Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Better Get To Livin' " by Dolly Parton

Proof that, unlike some of her contemporaries, Dolly Parton is an artist rather than merely a performer, here she is still crafting exceptional music with positive messages four decades after she first sashayed onto a Nashville stage.

Taken from the exceptionally named 2007 album, Backwoods Barbie, it's Better Get to Livin' - which song was co-written by Kent Wells, and which Steve Lippman-directed video features an appearance by funny lady and a favourite of ours here at the Pop Culture Institute, Amy Sedaris.
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Julian Barnes: Nothing To Be Frightened Of

The problem with most celebrities is they won't shut up; they just bang on and on about stuff with which they have only a cursory understanding, as susceptible to the mocking laughter of studio audiences as to the goadings of ratings-mad TV presenters... The problem with Julian Barnes is he seems reluctant to say much of anything outside of his novels, despite obviously being in possession of an elegant perspective on modern life.

Photobucket Of course, it helps that his works can so eloquently speak for themselves, not requiring the spin of their author to help them make sense. Even England, England, his 1998 comedy of manners on modern Britain was insightful and even-handed - rather than, say, raunchy and nonsensical like some I could name - whereas insight and even-handedness would seem to be in rather short supply in the culture itself.

Born on this day in 1946, Barnes is the author of ten novels*. The first of them, Metroland, appeared in 1980; it was followed by Before She Met Me, Flaubert's Parrot, and Staring at the Sun at two year intervals. A History of the World in 10½ Chapters followed in 1989, presenting his fellow authors with the daunting task of figuring out exactly how he managed to write half a chapter.

The rest of his list is comprised of Talking it Over (1991), The Porcupine (1992), Love, Etc. (2000), and Arthur & George (2005); in addition to these he's also published books of essays, short stories, journalism (both from The New Yorker and on cooking), In the Land of Pain (2002) the translation of memoir by Alphonse Daudet, and his own memoir Nothing to Be Frightened Of in 2008. For his efforts he's been awarded the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the E. M. Forster Award, the Prix Médicis, the Shakespeare Prize, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Duff Cooper Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and three times the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in addition to having been made a Chevalier of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

*Under his own name, that is, as well as four works of detective fiction in the 1980s under the rubric Dan Kavanagh.

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Gratuitous Brunette: Luke Macfarlane

PhotobucketIn the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I know nothing of the work of today's Gratuitous Brunette and birthday boy, Luke Macfarlane... It does happen occasionally, and while mostly I try to bluff and cover it up by acting like I do, today I'm too tired to lie. I posted this because a) I needed a bit of filler*, and b) he is cute and dark-haired.

I've never seen Brothers & Sisters, the show that has given Macfarlane his breakthrough, but then again on paper it seems like the kind of thing I would like, so take from that what you will. No, if Macfarlane had never come out he might have come to my attention sooner or later, being Canadian and all, but without the gay angle he'd just be another pretty face.

Let that be a lesson to you, all you male starlets of Hollywood... If you want the awesome prestige and massive publicity bump for your career, you know what you have to do... Be Canadian.

*For once, not a euphemism.

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"Jolene" by Dolly Parton

Easily one of my favourite songs of all times was written and is here performed by easily one of my favourite artists, Dolly Parton - whose birthday it is today. Jolene tells the story of a woman at risk of losing the love of her life to a more beautiful woman, who it turns out is only trifling with the man's affections. Despite the many incongruities in the song*, it is sincerely told - both heartbreaking and heartfelt - taking the form of a heart-to-heart talk between the singer and the song's namesake.

While I'd loved it as a child, the song fell off my radar for a few years; all my original fervour and more returned when Jack White performed it on Late Night with Conan O'Brien during The White Stripes' week of guest appearances there in April 2003. As is often the case, having a man sing a song written to be sung by a woman** takes the lyric to an entirely different level, which was definitely true in this case.

Jolene is the title track to Parton's 1974 album, and the fact that the song is based on a true story only makes it that much more gut-wrenching. She's seen here performing it on Porter Wagoner's long-running TV show in 1974, when the song was still new.

*1) More beautiful than Dolly Parton?, 2) What does Dolly want with this cheating creep anyway?, and 3) He's only getting what's coming to him if he strays from someone who loves him with some tease, etc etc...
**As in the case of Dan Finnerty and The Dan Band, who came to prominence in the LA music scene doing just that.
Indeed, the same applies with most cover versions, since a different performer invariably brings (or ought to, anyway) a different perspective as well as different phrasing etc. to the material, while a vocal sex change causes a major paradigm shift.

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In Memoriam: Pulcheria

To anyone who despairs at the supposed moral failings of modern royalty may I suggest a brief visit now and then with their counterparts in the Byzantine Empire? There are hardened criminals in our society today with a greater sense of right and wrong, not to mention propriety, than the best of the Byzantine rulers. Vicious schemers, poisoners, zealots, back-stabbers - and those were the good ones! - is it any wonder the Byzantine Empire still holds so much fascination for us today? It all makes even the best soap opera look tepid by comparison...


One such ruler was born into the House of Theodosius on this day in 399 CE; the daughter of Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius and Aelia Eudoxia, Pulcheria seems to have delighted in palace intrigues, yet managed to avoid creating much of a body count in the process, at least amongst her royal brethren.

PhotobucketAs the elder sister of the boy emperor Theodosius II, Pulcheria wielded tremendous power, even going so far as to take a vow of chastity... Not out of any sense of decorum, mind you, but to avoid being forced into a dynastic marriage, which she knew well enough would lead to no good and, considering the primitive midwifery of the times, possibly even assassination by childbirth. She even went so far as to declare herself Empress in 414 CE - at the precocious age of 15!

For her part in the conversion of her pagan sister-in-law Eudocia - in fact, for her vicious suppression of all pagan influence in the civil service as well as her part in the exile of the Jews and the destruction of all the synagogues in Constantinople - Pulcheria comes down to us through history as a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Of course, to the Byzantines, saintliness was next to intolerance, making her not only a very holy figure indeed but one who only got holier the older she got.

Originally a supporter of Archbishop Nestorius and unopposed to the Germanic brand of Christianity called Arianism, her religious fervour naturally deepened with age, and she later called the Council of Chalcedon to condemn Nestorianism, having enlisted the help of Cyril of Alexandria to help the errant cleric see the error of his ways. They still sent him into exile, but at least they did so convinced his conscience was clear...

In 441 CE a eunuch named Chrysaphius seems to have convinced Theodosius to set aside his sister and install him in her place, after which she retired to a nunnery; where better, I ask you, to plot one's revenge? Following the death of Theodosius in 450 CE she returned to court and, via a hastily arranged marriage to the German Marcian - who gracefully agreed to respect his 51 year-old wife's vow of chastity! - she then proceeded to leverage her husband into the imperial throne. One of his first acts as emperor was to order the execution of Chrysaphius... Three guesses as to whose idea that was?

Having established many churches to the Virgin Mary in Constantinople, including the Church of St. Mary of the Blachernae, Pulcheria died in July 453 CE, leaving her husband to let the Western Roman Empire continue its long topple (especially after the Vandals sacked Rome in 455 CE); during the last four years of his rule he was mainly under the influence of his mentor, the Alan general Aspar, who'd been as influential as his late wife in bringing Marcian to power in the first place.

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POPnews (UK) - January 19th

[The blast radius of the Silvertown Explosion was estimated at 7 hectares, and was heard as far as 160 km (100 miles) away; it even blew out windows at the Savoy Hotel in central London, although because it occurred at ten minutes to seven in the evening neighbouring factories were empty and area residents would have been on the lower floors of their homes, minimizing the potential casualties considerably. Still, the damage caused was estimated at £2.5 million, although the reconstruction and relief effort ended up costing £3m.]

1764 - John Wilkes was expelled from the House of Commons for seditious libel. His crime? Co-authoring a racy parody of Alexander Pope's poem An Essay on Man with Thomas Potter entitled An Essay on Woman which his rival - fellow Hellfire Club member, former First Lord of the Admiralty, future Postmaster General, delicatessan innovator, and noted douchebag - John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, read aloud in the House of Lords in hopes of discrediting him. Montagu succeeded, making Wilkes an outlaw and eventually leading to a massacre of his supporters following Wilkes' arrest in May 1768.

1806 - The United Kingdom occupied the Cape Colony at the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa eleven days after the Battle of Blaauwberg, at which Lieutenant General Sir David Baird defeated Lieutenant General Jan Willem Janssens of the Dutch Batavian Republic.

1812 - After a ten day siege during the Peninsular War, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, ordered British soldiers of the Light and third divisions to storm the Spanish cathedral town of Ciudad Rodrigo, a siege which lasted ten days.

1839 - The British East India Company captured Aden.

1915 - Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn in the UK were bombed by German zeppelins, marking the first aerial bombardment of civilian targets in history. Leave it to the Germans...

1917 - 73 were killed and 400 injured when 50 tons of TNT exploded at the Brunner Mond munitions plant in the London suburb of Silvertown.

1988 - Irish author Christopher Nolan won the UK's prestigious Whitbread Book Award for his memoir of growing up with cerebral palsy.
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Happy Birthday Dolly Parton

Tennessee never had a better daughter than Dolly Parton; in a career spanning more than 40 years - her first single, Dumb Blonde* from her debut album Hello, I'm Dolly, charted in 1967 - she has traveled the globe many times over, and wherever she's gone she's not just gathered fans but made friends. So much so that when a British newspaper recently asked its readers to identify the classiest woman alive, Parton was chosen for this singular honour by a wide margin.

PhotobucketOriginally Parton moved to Nashville to become a songwriter, and she had a little success in that venture, having published nearly 600 in her career so far. When I Will Always Love You became a bigger hit for Whitney Houston than it ever was for Dolly Parton it only underscored Parton's talent in that regard (in addition to earning her an estimated $6 million in royalties).

But Parton doesn't sit on her money; instead she funnels it back into the community that raised her. When she established Dollywood in 1986 many scoffed; today it's one of the most visited attractions in the state - with some 2.5 million visitors annually - bringing jobs and revenues to what had once been a depressed region of Appalachia.

The most honoured woman in country music has actually made herself heard in pop music as well, as her career has taken her all over the musical terrain; recent albums have been more bluegrass oriented, and feature her expert banjo playing in addition to those distinct vocals. Additionally, she's made her mark in movies, where her natural grace has inevitably shone through, in films like 9 to 5 (1980), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), and Steel Magnolias (1989) .

The main reason for Dolly Parton's success is that the word 'hate' is not in her vocabulary; Dolly loves everyone, just like Jesus wants her to, and they return the favour in abundance.

*A song which, oddly enough, she didn't write; it was, in fact, written by Curly Putman.

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Now Showing - "Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager"

Birthday wishes go out today to Aaron Yonda, the co-creator (along with Matt Sloan) of Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager; back in the day*, when all of this Interweb stuff was still an uncharted frontier, this was one of the first shows that demonstrated the power of New Media to me. Should I ever manage to get off my duff and actually create my own content in this manner, I'll undoubtedly owe people like Aaron Yonda (and Matt Sloan) a debt of gratitude for showing me the way...

As it is, procrastination prevails here at the Pop Culture Institute, so I'll just have to remain (for now, at least) one of the multitude who've contributed to giving this particular episode - the show's pilot, in fact - more than 9.6 million views since it was first posted in July 2006.

*In this instance, 2006...
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POPnews - January 19th

[The last thing I recall was typing in the words 'Cooper's' and 'briefs', at which point my head started to swim... When I was finally revived by my assistant Pandora I recalled a story making the rounds in April 2007 that, while at the gym, silver fox Anderson Cooper was spied showering in his. Never before in the history of the Pop Culture Institute has such an egregiously spurious connection been made to justify the posting of a picture!]

1520 - Sten Sture the Younger, the Regent of Sweden under the Kalmar Union, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Bogesund; he died a couple of weeks later, on February 5th.

1607 - Manila's San Agustin Church was officially completed; it is currently the oldest church in the Philippines.

1795 - The Batavian Republic was proclaimed in the Holland, ending the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

1817 - An army of 5,423 soldiers, led by General José de San Martín, crossed the Andes from Argentina to liberate Chile and then Peru.

1853 - Giuseppe Verdi's opera Il Trovatore made its debut at the Teatro Apollo in Rome.

1893 - Henrik Ibsen's play The Master Builder premiered in Berlin.

1917 - German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent the Zimmermann Telegram to Mexico, proposing a German-Mexican alliance against the United States.

1935 - Cooper's sold their first-ever pair of men's briefs.

1937 - Howard Hughes set a new record for flying from Los Angeles to New York - 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds - in his H-1 Racer.

1953 - An estimated 68% of the televisions in the United States were tuned in to see Lucy give birth to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.

1966 - Indira Gandhi was elected Prime Minister of India.

1969 - Student activist Jan Palach died, three days after setting himself on fire in Prague's Wenceslas Square to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968; Palach's funeral turned into another major protest.

1975 - State-owned and publicly funded radio station Triple J began broadcasting in Sydney, Australia.

1977 - US President Gerald Ford pardoned Iva Toguri-D'Aquino, one of about twenty women who during World War II broadcast as Tokyo Rose.

1981 - US and Iranian officials signed an agreement known as the Algiers Accords which brought about the end of the Iran Hostage Crisis with the release of 52 American hostages after 14 months of captivity. Iran decided to wait a day, though, so as to coincide the release with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, who later let the credit for it be attributed to him even though, as the mere President-elect, he had no part in the negotiations, whereas President Jimmy Carter and his Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher definitely did.

1983 - The Apple Lisa, Apple Inc.'s first commercial personal computer to have a graphical user interface and a computer mouse, was announced.

2007 - Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated in front of his newspaper's office by 17-year-old Turkish ultra-nationalist Ogün Samast.
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