Saturday, March 05, 2011

"Romancing The Stone" by Eddy Grant

Birthday wishes go out to Eddy Grant, who did much to infuse Caribbean rhythms into British pop music in the 1970s and 80s first with The Equals and then as a solo act; although his biggest hit was Electric Avenue (named for an actual street in London's East End neighbourhood of Brixton, from his 1983 album Killer on the Rampage) he had others as well, namely I Don't Wanna Dance and this one, written for the movie of the same name.

Why the producers of Romancing the Stone (1984) deigned to pass on this song is beyond me - the first person able to decipher the impenetrable logic of Hollywood is gonna win some Nobel Prize or other - but pass they did, forcing a re-shoot of the original video (which had contained scenes of the film); nevertheless, it was something of a minor hit, no doubt propelled by the publicity, much of which was adverse and all in Grant's favour.

Although it's a bit weak out of context - what stone? and why are you romancing it? - it's still a tidy bundle of beats which fairly demand to be danced to, which is what I'm doing now.

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Remembering... William Powell

During the 1930s, William Powell was Hollywood's go-to guy when the role required a likable sophisticate; of all his performances, that of Nick Charles in the The Thin Man (1934) - not to mention five sequels which followed - perfectly demonstrated Powell's versatility as an actor, excelling at both bubbly screwball comedy and taut detective thriller, often in the same scene.

PhotobucketBorn in July 1892, Powell got his start in vaudeville, then made the inevitable transition to silent films; during the early sound era (1929-34) his distinctive voice and upright bearing were much sought after for romantic leads that required a man, rather than a boy.

It's a measure of the man that, in an age when rancourous divorces were all the rage, Powell managed to remain on civil terms with both of his ex-wives, notably fellow screen legend Carole Lombard. Powell was also engaged (but never married) to Jean Harlow, and as such was the principal mourner at her funeral following her untimely death in June 1937. Powell's final off-screen marriage was more enduring, lasting from 1940 until his death on this day in 1984. Onscreen, though, Powell could have had no better foil than Myrna Loy, with whom he appeared in 14 movies - which is a record.

A bout with colon cancer in the late 1930s curtailed his career somewhat, and he made his last film appearance in 1955, having appeared along the way in such cinematic masterpieces as Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Reckless (1935), My Man Godfrey (1936), Life with Father (1947), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and Mister Roberts (1955).
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Happy Birthday Matt Lucas

It's a tribute to Matt Lucas that so many of the loathsome characters he's created could also be simultaneously lovable; in fact, he's done more to popularize cruel and gruesome people than the PR firm that works for the Tories...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1974, Lucas developed alopecia at the age of six, and as such has had no hair on his body since then. Rather than letting such a turn of events get him down, he turned it to his advantage, often appearing on television with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer dressed as an enormous baby for their comedy quiz show Shooting Stars.

Lucas, of course, is best known as co-creator of Little Britain, that parade of ghastlies which seeks to undo all the good works that VisitBritain can muster; prior to Little Britain, Lucas and his costar David Walliams also created Rock Profile, from whence derives my annoying impersonation of Shirley Bassey which can appear at any time, but most often does when Mr. Barr is around.

Many are the hours spent at the Pop Culture Institute breathless with hysterics at the onscreen antics of Walliams and Lucas; I do a pretty sharp impression of Andy Pipkin if I do say so myself, but I think my favourite of his characters is Marjorie Dawes, whose contrasting chipper demeanour and cruel spirit haunts me in my quest to lose weight.  And at the top of our acquisition list is the new Lucas/Walliams sitcom, Come Fly with Me.

Named by The Independent newspaper as the 8th most influential gay in the UK, in December 2006 Lucas entered into civil partnership with Kevin McGee in London, where they were far from being the only gays in the village.  Sadly, their relationship dissolved in October 2008 and McGee committed suicide a year later...

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"How Can I Face Tomorrow" by Patsy Cline

From a 1960 episode of Jubilee USA - hosted by Eddy Arnold - it's Patsy Cline singing one of her more obscure numbers, which is why I couldn't resist posting it here. It demonstrates everything that made her a star, from her serene stage presence to her thrilling voice.

Arnold was no stranger to making hits himself, and was as instrumental in bringing the Nashville sound to the American musical mainstream as Cline herself.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline nearly died in June 1961 when the car her brother Sam was driving was struck head-on by another in front of suburban Nashville's Madison High School; Cline was thrown against the windshield, badly scarring her forehead, dislocating her hip and breaking her wrist, which injuries forced her to spend a month in hospital recuperating. Still, she considered herself lucky, as she'd watched the woman driving the car that hit them die.

PhotobucketVery few people get a second chance at life; not only did Patsy Cline get one, but she used it well. In the aftermath of that accident (actually the second, albeit the more serious, of two she would suffer) she found great solace in her faith. Cline's indomitable spirit simply would not be kept down; so strong was her desire to entertain that when she returned to performing (just six weeks later, in July 1961, in Tulsa) she did so on crutches, against her doctor's wishes. 36 years later to the day, long-lost recordings of that performance were released as Live at the Cimarron Ballroom, in which she can be heard jovially discussing her brush with Fate.

The accident altered more than her outlook on life; in the recording studio with famed producer Owen Bradley to create one of her most enduring hits - Crazy (written by Willie Nelson) - she was still in a great deal of pain from broken ribs, and frustrated by her inability to sing it like the demo. After four hours of arguments she left the studio; two weeks later when she'd returned she'd decided to slow the song down and deepen her register, following which an altogether different but equally beautiful new voice emerged. Unlike others of the genre, the pain in the song isn't merely emotive, and fans both old and new responded to the song's honesty with fervour; it became one of the earliest country songs to cross over to the pop chart, and today is considered her signature tune. It was also recorded in a single take.

In the final eighteen months of her life Patsy Cline seemed driven to succeed even more than she had been before; she confessed to friends Dottie West and June Carter Cash that she was plagued by a sense of impending doom, and so redoubled her efforts to ensure her legacy against that eventuality. She was never morbid about it, though, and in fact grew ever more generous as a result, giving away personal items to friends and family in the process.

On this day in 1963 Cline's sense of foreboding came to pass; at her last performance, a benefit in Kansas City for Cactus Jack McCall (a local disc jockey who had died in a car crash), she put on a show which even those accustomed to her virtuosity agreed had surpassed her best. Afterwards, despite offers of a ride home with Dottie West, Cline was anxious to return to Nashville to see her children, and so she decided to fly. Readers of the Pop Culture Institute ought to know well enough by now what happens all too often when talented musicians get into small planes.

Boarding a Piper Comanche headed East along with her manager Randy Hughes (who was also the pilot) and fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins, at first all seemed to be going well; the plane landed for refueling at Dyersburg, Tennessee, where it was suggested that the group stay overnight, due to heavy weather ahead. Hughes insisted they push on, since they were already so close to their destination. The plane left Dyersburg at 6:07 PM, and crashed 13 minutes later outside Camden, just 90 miles from home, killing all onboard. Cline was 30.

Buried in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia, beneath the simple phrase Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies: Love - as well as commemorated in a memorial near the crash site - Cline was most famously played by Jessica Lange in the film Sweet Dreams (1985). It's considered a shabby tribute at best, depicting Cline as the victim of domestic abuse (which she wasn't). What's worse is that Lange looks nothing like Cline; nevertheless, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal. Slightly better is Beverly D'Angelo's earlier version of her in the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter (1980); best to read Ellis Nassour's 1994 biography Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which contains the recollections of many who knew Cline personally.
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POPnews - March 5th

[Robert Stephenson's Britannia Bridge (foreground) and its earlier cousin, Thomas Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge of 1826, both span the lovely Menai Strait in northern Wales; originally a tubular bridge of wrought-iron, following a major fire in May 1970 the Britannia Bridge was rebuilt as a truss arch bridge.]

1689 - Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham was named Secretary of State for the Northern Department by co-monarchs William III and Mary II.

1766 - Antonio de Ulloa, the first Spanish governor of Louisiana, arrived in New Orleans.

1770 - Five Americans - including a black man named Crispus Attucks and a boy - were killed by British troops in the so-called Boston Massacre, an event that would contribute to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War five years later.

1784 - Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney was named President of the Board of Trade.

1848 - Louis Antoine Garnier-Pages was named France's Minister of Finance.

1850 - The Britannia Bridge - across the Menai Strait between the Isle of Anglesey and the mainland of Wales - was opened.

1861 - The Stars and Bars was first flown as the flag of the Confederate States of America, having been adopted for use the previous day.

1868 - A court of impeachment was organized in the US Senate to hear charges against President Andrew Johnson.

1915 - German zeppelin LZ 33 was damaged by enemy fire and stranded south of Ostend.

1933 - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared a 'bank holiday', closing all US banks and freezing all financial transactions; meanwhile, on the same day, FDR's other foe Adolf Hitler and his Nazis won 44 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections.

1943 - First flight of Gloster Meteor jet aircraft in the United Kingdom.

1946 - Winston Churchill coined the phrase 'Iron Curtain' in a speech at Westminster College, Missouri.

1949 - The Jharkhand Party was founded in India.

1978 - Landsat 3 was launched from Vandenberg AFB in California.

1979 - Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter: 172,000 miles.

1982 - The Soviet Union's Venera 14 satellite arrived at the planet Venus, where it became the first man-made object to land on that planet; the Venera program's earlier Venera 3 space probe had been the first on the surface of the planet, in March 1966 but had not been equipped with any landing gear and was too badly damaged to return any data.

1998 - NASA announced that the Clementine probe orbiting the Moon had found enough water there (in the form of ice) to support a human colony.

1999 - Paul Okalik became the first elected Premier of Nunavut.

2001 - Charles Andrew Williams started shooting at his fellow students at Santana High School in Santee, California, killing two and wounding thirteen.
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