Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen

I can still remember how incredulous my gay male friends were when they heard that Bruce Springsteen of all people was going to contribute a song to the soundtrack of the 1994 film Philadelphia, which was all about AIDS and homophobia. (Springsteen would go on to win an Academy Award for his efforts.)

That incredulity extended to an interviewer for The Advocate, who had the temerity to ask why.

Springsteen - as anyone who's ever actually listened to his music would know - is a sensitive observer of the human condition. Writing songs and playing guitar is no way to win friends in high school (or it wasn't in late-1960s suburban New Jersey, at least according to him), and in the interview he recounted the frequent bouts of name-calling and scuffles on the playground he'd encountered.

Gay or not, he's one of us, since... Well, when it comes to teenage boys, we all know their epithet of choice, and without going into detail Springsteen made it clear that he'd been called it as much as anyone. The implication was also that he'd maybe been roughed up a little, too; rather than turning him against us, though, Springsteen's own encounters with homophobia made him into an instant ally.

Of course, I'd also remembered reading in Rolling Stone that when Ronald Reagan personally asked to use Springsteen's Born in the USA as his campaign song in 1984 Springsteen told him that the song was actually a criticism of Reagan and his policies. I'd always liked him, but the moment I read that was the moment I became a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen.

Happy Birthday, Boss!
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"Cat's Dream" by Pablo Neruda

How neatly a cat sleeps,
sleeps with its paws and its posture,
sleeps with its wicked claws,
and with its unfeeling blood,
sleeps with all the rings--
a series of burnt circles--
which have formed the odd geology
of its sand-colored tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
with all the fur of time,
with a tongue rough as flint,
with the dry sex of fire;
and after speaking to no one,
stretch myself over the world,
over roofs and landscapes,
with a passionate desire
to hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
would undulate, how the night
flowed through it like dark water;
and at times, it was going to fall
or possibly plunge into
the bare deserted snowdrifts.
Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
like a tiger's great-grandfather,
and would leap in the darkness over
rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep cat of the night,
with episcopal ceremony
and your stone-carved moustache.
Take care of all our dreams;
control the obscurity
of our slumbering prowess
with your relentless heart
and the great ruff of your tail.

(translation by Alastair Reid)

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The Death of Pablo Neruda

Even though you could never describe me as a Communist sympathizer I am, nonetheless, capable of great sympathy for individual Communists - most especially in the case of Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOf course, it helps that he's a poet - which I as a writer consider to be the writer's highest calling - and that he gave his life to the struggle against tyranny. That he did so by allying himself with another form of tyranny is a matter for another post.

Though sick with cancer at the time of his friend Salvador Allende's overthrow by General Augusto Pinochet, Neruda actually died of a heart attack in Santiago on this day in 1973. Doctors may tell you that cancer weakens all of the body's systems, blah blah blah... The truth is that Neruda was a poet, and as such he died of a broken heart. It's as simple as that.

He had been fighting fascism all his life - during the Spanish Civil War (both before and after the assassination of his friend Federico García Lorca in August 1936), throughout World War II, and his funeral was one of the first anti-Pinochet protests inside Chile. Shortly before his death, when forces loyal to Pinochet ransacked his house, he famously said:

Look around - there's only one thing of danger for you here - poetry.

As a result of his outspoken opposition to the Pinochet evil, Neruda's poetry was posthumously banned in Chile from 1974 until 1990.
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Pop History Moment: "The Jetsons" Debuted

This is the future the fascist media promised us, and goddammit, we're still waiting for it!

On this day in 1962 The Jetsons premiered on ABC, following its established hit The Flintstones; both shows offered a critique of contemporary times using anachronistic settings, all safe and easy to swallow thanks to the candy-coloured animation of Hanna-Barbera.

George Jetson was voiced by George O'Hanlon, his wife Jane by Penny Singleton (of Blondie fame); the first episode was entitled Rosie the Robot, who was herself voiced by Jean Vander Pyl*. In another of those pop cultural twists I love so much, the character of Rosie was based on Shirley Booth's Hazel.

Although only 24 episodes were made of this first series, the show also spawned two feature films and a further 51 half-hour episodes were produced for Saturday morning television between 1985 and 1987.

*The lady was already famous as the voice of Wilma Flintstone.
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happy birthday ani difranco

Long before it occurred to me to do my own thing to get my art out there, indie rock goddess ani difranco was doing just that. 18 albums in as many years later and she's still giving the forces of darkness something to chew on.

Here's the righteous birthday babe herself, performing Coming Up at the Def Poetry Jam; that's the pretty-righteous-himself Mos Def introducing her.
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Remembering... Chief Dan George

Vancouverites still celebrate the life of one of their own, Chief Dan George, who died this day in 1981...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn Geswanouth Slahoot on the Tsleil-Waututh reservation in North Vancouver in 1899, his name was changed when he was sent to residential school at the age of 5.

Having spent the first 60 years of his life as a labourer, Dan George was elected chief in 1951 and served until 1963, although after 1960 Chief Dan George was principally an actor. He gave an Academy Award-nominated performance in the 1970 film Little Big Man, and was also an author (of both My Heart Soars and My Spirit Soars).

A tireless and passionate advocate on behalf of Canada's First Nations, he was a familiar sight on Canadian television when I was a kid; his death, on this day in 1981, was one of the first celebrity deaths which moved me.

Chief Dan George's grand-daughter is the poet Lee Maracle, whose work is a continuation of her famous grandfather's.
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Victoria Woodhull: A Woman Ahead of Her Times

Okay, so maybe her 1872 Presidential campaign was a stunt; if it was, at least it was one which got the whole country talking about the important issues of the day. At the height of the Gilded Age she (along with contemporaries Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Beecher Stowe and Vice Presidential running mate Frederick Douglass) put issues of social justice and civil liberties at the front-and-centre of American life through the work of the Equal Rights Party.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketVictoria Woodhull was a remarkable woman in an age of remarkable women. Faith-healer, stock-broker, suffragist... Curiously enough, she is largely forgotten today, when any single part of her resume ought to have made her a legend.

By advocating for divorce, universal suffrage, racial integration, and free love she not only raised the ire of men but ran the risk of becoming a prophet into the bargain. She was even in favour of short skirts for women, which in those days was the cherry on top of an outrage sundae.

Not all of the era's potentates, however, despised her; Cornelius Vanderbilt, for one, was a fan, as was George Francis Train. She was similarly fond of men, marrying a total of three times.

Born on this day in 1838, in 1877 Victoria Woodhull moved to England (which didn't stop her from attempting to secure Presidential nominations in 1884 and 1892). There she married her third husband and continued to write; and it was there she died, in June 1927, aged 89.
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"Redemption Song" by Bob Marley

During his final concert - at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theater on this day in 1980 - Bob Marley recorded a live version of Redemption Song; this is also a live version of Redemption Song, apparently recorded in the German city of Dortmund. Not the same one, but it's as close as dammit is to swearing (as my mother is so fucking fond of saying) and so it's close enough for me.

Redemption Song appeared on Bob Marley and the Wailers' ninth album, Uprising; the live version recorded at his final concert appears on the box set Songs of Freedom.

Bob Marley died of acral lentiginous melanoma at Miami's Cedars of Lebanon Hospital while returning home to Jamaica to die in May 1981; after a state funeral Marley was buried at Mt. Zion Rock near his birthplace, Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish.

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POPnews: September 23rd

[Nixon gave his so-called 'Checkers speech' to absolve President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the responsibility for removing him from the ticket owing to a financial scandal of Nixon's during that year's election campaign; Nixon's brilliant manipulation of the media is an object lesson in sleaze and therefore primo Republican porno. Only the first part is shown above... If you care to stomach the rest of it - like I did - here it is. Don't say I didn't warn you.]

1122 - The Concordat of Worms was signed by Pope Calixtus II and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V; it would later be confirmed by the First Council of the Lateran, which met in Rome in March 1123. Its purpose, of course, was to smooth over any wrinkles in the relationship between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, whilst one of its unintended benefits was in germinating the seed of nation-based sovereignty - as upheld by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

1459 - The Battle of Blore Heath - the first major battle in England's Wars of the Roses - was fought (appropriately enough) at Blore Heath in Staffordshire; it gave the forces of the House of York under Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury a victory over the House of Lancaster's John Sutton, 1st Baron Dudley and James Touchet, 5th Baron Audley (who perished in battle).

1641 - The Merchant Royal, carrying a treasure valued today at over $1 billion US, was lost at sea off Land's End en route from Cadiz to London; the treasure it carried included at least 100,000 pounds of gold, 400 bars of Mexican silver, and nearly 500,000 pieces of eight and other coins. Eighteen men also drowned in the sinking, while the ship's master Captain Limbrey and 40 of his crew got away in boats and were picked up by Dover Merchant... But was the treasure also taken aboard, or is it at the bottom of the ocean still?

1779 - During the American Revolution a squadron commanded by John Paul Jones on board the USS Bonhomme Richard won the Battle of Flamborough Head, off the Yorkshire coast of England, against two British warships, HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough.

1780 - British Major John André was arrested as a spy by John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams, exposing Benedict Arnold's change of sides and the plot to sell West Point to the British for £20,000. Upon learning of André's arrest, Arnold barely managed to escape aboard the Royal Navy's HMS Vulture.

1806 - Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis from their first expedition into the American West.

1818 - Border demarcation markers for Neutral Moresnet were formally installed; although the territory - wedged between Germany and Belgium - ceased to exist when it was absorbed by the latter in 1920, the World Congress of Esperanto wants to make it their homeland, with its capital at Kelmis.

1846 - The planet Neptune was discovered by French astronomer Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier and British astronomer John Couch Adams; their discovery was later confirmed by German Johann Gottfried Galle.

1868 - Puerto Rico's Grito de Lares (or 'Lares Revolt') occurred; the short-lived uprising against Spanish rule, planned by Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis, was the first in that island's history.

1875 - Henry McCarty - aka Henry Antrim aka William Bonney aka Billy the Kid - was first arrested.

1932 - The Kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd were merged, and renamed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

1943 - Italy's so-called Salò Republic was born; technically a puppet state of Nazi Germany, it was headed by none other than Benito Mussolini.

1951 - Britain's King George VI underwent surgery to remove most of his left lung.

1952 - Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon made his Checkers speech.

1962 - The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts opened in New York City with the completion of its first building, the Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) home of the New York Philharmonic; the glittering evening was captured on videotape by CBS, and later broadcast as Opening Night at Lincoln Center.

1969 - The Chicago Eight trial opened; seven defendants - Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner - faced various charges arising from the acts of civil disobedience caused by them during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. An eighth defendant, Bobby Seale, was sent to jail in the midst of the proceedings by Judge Julius Hoffman due to Seale's various outbursts in court.

1973 - Juan Perón was returned to power in Argentina.

1980 - Bob Marley gave his final concert at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh.

2005 - The FBI killed terrorist Filiberto Ojeda Rios, head of the Boricua Popular Army or Los Macheteros, on Plan Bonito in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico; Ojeda Rios was wanted for his part in the September 1983 Wells Fargo depot robbery.
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