Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Papa Don't Preach" by Kelly Osbourne

Birthday wishes go out today to Kelly Osbourne, who could have made a name for herself as the daughter of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne* but has instead decided to blaze her own trail as a singer, TV personality, and fashion icon; she was most recently seen as a contestant on the ninth season of Dancing with the Stars, in which she and dance partner Louis van Amstel placed third**.

Having burst onto the scene as a cast member on The Osbournes, in 2002 she released her debut album Shut Up, which (rather bravely, I thought) included this bonus hidden track - a cover of Madonna's Papa Don't Preach. Produced by her brother Jack Osbourne and featuring the talents of Incubus' Mike Einziger (on guitar) and Jose Pasillas (on drums) the song went all the way to #3 on the UK chart.

*In other words, a layabout Eurotrash douchebag, gobbling at the trough of her trust fund...
**Osbourne and van Amstel were bested only by singer Mýa and winner Donny Osmond.
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Pop History Moment: The Execution of Helmuth Hübener

At 8:13 PM on this day in 1942 Helmuth Hübener - the youngest opponent of the Third Reich to be formally executed* - was beheaded by guillotine at Berlin's Plötzensee Prison following a brief show trial at the Volksgerichtshof on August 11th; he was just 17.

PhotobucketHübener and his school chums had been involved in the printing of pamphlets - in fact, as many as 60 different titles - which were eloquently critical of Nazi Germany and the atrocities they'd been committing. The intrepid group (including Karl-Heinz Schnibbe, Rudolf Wobbe, and Gerhard Düwer) had also been guilty of monitoring Allied radio broadcasts, which gave an altogether more accurate rendition of the progress of the war in Europe than that being spun by Joseph Goebbels and the Axis propaganda machine.

Hübener's story is not widely known even in Germany - at least not outside his hometown of Hamburg - although it's captivated our imagination here at the Pop Culture Institute something fierce... There's even been talk of his short, courageous life being made into a movie, starring Haley Joel Osment; Hübener's posthumous legacy already includes two books by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, including the 2008 novel The Boy Who Dared and 2005's Newbery Honor book, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow.

*As opposed to an untold number who were merely herded into gas chambers...
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World City-Zen: Philadelphia


Although history does not record when the Delaware (Lenape) village of Shackamaxon was founded - and is similarly reticent about the precise date when six Swedish families arrived in the vicinity some years later as the first settlers with the colony of New Sweden - what is known is that on this day in 1682 William Penn signed a treaty of friendship with Chief Tamanend of the Turtle Clan which would one day see that village become part of the Port Richmond, Fishtown, and Kensington sections of the modern-day city of Philadelphia. The site of that signing (conducted beneath an elm tree which blew down during a storm in 1810) is currently the main attraction of Penn Treaty Park, which was dedicated in October 1893 after serving for many years as a riverside lumber yard.

Penn had already been granted a charter for the Pennsylvania Colony in 1681 by King Charles II, and thus would have been within his rights to just take the land he eventually bought from the Lenape; having learned from the hard lessons of the Plymouth Colony, Penn (an ardent Quaker) did his best to stay on the good side of the locals. He even went so far as to give the new settlement a Greek name meaning 'the city of brotherly love', which it's still known by today*. In what would be Penn's last act before leaving the city forever, he incorporated Philadelphia as a city in October 1701; his treaty, meanwhile, would endure until 1782.

Philadelphia's repute (as well as its environs) grew in importance even as the American Revolution was gaining traction; in fact, it was once second only to London as the largest city in the British Empire, and ironically enough would play host to the First Continental Congress prior to the outbreak of the hostilities, the Second Continental Congress (during which the Declaration of Independence was signed) and the Constitutional Convention which tied up all the loose ends typically accompanying the birth of a new nation. It even served as the temporary capital before one could be permanently established at Washington, DC. One of Philadelphia's own, Benjamin Franklin, played a major role in all these events (plus many more besides) and he is understandably commemorated throughout the city today.

Yet unlike New York City, Los Angeles, and even Chicago - which have all done their utmost to embed themselves into the public consciousness - pop cultural depictions of Philadelphia have (in the past at least) been few and far between. Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story is a notable early example, and its movie version (directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and James Stewart) has some of the best banter ever filmed. Also set in the city (although filmed in Hollywood) are such offerings as Kitty Foyle and 1776, while Rocky and its copious sequels, Trading Places, Mannequin, adopted son M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, and Baby Mama (written by and starring the city's favourite daughter Tina Fey) among others have recently taken advantage of Philadelphia's diverse and visually appealing streetscapes.

Recent years have seen an explosion of music emerge from the city's tough if architecturally important streets, especially in the genre of Philadelphia soul... Dick Clark's American Bandstand of course debuted there in September 1952, and Soul Train's theme song, recorded by MFSB with The Three Degrees, is known as TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia). Hall & Oates specialized in a blue-eyed version of the city's signature sound, while DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (aka Jeff Townes and Will Smith) emerged from the city - 'West Philadelphia born and raised' - to redefine the hip-hop genre in the late 80s and early 90s. Bruce Springsteen's song Streets of Philadelphia (as much as its video and the movie whose theme it was) did much to elevate the city's profile; then, of course, there is the sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which not only gives the city its bad name back but in doing so provides a counterbalance to the educationally animated antics of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (presumably set there, since it's where Bill Cosby grew up).

*A less widely known sobriquet - Filthy-delphia - seems to be favoured mainly by those who grew up there then left.
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"She's A Bombshell From Brooklyn" by Xavier Cugat

If Xavier Cugat had only brought Latin rhythms to American music, that would have been enough to ensure his legend; confirmation of his legendary status comes from his mentorship of a feisty little bundle of lady known as Charo.

Cugat died on this day in 1990, at the age of ninety, but not before appearing in the movie Stage Door Canteen (1943) to record this spritely little ditty with guest vocalist Lina Romay.
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Fijne Verjaardag Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (born on this day in either 1466 or 1469) was a theologian who expanded upon and popularized the humanist and Aristotelianist teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas - among others - as a means of uniting Christian and pre-Christian philosophy into a cohesive whole.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA lifelong Catholic, Erasmus was nevertheless dismayed by the excesses of the Church; his translations of the Bible laid the groundwork for the Reformation (whose own excesses might have dismayed him worse, had he lived to see them). Although he disagreed with Martin Luther on many keys points - and was under enormous pressure to take sides, theologically - Erasmus did his utmost to remain impartial, even once the sectarian violence he'd hoped to avoid began to occur.

Likely born illegitimate with the name Gerrit Gerritszoon, he was cared for by his parents rather than given up for adoption; they both died of the plague in 1483, after which for several years he lived in and was educated by monasteries. While at the Augustinian monastery Stein near Gouda around 1487, Erasmus wrote passionate letters of friendship to a fellow monk, Servatius Rogerus, whom he called 'half my soul'; 'I have wooed you both unhappily and relentlessly' he wrote in one, about which I also wish to remain impartial (even though I'm smirking).

Although he wrote many serious theological works (and one witty one, entitled In Praise of Folly) he also dabbled in secular writing, almost as a hobby. Thought to have coined the phrase 'in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king', he also published a collection of adages, commonly called Adagia. These were drawn from his extensive readings of Classical literature; many of them are still in use today. Erasmus is also generally credited as originating the English phrase 'Pandora's box', arising from an error in his translation of Hesiod.

Unusually for the time he was also well traveled, pursuing his education to Paris, spending time in England with Sir Thomas More, and was living in Switzerland in 1536 when he died. Even though he is most closely associated with Rotterdam he likely lived there for only four years; nevertheless, the Dutch city still celebrates his birthday every year, as they no doubt are today.
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Happy Birthday John Cleese

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketComedy legend John Cleese (born this day in 1939) has distinguished himself as a writer and performer on television and in movies for the past forty years. Beginning with The Frost Report in 1966, Cleese was among a generation of comedy writers whose rage against authority and bourgeois ideals would bring about a cultural revolution on British television. Cleese often played loud and/or aggressive characters whether as authority figures or those in conflict with them.

Following his groundbreaking work in At Last the 1948 Show in 1967-8, Cleese co-wrote and co-starred in three of four seasons of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969–74).

Not content, Cleese went on to write and star in what is possibly the most perfect sitcom ever written - Fawlty Towers - with his then-wife and costar Connie Booth. Consisting of only 12 episodes (a rumoured 13th episode appears to have vanished), Fawlty Towers lampoons what Cleese himself called 'the brittle politeness of the English'. The show was based on Cleese's experiences with Donald Sinclair, owner of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay.

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"Destiny" by Vanessa Mae

Destiny is taken from birthday gal Vanessa-Mae's 2001 album Subject to Change, which is a very pointed title indeed...

For all that she's been criticized for destroying classical music (especially by British pundits - surprise!) I prefer to take the less apocalyptic view that she is simply bringing it up to date, allowing purists to slowly ossify in their repetitive and stultifying traditions. Of course, I do run a blog which is essentially history-based, so I'm not entirely devoid of respect for the past; I'm simply opposed to using sentimentality as a stick for beating back (or in any way preventing) progress - which anyway is as inevitable as a model-pretty concert level violinist making 21st Century classical music her way.

As she herself has said: 'Purists say that they know what they like, but in fact they only like what they know.' Amen...

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"Poem in October" by Dylan Thomas

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
  And the mussel pooled and the heron
          Priested shore
     The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
     Myself to set foot
          That second
  In the still sleeping town and set forth.

  My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
  Above the farms and the white horses
          And I rose
      In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
      Over the border
          And the gates
  Of the town closed as the town awoke.

  A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
  Blackbirds and the sun of October
      On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
      To the rain wringing
          Wind blow cold
  In the wood faraway under me.

  Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
  With its horns through mist and the castle
          Brown as owls
       But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
       There could I marvel
          My birthday
  Away but the weather turned around.

  It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
  Streamed again a wonder of summer
          With apples
       Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
       Through the parables
          Of sunlight
  And the legends of the green chapels

  And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
  These were the woods the river and the sea
          Where a boy
       In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
       And the mystery
          Sang alive
  Still in the water and singing birds.

  And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
  Joy of the long dead child sang burning
          In the sun.
       It was my thirtieth
  Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
  Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
       O may my heart's truth
          Still be sung
  On this high hill in a year's turning.

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In Memoriam: Dylan Thomas

Of all the extraordinary talents lost to the curse of alcohol, Dylan Thomas is surely one of the greatest; born on this day in 1914 Thomas managed to drink himself to death at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village by November 1953, aged only 39.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketRaised in the Welsh port of Swansea, his first poem - The Song Of The Mischievous Dog - was published in Bishop Gore School's magazine in 1926; Thomas left at the age of 16 to become a reporter for the South Wales Daily Post.

Childhood trips out of the city to visit his mother's family at their farm in Carmarthen seem to have given his works their ecstatic appreciation of nature, most notably Fern Hill. Deemed unfit for combat, he spent World War II writing scripts for government propaganda films.

It was Deaths and Entrances in 1946 that saw his career fully formed, and thereafter he became well-known in the UK and the US for his rich speaking voice, with which he held audiences rapt.

Dylan Thomas is perhaps best known for two works from this era: Under Milk Wood, a radio play set in the fictional but wittily named Llareggub (buggerall, spelt backwards) which originally starred Richard Burton on radio (who was joined in the movie version by his wife Elizabeth Taylor), and A Child's Christmas in Wales, which is required holiday viewing here at the Pop Culture Institute.
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In Memoriam: Theodore Roosevelt

The 26th President of the United States left behind him a legacy few (if any) have been able to best; his accomplishments as a politician, historian, naturalist, explorer, author, and soldier leave many of his dour predecessors in the dust, and produced mighty big boots for his successors to fill...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1858, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest President ever, succeeding the assassinated President William McKinley in 1901; a Republican, he was nevertheless a towering figure of the Progressive movement, and laboured mightily to infuse his party with those ideals. He was known to despise corruption and greed, favour conservation of the landscape, and use a no-nonsense approach in all his dealings.

His famous maxim 'speak softly and carry a big stick' contributed to a foreign policy which bordered on the imperialistic, though; believing the United States to be the apex of civilization, he ran roughshod over countries like Panama in order to build a canal through its isthmus (not to mention running Rough Rider over Spain in Cuba and the Philippines) in the years leading up to his presidency.

The author of thirty five books on various topics, boundlessly energetic, and a vigourous debater, the life and deeds of Theodore Roosevelt make for the kind of real-life story that would seem implausible in a work of fiction. Larger than life in life, he is even larger still in death, being one of four Presidents to adorn Mt. Rushmore.
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Happy Birthday Fran Lebowitz

One of the first books with intellectual cachet (rather than merely intellectual pretensions, like me) to grace the collection of the Pop Culture Institute was a slim volume of razor-sharp insights into what would become the Yuppie lifestyle, Fran Lebowitz's superlative 1978 collection, Metropolitan Life. It's out of print now, but if you see it at least do yourself a favour and dip into it for an essay or two...

PhotobucketLebowitz got her start writing for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine which, since we all have to start somewhere, is pretty close to the top; she'd been expelled from high school for what she calls 'nonspecific surliness', and settled for a GED, so the fact that she's not only a writer but one whom people actually read is akin to a miracle - especially in this day and age of degree fascism.

Known as much for her distinctive wardrobe of bespoke suits as for her curmudgeonly demeanour, amazingly Lebowitz has only recently managed to overcome an 11 year bout with writer's block, during which time her repute as a writer grew in inverse proportion to her output. Supporting herself courtesy of an ever-increasing lecture circuit, she managed to produce Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas while grappling with her semi-mythical novel-in-progress Exterior Signs of Wealth.
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"Girls On Film" by Duran Duran

Birthday wishes go out today to Simon Le Bon, lead singer of 80s pop dinosaurs Duran Duran, whose third single was Girls on Film; accompanied by what was then a scandalous video - directed by pop auteurs Godley & Creme - the song originally appeared on the band's eponymous 1981 debut album, which was much more successful when it was re-released in 1983, following the massive success of their second album, 1982's Rio, and third album, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, from 1983.

Despite becoming tabloid fodder in the band's first rush of success, Le Bon met and wooed model Yasmin Parvaneh, whom he married in December 1985. Not only do they have three daughters together (after a brief, heartbreaking bout with infertility which included two miscarriages) but they're still together after nearly 25 years.
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POPnews - October 27th

[This map of Amsterdam, from Civitates orbis terrarum, was made by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenburg, circa 1572, at which time the city was a major international port - a far cry from the three little shacks in a swamp
it had been just 300 years before.

312 CE - Roman Emperor Constantine the Great is said to have received his famous Vision of the Cross during the Battle of Milvian Cross; his rival for the imperial throne, Maxentius, was drowned during the fighting - settling the disputed succession in an entirely effective, if unduly brutal, manner. Whether or not divine intervention was responsible for either event is a matter of faith (the Arch of Constantine, which was erected in celebration, bears no Christian imagery, for instance) but as far as history is concerned Constantine's conversion to Christianity at this time would change the world forever...  And not for the better either!

939 CE - Edmund I succeeded his half-brother Athelstan as King of England.

1275 - The earliest record of Amsterdam was made on this day; traditionally, then, this is the date of the city's founding.

1553 - Condemned as a heretic, Michael Servetus - one of the most renowned scientists of his day - was burned at the stake outside Geneva.  Because that's what Jesus would have done.

1644 - The Second Battle of Newbury, during the English Civil War, provided as indecisive an outcome for the Parliamentary forces commanded by the Earl of Essex, Sir William Waller, and the Earl of Manchester as it did for those of King Charles I's Royalists under his nephew-by-marriage Prince Maurice of the Palatinate-Simmern.

1682 - The city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was founded.

1795 - The United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Madrid, which established mutually acceptable boundaries between the Spanish colonies of the Western Hemisphere and the US.

1810 - The US government annexed the former Spanish colony of West Florida.

1838 - Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued the Extermination Order, which ordered all Mormons to leave the state or be exterminated.

1870 - Marshal François Achille Bazaine surrendered to the Prussian forces of Prince Friedrich Karl at Metz - along with 140,000 French soldiers - in one of the biggest defeats for France during the Franco-Prussian War, and after the city had withstood a siege lasting more than two months.

1904 - The first underground section of the New York City Subway opened; the city had already been served by elevated lines for 35 years.

1916 - At the Battle of Segale Negus Mikael, marching on the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in support of his son Emperor Iyasus V, was defeated by Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis - securing the throne for Empress Zauditu.

1924 - The Uzbek SSR was founded in the Soviet Union.

1936 - Wallis Simpson's decree nisi was granted, clearing the way for her to marry England's Edward VIII.

1949 - An Air France flight from Paris to New York City bearing concert violinist Ginette Neveu, boxer Marcel Cerdan (the lover of Édith Piaf), and 46 others, crashed in the Azores, killing everyone onboard.

1962 - Major Rudolph Anderson of the US Air Force became the only direct human casualty of the Cuban Missile Crisis when his U-2 reconnaissance airplane was shot down over Cuba.

1991 - Poland held its first free parliamentary election since 1936.

1992 - Allen R. Schindler, Jr., USN, was brutally murdered by his shipmates Terry M. Halvey and Charles Vins because he was gay.

2004 - The Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years - events captured quite by accident during production of the film Fever Pitch, starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon.
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