely clunky segue-ways.

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In Memoriam: Wendy Richard


Wendy Richard's career - in the great British tradition - was a long and varied one; her first notoriety came playing Joyce Harker in the 1960s soap opera The Newcomers, which ran for slightly more than four years, from 1965-1969*. Unfortunately, the BBC purged its archives in the 1970s, and almost every episode has been lost.

Richard later played a pair of roles in the hugely popular sitcom Dad's Army, all of which was mere momentum for what was to come... Over the course of ten series Richard appeared as Miss Brahms in the sitcom Are You Being Served?, a genuine juggernaut in British pop cultural terms; all told, the show ran for thirteen years and spawned an Australian version (in which she did not appear), novelizations, a stage show, a film, and a sequel entitled Grace & Favour.

With all that work on her resume, she might have been content to sit back and take a breather; it doesn't seem to be in her to do such a thing, though, because soon enough she'd originated the role of Pauline Fowler, who terrorized Albert Square for nearly 22 years in the BBC's long-running soap opera EastEnders. Since leaving that show (and its grinding schedule) she's been right back at it, most recently in a new David Croft sitcom entitled Here Comes The Queen, in which her character discovers she is queen of an obscure mittel-European kingdom.

Wendy Richard died of cancer in February 2009; a half hour programme called Wendy Richard: To Tell You the Truth, documenting the last three months of her life, was broadcast on BBC1 less than a month later**.  She was survived by her fourth husband, John Burns.

*Oddly enough - or not, depending on what you're into - its last episode aired on the day I was born.

**On March 19th, in fact.

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"Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden

Birthday wishes go out today to Chris Cornell, the voice of such hit-making bands as Soundgarden and Audioslave; in addition to a distinctive voice, this godfather of grunge also has one of the best heads of hair to ever emerge from Seattle.

Black Hole Sun appeared on Soundgarden's 1994 album Superunknown; it was (commercially, at least) the band's biggest hit. The video was directed by Howard Greenhalgh.

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Pop History Moment: British Columbia Joined Canadian Confederation


On this day in 1871 the British Colony of British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation, giving the fledgling nation access to the vast Pacific Ocean and its even vaster trade advantages; reciprocally, the outpost on the west coast would thus be given access to the civilizing influence of the older settlements back East - or at least would be as soon as the Canadian Pacific Railway managed to get its act together* and find enough Chinese for the highly dangerous job of laying the track over the Rocky Mountains.

The capital was established at Victoria, which had been the capital of the old Colony of Vancouver Island until 1866, when for a time the island and the mainland were formally known as the United Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia; Vancouver (now the second most populous city in the region, after Seattle) was then just a glimmer in the eye of a Geordie saloon-keeper called "Gassy" Jack Deighton, a rough-and-tumble place called Gastown (or, more properly, Granville - named for the British colonial secretary Lord Granville).

The prime motivating force behind British Columbia's joining Canada was the Confederation League, led by such figures as Amor De Cosmos, John Robson, and Robert Beaven; the first premier was John Foster McCreight, who assumed the role at the request of Lieutenant-Governor Sir Joseph Trutch.

In the years since its founding, British Columbia has given the world such towering cultural figures as painter Emily Carr, architect Arthur Erickson, socialite Pat Buckley, artist Bill Reid, entertainer David Foster, and novelist Douglas Coupland.

*The route was finally completed in November 1888.

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POPnews - July 20th

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911 CE - The Viking Rollo laid siege to Chartres, giving the Franks under Richard, Duke of Burgundy, and France's Robert I a decisive victory; peace would be confirmed later in the fall with the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte, which Rollo signed with Charles the Simple.

1304 - Following the Fall of Stirling Castle (after the second of eight sieges in that castle's history) during the Wars of Scottish Independence England's King Edward I took the last rebel stronghold of the war.

1402 - During the Ottoman-Timurid Wars - at the Battle of Ankara - Timur, ruler of the Timurid Empire, defeated forces of the Ottoman Empire sultan Bayezid I.

1656 - Swedish forces under the command of King Charles X Gustav defeated the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led by Polish King John II Casimir at the Battle of Warsaw.

1917 - The Corfu Declaration - which led to the creation of the post-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia - was signed by the Yugoslav Committee and Kingdom of Serbia.

1932 - Police fired tear gas at members of the Bonus Expeditionary Force - more commonly known as the Bonus Army, a group of First World War veterans who had been marching toward the White House - proving that the recent scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was no isolated event.

1944 - Adolf Hitler survived an assassination attempt (known as the July 20 plot) led by German Army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.

1947 - Police in Burma arrested former Prime Minister U Saw and 19 others on charges of assassinating Prime Minister U Aung San and seven members of his cabinet the previous day.

1951 - King Abdullah I of Jordan was assassinated by Palestinian Mustapha Shukri Usho while attending prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

1969 - Apollo 11 made a successful moon landing; seven years later to the day, Viking 1 would make its own successful landing, on Mars.

1976 - Hank Aaron hit his 755th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's 41-year-old record.

1982 - The Provisional IRA detonated two bombs - in London's Hyde Park and Regents Park - killing eight soldiers, wounding forty-seven people, and leading to the deaths of seven horses.

Photobucket1984 - The then-current Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was asked to resign her post when nude photographs of her appeared in Penthouse magazine. Unlike the vast majority of previous and subsequent scandal-free Misses America, Ms. Williams went on to have a successful career as an actor and recording artist in addition to marrying NBA superstar Rick Fox; she also famously appeared as Wilhelmina Slater in the smash hit sitcom Ugly Betty.

1987 - Larry Kramer, co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis, was appointed to a federal panel on AIDS by President Ronald Reagan; Kramer had previously been critical of the President's utterly predictable silence on the issue.

1989 - A show of photographs by the recently deceased yet still controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe was held at Project for the Arts in Washington DC; the show had previously been slated for the Corcoran Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, but was canceled by them due to the nature of the works.

1992 - Václav Havel resigned as president of Czechoslovakia.

1999 - Calling it an 'evil cult', the government of the People's Republic of China outlawed Falun Gong, and began a systemic persecution of its practice and membership.

2005 - Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage when Bill C-38 received Royal Assent.

2006 - The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia brought about a war which is still raging.
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