Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Matt Groening

For merely creating Life in Hell, Matt Groening would have earned the eternal gratitude of the Pop Culture Institute; yet those koan-like drawings and their sharp dialogue were only the start... For creating The Simpsons, he's earned our slavish devotion as well, and that he could then complete the hat trick with anything as fine as Futurama has him well on his way to demigod status in our eyes...

PhotobucketAll of which leaves me wondering what's next for the Oregonian (born on this day in 1954) whose gentle manner and abundant imagination has populated all of our lives, mainly with dozens of outstandingly blunt - and therefore unforgettable - yellow people.

That the candy-coloured world of Springfield often conceals a bitter or bad-tasting flavour makes it not only trenchant satire but also gives the show the potential to change the world. Tell me my faults and I will tell you you're wrong; show me my faults and make me laugh at them and just maybe I'll change my ways. For all his affable demeanour and studied ordinariness, this seems to be the message at the core of Groening's art, and I know I prefer it to the myriad judgements of religion.

As it is, The Simpsons looks poised to run forever; short of the simultaneous death or dismissal of all of the show's major voices, it seems as though Groening has not so much crafted a sitcom as created a perpetual motion machine, one that must keep moving forward with a shark's grace, feeding at the shoals of the very pop culture it so deftly and humourously skewers.
share on: facebook

"Souled Out" by Conor Oberst

Birthday wishes go out today to Conor Oberst, who was born on this day in 1980; musically and otherwise precocious, Oberst was writing and performing by the age of ten, releasing his own music at 13, and touring with Bright Eyes at 15.

Souled Out originally appeared on Conor Oberst's self-titled 2008 solo album.
share on: facebook

Pop History Moment: FDR Survives Assassination Attempt

[Here we see Anton Cermak, left, with then-Governor of New York Franklin Roosevelt, centre, and his son James Roosevelt, right, at the 1932 World Series in Chicago; FDR was at Wrigley Field on the evening of October 2nd to throw out the first ball of Game 4 during his campaign for the presidency.]

On this day in 1933, Giuseppe Zangara tried to assassinate President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt and ended up shooting Chicago mayor Anton Cermak instead; Roosevelt and Cermak were touring Miami's Bayfront Park at the time of the attack, where a memorial plaque marks the event today. Zangara's original plot had apparently involved killing President Herbert Hoover - since, to his way of thinking, all politicians were the same.

The diminutive assassin was seized by members of the crowd after he'd fired just one shot; in the ensuing melee he shot wildly four more times, injuring four more. Cermak (who was standing on the running board of the car at the time he was fatally wounded) died of peritonitis 19 days later, having famously said to Roosevelt en route to hospital: 'I'm glad it was me and not you, Mr. President'.

Zangara was executed in March 1933 after just ten days on Death Row when he was led to the Florida State Penitentiary's electric chair, Old Sparky; having confessed fully upon his arrest, Zangara remained unrepentant as he met his death.
share on: facebook

World City-Zen: St. Louis


Initially home to Mississippian Mound Builders, on this day in 1765 Pierre Laclède established a trading post on the Mississippi, upriver from the port at New Orleans, which he named for the 13th Century French King Louis IX. As the region changed hands from the Spanish to the French to the Americans, the growing settlement at St. Louis - located near where the Mississippi River and the Missouri River meet - made the colony of Louisiana ever more valuable.

The Louisiana Purchase, negotiated by US President Thomas Jefferson, added 2,147,000 sq. km (or 828,800 square miles) to the fledgling nation* in April 1803; it cost the United States $11,250,000, plus the cancellation of debts worth $3,750,000, for a total cost of $15 million. The transfer was celebrated at St. Louis in March 1804 on the so-called Three Flags Day (which actually took three days).

That wasn't, however, the only momentous event to occur in the city that year - not by a long shot... The Lewis and Clark Expedition departed the city in August 1803 and returned there on September 1806, having made it all the way to the Oregon Coast and back. Aided by the arrival of steamboat traffic in 1817, fur trappers like Ashley's Hundred could reach overseas markets from St. Louis rather than having to go all the way to New Orleans to trade in person.

Missouri became the 24th US state in August 1821, and its principal city was incorporated in December 1822; a fire in May 1847 burnt much of the city (already devastated by a cholera outbreak) to the ground. A steady influx of immigrants meant there was ample labour to rebuild, and quickly; while the Civil War did little militarily to impede the city's growth, it did shut down trade with the South. Fortunately the city's pivotal role as a trade depot to both the Union's army and navy kept it financially solvent during this time.

The Gilded Age, which followed the Civil War, saw the city become headquarters to various huge companies - Ralston-Purina and Anheuser-Busch to name just two - and the city's ambitions at the time were made manifest by two pieces of infrastructure in particular: 1874's Eads Bridge, the first bridge built across the Mississippi, and 1892's Wainwright Building, which lays claim to being the world's first skyscraper**. Home to both the 1904 World's Fair and 1904 Olympic Games - the first Olympics ever held in the United States - the city played a crucial role (culturally and otherwise) during Prohibition and the Great Depression, as much a home to jazz and the blues as it was bootleg hooch.

One of America's more interesting inland cities, the principal icon of St. Louis today is the Gateway Arch, which opened in July 1967.

*Just about doubling its size in the process!
Both are still extant today.

share on: facebook

"St. Louis Blues" by Bessie Smith

In honour of the founding of Missouri's pre-eminent city, St. Louis, here's the Empress of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith, in a rare (and very raw) filmed performance of St Louis Blues (written by W. C. Handy) from 1929 - which is the only known film footage of one of the 20th Century's most powerful singers.
share on: facebook

POPnews - February 15th

[The most indelible image from the funeral of George VI, on this day in 1952, was the sight of Three Queens - mother, widow, and heir - watching from the platform at Paddington Station in heavy mourning as the body of the King prepared to make its final journey to Windsor Castle.]

399 BCE - Socrates was sentenced to death, having been found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens; interestingly, Socrates was the subject of history's first recorded impersonation, having been roundly lampooned in Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds - a tribute which would later contribute to his downfall. Socrates' chosen means of death was drinking a mix of the poisonous hemlock, a demise to which Seneca paid homage at his execution in 65 CE and which I can't help thinking of whenever I find myself walking along Vancouver's Hemlock Street.

1637 - Ferdinand III became Holy Roman Emperor, having already become King of Hungary-Croatia, King of Bohemia, and King of the Romans.

1764 - The city of St. Louis, Missouri, was established by Pierre Laclède de Liguest.

1898 - The USS Maine was sunk in Havana Harbour, killing more than 260, and prompting the Spanish-American War; the cause of the explosion which sank the vessel (and the identities of its perpetrators) remains unknown. Throughout the hostilities that followed 'Remember the Maine' became a well-known battle cry.

1903 - The first Teddy Bear was produced by Morris Michtom; sales of the stuffed animal were so brisk that Michtom (originally proprietor of a candy store in Brooklyn) founded the Ideal Toy Company in 1907.

1906 - The UK's Labour Representation Committee renamed itself the Labour Party after winning 29 seats in the House of Commons, with Keir Hardie among the first members of the new party to take his seat.

1933 - Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Bayfront Park in Miami; instead he shot Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who died 19 days later of his injuries.

1942 - The Fall of Singapore followed an invasion by Japanese forces, and when the British General Arthur Percival surrendered, about 80,000 Indian, British and Australian soldiers became prisoners of war; the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history also prompted the Sook Ching massacre.

1952 - King George VI was buried in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following a lying-in-state at Westminster Hall and a State Funeral; currently he rests in the George VI Memorial Chapel, alongside the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

1961 - Sabena Flight 548 crashed in Belgium, killing 73, including the entire US Figure Skating team, several coaches and family members.

1965 - The Canadian flag was adopted to replace the Red Ensign; the occasion is marked (or ought to be, anyway) as National Flag of Canada Day.

1971 - British currency was decimalized on Decimal Day.

1976 - The most recent Constitution of Cuba was adopted by a national referendum.

1980 - Television One and Television Two (formerly South Pacific Television) went to air for the first time as the newly created Television New Zealand.

1982 - The oil drilling rig Ocean Ranger sank during a storm off the coast of Newfoundland, killing 84 workers.

1989 - The Soviet Union officially announced that its attempted invasion of Afghanistan - begun in December 1979 - was over, with the last of its troops having left the country.

1991 - The Visegrád Agreement - establishing cooperation to move toward free-market systems - was signed by the leaders of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland at a summit in the Hungarian castle town of Visegrád.

2003 - Between 8 million and 30 million people demonstrated for peace in more than 600 cities around the world, marking the largest anti-war protest in history.

2005 - YouTube went online.
share on: facebook