Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy American Thanksgiving


Entitled Freedom from Want - and itself one of Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings, which were inspired by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union address of January 1941, also known as Four Freedoms - this iconic image was first published in The Saturday Evening Post in March 1943.

Over the years this famous feast has been extensively parodied, and yet each satirical rendering has only served to strengthen the sentiments it embodies; it's offered here, first and foremost, to my American readers, in the hopes that the abundance it depicts will accrue to you and yours in the coming year.
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In Memoriam: Joe DiMaggio

Born on this day in 1914 (the eighth of nine children) when Joe DiMaggio was a year old the entire brood moved to San Francisco and, even more than New York, it was thereafter the city most often associated with him; following his retirement he opened a successful restaurant in the city's North Beach neighbourhood, and became known for his quiet good works in children's athletics.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn his entire illustrious career - thirteen seasons in all from 1936 to 1951 (save for a 31-month stint in the USAF starting in February 1943) - Joe DiMaggio wore no uniform other than that of the New York Yankees, and no number but #5 would suit the man they called the Yankee Clipper. The three-time MVP and 13-time All Star won nine World Series victories in his 13 seasons, and in 1941 embarked on a legendary 56-game hitting streak which earned him another sobriquet: Joltin' Joe. Yankee Stadium may have been 'The House That Ruth Built', but it was Joe DiMaggio who paid the mortgage.

Whatever fame his years in baseball accrued to him, his retirement wasn't exactly spent out of the limelight. A surprise 274-day marriage to the up-and-coming starlet Marilyn Monroe in January 1954, for instance, or his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, seemed to occur in spite of his desire for privacy, and seemingly without his encouragement either, as he was notoriously reticent, especially with the press.

Despite the shortness of their marriage, DiMaggio remained devoted to Marilyn for the rest of his life (which came to a close in March 1999); following their divorce he never remarried, although he was often seen squiring lovely ladies around. Rumours circulated at the time of her death in August 1962 that he was trying to get her to marry him again, but it never came to pass.

After her death he was the only one of the men with whom she was involved who didn't try to capitalize on their relationship by writing some kind of tell-all book; indeed, Arthur Miller wrote a whole play about their life together while DiMaggio never so much as gave an interview. Nevertheless, he's the one who made her funeral arrangements, and had six red roses delivered to her final resting place 3 times a week for 20 years.
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Pop History Moment: Band Aid Recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas"

Now, under normal circumstances, I'm something of a hard-ass about displays of Christmas before my birthday*; having been raised by the Queen of Christmas herself, if I didn't put my foot down as a child, those few birthday parties I did have would have all been Santa-themed and awash in tinsel. But even I am capable of reason - a revelation which may come as something of a surprise to my regular readers - so I've decided to make an exception in this case, since this particular Christmas morsel is especially suitable for blogging... ~ MSM

On this day in 1984 the cream of Britain's music industry made their way to Midge Ure's home recording studio in London's Notting Hill at the behest of Bob Geldof to record a song called Do They Know It's Christmas? under the musical rubric of Band Aid. With just 24 hours in which to do it, Ure and Geldof (with Nigel Dick behind the camera) recorded (and recorded the making of) the biggest charity record in history prior to Elton John's rewriting of his own song to assuage the public grief over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales just under a bakers' dozen years later.

For me the most interesting thing about this video, at least in pop cultural terms, is how many of the faces (or images, anyway) shown here continue to exert their pull over British music - or at least the tabloid headlines - to this day. While Kool & The Gang and Jody Watley were the only Americans present, those British and Irish performers included Freddie Mercury, Phil Collins, Paul Young, Simon Le Bon, Bono, George Michael, Sting, Paul Weller, and a badly jet-lagged Boy George; among those whose careers haven't gone so well since the 80s ended are the members of Spandau Ballet, Keren Woodward of Bananarama, Heaven 17's Martyn Ware, and Boy George's protege Marilyn.

*November 28th...

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Gratuitous Brunette: Jill Hennessy

Canada's Jill Hennessy first came to my notice when she emerged through the revolving doors in the casting department at Law & Order; undoubtedly, though, there are those - such as the pervs who like to spank it to the twisted works of twisted Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg - who will remember her and her sister Jacqueline for playing twin call girls in his twisted 1988 gynecological S&M epic Dead Ringers.

PhotobucketSo while she might have been a sensation as Dana Scully, on The X-Files (a role that, of course, went to Gillian Anderson) it was as ADA Claire Kincaid that American audiences came to know her, and it was as Jordan Cavanaugh on Crossing Jordan that they came to know her even better still.

Following a high profile role as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the TV-movie Jackie, Ethel, Joan: The Women of Camelot*, something tells me we haven't heard the last of Jill Hennessy; if anyone can pull a third act out of her career she can. Not only has she been recording an album in Nashville - bolstered, no doubt, by the acclaim her barefooted onstage jam sessions with the Indigo Girls have earned her - but she recently directed an independent film about the lives and loves of a group of thespians called The Acting Class.

*Based on the book by famed celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli.

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Pop History Moment: The Death of Yukio Mishima

The author of poetry, prose, and plays, Yukio Mishima's literary tendencies earned him abuse as a youth and acclaim as an adult; as respected as Mishima's works are for their philosophical mysticism, throughout the 1960s his hard-line nationalist views began to make even his admirers uneasy. More than his politics, though, it's the manner of his death that has cast a pall over his achievements as a master of Japanese post-war literature...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1970 Mishima and four members of the private army he founded, Tatenokai, paid a visit to General Kanetoshi Mashita, the commandant of the Ichigaya Camp, which is the Tokyo headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Japan Self-Defense Forces; after seizing control of the camp, Mishima tried to rally the assembled troops to undertake a coup d'etat in order to bring about the restoration of divinity to the Emperor, Hirohito, which had been stripped from him by the US as a condition of peace following World War II.

For his efforts, Mishima was jeered.

Returning to the commandant's office he committed seppuku - a form of ritual suicide specified as a face-saving alternative to capture by the bushido code of the Samurai, to which tenets Mishima had become obsessed - with the assistance of Masakatsu Morita (who was unable to complete the task) and Hiroyasu Koga (a kendo master who was not only able to finish off Mishima but Morita as well).

Mishima had secretly planned his suicide for at least a year, probably aware the whole time that post-war Japan would never again embrace such anachronisms as a divine emperor and the bushido code. His own twisted sexuality surely played a part, as did his disdain for Western influence upon Japanese society, in creating an unresolvable dichotomy between an idealized past and an unwillingness to accept change in the present. While many conservatives prefer to sadistically lash out at progressives over just such a conflict of their own making, Mishima was a masochist, and instead took his frustrations out on himself.

If there's a moral to this story, I can't quite bring myself to spell it out...
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Remembering... Flip Wilson

Way way back in the day - when the only black folks regularly on TV were Diahann Carroll's Julia, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, and Sammy Davis, Jr. on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In - there was also Flip Wilson, whose weekly variety show The Flip Wilson Show debuted in 1970; among the writing staff for the ground-breaking show was George Carlin, whose counter-cultural proclivities were then only just developing. Here we see Wilson in character as Geraldine, making the normally unflappable Muhammed Ali look more than a little nervous...

When Flip Wilson died on this day in 1998 the outpouring of grief surprised most observers; Wilson had been all but out of show business for the last two decades of his life by that time. However, those who knew him when were quick to eulogize their friend as a gentle soul whose great joy in life was entertaining people...
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"The White Ship: A Ballad" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone)

King Henry held it as life's whole gain
That after his death his son should reign.

'Twas so in my youth I heard men say,
And my old age calls it back today.

King Henry of England's realm was he,
And Henry Duke of Normandy.

The times had changed when on either coast
“Clerkly Harry” was all his boast.

Of ruthless strokes full many an one
He had struck to crown himself and his son;
And his elder brother's eyes were gone.

But all the chiefs of the English land
Had knelt and kissed the Prince's hand.

And next with his son he sailed to France
To claim the Norman allegiance:

And every baron in Normandy
Had taken the oath of fealty.

'Twas sworn and sealed, and the day had come
When the King & the Prince might journey home:

For Christmas cheer is to home hearts dear,
And Christmas now was drawing near.

Stout Fitz-Stephen came to the King;—
A pilot famous in sea-faring;

And he held to the King, in all men's sight,
A mark of gold for his tribute's right.

”Liege Lord! my father guided the ship
From whose boat your father's foot did slip
When he caught the English soil in his grip,

“And cried,” By this clasp I claim command
O'er every rood of English land!”

“He was borne to the realm you rule o'er now
In that ship with the archer carved at her prow:

“And thither I'll bear, an' it be my due,
Your father's son and his grandson too.

“The famed White Ship is mine in the bay;
From Harfleur's harbour she sails today,

With masts fair-pennon'd as Norman spears
And with fifty well-tried mariners.”

Quoth the King: “My ships are chos'n each one,
But I'll not say nay to Stephen's son.

“My son and daughter and fellowship
Shall cross the water in the White Ship.”

The King set sail with the eve's south wind,
And soon he left that coast behind.

The Prince and all his, a princely show,
Remained in the good White Ship to go.

With noble knights and with ladies fair,
With courtiers and sailors gathered there,
Three hundred living souls we were:

And I Berold was the meanest hind
In all that train to the Prince assign'd.

The Prince was a lawless shameless youth;
From his father's loins he sprang without ruth:

Eighteen years till then he had seen,
And the devil's dues in him were eighteen.

And now he cried: “Bring wine from below;
Let the sailors revel ere yet they row:

“Our speed shall o'ertake my father's flight
Though we sail from the harbour at midnight.”

The rowers made good cheer without check,
The lords and ladies obeyed his beck;
The night was light, and they danced on the deck.

But at midnight's stroke they cleared the bay,
And the White Ship furrowed the water-way.

The sails were set, and the oars kept tune
To the double flight of the ship and the moon:

Swifter and swifter the White Ship sped
Till she flew as the spirit flies from the dead:

As white as a lily glimmered she
Like a ship's fair ghost upon the sea.

And the Prince cried, ”Friends, 'tis the hour to sing!
Is a songbird's course so swift on the wing?”

And under the winter stars' still throng,
From brown throats, white throats, merry & strong,
The knights and the ladies raised a song.

A song,—nay, a shriek that rent the sky,
That leaped o'er the deep!—the grievous cry
Of three hundred living that now must die.

An instant shriek that sprang to the shock
As the ship's keel felt the sunken rock.

'Tis said that afar—a shrill strange sigh—
The King's ships heard it and knew not why.

Pale Fitz-Stephen stood by the helm
'Mid all those folk that the waves must whelm.

A great King's heir for the waves to whelm,
And the helpless pilot pale at the helm!

The ship was eager and sucked athirst
As a swimming bladder fills when pierc'd;

And like the moil round a sinking cup,
The waters against her crowded up.

A moment the pilot's senses spin,—
The next he snatched the Prince 'mid the din,
Cut the boat loose, and the youth leaped in.

A few friends leaped with him, standing near.
“Row! the sea's smooth and the night is clear!”

“What! none to be saved but these and I?”
“Row, row as you'd live! All here must die.”

Out of the churn of the choking ship,
Which the gulf grapples and the waves strip,
They struck with the strained oars' flash & dip.

'Twas then o'er the splitting bulwarks' brim
The Prince's sister screamed to him.

He turned about, still rowing apace,
And through the whirled surf he knew her face.

To the toppling decks clave one and all
As a fly cleaves to a chamber-wall.

I Berold was clinging anear;
I prayed for myself and quaked with fear,
But I saw his eyes as he looked at her.

He knew her face and he heard her cry,
And he said, “Put back! she must not die!”

And back through the flying foam they reel
Like a leaf that scuds in a water-wheel.

'Neath the ship's travail they scarce might float,
But he rose and stood in the rocking boat.

Prone the poor ship leaned on the tide:
O'er the naked keel as she best might slide,
The sister toiled to the brother's side.

He reached an oar to her from below,
And stiffened his arms to clutch her so.

But now from the ship some spied the boat,
And “Saved!” was the cry from many a throat:

And down to the boat they leaped and fell:
It turned as a bucket turns in a well,
And nothing was there but the surge & swell.

The Prince that was and the King to come,
There in an instant gone to his doom,

Despite of all England's bended knee
And maugre the Norman fealty!

He was a Prince of lust and pride;
He showed no grace till the hour he died.

When he should be King, he oft would vow,
He'd yoke the peasant to his own plough.
O'er him the ships score their furrows now.

God only knows where his soul did wake,
But I saw him die for his sister's sake.

By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone.)

And now the end came o'er the waters' womb
Like the last great Day that's yet to come.

With prayers in vain and curses in vain,
The White Ship sundered on the mid-main:

And what were men and what was a ship
Were toys and splinters in the sea's grip.

I Berold was down in the sea;
And passing strange though the thing may be,
Of dreams then known I remember me.

Blithe is the shout on Harfleur's strand
When morning lights the sails to land:

And blithe is Honfleur's echoing gloam
When mothers call the children home:

And high do the bells of Rouen beat
When the Body of Christ goes down the street.

These things and the like were heard & shown
In a moment's trance 'neath the sea alone;

And when I rose, 'twas the sea did seem,
And not these things, to be all a dream.

The ship was gone and the crowd was gone,
And the deep shuddered & the moon shone:

And in a strait grasp my arms did span
The mainyard split from the mast where it ran;
And on it with me was another man.

Where lands were none 'neath the dim sea-sky,
We told our names, that man and I.

“O I am Godefroy de l'Aigle hight,
And son I am to a belted knight.”

“And I am Berold the butcher's son
Who slays the beasts in Rouen town.”

Then cried we upon God's name, as we
Did drift on the bitter winter sea.

But lo! a third man rose o'er the wave,
And we said, “Thank God! us three may He save!”

He clutched to the yard with panting stare,
And we looked & knew Fitz-Stephen there.

He clung, and “What of the Prince?” quoth he.
“Lost, lost!” we cried. He cried, “Woe on me!”
And loosed his hold & sank through the sea.

And soul with soul again in that space
We two were together face to face:

And each knew each, as the moments sped,
Less for one living than for one dead:

And every still star overhead
Seemed an eye that knew we were but dead.

And the hours passed; till the noble's son
Sighed, “God be thy help! my strength's foredone!—

“O farewell, friend, for I can no more!”
“Christ take thee!” I moaned; & his life was o'er.

Three hundred souls were all lost but one,
And I drifted over the sea alone.

At last the morning rose o'er the sea
Like an angel's wing that beat tow'rds me.

Sore numbed I was in my sheepskin coat;
Half dead I hung, and might nothing note
Till I woke sun-warmed in a fisher-boat.

The sun was high o'er the eastern brim
As I praised God and gave thanks to Him.

That day I told my tale to a priest,
Who charged me, till the shrift were releas'd,
That I should keep it in mine own breast.

And with the priest I thence did fare
To King Henry's court at Winchester.

We spoke with the King's high chamberlain,
And he wept and mourned again & again,
As if his own son had been slain:

And round us ever there crowded fast
Great men with faces all aghast:

And who so bold that might tell the thing
Which now they knew to their lord the King?
Much woe I learnt in their communing.

The King had watched with a heart sore stirr'd
For two whole days, and this was the third:

And still to all his court would he say,
“What keeps my son so long away?”

And they said:— “The ports lie far and wide
That skirt the swell of the English tide;

“And England's cliffs are not more white
Than her women are, and scarce so light
Her skies as their eyes are blue and bright;

“And in some port that he reached from France
The Prince has lingered for his pleasaùnce.”

But once the King asked: “What distant cry
Was that we heard 'twixt the sea and sky?”

And one said: “With suchlike shouts, pardie!
Do the fishers fling their nets at sea.”

And one: “Who knows not the shrieking quest
When the sea-mew misses its young from the nest?”

'Twas thus till now they had soothed his dread,
Albeit they knew not what they said:

But who should speak today of the thing
That all knew there except the King?

Then pondering much they found a way,
And met round the King's high seat that day:

And the King sat with a heart sore stirr'd,
And seldom he spoke and seldom heard.

'Twas then through the hall the King was 'ware
Of a little boy with golden hair,

As bright as the golden poppy is
That the beach breeds for the surf to kiss:

Yet pale his cheek as the thorn in Spring,
And his garb black like the raven's wing.

Nothing heard but his foot through the hall,
For now the lords were silent all.

And the King wondered, and said, “Alack!
Who sends me a fair boy dressed in black?

“Why, sweet heart, do you pace through the hall
As though my court were a funeral?”

Then lowly knelt the child at the dais,
And looked up weeping in the King's face.

“O wherefore black, O King, ye may say,
For white is the hue of death today.

“Your son and all his fellowship
Lie in the Sea's bed with the White Ship.”

King Henry fell as a man struck dead;
And speechless still he stared from his bed
When to him next day my rede I read.

There's many an hour must needs beguile
A King's high heart that he should smile,—

Full many a lordly hour, full fain
Of his realm's rule and pride of his reign:—

But this King never smiled again.

By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone.)


(To Lucy Rossetti for her children,
with her brother's and their uncle's love.)


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POPnews - November 25th

[The most poignant image from the State Funeral of slain US President
John F. Kennedy came when the President's son, John F. Kennedy, Jr.
saluted the passing cortege as it emerged from Washington DC's
St. Matthew's Cathedral; for an added blow to the solar plexus,
consider that the event occurred on John-John's third birthday.

1034 - When Scotland's King Máel Coluim mac Cináeda (otherwise known as Malcolm II) died Donnchad (anglicized as Duncan) - the son of Malcolm's daughter Bethóc and Crínán of Dunkeld - inherited his throne; Duncan I is best remembered today as a character in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

1120 - The White Ship Disaster claimed William Adelin, the only male heir of Henry I of England; his death resulted in The Anarchy, a crisis over a disputed succession considered by many to have been the first English civil war which wouldn't be settled until the signing of the Treaty of Wallingford by Empress Matilda in 1153 and the accession of Henry II the following year after the death of King Stephen.

1177 - Saladin was defeated at the Battle of Montgisard by Raynald of Chatillon and Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem.

1758 - The city of Pittsburgh was founded.

1767 - Poland's King Stanislaus II was crowned at St. John's Cathedral in Warsaw.

1783 - The last British troops withdrew from New York City under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, marking the end of the American Revolution.

1795 - Poland's King Stanislaus II was forced to abdicate, and thereafter went into exile to Russia.

1809 - British diplomat Benjamin Bathurst disappeared in the German town of Perleberg, and is presumed to have been murdered, although his body has never been found.

1839 - 300,000 people died when Coringa, India, was hit by three tidal waves as part of a 40 foot storm surge; it had previously been hit in 1789 and rebuilt, but in the wake of this tragedy was abandoned.

1864 - The so-called Confederate Army of Manhattan, led by one Jacob Thompson, attempted to burn down New York City on that year's Election Day.

1874 - The United States Greenback Party was established as a political party consisting primarily of farmers affected by the Panic of 1873.

1947 - The so-called Hollywood Ten - Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo - were officially blacklisted, prevented from working in American movies due to their supposed Communist sympathies.

1952 - The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie's redoubtable sleuther, hit the boards of London's New Ambassadors Theatre; transferred next door to the St Martin's Theatre in 1974, it's still running after 24,000+ performances. Based on a true story made fiction as Three Blind Mice (also by Christie) it's the longest-running stage play in history.

1960 - The Dominican Republic's Mirabal sisters were assassinated.

1963 - President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

1970 - Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima committed ritual suicide - seppuku - in Tokyo following a failed coup attempt.

1973 - Greece's far-right-wing junta, headed by George Papadopoulos, was ousted by another, slightly-less-right-wing, junta led by Dimitrios Ioannides under the figurehead President Phaidon Gizikis.

1984 - Largely at the behest of Bob Geldof, Band Aid recorded Do They Know It's Christmas - at Midge Ure's home studio in London's Notting Hill.

1992 - Czechoslovakia voted to split itself into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which it would do just 36 days later.
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