Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Fuck Them All" by Mylène Farmer

Well, you don't need to speak French to understand what this is all about; taken from the 2005 album Avant que l'ombre... by Mylène Farmer, it's that popular nursery rhyme Fuck Them All, a song which has rarely been off my iPod over the past few years, and one whose message emerges again and again at times whenever I am in need of an anthem - which is often!

The video was directed by Agustin Villaronga and features scarecrows designed by Swiss artist Martial Leiter.
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Bonne Fête Mylène Farmer

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In the interest of full disclosure I should say that the only thing I knew about Mylène Farmer before I started this blog was her name and her profession; probably the reason you've never heard of her is that she sings in French, which is the excuse I'm using.

I had some vague sense that she was known as 'the Madonna of France' but even that I wouldn't have published without checking*. Virtually every female singer who uses sexuality in her act is known as 'the Madonna of' whatever country she's from; if Nana Mouskouri so much as undid her top button they'd be calling her 'the Madonna of Greece' for pity's sake.

Well, what an eye-opening day it's been!

About all I can say is, Madonna wishes she were half the provocateur Mylène Farmer is, was, and will continue to be. Having spent a couple of hours luxuriating in the rich visuals of her video career, I've already half-forgotten what's-her-name. And in just the brief thumbnail of her life is enough scandal, controversy, and outrage for three Madonnas.

*It's also not quite true, since she was born in Montreal, on this day in 1961.

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H.L. Mencken: The Sage of Baltimore

If the Pop Culture Institute can be said to have a spiritual leader it is H. L. Mencken. Not spiritual in the religious sense - Mencken's disdain for fundamentalism surpasses even my own - but in the secular sense. After all, by what right do the religious lay exclusive claim to the soul?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTo his resume as satirist and polemicist could have been added psychic; once, while discoursing on the dumbing down of the Presidency, he wrote: 'On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.' This was in 1920!

By the time he co-founded (with George Jean Nathan) the hugely influential publication The American Mercury, at the age of 44, he was already well-known, chiefly for comments like that which appears above. However, the following year's Scopes Trial was tailor-made for Mencken and his skills; he proceeded to make his name all over again from writing about it.

Despite being openly critical of marriage, Mencken married in 1930; his wife, Sara Haardt, was in ill-health and died in 1935. In 1948 Mencken himself fell ill, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis. Although unable to read or write, he spent the final eight years of his life organizing his papers; whatever drove him to write now drove him to ensure that he'd be remembered as a writer.

Born on this day in 1880, Mencken died in January 1956, and is buried in Baltimore. His approach to life and work can be best summed up in the humourous epitaph he left for himself:

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.


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"Biko" by Peter Gabriel

A hundred crusading journalists couldn't hope to have the impact of even one pop star, let alone a pop star as universally admired as Peter Gabriel; which could be sad (especially if you're a crusading journalist like Helen Zille) but which I consider to be proof of the democratization of information. I certainly never read about Steven Biko - neither his life nor his death - in the newspapers, but was well-acquainted with this video when it came out to coincide with the 1987 film Cry Freedom, directed by Sir Richard Attenborough. What I did learn from the papers, though, is that many viewings of this film in South Africa were disrupted prior to 1991, which is proof for the need to democratize information in the first place*.

Steve Biko died on this day in 1977, having sustained a massive head injury while in police custody and following an 1100 mile journey by Land Rover to hospital in Pretoria; police blamed his death on a hunger strike**. Yet for the way he died, as much as for his promulgation of the idea that 'black is beautiful', Biko became a powerful symbol within the Black Consciousness Movement as well as the patron saint of the anti-apartheid activism which dealt its own killing blow to racism in the early 1990s.

*Getting as much information into as many hands as possible is the best defense against censorship.
**Which is technically true, since comatose patients with major head trauma suffered at the hands of the police can be notoriously finicky eaters.

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Peter Roget: A Way With Words

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt was on this day in 1869 that Peter Roget, Swiss-born author of the great Thesaurus, died.

Passed away, bought the farm, entered immortality, cashed in his chips, croaked, shuffled off his mortal coil, snuffed it, went belly up, became deceased, took up daisy pushing, tucked in for his dirt nap, expired...

(With apologies to Monty Python's parrot...)

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Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett: What A Pair

If only drippy arch-sentimentalists Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett had been half as fun as Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson, who play them here during the second season of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, maybe they wouldn't need to be made fun of as much as they are in this.

Anyway, it was on this day in 1846 he spirited her out of her father's house in London's Wimpole Street, thence to St Marylebone Parish Church, and then off to Italy where she lived the bulk of the rest of her life in connubial bliss before dying in June 1861.
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Happy Birthday Yao Ming

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There are oodles of slightly racist jokes I could say here - I don't even need to hint at them, cuz my whiteys all known 'em - but just in case this dude is a prototype, I'm gonna ease up on the Sinophobia. The last thing I need is ten or twelve of these showing up at my door, on special orders from Hu Jintao...

Anyway, he's rich, famous, recently married to a lovely lady named Ye Li, and recuperated from a broken foot in time to represent China at the 2008 Summer Olympics - not to mention carrying the torch into the stadium* - so why should I spoil it with some snarky joke about MSG?

*Which, given his height, could have set off the sprinklers!

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POPnews: September 12th

[Since 1983 a replica of the cave at Lascaux has been open specifically for tourists - located 200m away from the original - in order to spare some 16,000 priceless images the worst ravages of tourism: namely creeping black mold, exposure to carbon dioxide, and having to spend 40 years in close proximity to a horde of unwashed mouth-breathers.]

1213 - During the Albigensian Crusade England's Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, killed King Peter II of Aragon during the Battle of Muret.

1846 - Elizabeth Barrett eloped with Robert Browning.

1847 - The Mexican-American War's Battle of Chapultepec began, during which Chapultepec Castle was taken from Mexico's Nicolás Bravo by American commander Winfield Scott.

1848 - Switzerland became a Federal state.

1857 - The SS Central America sank about 160 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, drowning a total of 426 passengers and crew, including Captain William Lewis Herndon; the ship had been carrying 13-15 tons of gold from the California Gold Rush, and the loss of bullion triggered the Panic of 1857.

1874 - British Columbia's District of Maple Ridge was founded, a dozen years before Vancouver; now Vancouver is a world-class city and Maple Ridge... Uh... Isn't.

1910 - Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8 received its world premiere in Munich (with a chorus of 852 singers and an orchestra of 171 players); Mahler's assistant conductor during rehearsals was Bruno Walter, who later made a name for himself as a maestro.

1940 - The world's single greatest trove of Paleolithic art was discovered near the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne département, by four teenagers - Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas - as well as Ravidat's dog, Robot.

1943 - Benito Mussolini - Fascist dictator of Italy between October 1922 and July 1943 - was rescued from house arrest on the Gran Sasso in Abruzzi during Operation Eiche by the German commando forces of Otto Skorzeny.

1959 - Bonanza, the first regularly-scheduled TV program presented in color, premiered on NBC; it would last until 1973 and make a star of Michael Landon - although it was Pernell Roberts who used to keep me up at night, if you know what I mean...

1964 - Utah's Canyonlands National Park was established.

1974 - Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was deposed by the Derg.

1977 - Steven Biko died of injuries received while in custody in South Africa; Biko's story came to light due to the work of the crusading journalist Helen Zille and, of course, crusading pop star Peter Gabriel.

1983 - A Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut, was robbed of approximately US$7 million by Los Macheteros during an operation called Aguila Blanca (White Eagle).

1992 - NASA launched the Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-47 which marked the 50th shuttle mission; on board were Mae Carol Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, Mamoru Mohri, the first Japanese citizen to fly in a US spaceship, and Mark C. Lee and N. Jan Davis, the first married couple in space. So we pretty much know what their mission, um, entailed...

1994 - Frank Corder fatally crashed a stolen Cessna into the South Lawn of the White House; he'd intended to crash it directly into the Executive Mansion, but owing to his intoxication at the time he thankfully pulled off an epic fail and missed. He was the only casualty. President Bill Clinton and his family weren't even in residence at the time, due to renovations, and were staying instead across the street at Blair House; anyway, Corder's friends said he had no grudge against the President, and may only have wanted to commit a very high profile suicide.

2001 - US President George W. Bush declared War on Terror, marking the first time a nation ever declared war on a concept; tyranny, rather than hilarity, ensued...

2005 - Hong Kong Disneyland opened in Penny's Bay on Lantau Island.

2007 - Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada was convicted of the crime of plunder.
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