Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Dr. Feelgood" by Motley Crue

In order to provide the greatest possible variety of music on this blog - as well as to celebrate the birthday of Nikki Sixx, bassist and lyricist for pioneering 80s hair band Mötley Crüe - here's one of their biggest hits, Dr. Feelgood, the title track from their 1989 album; because the song's official video is off limits for some reason*, here's a snippet of the band performing the song live from their Carnival of Sins concert video.

*In other words, the usual reason!
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Remembering... Bettie Page

For some reason I've always associated Bettie Page with Vancouver - probably because I'd never heard of her until I'd moved here, and upon moving here found her name and style ubiquitous amongst the hipsters whom I've always admired from afar...

PhotobucketA n y w a y... As sad as it was to receive the news that she had died - on this day in 2008 - my grief was somewhat ameliorated by the realization that the Pop Culture Institute now had the ideal justification to post a picture of boobies! Imagine my thrill at finding such an image of her that also incorporated Christmas; thank you for that Hugh Hefner and Playboy! Then (if you'll be so indulgent) imagine my chagrin when, several months later, I discovered that photo had been ordered removed by Photobucket. With any luck this nipple-free shot will pass muster, and survive until this time next year*.

Although Page's later life was marked by a prolonged battle with mental illness which I'm sure was entirely unrelated to her born-again spirituality** the free and easy (not to mention downright kinky) style of her youth not only ensured her notoriety then but meant that even the most mainstream media - meaning Canada AM, which makes The Today Show look edgy - noted the passing of this once-controversial and no-longer obscure pop culture icon.

Bettie Page was most famously portrayed by Gretchen Mol in the 2005 film The Notorious Bettie Page. Might I suggest renting it tonight in her honour? If you don't (or even if you do) there may be a spanking in it for you...

*It did.  Yay!
**The Truth in Blogging Commission requires me to point out that this is sarcasm.
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In Memoriam: Kamehameha V

The best thing about writing this blog is the people I get to meet... Not (as with Facebook) that I ever get to actually meet any actual people as a result of it - yet - but between my fellow bloggers with whom I play 'comment tag' and the parade of historical figures both famous and obscure traipsing through here I've managed to trick myself into thinking that these proceedings are like some cosmic cocktail party with a guest list not even Truman Capote could throw together.

PhotobucketSome of my favourite guests here at the Pop Culture Institute are the Hawai'ian royals; not only are they among the only native royalty to have been added to the American melting pot, they are somehow both famous and obscure at the same time - which contradiction I love with all my love...

One such royal is the Hawai'ian king, Kamehameha V, who was born on this day in 1830 to High Chief Mataio Kekuanaoa and Princess Elizabeth Kinau; ultimately a tragic figure, he nevertheless did his part in shaping modern Hawai'i. Within his short lifetime he oversaw his nation's progress from a remote paradise to a tourist destination, raised his voice against alcohol - which killed his countrymen (who, like his fellow members of the North American First Nations, had the sort of metabolisms which were unable to process it) with impunity - and otherwise did his level best to insure the sovereignty of Hawai'i despite overwhelming odds.

Of course, Hawai'ian royalty wasn't exactly blessed with fecundity; maybe if they'd been able to establish a consistent line of primogeniture the international community would have seen fit to protect their line from the depredations of American gunboats, which would ultimately make their once-great nation into a mere state. Betrothed to Bernice Pauahi at birth, when she chose instead to marry Charles R. Bishop His Majesty was so heart-broken he never again considered marriage; as much as I feel his pain, I also know that royalty's number one job is to perpetuate the line, meaning if I'd been there I'd have told him to man up and beget the son and heir like pronto.

Despite a mere nine years on the throne, in addition to strengthening the role of the King under the terms of the the 1864 Constitution Kamehameha V built both the Aliʻiōlani Hale and expanded the ʻIolani Palace built by Kamehameha III, although he both drained the treasury and went into debt to do it. Since he steadfastly refused to name an heir, when he died - also on this day in 1873, on his 43rd birthday - the legislature chose the ill-fated Lunalilo to succeed him.  It did not, as you might have already guessed, go well...
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"Ghetto Rock" by Mos Def

Birthday wishes go out today to Mos Def, the best kept secret in hip hop... More's the pity, since his socially conscious messages need the widest possible audience, especially amongst the bling and beyotches crowd. Here he's seen bustin' a rhyme on MTV's Def Poetry - Ghetto Rock, the B-side to his 2004 single Sex, Love & Money, from that year's album The New Danger.

In addition to being a talented rapper who's gifted with the mad skillz, he's also an accomplished actor - most famous around the Pop Culture Institute for tackling the role of Ford Prefect in the 2005 film The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
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Hizzoner Fiorello La Guardia

Of all the men to serve as Mayor of New York - and therefore entitled by tradition to be affectionately referred to by New Yorkers as Hizzoner - few have brought as much actual honour to the office as Fiorello La Guardia, who was born on this day in 1882.

PhotobucketOf course, La Guardia had the good fortune to serve after one of the most corrupt mayors in New York's history, the as charming as he was dissolute Jimmy Walker, so it wouldn't have been difficult to shine by comparison*. Then again, he also had the misfortune to take office on the first day of 1934, more than two years before the Great Depression finally bottomed out. At least he didn't have to deal with Prohibition, although he was kept busy (as if he wouldn't have been busy enough anyway) cleaning up after the mess it had made.

Fortunately for the people of New York City their new mayor throve on challenge... As indefatigable as he was incorruptible, La Guardia refused to play partisan politics by working closely with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to implement the programs of the New Deal; that he was also able to work with both the notoriously imperious Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and the ambitious Thomas E. Dewey - with whom he launched a full-scale assault on organized crime - is a testament to the innate diplomacy and even toughness of the man whose name ironically meant 'The Little Flower'.

They were anxious times, and where Central Casting might have suggested a mayor who was suave and patrician so as to soothe the city's frazzled nerves, instead they got a garrulous ethnic who inspired people by kicking them in the keister and consequently did the job better than anyone before or since...

Having served three consecutive terms at New York City Hall - during which time he brought about the demise of Tammany Hall and the corruption it engendered, spent his evenings riding along with fire-fighters and police officers, personally officiated in municipal court where he meted out his own innovative brand of justice**, built both Floyd Bennett Field and later La Guardia Airport within the city limits, oversaw the 1939 World's Fair, and shattered the fortunes of mobster Frank Costello even as he personally shattered the slot machines that had built that fortune - La Guardia left office on the last day of 1945, having brought the city he loved through both the Depression and World War II with flying colours, while having concurrently served it as mayor and his country as Director of Civilian Defense***.

Retirement didn't agree with Fiorello La Guardia; he died in September 1947, never to witness his life being enacted on the Great White Way in the 1959 musical Fiorello!, starring Tom Bosley in a Tony Award-winning performance. Two recent books cast new light on his amazing career: both H. Paul Jeffers' The Napoleon of New York: Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and The Great Mayor: Fiorello La Guardia and the Making of the City of New York by Alyn Brodsky come highly recommended by the Pop Culture Institute.

*The same enviable situation a certain 43rd President finds himself in.
**A man was brought before him accused of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family; La Guardia first fined the man ten dollars, then fined all those present in the courtroom 50 cents each 'for living in a city where a man has to steal bread in order to eat'. The unfortunate fellow left court that day with $47.50!

*** That's a 133-word sentence, people!
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Pop History Moment: The Abdication of Edward VIII

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In many respects, countries get the leadership they deserve; a nation more concerned with geniality than intellect, for instance, might choose an affable madman who'd never left his country until after he was elected... Rather than, say, someone so able to interpret the zeitgeist on behalf of the entire world that he has to settle for an Academy Award and a Nobel Peace Prize rather than the Presidency, which the nitwit who 'defeated' him spent his entire administration driving into the ground anyway, all the while earning himself the lowest approval rating in history. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Well, the same principle applies for unelected Kings; it's just unfortunate for Edward VIII that he missed his own window of opportunity... What a merry King he'd have made in the 1920s, dancing the Charleston across a nightclub tabletop on Black Friday, the modern equivalent of fiddling while Rome burned.

By the mid-1930s, though, the frivolous and frankly lightweight character of Edward VIII were exactly the opposite of what England needed; fortunately by then he'd fallen into the clutches of a serial maneater and, to borrow the words of Sir Tim Rice, 'the greatest social climber since Cinderella'. Faced with an array of every available maiden in the land positively oozing with virginity or a twice-divorced broad who looked like Ned Sparks in drag, Edward VIII chose Mrs. Simpson, and it was a win-win situation for everyone - except maybe for her, who'd probably delusionally envisioned herself as becoming Queen of England, and instead ended up having to settle for the booby prize as Duchess of Windsor.

Unable to live without this paragon of femininity, Edward VIII did the only patriotic thing, and on this day in 1936 divested his nation of what was by then its most serious liability by abdicating.

While often seen as the gravest danger England had withstood to date, the Abdication Crisis on the contrary strengthened the nation and her Empire, proving that the system worked by eliminating someone unsuitable and seamlessly replacing him with someone else who was altogether better for the job, no matter how trepidatious he might have been to assume the role. Subsequent events - such as the discovery of the his-and-hers Nazi sympathies on the part of the newly created Duke and Duchess of Windsor - only seem to reinforce the fact that the right decision had been made.
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"I'm Sorry" by Brenda Lee

Birthday wishes go out today to Brenda Lee, the pint-sized rockabilly spitfire who was ironically one of the biggest recording artists of the 1950s and 1960s; she was just 13 years old in 1957* when she released her first pop single, Dynamite, which blew away all those who heard it as well as earning her the sobriquet 'Little Miss Dynamite'. Her signature tune, I'm Sorry, came out in 1960, by which time she was best known as a singer of such modern Christmas carols as Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.

I'm Sorry was produced by the legendary Owen Bradley, and proved that his Nashville Sound could and would bridge the gap between pop and country; the power of Brenda Lee's voice - as much as the clarity of her tone - would put her in an elite league with such consummate artists as Connie Francis and Patsy Cline.

*Making her just 66 years young today!
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POPnews - December 11th

[Those responsible for the French Revolution were to blame for some of the most heinous miscarriages of justice in the history of jurisprudence, including the trial of King Louis XVI, shown above; the fact that many of them were lawyers only made things worse. On the plus side, though, they did make the whole genre of lawyer jokes possible.]

1282 - Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales recognized by the British Crown, was killed at Cilmeri by soldiers in the service of England's Edward I; the Welsh remember him as Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf.

1789 - The University of North Carolina was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly.

1792 - The former Louis XVI of France - having been captured following the Insurrection and forced to abdicate in August 1791 - was put on trial; his conviction on the grounds of high treason before the National Convention was a foregone conclusion. Citizen Louis Capet would be executed in January 1793 by Charles Henri Sanson.

1816 - Indiana became the 19th US state.

1905 - An uprising by workers in Ukraine occurred, temporarily establishing the Shuliavka Republic in the capital, Kiev.

1907 - The New Zealand Parliament Buildings were almost completely destroyed by fire.

1925 - Pope Pius XI's encyclical Quas Primas introduced the Feast of Christ the King.

1931 - The Statute of Westminster - an important step towards sovereignty for dominions within the British Empire such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and South Africa - was enacted by the British Parliament.

1941 - Germany and Italy declared war against the United States in retaliation for the United States' declaration of war against the Empire of Japan on December 8th, which was itself in reaction to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th.

1946 - The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established.

1958 - French Upper Volta gained self-governing status from France, becoming the Republic of Upper Volta with full membership in the French Community.

1964 - Che Guevara addressed the United Nations as head of the Cuban delegation; during his speech there an unknown assailant fired a mortar shell at the UN Building.

1971 - The Libertarian Party was formed in the United States.

1972 - The Apollo 17 mission landed on the Moon.

1981 - At the El Mozote massacre armed forces in El Salvador killed an estimated 900 civilians in an anti-guerrilla campaign during the Salvadoran Civil War.

1993 - Forty-eight people were killed when a block of the Highland Towers collapsed near the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

1994 - Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered Russian troops into Chechnya at the outset of the First Chechen War.

1997 - The Kyoto Protocol was opened for signature; to date 183 parties have signed it.

2005 - The Buncefield Oil Depot caught fire in the English town of Hemel Hempstead.
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