Saturday, October 02, 2010

"Fragile" by Sting

It was more than twenty years ago now that Sting released one of my favourite songs of all time; back then, of course, I was a callow youth, but the years have only deepened my appreciation of his sensitive lyrics. Yet, for all his skill as a songwriter, it's the voice that gets me every time. On days when I'm feeling fragile (a surprising number of them, truth be told) it's one of those things that helps me keep going.

Fragile first appeared on Sting's 1988 album …Nothing Like the Sun. Although it has a perfectly nice video, for the usual reasons, I'm not able to embed it here; instead, I've included this performance of the song recorded live in Italy on September 11th, 2001. Initially a tribute to Ben Linder, an American civil engineer murdered in 1987 by Nicaraguan Contras, the song has become increasingly identified with the 9-11 Attacks.
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Nat Turner: Prophet of Doom

Hearing the voice of God - as Nat Turner claimed he did - is all well and good, if that's what you're into; even heeding your own inner voice can have positive results, as untold generations of artists well know. But arming people and going on a killing spree because someone says God told him to do it is an utter folly, and will never end well...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBeing preternaturally gifted (literate, for instance, when most American blacks weren't) was never going to win Nat Turner - born this day in 1800 - any friends, especially among whites. Yet he was described by contemporary sources as holding certain whites in a kind of thrall, and by all accounts he was a gifted preacher as well; he was even known by the sobriquet 'The Prophet'.

Still, the 50 or so whites killed during the two-day rebellion he lead could never have been worth the 200 blacks killed in its aftermath. Nor could the loss of his own life have served any real purpose, since he must have known that news of Nat Turner's Rebellion would ultimately be suppressed by whites for the sake of public order. Following his abortive rebellion his home state of Virginia, which had been on the verge of abandoning slavery as unworkable, actually saw an increase in the practice.

It's popular to consider Nat Turner a hero for the part he played in the struggle against tyranny, and had he escaped (as he did when he was 21, only to later return) he could have become an abolitionist like Frederick Douglass, another learned and charismatic man. Nat Turner could have done so much more than he did, been so much more than he was, and ended his life a far greater hero than the murdering thug he became had he simply obeyed the Sixth Commandment from that book he was so fond of reading.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Sam Roberts

Canada is one of those countries that sends its purveyors of mediocrity (and you know who you are) overseas or merely over the border, while keeping its genuine talent to itself... It's a little game we like to play called Sucka! - perhaps you've either played it yourself, or else been played by it...

PhotobucketSuch is the case with birthday boy Sam Roberts, whose career has gone up and up, from strength to strength, while remaining almost entirely within the confines of Soviet Canuckistan; until today, this is, when it all came crashing down with his inclusion amongst the ranks of the Gratuitous Brunette. Now he's naught but fresh perv material for an insatiable troll.

Still, it's been a good run as these things go - five albums* of suitably jangly college rock, numerous festival performances, and guns to die for. Oh, and the videos! Mustn't forget those. Among my favourites are Brother Down, Them Kids, and of course Where Have All the Good People Gone...

*Technically four albums - 2000's Brother Down, 2003's We Were Born in a Flame, 2006's Chemical City, and 2008's Love at the End of the World - plus an EP, 2002's The Inhuman Condition, but who's counting?
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"Vincent (Starry Starry Night)" by Don McLean

Since the expected thing to do would have been including the video for American Pie along with birthday wishes for Don McLean, I have instead included Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).

Although... Since the expected thing would be for me to do the unexpected thing, the unexpected thing I did should have been entirely expected. I mean, what did you expect?

A n y w a y... I love this song. It's beautifully sung by Don McLean, and it's about Vincent Van Gogh. Enjoy.
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A Closer Look At Annie Leibovitz

In 1970, within a year of its founding, Annie Leibovitz - born on this day in 1949 - came to work for Rolling Stone magazine; by 1973 she was named its chief photographer, at the age of 24.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn her professional capacity, Leibovitz was responsible for influencing the look of the rock industry bible, which under her tenure trended towards larger and brighter pictures, often incorporating elements of whimsy - especially on its cover.

Known for her collaborative ability - which has been responsible for many unique portraits - since 1983, she's also done much work for Vanity Fair, albeit in a more straightforward style.

In 2007 she became the first American photographer to create a portrait of England's Queen Elizabeth II. While the photos are exemplary, filmmakers producing a documentary entitled A Year with the Queen tried to pull a BS reality-TV trick and re-edit the footage to turn the Queen into a diva and Leibovitz into an idiot. Fortunately, the stunt blew up in their faces; unfortunately, the Queen no longer has it in her discretion to send those responsible for sedition to the Tower of London.

More recently Leibovitz's high-living ways have brought her to a pretty pass with regards to her home and worst of all, her most precious resource - her photo archive; the more sensitive pundits among us (myself most humbly included) have put this down to the recent death of Leibovitz's long-term lover, Susan Sontag. Here's hoping the coming years find this issue sorted out...
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Rock Hudson

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDespite the media circus that followed him from Hollywood to Paris and back again in the last months of his life, Rock Hudson's innate stoicism served him well. He died as he had lived - with dignity; his career, however, had often tested the durability of that dignity.

Although his sexuality was the biggest open secret in town, it only was so because studio executives were able to blackmail him into the most ludicrous situations in his movies; he seemingly couldn't appear on-screen with Doris Day, for instance, without somehow ending up in her dressing gown. No doubt the closet cases among the higher-ups laughed the loudest at such emasculatory hijinks being aimed at the pampered pretty boy they'd extorted into doing it.

By the time he died of AIDS on this day in 1985 he had given the disease a famous face and brought about the greatest mobilization of star power in history, headed by the force of nature known as Elizabeth Taylor.
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"Don't You Want Me" by Human League

At the forefront of the British New Wave were bands like The Human League (from Sheffield), and at the forefront of The Human League was birthday boy Phil Oakey, who's been with the band since it formed in 1977.

In the age of vinyl, Don't You Want Me sold 1.4 million units, one of which resides in the record collection of the Pop Culture Institute; although Oakey didn't like the song, in terms of sales and radio play it was their biggest hit, reaching #1 in the UK in 1982 and the US in 1983. Naturally the song's original video has been hijacked by the usual suspects, but this live performance gets the point across just as well*.

Oakey it seems has come to terms with the track's success, but still refers to the song as 'overrated'; perhaps it's more a case of The Human League - and the rest of their output - being under-rated in relation to it.

*Since a) it's being lip-synced, and b) it shows Oakey at his gender-bending best.
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Happy Birthday Kelly Ripa

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As Hayley Vaughan on All My Children, birthday gal Kelly Ripa was destined to suffer the kind of anonymous fame that dogs most soap stars - hugely popular amongst fans of the show, yet virtually unknown to anyone else.

As herself on Live with Regis and Kelly she broke through to the mainstream with a bubbly personality and a self-deprecating manner, both of which are great assets to a television presenter. Fans agree; the show's ratings have steadily increased since February 2001, when she was hired. She even parlayed her chipperness into a sitcom role, playing Faith Fairfield on Hope & Faith for three seasons, making her one of the hardest working people in show business.

Speaking of great assets, she's been married to super-hot Mark Consuelos since eloping in 1996; together they have three children: Michael, Lola, and Joaquin.
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Remembering... Graham Greene

Both Catholicism and Communism feature extensively in the works of Graham Greene; in both cases his disillusionment with each of them is evident. If the moral ambivalence inherent in either of these 20th Century forces gave Graham Greene the impetus for the novels he wrote it was humanism, rather than than anything else, which lit his way out of the darkness.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOr it could have been that Greene, in his work as a novelist and playwright, was attempting to exorcise the hypocrisy that comes with being a spy.

Whatever it was, as he saw it, the great quest of the modern age was finding something to believe in. Whether a Church that made Princes of men who were supposed to be in service of the poor, or a creed that did likewise, in neither case were they morally honest, and it was their dishonesty that was poisoning the well of society.

Gradually, it was people (including himself) he came to believe in most; if some of those people found their faith in religion, or in politics, or even art they were the lucky ones.

Greene is perhaps best known for his 1938 novel Brighton Rock, which shows a seamier side of that seaside resort than its boosters would prefer; another of the major controversies in which he found himself involved was his 1937 criticism of the film Wee Willie Winkie, featuring nine-year-old Shirley Temple, of which he said that Temple displayed 'a certain adroit coquetry which appealed to middle-aged men'. One of the first attempts in modern times to condemn the sexualization of children in media, the subsequent libel lawsuit shut the magazine that had published it, Night and Day, as well as inspired Greene to take a long trip to Mexico to avoid imprisonment.

Born on this day in 1904, Graham Greene died in April 1991, having published extensively in every genre from verse to essays.

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"Lydia the Tattooed Lady" by Groucho Marx

When the late Groucho Marx performed Lydia the Tattooed Lady on The Dick Cavett Show in September 1969 he was almost eighty... Meaning this performance may not be Groucho at his best - although it does showcase the particular charisma of the man; then again, I may be hopelessly biased, since the first performance of this song I'm familiar with is by a certain amphibian made of green felt.

He famously said that he'd never belong to any club that would have him as a member, but Groucho Marx - who was born on this day in 1890 and died in August 1977 - never lived to see the foundation of London's Groucho Club in 1985, which has since become a regular haunt for those in the British media and arts establishment.
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In Memoriam: Mahatma Gandhi

Today is known as Gandhi Jayanti in India, a cause for both celebration and prayer on the occasion of the birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi, more commonly known as Mahatma (which means Great Soul). It's a national holiday there, and it's no coincidence the United Nations chose the date to serve as the International Day of Non-Violence in June 2007, making this the observation of that day as well.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Father of the Nation espoused a philosophy he called Satyagraha which advocated the use of civil disobedience in place of violence; in 1930 he led the Dandi Salt March in opposition to British taxation, and in 1941 he founded the Quit India movement. He was also passionate when it came to abolishing India's caste system by uplifting the so-called Dalits; his mentorship of a young Jawaharlal Nehru alienated the younger man from his upper-caste Kashmiri Saraswat Brahmin family, but also virtually assured Gandhi's protege leadership of the newly created India in August 1947.

As with so many other people who have advocated non-violence, the utterly peaceful Gandhi met his end at the hands of an assassin, Nathuram Godse (an activist with Hindu Mahasabha) in January 1948. It had been the fifth such attack on the life of Gandhi.

Although Gandhi was opposed to the death penalty, and would have been opposed to it even in the case of his own assassin, Godse was executed at Ambala Jail alongside co-conspirator Narayan Apte in November 1949, having consistently pleaded guilty and confessed to having committed the crime. The only reason he gave is that Gandhi's tolerance towards Sikhs and Muslims had enraged him - all of which only served to illustrate Gandhi's point that violence (whether committed by individuals or by the state) only begets more violence.
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POPnews - October 2nd

[Was Edith Galt Wilson the first woman to effectively (if not officially) serve as President of the United States, or was she just another in a long line of efficiently feisty First Ladies?]

1187 - Saladin captured Jerusalem, ending 88 years of rule by the Crusaders.

- Jacques Cartier arrived at Hochelaga, establishing the city of Montreal.

1552 - Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan when his sappers finally breached the city's walls.

1780 - John André, British Army officer during the American Revolutionary War, was hanged as a spy by American forces at Tappan.

1814 - At the Battle of Rancagua Spanish Royalist troops under Mariano Osorio defeated the rebel forces of Chilean patriots Bernardo O'Higgins and Jose Miguel Carrera.

1835 - The Texas Revolution began with the Battle of Gonzales, when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales, Texas, but encountered stiff resistance from a hastily assembled militia.

1919 - President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke while still in office; during the remaining 17 months of his term First Lady Edith Galt Wilson served as the de facto President, even unto guiding his hand when forming his signature. The extent of the President's disability was hidden from the public until after his death in 1924, although the extent of her involvement in the Presidency has never been suitably explored.

1928 - Opus Dei was founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá.

1935 - Italian forces commanded by Benito Mussolini and led by Rodolfo Graziani invaded Abyssinia; during the conquest and occupation many grave atrocities were committed.

1967 - Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black Supreme Court Justice in US history.

1968 - A peaceful student demonstration in Mexico City ended in the Tlatelolco massacre.

1970 - A Martin 4-0-4 aircraft carrying the Wichita State University football team, administrators, and supporters crashed near Silver Plume, Colorado, killing 31 people.

1992 - The Carandiru Massacre took place following a riot in São Paulo's Carandiru Penitentiary.

1993 - Hard-line communists in Moscow staged an uprising against the popularly elected President Boris Yeltsin, whose series of reforms designed to make a capitalist democracy out of the former Soviet Union proved unpopular resulted in the bombing of that city's White House.

1997 - The Amsterdam Treaty was signed, significantly expanding the Treaty on European Union.

2002 - The Beltway sniper attacks began; they would eventually last over three weeks, until the shooters - John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo - were finally arrested.

2005 - The Ethan Allen tour boat capsized on Lake George in Upstate New York, killing twenty people.

2006 - Charles Carl Roberts murdered five girls during a shooting at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania before committing suicide himself.

2007 - President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea walked across the Military Demarcation Line into North Korea on his way to the second Inter-Korean Summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
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