Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parting Shot: Jack O' Lantern


Many thanks to Gavin over at Y|O|Y, for this bewitching seasonal image... I have no idea where it came from, but I do love it. I've even seen it being used by a few of my Facebook friends for their profile pics, so I figured it was safe to lift it.
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Happy Birthday King-Father Norodom Sihanouk

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne of the things I like best about blogging is the learning I get to do; before writing this, for instance, I had no idea that the former King of Cambodia holds the Guinness Book's world record for the person who's held the greatest variety of titles in one government. In this case, these include: two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, and one as Cambodia's non-titled head of state, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments-in-exile.

A close second, though, involves the surprises; I had one such surprise today, while researching this post, and it involves His Majesty's support for same-sex marriage. Given the reverence in Cambodia for the 87-year-old King-Father (a term not unlike Queen Mother) his support gives marriage equality an invaluable boost in Southeast Asia.
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In Memoriam: John Candy

In the all-too-brief 15 years that spanned the career of John Candy, it can be safely said that he made no enemies, but only friends; and while it looked, a few years ago, like his memory might fade from the public consciousness altogether, the advent of DVDs means that much of his work has been re-released and is enjoying something of a renaissance...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1950, John Candy got his start with Toronto's famed improve theatre troupe, The Second City; while there he also appeared in many low- or no-budget films, as well as small (usually uncredited) roles in larger films, such as Class of '44. The characters he developed at Second City became mainstays of that sketch comedy alternate universe Second City Television (SCTV).

As the 80s progressed, so did Candy's career... An appearance in 1979's Steven Spielberg comedy 1941 soon led to greater and greater roles in films like The Blues Brothers, Stripes, and National Lampoon's Vacation. While his role in Ghostbusters ultimately went to fellow SCTV alum Rick Moranis owing to a clash over artistic differences, Candy got his big breakthrough that summer anyway, when he appeared in Splash.

From there the roles came fast and thick: Spaceballs, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Who's Harry Crumb?, and Uncle Buck to name just four; nearly devoid of ego when it came to billing, Candy had no problem alternating between leading and supporting roles, even performing the occasional cameo if it appealed to him. Despite a few critical bombs, Candy entered the 90s as both the guy audiences wanted to see, as well as the one other actors wanted to work with, which made him a rare breed...

While his weight had always been a problem, Candy had also been a heavy smoker, and the combination of the two (as well as the heart disease to which he was genetically predisposed) soon caught up with him; he died in his sleep in March 1994 while on location in Mexico shooting Wagons East!. He was 43. Candy was survived by his wife Rosemary and Jennifer and Christopher, in addition to distraught former colleagues, friends, and fans the world over.
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Onion News Network: Has Hallowe'en Become Over-Commercialized?

I've long been an admirer of The Onion, whether in its tree-hating paper version, snazzy online incarnation, and lately courtesy of their YouTube channel; to a certain degree* it was The Onion's snarky, appallingly honest, and alternate dimension approach to news that inspired the work I've tried to do here at the Pop Culture Institute.

This, then, is their take on Hallowe'en...

*Although not to such a degree that I might be subject to prosecution, word...

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Gratuitous Brunette: Michael Landon

For an amazing thirty years, Michael Landon was a fixture on American television, starring on three hugely popular series back to back to back; first he played Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza from 1959 to 1973, then Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie from 1973 to 1984, and finally Jonathan Smith in Highway To Heaven from 1984 to 1989 - representing more than 700 hours of television, all of it on NBC.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLandon (born this day in 1936) was universally revered in Hollywood; that good-guy image he portrayed was no act. Warm and caring, with an ever-ready smile and a heart as big as the outdoors he loved, his early death in July 1991 was greeted with genuine remorse.

He also had a wicked sense of humour, and loved to play practical jokes, especially on Johnny Carson; having heard that Carson ran over a cat with his car, Landon invited him to dinner at a restaurant where he'd had many of the menu items changed to include the word 'cat'.

Former Little House co-star Melissa Gilbert has said that Landon was like a second father to her, especially after her own father died when she was just 11; Landon had nine children of his own, so opening his home and heart to a tenth must have been the easiest thing in the world for him to do. Gilbert and her husband Bruce Boxleitner named their son after him in 1995.

Despite a fit physique and a positive attitude, though, Landon was a heavy smoker and ate a poor diet, all of which caught up with him at the age of 54. He was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer which quickly spread to his lymph nodes, and in what seemed like no time at all he was gone...
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Houdini

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPop lore states that Harry Houdini died of multiple blows to the abdomen delivered by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, following a performance in Montreal on October 22nd, 1926. Modern medical science, however, discounts that Houdini's acute appendicitis could have been caused by any physical trauma; it appears that the blows he suffered were not fatal, but aggravated an existing undetected illness.

When Houdini arrived at Detroit's Garrick Theatre two days after what would be his fatal blow, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 40°C (104°F); despite his condition, Houdini took the stage.

Afterwards, he was taken to Room 401 of Detroit's Grace Hospital, where he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 PM on this day in 1926, at the age of 52. After taking statements from witnesses, Houdini's insurance company concluded that the death was due to the incident on the 22nd and paid double indemnity.

Probably the fact that Houdini was a believer in spiritualism (combined with the fact that he died on the day he did) has given his death the eerie connotations it has picked up over the years. For a full decade after his death Houdini's widow Bess used to hold a seance every October 31st, hoping to contact his spirit; she discontinued the practice in 1936, after he steadfastly refused to show up. Death proved to be the one thing from which Harry Houdini couldn't escape...

Still, it all makes for a suitably ghoulish story for bloggers to rehash every Hallowe'en, so I think in the spirit of the season I'll just go with it.
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Johnny Marr Describes Meeting Morrissey

If Morrissey gave The Smiths their voice, Johnny Marr gave them their pulse; although The Smiths were only together for five years (1982-1987) in that time their partnership - along with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce - created some of the best British pop music ever.

Here then is a little clip of birthday boy Johnny Marr describing how he met Morrissey, and how they bonded over a shared love of Motown girl groups; if, after you're done watching, you haven't sated your need for him, here's the link to his own website.
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"To Autumn" by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
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In Memoriam: John Keats

The poetry of John Keats was the subject of much critical derision over the course of his short life; clearly, this means he must have been on to something... People who are popular in their own day* often tend to be considered old-hat quite quickly after their death - if not long before - and fade inevitably into oblivion. Keats' work, on the other hand, is still finding new ways to inspire more poets and lovers than ever nearly 200 years after he died - no mean feat in an age rife with such defiantly unromantic fare as hardcore porn and gangsta rap!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKeats - who was born on this day in 1795 - had bigger things to worry about, though, than the bitterness of the failed poets who typified his critics. His life was afflicted by tuberculosis long before he was; his mother died of the disease in 1810, after which Keats went to live with his grandmother. Within the decade she would also be dead, and he would be in charge of his brother, who was by then sick as well...

Tom Keats succumbed to his tuberculosis in December 1818; afterwards, Keats went to live at the home of his friend Charles Armitage Brown in Hampstead. Over the next 12 months, which Keats scholars refer to as 'The Great Year', the poet would produce much of his most famous work; it's also the year he met the love of his life, next-door neighbour Fanny Brawne.

As is often the case, the poet's passion provided more stress than solace, likely because in this instance it may have been an unrequited love, and was at best very complicated. When, by 1820, Keats was also showing signs that he, too, had contracted TB, he removed himself to Rome with his friend Joseph Severn. Brawne's diary rather brusquely recorded his departure thusly: 'Mr. Keats has left Hampstead.' Nevertheless, their romance is the subject of Jane Campion's 2009 film, Bright Star.

Keats settled into a house at the foot of the Spanish Steps (now a museum to him), but despite a drier clime and attentive medical care didn't last long, dying in February 1821, aged 25; he was buried in Rome's Protestant Cemetery beneath a tombstone bearing a bitter epitaph written by Charles Brown and Joseph Severn:

'This grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart, at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.'

As it states, only the final phrase was requested by Keats himself...

Still, those in Keats' circle insisted (as in the words of Lord Byron) that their friend's life was 'snuffed out by an article' - in this case, a scathing review of his work Endymion (thought to have been written by William Gifford but later proved to be the work of John Wilson Croker) which had appeared in the Quarterly Review shortly before his death; clearly it wasn't as yet well-understood that in order to be an artist one must be sensitive, but to survive as an artist one must be made of cast-iron, a dichotomy easily spoken but not easily lived, and as it turns out well-nigh impossible for John Keats...

*You know the type I mean - the 'flash in the pan'...
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"Quicksand" by Ethel Waters with Count Basie

Taken from the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen, here then is Ethel Waters (who was born on this day in 1896) singing a little ditty called Quicksand with the Count Basie Orchestra.
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Pop History Moment: The Assassination of Indira Gandhi

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Having ordered Indian troops to fire upon the holiest Sikh shrine in India - the Harimandir Sahib (or Golden Temple) at Amritsar - during the disastrous and ill-considered Operation Blue Star in June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi continued to employ Sikh bodyguards - for what reason I cannot possibly fathom...

It was on this day, just shy of five months to the day after Operation Blue Star had been carried out, Gandhi was walking in the garden of the Prime Minister's Residence (now a memorial to her) on New Delhi's Safdarjung Road, on her way to be interviewed by the British actor Peter Ustinov. As she passed a wicket gate, guarded by two of her bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, they opened fire with machine pistols. A melee ensued, during which her two attackers and one other guard were killed.

Gandhi died on her way to the hospital, in her official car, but wasn't declared dead until many hours later; she was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors operated on her and reportedly removed 31 bullets from her body.

Almost the instant her death was announced, India erupted in anti-Sikh rioting, during which thousands were killed or injured, most of them Sikhs. Of this violence, Gandhi's son and successor Rajiv later said: 'When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake.' She was cremated on November 3, near Raj Ghat at Shakti Sthal, which means 'Place of Power'.
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"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen

It seems oddly appropriate for Hallowe'en that Bohemian Rhapsody was released this day, seeing as it is itself an opera disguised as a pop song...

Despite being released as long ago as 1975, it also has a video; this, then, must surely count as one of the earliest music videos, as it was created specifically for promotion (and not merely excerpted from some program or other, like a lot of the available musical performances from the 1960s and 70s).

It's name doesn't appear in the lyrics, it's got no chorus but more bridges than Venice, and the lyrics may or may not contain some cryptic meaning; nevertheless it is consistently cited as one of the greatest pop songs ever. Like the bumblebee - that shouldn't be able to fly, yet does - Bohemian Rhapsody soars on Freddie Mercury's vocals and is kept aloft by Brian May's prototypically head-banging guitar riffs alike.
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The Death of River Phoenix

River Phoenix often hinted at a childhood marred by sexual abuse, later claiming to have blocked it out; as a child his family belonged to the Children of God cult, about whom Phoenix subsequently had nothing good to say, and around which rumours of child abuse of every kind have always swirled...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDespite the best intentions of the conscious mind, however, the subconscious never forgets. As good and well-meaning as Phoenix was in the present he was still being stalked by an awful trauma from the past; prone to fits of depression, he gradually began to self-medicate in order to deal with feelings of which he may not even have been aware.

Not helping matters was the matter of young fame, renowned for its toxicity, as well as having been raised after leaving the cult as a hippie (which he himself likened to the role he played in 1986's The Mosquito Coast); insufficiently vaccinated with the antibodies to fame that eventually saved his contemporaries from their own self-immolation, Phoenix quickly spiralled out of control.

More than just a lovely young man (both inside and out) died on this day in 1993 - at the age of just 23 - on the pavement outside the Viper Room... A promising career went with him as well.

From his early appearances in 1986's Stand by Me, to his shot-in-Vancouver A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988), to later work in My Own Private Idaho and Dogfight (both 1991), Phoenix's fifteen movie roles are imbued with a certain compassion for the suffering which is inherent in the human condition. There's no telling what he might have accomplished had he lived, only wondering...
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POPnews - October 31st

[America's love affair with the open road resulted in the Lincoln Highway, which passes through 14 states, 128 counties, and more than 500 cities, towns, and villages over its 3389 mile (5454 km) length.]

475 CE - Romulus Augustulus - often considered the last Roman Emperor - was proclaimed.

1517 - Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg - or so the legend has it.

1822 - Mexico's Emperor, Agustín de Iturbide, attempted to dissolve the Mexican Empire.

1864 - Nevada became the 36th US state.

1912 - The first gangster film - D.W. Griffith's The Musketeers of Pig Alley - premiered.

1913 - The Lincoln Highway Association dedicated the Lincoln Highway, the first continuous automobile road across the United States; the highway also became the first national tribute to fallen president Abraham Lincoln, nine years before the opening of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The road, which came to be known as 'The Main Street Across America', connects New York City's Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

1918 - The short-lived Banat Republic was founded as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was collapsing.

1923 - The first of 160 consecutive days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at Australia's Marble Bar.

1926 - Magician Harry Houdini died of gangrene and peritonitis that developed after his appendix ruptured.

1940 - The Battle of Britain ended when the United Kingdom prevented a German invasion.

1941 - After 14 years of work, drilling was completed on Mount Rushmore; alas, its creator Gutzon Borglum did not live to see it completed, having died seven months earlier; work was finished by Lincoln Borglum, the sculptor's son.

1959 - Future presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to renounce his American citizenship at the US Embassy in Moscow.

1961 - Joseph Stalin's body was removed from Lenin's Tomb.

1968 - Citing progress with the Paris peace talks, US President Lyndon B. Johnson offered the nation its first October surprise when he announced that he had ordered a complete cessation of 'all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam', effectively ending the Vietnam War; while Johnson's announcement was intended to improve the Democrats' chances electorally and therefore the outcome of the 1968 presidential election, Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon handily defected Democrat Hubert Humphrey and American Independent leader George Wallace anyway.

1973 - Seamus Twomey, J.B. O'Hagan, and Kevin Mallon - three Provisional Irish Republican Army members - escaped from Dublin's Mountjoy Prison aboard a hijacked helicopter that landed in the exercise yard; a band called the Wolfe Tones later wrote a song celebrating the escape called The Helicopter Song.

1975 - Queen released their most famous single, Bohemian Rhapsody.

1984 - Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh security guards - Satwant Singh and Beant Singh - in retaliation for her ordering a military offensive against Amritsar's Harmandir Sahib during Operation Blue Star.

1986 - The 5th Congress of the Communist Party of Sweden opened, during the course of which the party name was changed to the Solidarity Party and a program of non-communist policies was adopted.

2003 - Mahathir bin Mohamad resigned as Prime Minister of Malaysia after 22 years in power.
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