Sunday, January 09, 2011

"Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" by Crystal Gayle

Birthday wishes go out today to Crystal Gayle, whose 1977 country hit Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue achieved considerable crossover success - owing in part to the lady herself, whose classiness in interviews, concerts, and public appearances endeared her to many...

The youngest of eight children and sister to fellow country music legend Loretta Lynn, Gayle's career has been more low-key* than that of her iconic sibling, but has still seen its great moments: We Must Believe in Magic - the album which spawned the monster hit shown above - was the first by a female country artist to be certified platinum**, Gayle herself became the first person in history to record a television concert on the Great Wall of China and, on a personal note, she teamed up with Pop Culture Institute favourite Tom Waits to record the soundtrack*** for Francis Ford Coppola's 1982 film, One from the Heart.

While it might not seem like much to the casual observer, it was during the period of Gayle's collaboration with Waits that he met his future wife, Kathleen Brennan - a relationship which would cause the paradigm shift in Waits' music that brought about the end of the so-called Asylum Years of his early career and inspired the more innovative work he's done since, a process of ongoing experimentation which has expanded the frontiers of American popular music in ways too numerous to mention.

Wait! What were we talking about? Oh yeah... Pretty song, pretty lady, happy birthday!

*And certainly far less controversial!

**No doubt helped as much by its #1 position on the country charts as its #2 position on the pop charts.
***For which Waits would earn an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Musical Score.
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Happy Birthday Your Potential Highness


I had almost convinced myself that, after an eight-year on-again off-again engagement any announcement Our Wills was planning to marry birthday gal Kate Middleton was going to seem anti-climactic - until, that is, the news came in December 2010...  Even now that it's had time to sink in those of us who feel it's our business are still going ever so slightly ape-shit!

Prince William was on the record as saying that he'd like to marry at the age of 28, which age he turned in June 2010; official reports (meaning wags at the British tabloids) had long claimed that the marriage would take place in 2011 - in advance of the whole brouhaha in 2012 of the Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  We now know the date will be April 29th.

In the meantime all that remains for the rest of us is to watch and wait...
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"Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez

Birthday wishes go out today to Joan Baez whose greatest success was born of the folk revival of the 1960s, and whose stamina for performance and activism thankfully remains undimmed...

Diamonds & Rust was one of her biggest hits; written in 1975, it recalls an event from a decade earlier in which she meets her lover at a seedy motel in Greenwich Village. But who exactly is the lover? There are those - even Baez herself - who seem to think the song is about Bob Dylan, but then she's done what she can to muddy this by counter-claiming the song is about her ex-husband David Harris.

Personally, I don't think it matters, as the song itself is a poignant reminiscence about a lost time and an equally lost love into which the listener can easily project their own time, place, and lover...
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"Tableau" by Countee Cullen

Locked arm in arm they cross the way,
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day,
The sable pride of night.
From lowered blinds the dark folk stare
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.
Oblivious to look and word
They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder.
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Remembering... Countee Cullen

When he died - on this day in 1946 at the age of only 43 - Countee Cullen was among the foremost black writers in the world; although he said he strove to be a poet first and a black poet second, his work is rife with black imagery (as it would be) and he can reasonably be thought of as a poet who happened to be black.

PhotobucketOne of the few writers acclaimed during the Harlem Renaissance to have outlived the hype, Cullen's childhood is shrouded in mystery. He is now thought to have been born in Louisville, but abandoned by his mother as an infant; he made his way to Harlem, where at the age of fifteen he was adopted by Frederick Ashbury Cullen, pastor of Harlem's Salem Methodist Episcopal Church and co-founder of the National Urban League.

Having shown promise as a poet from a young age, Cullen never contemplated any other career; following his graduation from the mostly white DeWitt Clinton High School, he attended New York University. As he had in high school, at university he worked for the school publication, joined Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded the Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Prize.

While still an undergraduate Cullen began working for The Crisis, under W. E. B. Du Bois, who would one day become his father-in-law; he later obtained his Master's degree from Harvard.

In 1928 Cullen married Nina Du Bois, but the marriage broke after just two months when he and the best man went to Europe on his honeymoon, leaving Nina behind. He would later marry Ida Mae Roberson and, despite his affairs with other men, seems to have been more considerate of her feelings. That same year Cullen was named a Guggenheim Fellow.

Though his life was short his career while alive was prodigious: he published 7 books of poetry, 3 novels (including 1931's One Way To Heaven), and in the last year of his life also wrote a play. His sudden death - of uremia and high blood pressure - was a shock to the literary community.
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"The Rain, The Park and Other Things" by The Cowsills

Today would have been the 63rd birthday of Bill Cowsill, lead singer, guitarist, and founding member of the 1960s group The Cowsills, whose sweet harmonies charted three hits during that decade's folk music revival, of which this was arguably the biggest; The Rain, The Park and Other Things reached #2 in the US in 1967. The other two were 1968's Indian Lake, and 1969's Hair, the title track from the musical. The band was the inspiration for TV's classic show The Partridge Family; their sound is generally described as bubblegum pop.

Later a fixture of the Vancouver and Calgary music scenes - and key in the development of the alt-country movement founded in those two cities - throughout the 1980s and 90s (where he would mentor singer-songwriter Jann Arden) Bill Cowsill died in Calgary in February 2006 of emphysema, following a long battle with drug addiction. He was also afflicted with Cushing's syndrome and osteoporosis.
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