Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Common People" by Pulp

As a poor person who's always aspired to be wealthy and powerful, I've never been able to understand these rich people who seem to have a yen for poverty. It's like they think squalor is glamourous or something, and maybe because it's so different from luxury for some people it can be. Well, I'm here to tell you: seediness may be sexy but squalor sucks. Then again, knowing you have an out when it all gets too much might be the necessary ingredient that I'm missing*.

Class Tourism - or, if you're on an old school trip, slumming - is apparently something Pulp frontman and birthday boy Jarvis Cocker obviously knows all too well, as evidenced by the skillful execution of Common People, a pop song which, in the British tradition, is actually about something.

The song is about a classmate of Cocker's at St. Martin's College, one of the most prestigious art schools in the world, who yearned to see how the other ninety-nine percent lived, thanks in part to the greed of her 1%; the video also features an early appearance by tabloid bait Sadie Frost.

*Also, as I've been told - again and again - just because a person has good stuff like money, fame, or looks doesn't automatically make their life better blah blah blah...

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Happy Birthday Cheri Oteri

Funny lady Cheri Oteri hit on the formula for success early on in her tenure at Saturday Night Live: some spot-on impressions (Barbara Walters, Mariah Carey, Robin Byrd and Judge Judy), a few indelible original characters (Collette 'drug lady' Reardon and Nadeen - 'simmer down now!'), a winning personality, and the willingness to put them all across fearlessly.

PhotobucketOteri was fortunate to be joined in the cast by Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer, but she did most of her funniest work opposite Will Ferrell. Whether as Arianna (one half of The Spartan Cheerleaders) or vapid morning show hostess Cass Van Rye, Oteri benefited at least as much as Gasteyer did from her chemistry with Ferrell.

Despite notable guest appearances in film and on television since leaving SNL in 2000, Oteri has yet to find herself a more permanent roost; Hollywood rumour has it that she's been developing a sitcom idea with J.J. Abrams. Here's hoping it makes more sense than Lost.

It may just be that Oteri's decided to take some time off following the murder of her father in April 2008 by his friend and sometime roommate, country music songwriter Richard Fagan*.

In the meantime, why not enjoy the best of her work from SNL on DVD?

*Google News had no mention of the crime, despite its celebrity connection. What is this world coming to? After a little more sleuthing the story turned up on the blog You Thought So! and in a Nashville Police Department media release...

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"Back In Your Head" by Tegan and Sara

Back in Your Head was released in 2007 as part of Tegan and Sara's fifth studio album, The Con; born on this day in 1980, the Canadian duo is probably the world's only band comprised of identical twin lesbians - and more's the pity I say!

While I am a relatively recent convert to their cult, they are clearly hugely popular in Vancouver since everyone here who isn't a baby dyke is a fan of them (myself included); then again, I like lesbians of every kind, and always have. Just not in a sexual way, like most of you pervs.

Still, wouldn't it be great if they had brothers? Identical twin homo brothers who sing songs this cool? Oh yeah...
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Brian Epstein: The Fifth Beatle?

Over the years numerous men claimed that they were or were purported to be the mythical fifth member of noted four-piece beat combo The Beatles: Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best, George Martin, Derek Taylor and Neil Aspinall are among them. Still, no less a figure than Paul McCartney himself has said: 'If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.' So there you go...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1934 in Liverpool, Brian Epstein was gifted with two strikes against him (being both Jewish and gay) it was more or less inevitable he would end up in show business, since in those days allegedly respectable people would freely associate with neither, but since actors and their ilk were considered far from respectable (especially amongst themselves) he could easily excel in that milieu without much prejudice.

In November 1961, Epstein - who'd dropped out of Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after three terms - attended a gig at Liverpool's Cavern Club; there he saw a band who'd been generating a great deal of buzz (especially with the staff of Bill Harry's Mersey Beat magazine) with a fresh sound, each member of which was possessed of immense personal charm, who continued to impress him backstage as they had on it. A month later he proposed managing them, and despite the fact that he had no experience in artist management within six weeks the contracts were signed.

The Beatles went on to enjoy a modicum of success, in large part due to the wheeling and dealing of Brian Epstein, who began by working with the band's wardrobe. He later engineered their cracking of the US market - unleashing the so-called British Invasion there in February 1964 with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show - all of which went fairly well until the band's outspokenness started to draw controversy. Following the band's last concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in August 1966 and their withdrawal from touring, Epstein's influence over the band waned. Epstein died of a drug overdose in August 1967; whether this was an accident or not has been the subject of considerable controversy ever since.
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In Memoriam: Frances Farmer

That a person's life story later becomes a cautionary tale is seldom much consolation to the one who's had to live it; I doubt Frances Farmer took much solace in the fact that the morass of mental illness she was forced to slog through may have saved others from the same stigma she suffered - anymore than Evelyn Keyes or Carole Landis did - but the fact remains that it did.

PhotobucketBorn in Seattle on this day in 1913, Farmer was a precocious child with a pronounced rebellious streak and an instinctive feel for leftist politics in an era when none of these things was likely to win her many friends. While still in high school in 1931 she won $100 for an essay she wrote called God Dies; the reaction to her essay, when it was finally published in Scholastic Magazine, greatly dismayed Farmer - 'for the first time I found how stupid people could be' she later said. Yet it was nothing compared to the crap she was fated to take at the hands of studio executives, critics, and the movie-going public.

Having graduated from West Seattle High School to the University of Washington, Farmer won another contest in 1935 - this time from the leftist newspaper The Voice of Action; first prize this time was a free trip to the Soviet Union. Returning to the US via New York City, it was Farmer's intention to pursue a stage career. Instead she took a screen test, and was offered a 7-year contract by Paramount Pictures talent scout Oscar Serlin.

In short order she was cast in a pair of popular B-movies, married actor Leif Erickson, starred opposite Bing Crosby, and made a sensation in the 1936 film Come and Get It, based on the novel by Edna Ferber; Farmer's unhappiness with the shallowness of Hollywood manifested itself quite quickly, a situation which wasn't helped by her worsening alcoholism. She was first arrested in October 1942, and did not go peaceably; from there things quite quickly went from bad to worse to Hell...

Frances Farmer's mental and emotional deterioration was skillfully and sensitively portrayed by Jessica Lange in the 1982 film Frances. Farmer's undergoing surgery for a lobotomy was later admitted to be 'fictionalized'; despite the fact that she did undergo various radical treatments while committed to Western State Hospital, including electro-convulsive and insulin shock therapy, there's no proof she was ever lobotomized.

Although Farmer attempted a comeback in 1957, the public was more interested in her as a former (and potentially current) nutcase and curiosity than an actress; an appearance on This Is Your Life is as awkward an experience for the viewer as it must have been for Farmer herself. She died of cancer in August 1970, at the age of 56; in the years since she has been memorialized in the Nirvana song Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle, from their 1993 album In Utero, among others.
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"California Earthquake" by Cass Elliot

This is not the song I wanted to play here - that would have been Make Your Own Kind of Music - but such are the vagaries of YouTube that the vid you might be looking for isn't always available when you need it. That was the case, anyway, on this day in 2007 when I first posted this; I have since posted it to mark the July 1974 death of Cass Elliot.

Anyway, this song's good too, and shows both her and her voice to their best advantage. Plus it's obscure, which I personally love; California Earthquake made it all the way to #67 in 1968.
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In Memoriam: "Mama" Cass Elliot

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There's a special place in my heart - and thus a place of honour at the Pop Culture Institute - for anyone who defies the prevailing looksism of their times and becomes a success despite it; Cass Elliot - born on this day in 1941 - was one such person.

In an age of waif-like hippie chicks, Cass was not one; though she exhibited a brave face and a healthy attitude, it had to have hurt to see the men she loved continually pass her over for thinner women, then come crying to her when things didn't work out. I know it's always pissed me off.

Not only was Cass successful with The Mamas & the Papas, she also had a thriving solo career, beginning in 1968. It was not to last. Cass died of a heart attack in July 1974; she did not, according to the popular myth, choke on a ham sandwich.

She is survived by, among others, a sister named Leah Kunkel and a daughter Owen Vanessa Elliot.
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"Cry" by Godley & Creme

Birthday wishes go out today to Lol Creme of Godley & Creme fame, who went solo together after quitting the band 10cc; the song Cry was their biggest international hit, no doubt helped along in part by this startling video, which features a number of interesting faces being morphed together.

Creme, along with Kevin Godley (whom he met in the late 1950s), in fact directed a number of pioneering music videos, including Synchronicity II by The Police, the notorious Girls on Film by Duran Duran, and my personal favourite (of these, at least) Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
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