Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Death of Steve McQueen

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThree decades after his death - on this day in 1980 - Steve McQueen remains an icon of cool; one of an elite group of anti-heroes, his performances in films such as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), Bullitt, and The Thomas Crown Affair (both 1968) are classics of the action-adventure genre. McQueen's only Oscar nomination, though, was for his role in The Sand Pebbles (1966).

He came by that tough-guy persona naturally, having run with gangs as a teenager, spent time at a home for wayward boys, and served a hitch in the Marine Corps. A racing enthusiast, McQueen did many of his own driving stunts in his movies (or at least as many as the insurance company would let him do); whether cars or motorcycles*, if it went fast, he wanted to be on it.

He died as fast as he lived, of a heart attack following surgery to remove a tumour from his lung; it was suspected the mesothelioma from which he'd been suffering was caused by exposure to asbestos. He'd received extensive exposure to the stuff during his years as a Marine, then latterly on soundstages and in racing togs.

*Or, indeed, actresses!

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"Mountain Of Love" by Johnny Rivers

Birthday wishes go out today to Johnny Rivers, one of the most versatile performers of the 1960s; his adeptness at American music extended to rock and roll, country, blues, and folk. Mountain of Love first appeared when it was released as a single by its songwriter, Harold Dorman; Rivers' version was a huge hit in 1964, going all the way to Number 9 on the US charts.
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The History of Sex: Tom of Finland

When Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen in May 1920) died on this day in 1991, he left behind him a legacy few artists would have dared; a body of work as oversized as the bodies his work depicted - 3500 drawings in all - the vast majority of them explicitly gay in nature. Love them or hate them (there seems to be no middle ground) they represent a huge risk taken by the artist who drew them, and for many years a similar risk for the men who possessed them.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketInformed by an early attraction to working men, Laaksonen gradually morphed into the grand-daddy of the leather scene, demonstrating an unabashed appreciation for tough guys, uniforms, and even - horror of horrors! - 'sexualizing the enemy' (which is a phrase professional homosexuals use). If nothing else, he helped to disabuse the notion that gay male sex was some lavender-scented thing that happened between two hairdressers but an all-male activity - unlike those butch straights, whose boinking always includes at least one delicate, floral-scented female.

With all this talk about man-on-man action (not to mention the research I was forced to do) I have to go now and... Uh... Lavender-scent my hairdresser*.

*Which is an extraordinary euphemism, I must admit!
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In Memoriam: Albert Camus

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Albert Camus devoted his life (which began on this day in 1913) to the battle against nihilism, the idea that life has no meaning; 'All of us, among the ruins,' he said, 'Are preparing a renaissance beyond the limits of nihilism. But few of us know it.'

Existentialism, the philosophy with which he is most often - and, in his opinion, wrongly - associated, can be a bleak and unforgiving place, but only if you let it. Our existence, he argued is what we make it. What Camus made of his existence is a tidy little career in which he ventured into all areas of writing except poetry, which tidy little career had a major influence on others durings his lifetime, an influence which has continued to grow ever since his death, in January 1960.

Those of us who've read his works and been moved by them in the years since might be skeptical at his assertion that the things we do in life are meaningless; the mere fact that he can speak to us thusly from beyond the grave is the sternest rebuke human mortality ever had.
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"Coyote" by Joni Mitchell

Here then is my favourite Joni Mitchell song, Coyote, from my favourite Joni Mitchell album Hejira (1976); her performance is taken from the landmark 1978 documentary The Last Waltz, by Martin Scorsese, which chronicled the final concert appearance by The Band, recorded live at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 1976.
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Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell

There are only a few Canadians who make me proud to be a Canadian, and Joni Mitchell is chief among them; her soul-searching poetry, set to enticingly complex music, sets her apart from the many singer-songwriters she has inspired as surely as her willingness to take risks at the expense of her popularity elevates her above the rest...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMitchell (born on this day in 1943) is what I call a 'total artist'; not content expressing herself in only one medium - namely music - she is also a gifted painter, with a flair for colour and form which gives her work a variety of moods, from melancholy to piquant. Coincidentally, this is the same range of expression found in her music; the painterly quality of her songwriting and the lyrical quality of her painting seem to serve as refractions of each other.

Rising to fame during the folk revolution of the late 1960s Mitchell penned the immortal anthem Woodstock, then really hit her creative stride in the first half of the 1970s. Taken together Ladies of the Canyon (1970), Blue (1971), For the Roses (1972), Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), and Hejira (1976) constitute a musical achievement of which any recording artist would be proud.

During the latter half of the 1970s, Mitchell's sound took on a more jazz-infused sound, which diminished her popular appeal while further endearing her to critics, save for the album Mingus (1979), which is a challenging listen even for a rabid fan such as myself.

By the 1980s, she'd made a resurgence into a pop sound; despite what might be considered the mainstreaming of Joni Mitchell during these years, her experimentation and eclectic approach continued both lyrically and musically. At an age when many of her contemporaries were settling into their groove (or rut) Mitchell neither lost nor abandoned her creative restlessness. Mid-career albums like Dog Eat Dog (1985), Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm (1988), and Night Ride Home (1991) reached their zenith with Turbulent Indigo (1994), a collection of songs as elegant and eloquent as Mitchell at her early-70s peak.

Outspokenly critical of the record industry from day one, Joni Mitchell has thankfully persevered, managing to produce a body or work meant to stand the test of time, rather than simply being a flash in the pan. Whenever I hear that someone is 'just getting into Joni Mitchell' my heart fairly thrills, for I know what utter bliss lies ahead of them; I greet each new album from her with the same sense of joy, for I know it will be a challenging new chapter in the life's work of a living legend.
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Happy Birthday Judy Tenuta

A two-parter for the kids today, it's Judy Tenuta as she appeared in the classic 1980s HBO special Women of the Night, which was hosted by Martin Short and also featured Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, and Rita Rudner. This part features Judy's famous accordion love song for the Pope... It could happen!

The second part features a paean to Judy's father which is definitely Not Suitable For Father's Day!
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POPnews - November 7th

[Actually, Sir Donald Smith had to drive in two last spikes on
this day in 1885, as he bent the first one; fortunately he
only financed the railway, and didn't build it.

1492 - The Ensisheim Meteorite - the oldest meteorite with a known date of impact - struck the Earth around noon in a wheat field outside the village of Ensisheim, in the Alsace region of France; it is still preserved there in the Regency Palace.

1665 - The London Gazette - the official record of the British government and the oldest such publication extant - was first published.

1786 - Pupils of the composer William Billings founded the Stoughton Musical Society in Boston, making it the oldest musical organization in the US.

1848 - Whig Zachary Taylor was elected 12th US President over Democrat Lewis Cass.

1876 - Rutherford B. Hayes was elected 19th US President over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.

1885 - Construction - begun in 1881 - ended on the Canadian Pacific Railway with the driving of the Last Spike by Sir Donald Smith, in Craigellachie, British Columbia. The promised railroad had been key in bringing Canada's westernmost province into Confederation in 1870.

1916 - Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term as US President over Republican Charles Evans Hughes.

1929 - New York City's Museum of Modern Art opened to the public.

1932 - Buck Rogers in the 25th Century aired on radio for the first time.

1933 - Fiorello H. LaGuardia was elected the 99th mayor of New York City.

1940 - In Tacoma, Washington, the middle section of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (known as 'Galloping Gertie') collapsed in a windstorm, a mere four months after the bridge's completion.

1944 - Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term as US President over Republican Thomas E. Dewey.

1967 - Carl B. Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, making him the first black mayor of a major American city.

1972 - Richard Nixon was elected to a second term as US President over Democrat George McGovern.

1983 - A concealed bomb exploded inside the U.S. Capitol Building outside the Senate Chamber, causing $250,000 in damages and ruining a portrait of Daniel Webster; since the Senate had been adjourned for nearly four hours at the time the corridor where the explosion occurred was empty, and no one was injured or killed. Marilyn Buck, Laura Whitehorn, and Linda Evans were later sentenced for their part in the blast, as well as other bombings at Ft. McNair, and the Washington Navy Yard.

1989 - Douglas Wilder won the gubernatorial election in Virginia, becoming the first elected black governor in the United States.

1990 - Mary Robinson became the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland.

1991 - Magic Johnson held a press conference to announce that he was infected with HIV; he thereupon retired from the NBA.

2000 - George W. Bush was 'elected' 43rd US President over Democrat Al Gore (although the controversial results would not be verified until January 6th, 2001, when the electoral college votes were ratified during a raucous joint-session of Congress - just two weeks before the inauguration); in the same election Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the United States Senate, becoming the first former First Lady to win a public office in the United States.
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