Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Rock Lobster" by The B-52s

Ricky Wilson - born on this day in 1953 - was one of the founding members of The B-52's, a band whose sound was sorta punk and sorta New Wave but mostly lotsa fun; the band's early records, such as this one (their first), featured Wilson's buoyant guitar stylings, which were influenced by surf rock pioneers The Ventures.

Brother of bandmate Cindy Wilson, and along with the other two men in the band - Keith Strickland and Fred Schneider - openly gay, Wilson's untimely death in October 1985 from AIDS-related causes struck the band at the crucial mid-career point, scuttling their album Bouncing Off the Satellites (and its accompanying tour) and almost destroyed everything the five of them (including Kate Pierson) had worked so hard to achieve.

After a two-year hiatus in which Wilson battled depression (in the form of survivor's guilt) and Strickland taught himself to play guitar the way Wilson had once done, the band went on to release its magnum opus, the luminously loony album Cosmic Thing in 1989. Both a tribute to their fallen comrade and a triumph over adversity, it represents nothing less than a testament to the power of positive thinking.
share on: facebook

Happy Birthday Philip Roth


Catapulted to literary fame by his 1959 book Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth has been slaughtering sacred cows by the herd ever since; in 1969 he tackled the still-touchy subject of adolescent sexuality with his third novel, Portnoy's Complaint, one of the few books I've ever read that promises funny on the cover and actually delivers funny on almost every page between those same covers.

Endlessly inventive in terms of form as well as content, Roth's books could be counted on to challenge as well as amuse and enrage, often through the person of his literary alter ego Nathan Zuckerman. Yet every voice raised in complaint against him was handily drowned out by the ringing of cash registers; for the last four decades his books have been the ones readers have wanted to read, along with those of Mailer, Vonnegut, Vidal, Updike, and Oates.

Coming to terms with the post-WWII era hasn't been easy, and in order to do it, Roth has had to train his laser-like mind on themes as close to himself as Judaism and masculinity, raising hackles at the same time as surely as he drove himself to the brink of madness. One of the first to blur the line between character and author (at least in his first-person narrations) for better or worse Roth was one of the towering talents who, in the latter half of the twentieth century, made the English-language novel an infinitely more self-aware animal than it had been.

Of them all, though, my favourite remains one of the most recent - namely The Plot Against America; published in 2004, it presents a conterfactual or alternate history in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in the presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindbergh. The ensuing Fascism and anti-Semitism which sweeps the nation makes it an interesting counterpart to Sinclair Lewis' still entirely readable 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, both of which I read at the height (or, if you prefer, depth) of the previous Administration - namely its re-election.

share on: facebook

POPnews - March 19th

[Although the Sydney Harbour Bridge was set to be officially opened by Jack Lang, the Labour premier of New South Wales, on this day in 1932 it was actually opened by a nutjob named Francis de Groot, himself a member of the ultra-right New Guard, who interrupted the ceremony by riding up on horseback and slashing the ribbon with a sword, declaring the bridge open 'in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales'. He was promptly arrested and, after being declared sane, fined £5 for trespassing. Meanwhile, the ribbon was promptly retied and dutifully re-cut by Lang.]

1279 - A Mongolian victory at the Battle of Yamen ended China's Song Dynasty.

1286 - Scotland's King Alexander III died; his succession, by his grand-daughter Margaret, the 'Maid of Norway', was disputed to the degree that is has been held responsible for the Wars of Scottish Independence - a situation not even settled by her death in 1290 and the inauguration of her successor John Balliol in November 1292.

1687 - While searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River along the Gulf Coast of Texas, explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle was murdered by Pierre Duhaut, one of his own men, during a mutiny.

1721 - Pope Clement XI died; he was succeeded by Pope Innocent XIII on May 8th.

1863 - The SS Georgiana - said to have been the most powerful Confederate cruiser - was sunk on her maiden voyage with cargo of munitions, medicines and merchandise then valued at over $1,000,000; the wreck was discovered on the same day and month, exactly 102 years later by then teenage diver and pioneer underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence.

1865 - The Battle of Bentonville began, during the American Civil War; by the end of the battle two days later, Confederate forces had retreated from Four Oaks, North Carolina.

1915 - Pluto was photographed for the first time - at the Lowell Observatory - but was not recognized at the time as a planet.

1931 - The Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra played its first concert at the William Penn High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

1932 - Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened.

- The 99th Pursuit Squadron - also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp - was activated.

1943 - Frank Nitti - Chicago Outfit second in command under Al Capone - committed suicide at the Chicago Central Railyard.

1945 - Allied forces having irrevocably turned the tide of World War II against him, Adolf Hitler issued the Nero Decree, ordering all industries, military installations, shops, transportation facilities and communications facilities in Germany to be destroyed.

1958 - The Monarch Underwear Company fire in Manhattan left 24 dead and 15 injured.

1969 - The 385 metre (1,263 ft) tall television mast at Emley Moor collapsed due to ice build-up.

1979 - The US House of Representatives began broadcasting its day-to-day business via the cable television network C-SPAN.

1982 - Argentinian naval forces landed on South Georgia, precipitating the Falklands War.

1987 - Televangelist Jim Bakker resigned as head of the PTL Club due to a brewing sex scandal; he handed over control to Jerry Falwell, himself a bastion of those Christian virtues of forgiveness and tolerance.

2004 - Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian was shot the day before that country's presidential election; relatively unharmed, he went on to win the next day's election by a slim margin.

2008 - A gamma-ray burst dubbed GRB 080319B that was the farthest object visible to the naked eye was briefly observed.

share on: facebook