Friday, November 05, 2010

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel

The title track from Simon and Garfunkel's final album Bridge over Troubled Water has long been renowned for its healing properties; the combination of kind words and angelic vocals have assuaged untold broken hearts and frazzled nerves in the past...

The Pop Culture Institute is proud to post this song today as a public service both in celebration of the birth of its vocalist Art Garfunkel (for once, without the harmonies of Paul Simon) and in the hopes that it can provide some measure of healing from the numerous wounds of those eight terrible years.

The clip is taken from the duo's highly popular Concert in Central Park, held in September 1981.
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Pop History Moment: The Gunpowder Plot

The most serious terrorist threat in British history wasn't last month or even last year, nor was it even remotely Islamic in nature; in fact, it was over 400 years ago - and it was a band of Roman Catholics, fine Christians all, who were responsible for plotting mass murder most heinous...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1605 a certain Justice of the Peace named Thomas Knyvet discovered Guy Fawkes in the undercroft of the Houses of Parliament among 36 barrels of gunpowder, kindling, and touchpaper. Although he said his name was 'John Johnson' when he was captured, Fawkes didn't try to deny what he was doing; the point of the Plot was to kill the King and Queen along with most of the Protestant aristocracy at the State Opening of Parliament, then install the nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth on the throne as a Catholic monarch.

Typically, the thwarted plot unleashed a wave of hatred directed at all Catholics in Britain, who were persecuted for more than 200 years as a result; the hatred of Papists was then imported to the American colonies, where it lasted a hundred and fifty years longer still. Although England had been on the threshold of Catholic Emancipation the day before it, the day after the Gunpowder Plot such an action had become unthinkable. The terrorists had, in true terrorist tradition, succeeded brilliantly in undermining their own cause even as they failed to undermine Parliament in any way.

The plot itself had been masterminded by Robert Catesby, who was by then no stranger to treason; four years earlier he had conspired with the Earl of Essex to assassinate Elizabeth I, but because his role in that matter was minor he was merely deprived of his property and not his head as was Essex. Immediately after the arrest of Guy Fawkes, Catesby (along with a few of his fellow plotters) fled to Holbeach House near Kingswinford in Staffordshire, where he died two weeks later during a fracas with arresting officers under Richard Walsh, the sheriff of Worcester.

Other plotters included Thomas Winter (also spelled Wintour), Robert Winter, Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy (also spelled Percye), John Wright, Ambrose Rokewood, Robert Keyes, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham, Father Henry Garnet (the group's confessor), and Catesby's servant, Thomas Bates; for his part, Fawkes was the demolitions expert, having had much experience in the use of explosives when he served as a mercenary in the army of Archduke Albert of Austria, during the Dutch Revolt.

Had the plot been successful it would have not only destroyed the Palace of Westminster but the equally priceless Westminster Abbey as well, and would have blown out every window in a 1 km radius; as it is, the old palace stood for another couple of centuries, when in October 1834 it was destroyed by an accidental fire.

Amazingly, Fawkes was rated #30 on a 2002 list of the 100 Greatest Britons, which shouldn't surprise me since Oliver Cromwell came 10th, but it does dismay me nonetheless; I wonder if, 400 years from now, Britons will feel the same about Abu Hamza al-Masri or even Osama bin Laden...
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Good Riddance: The Death of Robert Maxwell

Normally, of course, I love a rags-to-riches story; it gives me something compelling to think about as I'm sitting here in this pile of rags. Whenever the ascent of a person from poverty to wealth and fame involves perseverance, creativity, and even good fortune, it gives me at least a reason to cheer. There is, however, a dark side to the myth of a self-made man...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOf course, ambition in and of itself is not so bad; in the case of Robert Maxwell (whose capacity for rapacity is well-documented), when ambition comes with a side-order of ruthlessness and cruelty, that's not so good. Perhaps his years in Westminster (as a Labour Party MP for Buckingham of all things, from 1964-70) rendered him physically incapable of telling the truth; no matter, as scandal dogged him throughout his endeavours in the book trade he made the leap into newspapers, purchasing the UK's Daily Mirror, where having to tell the truth would be less of a bugbear. Even his attacks on Rupert Murdoch - which normally would be enough to make me admire anyone, even Hitler - do nothing to assuage the smarminess and corruption of the man in my eyes.

In this instance I am with Ian Hislop (although I'm sure I'd hate to know what he'd think of me and my little enterprise), TV personality, editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye, and the only person in British media at the time with the stones to take him on; as such, the magazine was successfully sued by Maxwell several times. One of those times Private Eye said that Maxwell looked like a criminal, for which he was awarded a substantial sum; no word yet on what happened when it turned out the criminal actually was a criminal. Not that it would have mattered, as by the time it was revealed that the criminal in question had engaged in stock manipulation schemes, diverted pension funds into his own pocket, and generally mucked about in the favourite pastimes of the kleptocracy (a la Lord Black, another swell guy) he was dead.

The end came on this day in 1991, at the age of 68; Maxwell is presumed to have fallen overboard from his luxury yacht, Lady Ghislaine, while cruising off the Canary Islands. Whether you think his death was an accident, suicide, or murder probably says as much about you as how you feel about him. Whatever fate befell him, he was lauded by the mucky-mucks and given a veritable state funeral in Israel, even though rumours that he was killed after trying to blackmail Mossad still linger; as do allegations that at the time of his death Germany had been investigating him for his role in possible war crimes committed there in 1945.

Perhaps, then, it's not so far-fetched an idea that this was one self-made man who could also have merely self-destructed...
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"Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits

Birthday wishes go out today to Peter Noone, the face and voice of British Invasion stalwarts Herman's Hermits, whose songs weren't the hits they might have been, considering their enduring popularity to this day...

One such tune is Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter which, like the video clip above, hails from 1965; it, along with another of the band's signature numbers, I'm Henry VIII, I Am, were never even released as singles in the UK even though both would end up topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US.
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In Memoriam: Vivien Leigh

For all that actors decry being type-cast, there may be something to it; in Vivien Leigh's case, it gave her a deep well from which to draw... Whether playing Ophelia in Hamlet on the West End stage or Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) - which was neither her first role nor even her first notable role but nonetheless the one that made her a star - Vivien Leigh's chillingly honest portrayal of moody women made her so much more than just a pretty face, which otherwise might have been her fate.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketEven when cast against type - as, say, a prostitute in Waterloo Bridge (1940), or a higher class of prostitute now called a socialite, Emma Hamilton in That Hamilton Woman (1941) - she brought hidden depths to these roles that the general public could scarcely fathom. Those who worked with her, though... They knew. They knew that she could be happy and smiling one moment and then turn on a dime into a shrieking harpy. Temperament, they called it in those days; today we call it bipolar disorder.

Even though manic-depression occasionally affected her career, she continued to act through the Fifties and Sixties, in such classic films as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961) and the oft-overlooked classic Ship of Fools (1965); in all three (but as Blanche DuBois in Streetcar especially) she brought equal parts fury and frailty to her portrayals which make them simultaneously difficult to watch and impossible to ignore.

In another time, our own for instance, she could have served as a great role model for people who are similarly afflicted; her second husband, Laurence Olivier, gave her credit for how hard she struggled to control and conceal her condition. As it was, the stigma attached to mental illness would have surely ended her career before it had begun, had she not had the good fortune to be born one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. The standard wisdom is that her looks hampered her career, while it is my opinion that they allowed her any career she did have at all, possibly even sparing her a lobotomy and life in an institution.

Born on this day in 1913, Leigh died of tuberculosis in July 1967, aged only 53.

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Happy Birthday Sam Rockwell

This is not an age in which quirky actors do well, which makes the success of Sam Rockwell all the more satisfying; his choices are daring and varied, his portrayals go further than they need to, and his fans - myself, obviously, among them - reap the reward.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketRockwell's films, which veer wildly between indie and studio fare, include Galaxy Quest (1999), The Green Mile (1999), Charlie's Angels (2000), and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005); all four currently reside in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute.

In Charlie's Angels he plays a seemingly meek dot-com industrialist who morphs into a venal LA douchebag so convincingly I found myself in the theatre scratching my head as to why they'd cast two different actors to play the same role; in Galaxy Quest he turns the role of the thankless ensign who gets killed early on in the episode into a star turn; in The Green Mile he plays a racist psychotic named 'Wild Bill' Wharton, who watches an innocent man preparing to die for a heinous crime Wharton committed; and in Hitchhiker he plays one of the greatest characters of modern times, Zaphod Beeblebrox, with the exact quantities of aplomb and arrogance necessary.

Expect more of the same from Sam Rockwell in the years to come; which means, of course, not knowing what to expect except that it'll be different from anything else he's ever done...
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"Cuts Like A Knife" by Bryan Adams

Seen here rocking out on stage at Live Aid in July 1985, it's birthday boy Bryan Adams at just about the peak of his cool; shortly thereafter his work would devolve into moribund balladry, culminating with a spot of blah intended to clarify the matter of his sexuality, courtesy of a single with a laughably rhetorical title, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?. In recent years, only Cloud Number Nine and When You're Gone have come close to re-capturing the sound he'd once had.

Cuts Like a Knife was the title track to Adams' 1983 third album, which also spawned the monster hit power ballads Straight from the Heart and This Time; while he'd already had a modicum of success in Canada with his first two albums - 1980's Bryan Adams and You Want It You Got It from 1981 - both the Cuts Like a Knife album and its successor Reckless elevated Adams into the ranks of international superstardom.

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POPnews - November 5th

[Sometime between 1892 and 1896 editorial cartoonist Charles Lewis Bartholomew rendered this amusing image pertaining to the Election of 1872, in which suffragist Susan B. Anthony voted for Ulysses S. Grant, despite his protestations against women being allowed that very right; she's seen here chasing him while Uncle Sam laughs in the background. For her temerity, Anthony was arrested two weeks later; little more than a hundred years later, she could have paid the fine she eventually got with money bearing her image.]

1530 - St. Felix's Flood destroyed the Dutch city of Reimerswaal; the oft-flooded city was completely abandoned by 1632, and today nothing but the name remains, preserved as the name of a municipality in that country's province of Zeeland.

1605 - A plot led by Robert Catesby to blow up the English Houses of Parliament was thwarted when Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes amid barrels of gunpowder in a cellar beneath the Palace of Westminster; the event is still celebrated in England and the more English parts of the Commonwealth (such as Newfoundland) as Bonfire Night.

1688 - The so-called Glorious Revolution began when William of Orange landed at Brixham, in Devon; the invasion had been ready to go sooner, but was delayed to coincide with the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, giving England's anti-Catholic movement the necessary symbolism to justify its sectarian warmongering.

1768 - The Treaty of Fort Stanwix - the purpose of which was to adjust the boundaries between Indian lands and white settlements set forth in the Thirteen Colonies' Proclamation of 1763 - was signed by Sir William Johnson and representatives of the Iroquois Six Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) at Fort Stanwix in Upstate New York .

1831 - Nat Turner, leader of an abortive-yet-bloody slave rebellion the previous August, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

1872 - Ulysses S. Grant was elected to a second term over Democrat Horace Greeley*; the Equal Rights Party had also nominated Victoria Woodhull to the presidency with former slave Frederick Douglass as her running mate. The first election held after the foundation of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association (both in 1869) it was during this election that suffragist Susan B. Anthony, in defiance of the law, voted for the first time. She was later fined $100 for her effrontery, although her uppity-ness remains priceless...

*Who died on November 29th, less than a month after the election.

1895 - George B. Selden was granted the first US patent - US patent 549160 - for an automobile; Selden's hideously polluting invention would later most famously bring an end to human life on the planet, and in the meantime cause untold suffering and destruction.

1912 - Woodrow Wilson was elected 28th US President, defeating Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and Progressive former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.

1913 - King Otto of Bavaria was deposed by his cousin, Prince Regent Ludwig, who assumed the title Ludwig III.

1916 - The Everett Massacre took place as mis-communication led to a shoot-out between IWW organizers and local police in Washington state, killing as many as 12 and wounding more than 20.

1925 - British secret agent Sidney Reilly - considered to be among Ian Fleming's inspirations for the super spy James Bond - was executed by the OGPU, the secret police of the Soviet Union.

1940 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term as US President over Republican Wendell Willkie.

1942 - The Second Battle of El Alamein was won by an Allied force under Britain's Harold Alexander and Bernard Montgomery at El Alamein, in Egypt; Axis commanders Ettore Bastico of Italy and Erwin Rommel of Nazi Germany escaped the hostilities unscathed, while Rommel's countryman Georg Stumme perished in the fighting.

1967 - The Hither Green rail crash killed 49 people in the United Kingdom; among the survivors was Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees.

1968 - Richard M. Nixon was elected 37th US President over Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent George Wallace.

1987 - Govan Mbeki was released from custody at Robben Island after serving 24 years of a life sentence for terrorism and treason; one day his son, Thabo Mbeki, would follow his fellow prisoner, Nelson Mandela, into the presidency of South Africa.

1990 - Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the far-right Kach movement, was assassinated after a speech at a New York City Marriott hotel; his suspected killer El Sayyid Nosair was later acquitted of murder but convicted on gun possession charges. Later he and Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman would receive life sentences for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; their defense in that instance was funded by Osama bin Laden. In December 2000, Kahane's son and daughter-in-law would also be assassinated, but their five daughters were somehow spared in the same attack.

1995 - André Dallaire made a (thankfully) lacklustre attempt to assassinate Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien at the Prime Minister's official residence, 24 Sussex Drive, but was thwarted when the PM's quick-thinking wife Aline encountered Dallaire and rushed back into the bedroom, locking the door behind her. While waiting for the RCMP detail on duty to get their shit together - it took them as long as seven minutes to respond - one or the other of the Chrétiens is said to have been armed with a particularly pointy bit of Inuit sculpture, just in case...

1996 - Bill Clinton was elected to a second term as US President over Republican Bob Dole.
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