Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Cocktails For Two" by Spike Jones and His City Slickers

Spike Jones - born on this day in 1911 - was a musical comedian known for injecting sound effects into popular songs to often hilarious ends; it's a genre which isn't much in favour today, since its particular brand of absurdity is guaranteed to puncture pomposity in whatever form it may appear (be it earnest or glib, arrogant or modest) and we are living in very pompous times indeed...

Cocktails for Two was written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow for the 1934 film Murder at the Vanities*; it was given the Spike Jones treatment, with vocals by Carl Grayson, in 1944. Lyricist Coslow is said to have hated what he perceived as Jones' irreverence toward the material, although surely his punctured pomposity was mollified somewhat by the massive royalties its release on vinyl earned him - as it likely would when Jones' version was used in a 2006 UK Schweppes advert, had he not been dead for 25 years.

*Still only available on VHS, ugh!

share on: facebook

The Death of George Washington

In September 1796 George Washington published his Farewell Address, one of the defining documents of the young republic; after retiring from the US presidency in March 1797 he returned home to Mount Vernon to resume his favoured profession, that of gentleman farmer.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis first year back Washington turned an unprofitable farm on the property into one of the country's largest distilleries, and within two years it was earning him a tidy profit*.

Anyway, Washington had always been a successful farmer, owing as much to his administration of it as the fecundity of the land itself; the plantation already produced cotton, tobacco, and hemp - as well as housed more than 100 slaves - why not hooch as well?

In 1798 his successor (and former Vice President) John Adams promoted Washington to the rank of Lieutenant General, then the senior rank in the US military (just as during the Bicentennial year President Gerald Ford would posthumously promote him to General of the Armies, so 'that no officer of the United States Army should outrank' him).

The following December Washington spent a blustery day surveying his property, after which he sat down to supper in his wet clothes; two days later, on this day in 1799, the Father of His Country was dead at the age of 67, attended by his best friend Dr. James Craik and his secretary Tobias Lear V. Within three years, in May 1802, Lady Washington would join him.

In March 2007 a restored version of that distillery was reopened on the grounds of Mount Vernon National Historic Landmark.

*This is what former Presidents used to do to make money in the olden days, before golf and whoring their dreadful memoirs around the lecture circuit for a few years became de rigeur.

share on: facebook

Remembering... Myrna Loy

One of Hollywood's brightest lights was dimmed on this day in 1993, when Myrna Loy called it a wrap...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOnce considered exotic by Hollywood standards, during the silent era Loy often played vamps, slathered in heavy makeup and slinking around wearing a gold lame kimono; by the early 1930s, though, the studio brains had started letting her be herself onscreen - a wholesome all-American comedienne - at which time her star began to rise.

In 1934 she was cast to play Nora Charles, heroine of The Thin Man - from the popular novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett - opposite William Powell; in the character she found her perfect balance of sexy and sassy, and in the costar she found the ideal foil. Suddenly, after 80 films, she was an overnight success.

In all, Loy and Powell would star together in a total of 14 films - including six Thin Man movies - making them Hollywood's most durable pair; the time it would take you to watch their onscreen marriage is longer than many of the actual marriages attempted in "real life" by members of the movie colony.

With the outbreak of World War II she acted less, preferring charitable works; what appearances she did make in her later career were memorable, though, such as in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). Born in August 1905, Myrna Loy played her final scene in 1991, when she accepted the Honorary Academy Award via film clip from her home in New York City.
share on: facebook

"Panis Angelicus" by Anthony Way

He's performed for hundreds of thousands of people since the age of nine including HM The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family; now a wily veteran of the classical music industry, Anthony Way (born on this day in 1982) is seen here near the beginning of his career, singing this Easter favourite (included here as part of my concerted effort, War on Christmas 2009 - Christmas, Easter, what's the diff, right?), Panis Angelicus.
share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: The Death of Albert, Prince Consort

Their marriage in February 1840 has long been considered one of the genuine love stories of the English monarchy; in contrast to the prim image concocted for her by the era to which she has given her name, there was at least one Victorian woman capable of a carnal attraction to her husband, and that woman was the Queen herself.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlbert, Prince Consort's legacy while alive was profound - they had nine children together for a start, children whose children and grandchildren would eventually populate half the thrones of Europe - but the legacy left by his early death was in many ways more profound still.

Victoria's grief at the loss of her Consort - on this day in 1861 - would reverberate through the entire Empire; initially received begrudgingly with lukewarm suspicion at best, his commitment to the furtherance of science and technology, charitable nature, removal of the British Royal Family from politics, and unique perspective on international relations (as exemplified by his commitment to the Great Exhibition of 1851) did as much to make Britain the foremost world power of the era as the Royal Navy and as they did to secure his own place in history.

Following his death, memorials to him would abound, not the least of which - Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall - are among the top attractions in London.
share on: facebook

In Memoriam: George VI

His Royal Highness The Prince Albert, Duke of York was never supposed to become King of England; it was only thanks to his feckless older brother Edward VIII (and the scandalous private life of his younger brother Prince George, Duke of Kent - not to mention the scandalous dullness of his other younger brother Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester) that he was thrust into the job in the first place. It was thanks to his own sense of duty, though, (as aided by the determination of his Queen as he was by the four packs of cigarettes he smoked each day) that he was even able to do his level best in helping the British Empire to take down Hitler.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSince the Prince born on this day in 1895 at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate shared his birthday with the 34th anniversary of his great-grandfather's death - a day which was still being marked at his great-grandmother's court with heavy mourning - he was given the name Albert, although the family always referred to him as Bertie. A shy child, prone to tears, he was treated badly because of his left-handedness, and had knock knees which needed correction with splints; for some reason he developed a stammer early in life. None of it endeared him to his bellicose and demanding father, although his equally formidable mother was sympathetic in her own utterly undemonstrative way.

In the tried-and-true method of toughening up Princes, Bertie spent his formative years in the military; he even saw action during World War I aboard HMS Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland... After which he was forced to forego any further toughening up due to a duodenal ulcer - still, he gave it a better try than his own grandson Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, who quit the Royal Marines after four months.

In April 1923 the hapless Prince turned his luck around when he finally persuaded Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to marry him, at Westminster Abbey, following a two-year pursuit; as we have seen, the men of the House of Windsor are either made or broken by their choice of wives, and the newly created Duke of York was now made in the shade (thanks to an eerie radiance cast by his new Duchess). In April 1926 came the first of his little Princesses, Elizabeth, followed in 1930 by Margaret Rose; as a husband and father Bertie set a new standard as far as the doting royal male was concerned.

The Abdication Crisis thrust Bertie from the back of the Buckingham Palace balcony to the front in December 1936; no longer the Duke of York he was now George VI, and it was through England's darkest hours that his light would come to shine its brightest. He battled his stammer back in order to address his people prior to his coronation in May 1937 (winning that war before the outbreak of another, even greater one), remained in London throughout The Blitz, and let Churchill do his thing (winning the war tactically) while he did the King's job of boosting morale. England expected every man to do his duty, and her King certainly kept up his end of the bargain.

It all took its toll, though, and George VI died, too young, in February 1952.  He was just 56.

Currently the life of George VI - particularly the struggle he faced with his stammer - is getting the big screen treatment, in The King's Speech; as directed by Tom Hooper from a script by David Seidler, it features genuine heart-throb Colin Firth as the undaunted monarch, Helena Bonham Carter as his formidable queen, and Geoffrey Rush as Australian-born speech therapist Lionel Logue amongst an all-star cast.
share on: facebook

"London Calling" by The Clash

London Calling, the title track of a double album released on this day in 1979 by The Clash, is a howling, wholly epic punk aria, a screeching screed, a bellowing from the belly of the beast - in this case, the early days of the Thatcher government. If the times demanded bitches who knew how to set things straight in both politics and the arts, this is the sound of their battle...

Naturally, the powers-that-be won't let me post the song's excellent early video, so I had to settle for this live performance, which is still pretty good. If you prefer the original, you know what to do.
share on: facebook

POPnews - December 14th

[With Joe Strummer's howls and yelps and bloody great lungsful of primal screamery The Clash shoved punk rock's culture war against the Establishment even further into the mainstream with the UK release of London Calling; the title track's guitars grind like an abrupt changing of gears, pelleting the listener with drum beats, the whole thing driven by a bass line that swoops and soars with rumbling discontent. It's no coincidence that it came out the same year Margaret Thatcher was first elected Prime Minister.]

1287 - St. Lucia's Flood killed between 50,000 and 80,000 in Holland when the seawall holding back the Zuider Zee collapsed the day after St. Lucia's Day.

1542 - Mary, Queen of Scots, ascended the throne following the death of her father, James V; she was just six days old.

1751 - The Theresian Military Academy - the first such school in the world - was founded by Austria's Empress Maria Theresa at the castle in Wiener Neustadt.

1782 - The Montgolfier Brothers succeeded in lifting a hot-air balloon off the ground during their first test flight; they succeeded so well, in fact, they lost control of the balloon, which drifted for more than 2 km before crashing.

1819 - Alabama became the 22nd US state.

1836 - The Toledo War - declared between Ohio and Michigan over a strip of land along their joint border dubbed the Toledo Strip, containing such prime real estate as Toledo - unofficially ended following the intercession of US President Andrew Jackson.

1896 - Glasgow's subway opened.

1903 - The Wright Brothers made their first attempt to fly the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1907 - The schooner Thomas W. Lawson ran aground and foundered near the Hellweather's Reef within the Scilly Isles in a gale; the pilot and 15 seamen died.

1911 - Roald Amundsen's team - comprising himself, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting - became the first to reach the South Pole.

1914 - Lisandro de la Torre and others founded the Democratic Progressist Party (the Partido Demócrata Progresista, or PDP) at the Hotel Savoy in Buenos Aires.

1918 - Finland's King Väinö I renounced the throne of the Kingdom of Finland, having only been elected by the Eduskunta little more than two months earlier; before that he was just plain old Prince Charles Frederick of Hesse.

1962 - Mariner 2 flew past Venus.

1964 - The US Supreme Court ruled in the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States that Congress could use its Commerce Clause power to fight discrimination, an important victory for the American Civil Rights Movement.

1972 - Eugene Cernan became the last person to walk on the moon, after he and Harrison Schmitt completed the third and final Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) of Apollo 17; it would be the last manned mission launched by NASA's Apollo Program to the moon in the 20th century.

1979 - The Clash released their epic double album London Calling in the UK.

1981 - Israel's Knesset passed The Golan Heights Law, extending Israeli law to the area of the Golan Heights - which did wonders towards easing tensions in the Arab-Israeli Conflict*.


2003 - Former Pakistani Generalissimo Pervez Musharaf narrowly escaped an assassination attempt near Rawalpindi.

2004 - France's Millau Viaduct, currently the highest bridge in the world, was officially opened.

share on: facebook