Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Guilt, Desire, and Love" by James Baldwin

At the dark street corner
where Guilt and Desire
are attempting to stare
each other down
(presently, one of them
will light a cigarette
and glance in the direction
of the abandoned warehouse)
Love came slouching along,
and exploded silence
standing a little apart
but visible anyway
in the yellow, silent, streaming light,
while Guilt and Desire wrangled,
trying not to be overheard
by this trespasser.

Each time Desire looked towards Love,
hoping to find a witness,
Guilt shouted louder
and shook them hips
and the fire of the cigarette
threatened to burn the warehouse down.

Desire actually started across the street,
time after time,
to hear what Love might have to say,
but Guilt flagged down a truckload
of other people
and knelt down in the middle of the street
and, while the truckload of other people
looked away, and swore that they
didn't see nothing
and couldn't testify nohow,
and Love moved out of sight,
Guilt accomplished upon the standing body
of Desire
the momentary, inflammatory soothing
which seals their union
(for ever?)
and creates a mighty traffic problem.
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Remembering... James Baldwin

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhenever I'm feeling particularly picked on - or even if I'm having one of my out-and-out victim days - I find it helps me to consider the case of one James Baldwin... Growing up black and gay in the 1930s tends to put any little snit I might find myself in directly into the dumper; I know it's not fashionable to compare oppressions, but come on! As glamourous as they might look to us from this remove, those were some very hard times indeed.

Not only did James Baldwin not hurl himself off the George Washington Bridge (like at least one of his characters - Rufus Scott, in Another Country - did) he turned his hurts inside out all over the printed page, eventually producing the big three - prose, poetry, and plays - in addition to essays and articles by the score.

Born in August 1924, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, by the time his first novel - Go Tell It on the Mountain - appeared in 1953 that phenomenon was all but forgotten. Over the next thirty years Baldwin wrote Notes of a Native Son, Giovanni's Room, and If Beale Street Could Talk among many others.

He died on this day in 1987.
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"Two Of Hearts" by Stacey Q

Direct from the deepest, darkest recesses of the Pop Culture Institute's 'Whatever Happened To' file, it's birthday baby Stacey Q, with her monster hit from 1986, Two of Hearts...

True, she had more success portraying Cinnamon on the sitcom The Facts of Life than she did as a recording artist, but in this instance we must always remember the maxim, first postulated by George Burns: show business is a hideous bitch goddess.

Still, the lady herself seemed sweet enough; if only her career hadn't gotten caught in the cross-fire of recording industry politics - a proposed sitcom deal following her highly successful appearances opposite Mrs. Garrett's gang was nixed by the label, citing the negative effect it could have on her career. Shortly thereafter, she faded from the public eye, and was never heard from again...

Another victory for the record executives!

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Happy Birthday Colin Mochrie

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in Kilmarnock, Scotland, on this day in 1957, Colin Mochrie was brought up in Vancouver, where he was class valedictorian at Killarney Secondary School in 1975; Vancouverites, then, can be proud to call Canadian television's Mr. Nice Guy one of their own...

Mochrie first gained prominence on the BBC's Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where his strong improvisational skills and quick wit earned him kudos by the bushel; he was later a fixture on the American version of the show, and even before it went off the air in 2003 Mochrie had begun gradually insinuating himself into Canadian television - which should have, but utterly failed to, give him his start.

From his participation in the long-running news parody show This Hour Has 22 Minutes to sitcoms like Blackfly to game shows like Are You Smarter Than a Canadian 5th Grader? it looks like Canadian television may be poised to begin reversing the brain drain, one massive* brain at a time.

*And massively funny...
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In Memoriam: Sir Winston Churchill

Churchill was definitely a figure of holy reverence in my house growing up; I wasn't more than three or four chapters into his four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (or was it his six-volume history, The Second World War) when I whole-heartedly succumbed to the family cult.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot that the worship of Churchill has been confined to my family; in 2002 more than a million Britons named him the greatest of them to have ever lived in a BBC poll. I even find that, the more I read about him, the more there is to admire - which is not my usual experience with politicians. Similarly, whenever I read about some unlikable quality of his (such as his casual bigotry, his treatment of working class people, or what have you) it's often something timely, whereas when I discover something amazing it's timeless (like leadership ability, creative output, or indomitable spirit). Not only that, as it stands the least of his good traits seem to far outweigh the worst of his bad ones.

In his long Parliamentary career he became the only MP to serve under both Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II, was named Father of the House for his forty years of unbroken service from 1924, refused a dukedom upon his retirement but accepted honorary US citizenship from President John F. Kennedy, and crossed the floor of the House of Commons twice to suit his conscience: from the Conservative bench to the Liberal then back again.

Born on this day in 1874, Churchill first came to public prominence in 1899 during the Second Boer War when, as a journalist, he escaped from the POW camp where he'd been interned. First elected to Parliament in 1900, he later served as Home Secretary (1910), First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, then held various positions both in and out of office - including Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-9 - before serving as Prime Minister, first from 1940-5, then from 1951-5. When he died at the age of 90 in January 1965 - 70 years to the day after his father - he became one of only eight non-royals in British history to have a State Funeral.
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The Late, Great Pierre Berton Rolls A Joint

Expert in all things Canadiana, when Pierre Berton died on this day in 2004 the country lost one of its finest: a journalist, historian, novelist, television and radio personality (not to mention an all-around great guy). I had the great good fortune to shake his hand once after a taping of Vicki Gabereau's TV talk show; it was one of my life's greatest moments.

Though often considered Establishment for the series of popular histories he wrote, those in the know knew that Berton was always one of the good guys. In his later years he came out swinging against Canada Customs and the deplorable bigotry it aimed squarely at Vancouver's gay and lesbian bookstore Little Sister's; once Berton's voice was added to the hubbub of opposition the shock it made helped to create a mighty roar.

A recreational pot smoker for forty years, Berton's sensible usage of the herb puts to bed the myth that cannabis users are worthless burnouts, given how prodigious and esteemed his output was over the same period - namely fifty books in so many years; in addition to countless articles he wrote, lucid interviews he gave, and insightful TV appearances he made on such shows as Front Page Challenge, Berton's twinkling blue eyes could always be counted on to lighten up any room.
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Happy Birthday Joan Ganz Cooney

Armed only with a few of Jim Henson's Muppets and a dream, Joan Ganz Cooney revolutionized the way children were educated, demonstrating in just a few short years the integral part television can play in child literacy and numeracy if used correctly...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1929, Cooney admits to a shy childhood (which she mainly spent reading books) and a happy adolescence.

Proving the formula Luck=Imagination+Timing, Cooney managed to become involved with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at its inception; as founder of the Children's Television Workshop, Cooney is responsible for the creation of such classic kids shows as the aforementioned Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

Sesame Street
remains the gold standard in children's entertainment; now into its 41st season (it debuted in November 1969, just like me) with more than 4200 episodes to its credit, the show continues to grow and inspire children, bold and shy alike, to build their own happy adolescence.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Oscar Wilde

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne story surrounding the death of Oscar Wilde - itself a typically Wildean anecdote - is too good to be true; in fact, it's even better that it is true. As he lay dying in room 16 of the Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, he quipped: 'Either this wallpaper goes or I do.' It was the sort of ultimatum that only a true aesthete could make, and even in the face of death, beauty mattered most to him.

When Oscar Wilde died, on this day in 1900, it wasn't the decor that killed him, but cerebral meningitis, although his time in jail (1895-7) - first in Pentonville, then in Wandsworth, and finally, most famously, in Reading Prison - had ruined his health.

Today he lies in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, his tomb covered in lipstick traces left by a growing legion of fans, people who have sensibly evolved past the judgemental Victorian hypocrisy which proved his downfall.

The biography of choice remains Richard Ellmann's immensely readable memoir Oscar Wilde; those unwilling or unable to lug around a boat anchor in a slip cover might find Stephen Fry's equally scholarly performance in the 1997 film Wilde more to their liking.
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POPnews - November 30th

[As it snakes its silvery way 42 kilometres (27 miles) across the Niagara Escarpment from Port Colborne on Lake Erie to Port Weller on Lake Ontario it's easy to forget the very practical purpose the Welland Canal serves; although not initially part of the St. Lawrence Seaway, it nevertheless made its fellow engineering marvel possible by allowing shipping a way around the precipitous, if lovely, cataracts of Niagara Falls.  By opening up trade possibilities between Central Canada and the world - and for many decades at that - it made Ontario the engine of the Canadian economy. And, unlike its equally impressive cousin the Erie Canal, it's still in heavy use.]

1700 - At the Battle of Narva a Swedish relief army of 8,500 men under Charles XII, Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, and Otto Vellingk defeated a much larger Russian siege force commanded by Charles Eugène de Croÿ, Ivan Trubetskoy, Adam Veyde, Boris Sheremetev, Alexander of Imereti, and Avtomon Golovin early in the conflict which came to be known as the Great Northern War.

1718 - Swedish king Charles XII died during a siege of the Norway's Fredriksten fortress.

1783 - A 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck New Jersey.

1786 - Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany and future Holy Roman Emperor, promulgated a penal reform that made his the first country to abolish the death penalty; because of this, November 30 is commemorated by 300 cities around the world as Cities for Life Day.

1824 - At the behest of William Hamilton Merritt, construction began on the Welland Canal.

1829 - The first incarnation of the Welland Canal opened for its trial run; five years to the day after construction began the schooner Annie & Jane made the inaugural trip with the canal's instigator William Hamilton Merritt aboard.

1868 - The inauguration of a statue of Sweden's King Charles XII took place in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården, 159 years after he was exiled to the Ottoman Empire following a crushing defeat at the Battle of Poltava and upon the sesquicentenary of his death; in recent years the statue has been the focal point of neo-Nazi rallies on this date, which clashes with police and members of left-wing groups have shattered the tranquility of the Swedish capital.

1934 - The steam locomotive Flying Scotsman became the first to officially exceed 100mph.

1936 - The Crystal Palace - crown jewel of Sydenham Hill - was destroyed by fire; originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London's Hyde Park, Joseph Paxton's architectural whimsy of wrought iron and glass was enlarged upon its removal to Penge Common in 1854.

1940 - Lucille Ball married Desi Arnaz in Greenwich, Connecticut.

1943 - At the Tehran Conference US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin agreed to the planned June 1944 invasion of Europe code-named Operation Overlord.

1953 - Edward Mutesa II, the kabaka of Buganda, was deposed and exiled to London by Sir Andrew Cohen, Governor of Uganda.

1954 - In Sylacauga, Alabama, the Hodges Meteorite - itself a fragment of the Sylacauga meteorite - crashed into the home of Ann Elizabeth Hodges and struck her during her afternoon nap, in the only documented case of a human being hit by a rock from space; while badly bruised on one side she walked away from the accident, although a nearby console radio was destroyed.

1961 - Burma's U Thant was elected the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, following the death of his successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, in a plane crash the previous September.

1966 - Barbados gained its independence from the United Kingdom, with Errol Barrow serving as Elizabeth II's last Premier and first Prime Minister there; lowering the Union Flag and raising the Broken Trident on behalf of Her Majesty that day was HRH the Duke of Kent, who also opened the country's Parliament during the same visit.

1967 - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the Pakistan Peoples Party; its previous leader was his daughter Benazir Bhutto, and its current leadership is split between its founder's grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and son-in-law Asif Ali Zardari, the country's 12th president.

1999 - In Seattle, protests against the WTO Meeting by anti-globalization protesters caught police unprepared, forcing the cancellation of its opening ceremonies. These events have inspired not only a documentary called Breaking the Spell - shot live during the riot by Tim Lewis, Tim Ream, and Sir Chuck A. Rock - but also the Charlize Theron vehicle Battle in Seattle, directed by her longtime squeeze Stuart Townsend.

2004 - Longtime Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings finally lost, leaving him with $2,520,700 - television's all-time biggest game show haul.

2007 - Leeland Eisenberg entered the presidential campaign office of Hillary Clinton in Rochester, New Hampshire, with a device suspected of being a bomb and held six people hostage for 5 hours.
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