Thursday, February 17, 2011

"I'm Gonna Be Strong" by Gene Pitney

Gene Pitney's influence as a songwriter casts a very long shadow indeed over American popular music; so why, then, have I chosen to feature him performing a song he didn't write on what should have been his 71st birthday? Well, because that's just what I'm like!

I'm Gonna Be Strong was originally written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil for Frankie Laine in 1963; it was Pitney, though, who made it a hit in 1964, using the same skills which made Town Without Pity such an era-defining smash in 1961. The first time I heard this song, of course, was when Cyndi Lauper included a version of it on her 1994 greatest hits compilation Twelve Deadly Cyns...and Then Some; as is usually the case with material as strong as this, it loses nothing in translation.

Pitney died in April 2006, in the midst of a UK tour.

*Which she'd earlier recorded with her band Blue Angel in 1980.

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Pop History Moment: Jeffrey Dahmer Was Jailed

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On this day in 1992 serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was jailed for life - actually 957 years or 15 concurrent life sentences - in the US for murdering and dismembering 15 young men and boys. He was sent to Columbia Correctional Institution where in November 1994 he was severely beaten alongside fellow inmate Jesse Anderson by Christopher Scarver; Dahmer died en route to hospital, while Anderson died two days later.

If you can stand the passive-agressively homophobic tone, here's the story told from a slightly more livid perspective; as usual, good old Wikipedia has a more reasonable approach.

Obviously, in this man we see the end result of growing up among religious fundamentalists. He got no help when he mutilated animals, he got prayer. When he felt himself beginning to desire other boys he got condemnation rather than the unconditional love promised by Jesus. Following his incarceration he became a born-again Christian rather than expressing remorse. It's easy to judge and despise and condemn such a person; why not do the challenging thing for once, and try to understand him?
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Gratuitous Brunette: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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At first he was just this little pipsqueak named Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun - a funny pipsqueak, with great comedy timing for a kid, but just a kid. Well, it's a funny thing about 13-year-olds... Four years later and suddenly they're 17. I remember the phenomenon well from high school - the short fat kid comes back from summer vacation a tall and thin babe.

Proving he's more than a pretty face, the brilliant work he did on 3rd Rock led him into some interesting theatre and movies - including the much-lauded (500) Days of Summer, opposite the even more lauded Zooey Deschanel - and I always say if you're going to be someone to watch, it doesn't hurt if you're something to look at as well.

Born on this day in 1981 he's now a completely safe age to ogle, which I'm sure I shall continue to do with impunity for many years to come...
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"Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" by Green Day

Birthday wishes go out today to Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of pop-punk stalwarts Green Day, whose single Boulevard of Broken Dreams was just one of the great tracks on their seventh album, 2004's American Idiot.

Although it may be hard for people to believe now, Green Day provided the most high-profile criticism of the tyrant George W. Bush as he laid waste to the United States in his efforts to be elected President for the first time, following his judicial coup in 2000; while the press was sleeping the slumber of the overly-contented, Billie Jo and the boys were left to lead the charge alongside Michael Moore.
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Pop History Moment: The New Yorker Is First Published


On this day in 1925 Harold Ross and Jane Grant launched an entirely new kind of magazine, aimed at an entirely new kind of person - the New Yorker. More urbane than the average urbanite, possessed of a more-sophisticated-than-thou attitude - not to mention ├╝ber-liberal - whether they actually lived in New York was irrelevant; if they couldn't come to Manhattan, Manhattan would henceforth be brought to them.

For more than eighty years, under the varying guidance of half a dozen editors, The New Yorker has remained the gold standard in magazine publishing; contrasting witty cartoons with serious journalism, relying on quality content rather than gimmickiness, you'd think the magpie on crack responsible for anything as ninnified as this blog would be averse to its quality, but you'd be wrong.

Not only do I hover over the girl at the corner store until she shelves it every Friday morning, only to devour every word of each issue as quickly as I can - cartoons first, of course, then articles, interspersed with poems - both The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker and The Complete New Yorker (eight decades' worth of issues on DVD-ROM!) have pride of place in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute.
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POPnews - February 17th

[Try as I might to find colour pictures to accompany POPnews, this week the Internet Photo Gods continue sending me black and white photos instead, meaning you the reader get yet another glimpse at this dull, lifeless surface; still, if this were another blog the dull lifeless surface you'd be looking at would be Paris Hilton... You're welcome!]

1600 - The philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition at Rome's Campo de' Fiori for teaching such despicable heresies as heliocentrism. Because that's what Jesus would have done.

1621 - Myles Standish was appointed the first military commander of Plymouth Colony.

1801 - An Electoral College tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr was resolved when Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President by the US House of Representatives.

1854 - The United Kingdom recognized the independence of the Orange Free State.

1864 - During the American Civil War the H. L. Hunley became the first submarine to engage and sink a warship, in this case the USS Housatonic.

1871 - The victorious Prussian Army paraded though Paris after the end of the Siege of Paris, the principal conflict of the Franco-Prussian War.

1904 - Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly (with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. In the starring roles were Rosina Storchio (as Cio-Cio San), Giovanni Zenatello (as B. F. Pinkerton), and Giuseppe De Luca (as US consul Sharpless). It was, in fact, Puccini's first version of the opera, meant to be performed in two acts; after a disastrous opening, the show was rewritten into three acts, and thereafter flourished.

1913 - The Armory Show opened in New York City, displaying works of artists who were to become some of the most influential painters of the early 20th century.

1933 - The Blaine Act repealed the Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ending Prohibition in the United States; it would be accepted as the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5th.

1936 - The world's first superhero, The Phantom, made his first appearance in comics.

1958 - Pope Pius XII declared Saint Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television.

1959 - Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes survived an air crash a few miles short of the runway at London's Gatwick Airport near the Sussex village of Rusper which killed 12 people.

1965 - As part of NASA's Project Ranger, the Ranger 8 probe was launched on its mission to photograph the Mare Tranquillitatis region of the Moon in preparation for the manned Apollo missions to come; the so-called 'Sea of Tranquility' would eventually become the site chosen for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

1974 - Robert K. Preston, a disgruntled U.S. Army private, buzzed the White House at 2 AM with a helicopter stolen from nearby Fort Meade, Maryland; neither President Richard Nixon nor any of his family were in residence at the time.

1992 - A court in Milwaukee sentenced serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer to 957 years in prison on 15 counts of first-degree murder.

1995 - Colin Ferguson was convicted of six counts of murder for the December 1993 Long Island Rail Road shootings; he later received a 200+ year sentence.

1996 - In Philadelphia, world champion Garry Kasparov beat the Deep Blue supercomputer in a chess match.

2003 - The London Congestion Charge scheme began.

2008 - Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia.

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