Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bonus Video: "Sundown" by Gordon Lightfoot

In 2007, when I first blogged about the life and career of Gordon Lightfoot, there was nary a clip to be found on YouTube that showed him to any advantage... What a difference a year or two makes, eh!

Now the Net seems to be overflowing with goodies such as this one: a live performance of Sundown from 1974, the year of its release. The title track from Lightfoot's 10th album went Number One in the US, and remains a staple of the so-called AM Gold radio format, famed for its sunny Seventies sound.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Catherine the Great

Many myths surround the life and death of Catherine II of Russia - whom we know best as Catherine the Great; born of misogyny and the willingness of the public to believe any old falsehood no matter how logic-defying it might be, simply because it's about a powerful person, these half-truths, falsehoods, and outright damn lies form most of the core of the public knowledge about the enlightened despot who brought the Renaissance to Russia.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in May 1729, the daughter of a Prussian general and Prince, her birth name was Sophie; it changed after her engagement to the Tsar of Russia's heir, the future Peter III, when she converted to the Russian church.

Her new husband was among the weakest Tsars ever, unable to even consummate their marriage for a dozen years; in lieu of a functioning husband, in the style of her day and class she took a series of lovers including Sergei Saltykov, Charles Hanbury Williams, and Stanislaw Poniatowski.

Becoming Tsarina in January 1762, she didn't have to wait long for her husband to make the necessary misstep; in July of that year the Leib Guard revolted, deposed her husband, and proclaimed her Empress in her own right. 3 days later her husband was dead, and in short order the only other credible claimants to the throne (Ivan VI and Princess Tarakanova) had perished as well. Whether or not she had any foreknowledge of any of these killings is a matter for speculation. What is known, though, is that over the next 34 years of political turmoil, scientific and philosophical progress, and a general flowering of the arts, Catherine the Great earned her honorific, even though in later years she tended towards intolerance, especially toward serfs.

She died on this day in 1796, following a stroke she'd had in the bath, and not as a result of being crushed beneath a horse with which she was having sex, which was a French myth oft-repeated about any number of powerful women who'd both preceded and followed her.

Catherine the Great was renowned in her lifetime for her support of the arts, and the arts, in return, have been very good to her; she's been portrayed on the silver screen by such legendary beauties as Elisabeth Bergner, Marlene Dietrich, Julia Ormond, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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Gordon Lightfoot: Canadian Troubadour

Born on this day in 1938 in Orillia, Ontario, he began his musical career singing in the church choir; he was also in his high school's barbershop quartet. An accomplished athlete as well as a musician, Gordon Lightfoot set out to see the world when he moved to California in 1958, and did he ever; stints in Europe and the UK, Australia, and New York City spread evidence of his talent wherever he went...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThough a radio and concert favourite in Canada throughout the 1960s, it wasn't until 1970 that he broke through into the ranks of superstar; the song that did it was If You Could Read My Mind, and it made the already popular folkie one of that decade's signature performers.

He followed it with a string of successful albums, each studded with hit songs: Summer Side of Life (1971), Don Quixote (1972), Old Dan's Records (1972), Sundown (1974), Cold on the Shoulder (1975), Gord's Gold (1975) - a compilation containing nine rerecorded versions of his most popular songs - Summertime Dream (1976), and Endless Wire (1978). Songs such as Sundown and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, ensured his status as Canada's troubadour, as much as his quiet, self-effacing manner.

Proof of the love Canadians feel for their native son came in January 2002, when Lightfoot fell ill, and was admitted to hospital with a bleeding abdomen; during his three months there (two of them in a coma) good wishes continued to pour in from around the country. It was even the top story on the news several times. Fortunately for all of us - not to mention him - he recovered, and in 2005 his Better Late Than Never Tour sold out venues across the country.
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"Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous" by RuPaul

One final RuPaul video, to complete today's hat trick, and one as colourful and stylish as our birthday baby at that! It's a fanvid, done to a remix of the song, so the lip-synch doesn't always match, but I liked it anyway; besides, what's more drag than a lazy lip-synch?

Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous was released in 2004, and was the second single from the album Red Hot; the video costars male model Rusty Joiner as a surgeon who's more cut* than any of his patients.

*You know... Fit, buff, single-digit BMI, humpy-like...

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Walking The Plank: Calico Jack

John Rackham was an English pirate, and likely the first equal opportunity employer in his field as well, as he was known to employ two female pirates - Anne Bonny and Mary Read - in his crew!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDespite being known for wearing a highly unique and somewhat suspicious wardrobe made of calico - thus the moniker - he was known to have had an affair with Anne Bonny, at one point even eloping with her; unless, of course, she was a top. After all, it was she who discovered Mary Read on board (disguised as a man) and their own romance must have made for quite a cuddly - not to mention innovative - little threesome all those sultry nights they spent together adrift in the Caribbean, drunk on rum.

When the crew was captured in October 1720, most of the men were too drunk to fight; it was Read and Bonny who valiantly fought to keep Captain Barnet's crew at bay, to no avail. Bonny's last words to her lover after he'd been imprisoned were: 'I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog.' Oh, snap!

While Calico Jack and most of his crew were executed in Jamaica on this day in 1720, Bonny and Read pleaded their bellies and were reprieved; Read died in prison the following year, possibly in childbirth, and history does not record whatever became of Anne Bonny...
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In Memoriam: Queen Astrid of the Belgians

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1905, the granddaughter of Sweden's King Oscar II and Denmark's King Frederick VIII, it was clear that little Princess Astrid would live her life at the crossroads of European royalty; the older she got, the more likely it seemed in fact, for when she was just 13 days shy of 21 she married the future Leopold III of the Belgians.

Her three children would also grow up to be sovereigns: Joséphine-Charlotte became Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, and two subsequent sons became, in their turn, Baudouin I and Albert II of the Belgians. There's no telling what her fourth child would have become, though, because in August 1935, near Küssnacht am Rigi in Switzerland, her husband lost control of the car he was driving; it plunged into a ravine, killing the pregnant Astrid.

She was subsequently interred at the Church of Our Lady near the Royal Castle of Laeken, official home of the Belgian Royal Family, in Laeken, a suburb of Brussels. With all due respect to the present Queen, Paola, her mother-in-law remains, to this day, the most beloved of Belgian queens.
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"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and RuPaul

RuPaul's birthday fab-tacular continues with this little ditty of Elton John's reworked for a much taller girl; from 1993, it's Don't Go Breaking My Heart, taken from Sir Elton's album Duets.

Say what you will about RuPaul, she's no Kiki Dee...
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Happy Birthday Lorne Michaels

The creator of Saturday Night Live may be a lot of things (many of them not so nice, some of them downright Evil) but around here he's something of a cross between a genius and a god. And I'm not just saying that to kiss up. (Okay, I am, but only a little. Although... There is a lot more where that came from. And not just a little a lot, either, but a lot a lot.)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1944 in Toronto (which is apparently a town in Ontario, or something, whatever) he moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to write for such variety shows as Laugh-In and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show; in 1975 New York City beckoned, and in time it would be very kind to him, giving him what has more or less become his life's work.

Saturday Night Live debuted in October 1975 and, despite a few rocky years in the early 1980s - when he wasn't around and the show lost its way - it's been a cross between a factory and a university, discovering comedic talent, nurturing it, then foisting it upon the world to flourish (or fail) on its own merits.

As if that wasn't enough, he also produced The Kids in the Hall, simply the finest sketch comedy show ever made in Canada...
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In Memoriam: Rock Hudson

It's a long way from Winnetka, Illinois, to Hollywood - in fact, it's almost as great a distance as it is from Roy Scherer to Rock Hudson (only one of whom was born on this day in 1925); while many have taken journeys as long or longer than the former, few have travelled as far, done so much, and come to the greatness that the latter did...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFrom B-movie stud and (frankly) awful actor, Hudson rode the ludicrous name given to him by his agent, Henry Willson, to an enduring career and popularity that he never should have had as a bad actor with a stupid name. Clearly, though, something about him clicked with the public, and kept clicking for more than 30 years.

What it comes down to is his basic decency: he was never a diva on set, soft-spoken onscreen and off, casually masculine in a way that comforted rather than frightened; he worked hard at his acting, and it's possible in his earlier movies to actually see him improving from film to film. Of course, he took a lot of crap from studio bosses to keep his big secret, but even the voracious celebrity press of the 1950s stayed away from Hudson because behind closed doors Hudson was both private and well-behaved.

Early death doesn't always equate to longevity in the public's memory, unless the death is sensational, which his was. Yet even then, when Hudson died of AIDS in October 1985 it was with the same qualities he'd held dear in his life: dignity, gentleness, and good nature.
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What's The Occasion? International Students Day

International Students' Day was originally intended to commemorate the anniversary of the storming of the Charles University in Prague by Nazi forces after demonstrations there against the killing of Jan Opletal (shown, at left); nine students in all (plus Professor Josef Matoušek) were ordered executed by the Reichsprotektor Konstantin von Neurath on this day in 1939, and afterwards more than 1200 were sent to concentration camps.

Ever since that awful day, November 17th has been set aside as a tribute to student activism around the world.

By an odd coincidence, the Athens Polytechnic uprising also came to a head on the same day, only in 1973; as such, this day is a school holiday in Greece, known as the Day of the Greek Students.

In 1989, 50 years to the day after their earlier tragedy, Czech students were again protesting, this time against a tyranny from the Left - events which would later lead to the fall of the Communist government of that country. Today is also a holiday in the Czech Republic, known as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.

Naturally, my perspective on International Students Day skews in a more inclusive way; to me this day represents the ongoing process of learning that ought to occur every day of our lives, honouring those people who've chosen to become students for life. Time and again studies have shown that such intellectual pursuits as reading and doing crossword puzzles increase mental acuity in older people, and so help to ward off such conditions as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. And let's face it: the world needs as many high-functioning brains as it can get right now.

The Pop Culture Institute would like to take this opportunity to reiterate its dedication to the cause of enlightenment through entertainment and education - the Three E's - whether in a formal setting, a self-directed curriculum, or simply by reading this blog... In the words of Jefferson Airplane, 'feed your head'!

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POPnews - November 17th

[As many as 15,000 students took part in a demonstration in Prague against the Communist rule of Gustáv Husák on this day in 1989; the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th gave pro-democracy movements throughout the Eastern Bloc much needed momentum, and eventually enabled all of them to throw their former oppressors out, which they did in a largely peaceful way.]

284 CE - Diocletian was proclaimed Roman Emperor by his soldiers.

1183 - At the Battle of Mizushima the Minamoto clan led by Yada Yoshiyasu suffered a loss at the hands of the Taira clan under Taira no Tomomori and Taira no Noritsune as part of the ongoing Genpei War.

1558 - The Elizabethan Era began when England's Queen Mary I (better known as Bloody Mary) died and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I (popularly called Good Queen Bess); the day would be celebrated throughout the country for much of the next 200 years.

1603 - Sir Walter Raleigh went on trial for treason for his role in the Main Plot; a favourite of Elizabeth I, early in the reign of her successor he incurred the wrath of James VI and I of Scotland and England, resulting in Raleigh's fall from royal favour... Still, his popularity remained high, and because of it he wouldn't be rushed to the chopping block but rather spend nearly fifteen years in and out of captivity at the Tower of London before eventually being executed in October 1618.

1777 - The Articles of Confederation were submitted by the Second Continental Congress to the individual states for ratification.

1796 - At the Battle of Arcole Napoleon's French army defeated the Austrian forces of József Alvinczi during the third failed attempt by the Austrians to lift the Siege of Mantua.

Photobucket1800 - The opening of the second session of the 6th United States Congress marked the first time that august body met in Washington DC; technically a lame duck session at the end of the Administration of the second US President, John Adams (shown, at right), the congressmen and senators elected to serve there nevertheless managed to preside over the appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, decide the rancourous Election of 1800 (which saw Adam's Vice-President Thomas Jefferson elected President and Aaron Burr Vice-President), as well as placing the new capital under the jurisdiction of Congress.

1811 - José Miguel Carrera - general in the Chilean War of Independence during the Patria Vieja and one of the founders of modern Chile - was sworn in as President of the executive Junta of that country.

1820 - Captain Nathaniel Palmer became the first American to see Antarctica; the continent's Palmer Peninsula would later be named after him.

1839 - Giuseppe Verdi's first opera, Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio opened at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

1855 - David Livingstone became the first European to see Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders) in what is now present-day Zambia-Zimbabwe, renaming them Victoria Falls in honour of Queen Victoria.

1869 - Egypt's Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea, was inaugurated in an elaborate ceremony. This marvel of engineering was overseen by Ferdinand de Lesseps, although it was almost certainly not the first such canal in the area; the Wadi Tumilat may have joined the navigable upper reaches of the Nile with the Red Sea as long ago as 1800 BCE.

1878 - The first assassination attempt was made against Italy's King Umberto I when His Majesty was attacked by an anarchist named Giovanni Passannante during a parade; although the King was injured only slightly, Prime Minister Benedetto Cairoli was gravely injured and the event was said to have left Queen Margherita emotionally fraught for years.

1905 - The Eulsa Treaty was signed between the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire.

1919 - England's King George V proclaimed Armistice Day (later Remembrance Day); the idea was first suggested by Australian journalist and soldier Edward George Honey in a letter to London's Evening News, which had been written under the pseudonym Warren Foster.

1922 - Mehmed VI, former sultan of the Ottoman Empire, went into exile in Italy.

1950 - Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was enthroned as Tibet's head of state at the age of fifteen; he has lived in exile since March 1959, at which time he fled to India following the illegal occupation of his country by China.

1973 - At a speech in Orlando, Florida, President Richard Nixon told 400 Associated Press managing editors 'I am not a crook'; moments later, eight hundred eyes rolled...

1989 - Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution began when a student demonstration in Prague was quelled by riot police; this sparked a more general uprising aimed at overthrowing the communist government, which it succeeded in doing on December 29th.

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