Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Diamonds on the Inside" by Ben Harper

Born on this day in 1969, one month to the day before me*, Ben Harper is - dare I say it? - the thinking man's Lenny Kravitz. That's right. I said it.

Altogether more popular in Europe than he is in North America, the Pop Culture Institute would like to do whatever it can to remedy that situation, including playing this soulful song, with its accompanying video, replete with images of multi-racial hotness and earnest lyrics.

From 2003's album of the same name, it's Diamonds on the Inside... As per usual, this performance is from an appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, while the song's superlative music video is being held hostage by the near-sighted schmucks at his record label.

*Subtle, innit?
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Remembering... Ted Hughes


Ted Hughes' professional life took off well enough, hit a major rough patch in the middle, and by the time it glided to a halt on this day in 1998 he was not only held in the greatest official esteem but had nearly seen his personal reputation rehabilitated as well...

Born in August 1930, Hughes spent his formative years in the West Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd, exploring the nearby moors more or less unimpeded; at the age of six his family moved more than 50 miles away to the industrial town of Mexborough, where his parents ran a newsagent and tobacconist.

While his early life had given Hughes an abiding respect for Nature, in this new setting Hughes' teachers began encouraging his nascent writing ability, and at 16 he published his first works in the school's magazine, The Don and Dearne. A two year hitch (1949-51) with the National Service at a remote listening post in East Yorkshire provided him with ample time in which to read and re-read Shakespeare while serving as a ground wireless mechanic for the RAF. Spying on the Russians seems to have had no effect on him, although his tenure there would give him the grounding in the subject he needed to later make himself a major scholar of the Bard.

While studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge he started a magazine with some friends, entitled the St. Botolph's Review; it was at a launch party for the magazine he met his future wife, Sylvia Plath. Their tempestuous relationship would produce two children - Frieda Rebecca and Nicholas Farrar - not to mention fodder enough for them and their literary heirs to postulate on the Hughes-Plath dynamic in perpetuity, and (thanks largely to Plath's subsequent actions) nearly enough ammunition to ruin Hughes into the bargain.

Hughes handled the fallout from Plath's February 1963 suicide in a way that seemed to encourage his enemies in demonizing him, especially as his late wife's works began to attract the attention of militant second-wave feminists. Whereas he could have leapt to his own defense at the time, it wasn't until Hughes published Birthday Letters (1998) that he began to be seen in a better light. Few if any now refer to Hughes as a murderer with regards to Plath's taking her own life like they might have done in the mid-60s.

Act Three of his extraordinary career saw Ted Hughes serve his Queen and country as Poet Laureate following the death of Sir John Betjeman (Philip Larkin having respectfully declined the post); shortly before his own death Hughes was awarded the Order of Merit, which is in the personal gift of the sovereign. Act Four, coming as it does after his death, has seen Hughes portrayed by Daniel Craig opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2003 film Sylvia.
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Happy Birthday Your Serene Highness


You'll be forgiven for having never heard of Liechtenstein's Hereditary Princess, Sophie, who today turns 43; either royalty from Catholic countries are so much better behaved than their Protestant counterparts or they're better at covering it up*. In fact, Liechtenstein's best-kept secret must be Sophie's sister-in-law, Princess Angela.

Nevertheless, Sophie's wedding - to Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein in July 1993 - ought to have been big time media fodder: a beautiful church in the picturesque capital Vaduz, a beaming blonde bride, and a HPLILF** for a groom. Clearly the Princely Family of Liechtenstein either has a very smart or a very stupid press secretary.

In the fullness of time Her Serene Highness will become the first lady in the land of the quaint mittel-European principality currently under the watchful eye of her father-in-law Hans Adam II and his wife Princess Marie Aglaë which she and her husband will, in turn, groom for their son, Prince Joseph Wenzel.

*Either way, no one messes around or up quite like the good ol' House of Windsor, am I right? Where my whiteys at?
**Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein I'd Like to Fuck.

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"You're Just In Love" by Cleo Laine and The Swedish Chef

Today's flimsy excuse for posting a clip from The Muppet Show is the birthday of none other than the very talented singer Dame Cleo Laine...

Laine appeared on the show's Episode 216, in which she sang this charming duet of You're Just in Love with The Swedish Chef as he prepares what must have been the world's worst salad. The last time I saw a salad tossed that badly -- Er, well, let's never mind about that and just enjoy the video, shall we?
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In Memoriam: Jack Soo

Having only seen Jack Soo in the classic 70s sitcom Barney Miller, it came as something of a shock to watch him break out singing in the 1961 film Flower Drum Song! Yet Jack Soo's antics in the 12th Precinct were not merely the last he would record for posterity, they came at the end of a long and fruitful career on Broadway, in Hollywood, and over as many airwaves as nightclub stages.

PhotobucketThat most of Jack Soo's career accolades came in the second half of his life is only remarkable when considering how poorly the first half of his life went; born on this day in 1917, the Oakland native found himself at Utah's Topaz War Relocation Center for the duration of America's involvement in World War II. Following his release his first thought was... Entertain. Entertain the very same people who'd enthusiastically oppressed his community for no other reason than their appearance; then again, it's no surprise when considering that while he was incarcerated, he spent a goodly amount of time entertaining his fellow inmates as one of the most popular detainees, and likely responsible for a good measure of their morale through difficult times into the bargain.

He's a better man than me, that Jack Soo.

Following a decade on the nightclub circuit, Soo's big break came when he was cast in the Broadway production of Flower Drum Song; his next big break came when he was cast (through the intercession of his longtime pal, producer Danny Arnold) as Sgt. Nick Yemana in Barney Miller at the start of the second season in 1975. For the next three seasons, until he succumbed to esophageal cancer in January 1979, Jack Soo could be counted on to ladle out drollities and reap the rewards of entertainment in what would become a stereotype-busting role.
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Happy Birthday Julia Roberts

Hollywood's Pretty Woman is past 40? How can that be? Why, it seems like only yesterday I was watching her in her breakout role as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie in Steel Magnolias... Okay, so it was only yesterday; what I meant was, for the first time.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe pride of Smyrna, Georgia, is one of the most popular and wealthy actors in Hollywood; the 30 films in which she's appeared have grossed over $2 billion at the box office, making her well worth the reported $25 million she commands in salary.

Though she's recently taken a few years off to have a family - twins Hazel and Phinnaeus were born on my birthday* in 2004, and little Henry in June 2007 - her recent Hollywood vehicle, the Tom Hanks film Charlie Wilson's War, nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination, effectively announcing her return to the big screen. It was followed by an indie called Fireflies in the Garden, co-starring super-hunk Ryan Reynolds. In 2009 she appeared in Duplicity, opposite former Gratuitous Brunette Clive Owen, and she's currently filming both Valentine's Day and Eat, Pray, Love for release in 2010.

All in all it's good to have her back again; I don't know what it is, but there's something reassuring about her. I know as well as anyone that a public persona isn't worth any more than the publicist who created it, but there's something genuine and honest and lovely about our Mrs. Moder (at least on screen) that makes me hope hers is a long and fruitful life - not to mention career!

*November 28th... Not that I'm dropping any hints or anything.
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Charo on "The Carol Burnett Show"

Okay, this is a special treat for y'all, but for Mr. Davey especially...

Birthday wishes go out today to Charo who is, it should be pointed out, a brilliant musician, in addition to a unique breed of comedienne.

Here she is guest starring on The Carol Burnett Show with (in order of their appearance) Lyle Waggoner, Tim Conway, and the great Carol Burnett herself, rockin' that Mackie like no one else - with the possible exception of Charo - ever could.
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Edith Head Gave Great Wardrobe

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As head of the costume department for Paramount Studios - and later, Universal - Edith Head was nominated for 34 Oscars and won a staggering eight of them, the most ever for a woman, and a record unlikely to ever be beaten. She used to keep them handsomely arrayed in her atelier at the studio; they were meant to let anyone who came into her lair know who the talented one was, an act she herself admitted was a bluff meant to conceal her own insecurity.

Born on this day in 1897, Edith Posener started out as a schoolteacher; within a few years she grew bored of that and, taking a handful of someone else's sketches and passing them off as her own, she was soon hired by Paramount. Whatever breach of ethics was involved in the subterfuge, she obviously backed up her bravado, working steadily from the silent film era of the 1920s until her last film - 1982's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid - which was released posthumously and dedicated to her.
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In Memoriam: Canaletto

So accurate are the landscapes of Canaletto that modern-day archaeologists often use them before digs; he was talented, of course, but that kind of hyper-realism only comes from the use of camera obscura... Whatever other techniques he used, he guarded those secrets well. I've only seen one Canaletto up close - at the National Gallery in Ottawa - and it looked more like a window than an oil painting to me. In fact, it was so beautiful I wished I could step into it...

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Born on this day in Venice in 1697, Giovanni Antonio Canal was the son of a painter, and so served his earliest apprenticeship alongside his father and brother; in turn, Canaletto would come to mentor his nephew Bernardo Bellotto as well. His father, Bernardo Canal, specialized in theatrical scenery, which could account for the reason why Canaletto's works are typically vast canvases depicting wide open spaces. Later, the gifted pupil studied in Rome, returning to Venice in 1719.

Canaletto admired the work of Roman vedutista Giovanni Paolo Pannini, and later studied under Luca Carlevaris. Quickly he surpassed his masters, and soon his views of Venice were being snapped up by visiting nobles, especially from England; these canvases, vast as they were, became the postcards of their day. As early as the 1720s, the British consul in Venice was acting as Canaletto's broker, and many of his early works can be found adorning the stately homes of England still.

So popular were his works there that in 1746 Canaletto moved to England, where he created lush portraits of Georgian London as well as other British locales; when he finally returned to Venice in 1755 it was under something of a cloud. Given the quantity of work he produced it was inevitable that some of these later paintings would lack the elan of his earlier masterpieces; while still masterful they had become stiff and predictable, which is the side-effect of working for commissions. At one point he was forced to paint for an assembly of 'gentlemen' to prove that his work was his own, and not that of an imposter; neither the great artist's pride (nor his reputation) ever really recovered.

In 1763 Canaletto was elected to the Venetian Academy, and he continued to paint up until his death in 1768, sometimes from sketches, sometimes from life. Even when he was still alive the asking price for a Canaletto was high, so it seems only right that they should have held their value once he'd set down his brushes for good; in 2005, nearly 250 years after his death in April 1768, one of his paintings fetched £18.6 million at Sotheby's, which is the record price ever paid for a Canaletto, and an amount that would no doubt astound him.
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"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

On a brass plaque inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is
wrought an immortal poem -
The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
'Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!' cries she
With silent lips. 'Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'
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POPnews - October 28th

[For me, Lady Liberty defines what America is all about in a way that the likes of Caribou Barbie defines the (thankfully) complete and total failure of neoconservative ideology and the apocalypse it's intended to provoke...]

1538 - The first university in the New World, the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, was established in the Dominican Republic.

1664 - The Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot - currently the UK's Royal Marines - was established.

1776 - During the American Revolution the Battle of White Plains handed George Washington an early defeat as General William Howe's larger British and Hessian force arrived at White Plains, in Upstate New York, attacking and capturing Chatterton Hill.

1886 - In New York Harbor, US President Grover Cleveland dedicated Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's monumental Statue of Liberty, a gift to America from the people of France; the statue embodies Libertas, the ancient Roman goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny.

1891 - The Mino-Owari Earthquake, the largest earthquake in Japanese history, struck Gifu Prefecture.

1893 - Tchaikovksy's Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Pathétique premiered in St. Petersburg, only nine days before the composer's mysterious and untimely death...

1905 - George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession was first performed in New York. The play had already been censored in the UK by the Lord Chamberlain and so had to be staged there at London's New Lyric Club, rather than in a theatre; the American performance, then, was to be its first on a public stage - and it was raided by police as well! Better that Mrs. Warren should be unemployed, I guess...

1919 - The US Congress passed the Volstead Act over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, paving the way for Prohibition to begin the following January.

1922 - On the third day of their March on Rome, Italian fascists led by Benito Mussolini arrived at their destination and took over the government.

1929 - Black Monday, the first day of trading following Black Thursday in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, also saw major stock market upheaval.

1936 - US President Franklin D. Roosevelt re-dedicated the Statue of Liberty on the 50th anniversary of her debut.

1942 - The Alaska Highway (also called the Alcan Highway) was completed, connecting British Columbia's Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, Alaska.

1943 - The alleged Philadelphia Experiment supposedly occurred.

1954 - The modern Kingdom of the Netherlands was re-founded as a federal monarchy.

1962 - Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had ordered the removal of Soviet missile bases in Cuba, effectively defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1965 - Nostra Aetate - the 'Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions' of the Second Vatican Council - was promulgated by Pope Paul VI, which absolved the Jews of their role in the death of Jesus Christ, reversing Innocent III's declaration from 760 years previous. Apparently, though, no one thought to tell Mel Gibson.

1971 - Britain launched its first (and, as of 2009, only) satellite, Prospero, into low Earth orbit atop a Black Arrow carrier rocket, containing a single experiment to test solar cells and a tape recorder which failed in May 1973 after 730 plays. Still in orbit, it can be heard on 137.560 MHz, and is expected to stay aloft for another hundred years.

1986 - The centennial of the Statue of Liberty's dedication was celebrated in New York Harbor; leading the festivities was US President Ronald Reagan.

2005 - Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, US Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted in the Valerie Plame case; he resigned later that day. Libby did, that is; as for Cheney he refuses to go away.
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