Socrates is one of the most influential, and also most enigmatic, figures in Western Philosophy. An Athenian who lived at the dawn of both writing and philosophy, if he wrote anything himself it has not survived, and today he is known only for the works of others that mention him. Foremost among these are the works of his student, Plato, similarly influential in philosophy, but also prone to idealize his master.
Socrates was particularly noted for his contributions to the field of ethics, and for his creation of the Socratic Method, a philosophical tool no less useful today than it was 25 centuries ago. He was also, if the writings about him are to be believed, a great fan of irony. He was, of course, executed for heresy, although his trial and death appear to have been the result of political infighting, and thus the charge may not accurately reflect the true reasons for his downfall.
The ancient feast of the god Lupercus, Lupercalia was an annual three day festival that ran from February 13 – 15 each year. It was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. It is the ancient predecessor of the Christian festival of St Valentine, which is now better known as the more secular Valentine’s Day.
According to Shakespeare, when Julius Caesar attended this particular one, he was offered the crown of a monarch three times and refused it on each of those times. Nonetheless, the reason why he was stabbed to death a month later was apparently his limitless ambition.
It’s an iconic image, symbolising madness, decadence and a corrupt lust for power. But did it actually happen?
In all probability, it didn’t. For a start, the fiddle would not be invented for another thousand years – Nero played the lyre. And according to Tacitus, Nero not only wasn’t in Rome when the fire occurred, but raced back to organise the relief efforts and funded a large portion of the reconstruction of the city from his own purse. Hardly a picture of a depraved monster, is it?
The fire is believed to have started near the Circus Maximus. It burned for seven days and five nights – on the fifth day, it was nearly quelled before flaring up with renewed strength. Of the city’s 14 districts, seven were damaged and three destroyed outright.
The Flavian Ampitheatre – better known today as the Colosseum in Rome – was constructed between 72 and 80 CE. It is called Flavian because that was the name of the Imperial House that built it, Emperor Vespasian and his sons and successors Titus and Domitan being the three Emperors most associated with the building.
In addition to the gladiatorial contests, chariot races and executions that it is remembered for, the Colosseum was also the site of animal hunts, mock naval and land engagements (often re-enactments of famous battles) and theatrical presentations. It could seat 50,000 people at peak capacity, and continued to be used as a site for entertainments after the fall of Rome.
It was later used variously as a quarry, a fortress, housing, workshops and religious shrines. Today, it is an archaeological and tourist site, one of Rome’s premier attractions from the Imperial Roman era.
While there actually was a real Lady Godiva – although, as a Saxon, her name was more likely Godgifu or Godgyfu (Godiva is a latinised version) – it’s unlikely that she actually did ride naked through the streets of Coventry.
Legend has it that she rode naked to protest the taxes that her husband, Lord Leofric, had laid upon the common people, and that, in respect for her sacrifice, all of them looked away as she rode through a busy market day street (except for a tailor named Thomas – the original Peeping Tom – who was apparently struck blind for daring to look upon her).
In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it – but Coventry’s tourist industry still owes a great deal to women who are willing to get their kit off and go for a ride. (Indeed, the date I’ve used here is the date of the annual commemoration of the ride in Coventry.)
One of the most well-known Middle Eastern poets in the West, largely due to an apparently neverending series of translations of his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyám was also a mathematician, an astronomer, and as his poetry tends to indicate, a philosopher. He’s one of the few people in history that could have dealt with Leonardo da Vinci as an equal, a true polymath whose work remains influential even today. Notably, he was one of the reformers who modified the Persian Calendar in 1079 – the new calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, is still in use (with some minor corrections) in Iran and Afghanistan.
Of course, he was also damned cool – legend has it that he was a boyhood friend of Hassan i Sabbah (and if you don’t know who he was, you’re in for a surprise), while modern historical research has uncovered evidence suggesting that he devised a heliocentric model of our Solar System centuries before Copernicus. Frankly, he’s a candidate for interesting historical fictions just waiting to happen.
Best known as the writer of “Leviathan”, Thomas Hobbes was one of the fundamental philosophers in the Western tradition. His understanding of humans as obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential; and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based upon a “social contract” (a term he created) is one of the basic concepts of modern political philosophy.
Hobbes lived to be 91, and also wrote numerous works of history and science in addition to his better known work as a philosopher.
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Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python
Widely seen as the first modern novel, Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” (in full, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”) remains a classic even today. It is a deconstruction and an affectionate parody of the chivalric romances that had dominated fiction in Europe for several centuries prior to its publication. The plot of the book concerns a deluded man named Alonso Quijano, whose head has been addled by reading too many chivalric romances. Adopting the name Don Quixote, he sets out to perform what he considers appropriately knightly endeavours.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t go along with his delusions, and this conflict is the origin of most of the book’s famous comedy. Famously, Quixote attempts to battle windmills, believing them to be giants – from whence the phrase ’tilting at windmills’ originates. He is also the origin of the word quixotic. To say that Quixote – the character and the book – cast a long, long shadow over Western literature is to understate the case: this one book is more influential than all but the most important and well-known of Shakespeare’s plays, for example.
In the last few years of his life, Shakespeare wrote only in collaboration with John Fletcher – his last play written alone was The Tempest in 1611. Shakespeare moved back to Stratford in 1613, although he still travelled to London from time to time.
He was 52 years old at the time of his death, and his controversial will left most of his things to his elder daughter Susanna – and his second-best bed to his wife, Anne Hathaway. His other daughter, Judith, was also a beneficiary.
Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. A monument placed by his family adorns the wall nearest his grave, featuring a bust that depicts Shakespeare posed in the act of writing. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust.
Handel was 74 years old at the time of his death. Unmarried, he left much of his estate to a niece. He had experienced loss of vision after a botched cataract operation eight years earlier, which had curtailed his output.
Handel’s musical compositions included 42 operas, 29 oratorios, numerous arias, chamber music, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, 16 organ concerti and more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets. His best known work is the Messiah oratorio, which featured the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel was an unusual composer. Influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral traditions, he also introduced a range of unusual instruments into his compositions, including the viola d’amore, violetta marina, lute, trombone, clarinet, small high cornet, theorbo, horn, lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ and harp – many of which would become more commonly used by composers and musicians as a result of Handel’s popularisation of them.
The French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” is usually translated as “Let them eat cake”, and is widely attributed to Marie Antionette.
However, in the original – Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, which he finished writing in 1769, when Marie Antoinette was 13 – the remark is attributed only to “a great princess”. The phrase was attributed to Marie Antionette only after the Revolution began, and many citations for it exist prior to this, and not referencing her. In fact, the emerging consensus among historians at this time is that the Rousseau was referring to Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, and pre-dates Marie Antionette by at least a century.
It must have been some party. George, Lord Byron was the host, and his guests were the recently married Percy and Mary Shelley, Dr John Polidori and Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover and Mary’s step-sister). It was the summer of 1816, or should have been: 1816 is sometimes called ‘the year without a summer’, so gloomy was the weather. In this mood of darkness and gloom, Byron read aloud from one of his works, Fantasmagoriana, and challenged them all to write something in a similar vein.
Byron himself wrote the poem Darkness in response to his challenge; Polidori wrote The Vampyre, which is largely forgotten today but was a bestseller in the 19th century, and influenced Stoker’s Dracula greatly. Finally, Mary Shelley wrote the first parts of what is often considered to be the first modern science fiction novel: Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.
The party thus set a creative standard to which all subsequent goth parties would aspire, and few if any would reach.
One of the greatest of the Romantic Poets, Shelley was the husband of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and a close friend of both Lord Byron and John Keats, his fellow Romantics. His best known works as poet and playwright respectively were Ozymandias and Prometheus Unbound.
His death was foretold by omens, at least according to Shelley himself, who believed he had met his doppelganger shortly before his death. In the event, he died in a storm on the Adriatic Sea, along with the two others aboard his boat. He was less than a month short of his thirtieth birthday at the time, and some have suggested that his death was no accident, although this seems unlikely. Shelley did seem depressed in the days before his death, but even he had been suicidal, it is unlikely that so staunch a pacifist would have countenanced the deaths of others in seeking his own demise.
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These Words — Natasha Bedingfield
George Gordon Byron, the 6th Baron Byron, was one of the greatest of the Romantic poets, responsible for such works as Don Juan, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the short lyric “She Walks in Beauty.” He was only 36 when he died, although that probably came as little surprise to those who knew him by his “mad, bad and dangerous to know” reputation – think of him as an 18th century Jim Morrison and you won’t be too far wide of the mark.
A restless man, in the months before his death Byron had cast his lot with the Greek side in their War of Independence. But he saw no combat in his time with them. Before Byron could reach the front, he was struck ill, and his condition only worsened when the doctors treated him with bloodletting, which weakened him further and led to an infection. He developed a terrible fever which quickly led to his death on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece, but his body was then transported back to England, and the Baron was buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
Carl Maria von Weber was one of the earliest significant composers of what is now called the Romantic movement. His best known works include his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon, and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor (a work for piano).
In addition to his composing, von Weber was also a noted for his orchestration, a music journalist, and an engraver. The last of these he actually taught himself – he wanted to be able to engrave his own compositions.
He was 39 years old when he died of tuberculosis while visiting London. Although his remains were buried there, they were later exhumed and reburied in Dresden at the instigation of Richard Wagner. Von Weber had been director of the Opera since 1817.
It was his first publication under his own name, and still one of his best known. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” was printed in the Evening Mirror, a newspaper in New York City.
It wasn’t instantly recognized as a classic – neither William Butler Yeats nor Ralph Waldo Emerson, fellow poets both – thought much of it. But it had a catchy rhyme scheme – AA,B,CC,CB,B,B – which is complex but not too complex. And there is, of course, that wonderful one word refrain…
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!
Known to history as “Whistler’s Mother”, after the painting she was the subject of, Anna Matilda (née McNeill) Whistler was 76 when she died. It had been nearly ten years since she sat for her son James, becoming the subject of his eponymous and best-known painting – which was actually titled “Arrangement in Grey & Black No.1” by her son.
Ironically, for such a quintessentially American painting, it was painted while she and her son were both living in England. Anna Whistler later died, still in England, and was buried in Hastings Cemetery.
One of the greatest of the German composers, Wilhelm Richard Wagner is best known for his Ring Cycle, or Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) in full. His earlier Tristan and Isolde is seen by some as marking the start of modern music (by which, of course, they do not mean pop music).
Wagner was 69 when he died, and he left behind a towering legacy. He influenced almost all later composers, although in some cases (such as Debussy and Tchaikovsky) this influence was seen in their efforts to avoid his shadow. A friend of Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher’s first major work was a glorification of Wagner’s compositions (although the prickly Nietzsche later found fault with his one time idol). Finally, Wagner’s popularity also popularised his views – which included large elements of racism and anti-semitism – views which would continue to dominate German culture until at least 1945, when his greatest German fan committed suicide.
Born Israel Isidore Baline, the composer better known as Irving Berlin was 101 years old when he died. His family came to America in 1893, fleeing the anti-Jewish pogroms of Russia. They settled on the Lower East Side of New York City, where the family got involved in music and Irving’s talents as a musician first came to light.
Over the course of his life, he wrote more than 1800 songs, which included the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, including songs such as “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and such classic musicals as “Annie Get Your Gun”. His music was nominated for Academy Awards on eight separate occasions, but he never won one.
It doesn’t seem to have bothered him much, although he did retire from songwriting in the Sixties and spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity in his beloved New York City.
Joseph Merrick (often incorrectly called John) was one of the most notoriously deformed human beings ever to live. Among other unusual features, he had thick, lumpy skin with enlarged lips, and a bony lump growing from his forehead. One of his arms and both of his feet became enlarged, and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in Merrick becoming perpetually lame.
He made a living (of sorts) as a circus freak for many years (about the only work he could get – Merrick had no illusions about how others regarded his appearance, although those able to look beyond that generally reported him to be friendly and well-mannered, if understandably shy), until a Dr Frederick Treves arranged for him to reside in a hospital in London. It was here that Merrick spent the last six years of his life, being examined by the finest medical minds that the Victorian Era had to offer, and remaining (even to this day) enigmatically undiagnosable. Merrick was only 27 when he died, apparently from injuries caused in his sleep by his enlarged head bones. Most of what is known about him today comes from the writings of Treves, which were unfortunately rather subjective.
I (User:Belovedfreak) have emailed the Royal London Hospital Archives to request information regarding the author. The Trust Archivist for Barts and The London NHS Trust has confirmed that they do not know the name of the photographer, and no such name is included on the carte de visite. – Photograph downloaded from Sideshow Wiki (direct image link)
The image hosted at the Sideshow Wiki is a copy of an original carte de visite of Joseph Merrick that is owned by Royal London Hospital Archives.
Royal London Hospital ref: RLHLH/P/3/24/2.
The carte de visite in the Royal London Hospital Archives had been in the possession of the Rev. H. Tristram Valentine, who was Chaplain at the London Hospital from 1885–1889., Public Domain, Link
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If I Had A Million Dollars — Bare Naked Ladies
Although there has been considerable controversy over the years regarding who actually invented radio – controversy not helped by Marconi himself being at times over-willing to claim credit for the work of others – it is now generally agreed that it was Marconi himself who first invented radio. (The disputes mostly revolve around who invented various later refinements of Marconi’s original patent.)
That patent – British Patent 12039 “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor” – was applied for on June 2 of 1896, with the complete specification being provided on March 2 of the following year, and the patent as a whole being accepted on July 2, 1897.
Unfortunately for Marconi, Tesla had been granted similar patents in America, and the two men would spend decades locked acrimonious dispute over the matter. In fact, in America it would only be resolved by a court decision after both men had died – the court found in favour of Tesla. But perhaps Marconi won anyway – it’s his name, not Tesla’s, which is used as a synonym for ‘radio’ even today.
A composer of the Romantic school, Johannes Brahms in his 64 years associated with many of the other greats of his era, such as Liszt and Schumann. His works include a dozen sonatas, four symphonies, four concertos, a number of waltzes and a great number of variations, a form which he is particularly known for.
Brahms developed cancer of either the liver or the pancreas which eventually killed him. He is buried in the Zentralfriedhof of Vienna, where he lived in his last years.
Mahler and Schindler first met in November of 1901. Their marriage was considered a bad idea by most of their friends and family, but Alma was already pregnant with their first child by then (she was born in November of the same year) by their wedding day. She was followed by a second child two years later.
Alma and Gustav’s marriage was tumultuous – Mahler was diagnosed with a defective heart in 1907, and the family moved from Vienna to New York City in 1908. Mahler himself died in 1911, but Alma lived on until 1964.
By Not known; Specht does not identify photographer – Scanned and cropped from PhotoDirect.com Originally published in Specht, Richard: Gustav Mahler, Plate 5, Schuster & Loeffler, Berlin 1913, PD-US, Link
As mentioned in:
Alma — Tom Lehrer
Crowley began writing the Liber Al vel Legis – literally, “The Book of the Law” in 1904 and wrote one chapter for three days, finishing the book on the tenth. Crowley claimed that the book was dictated to him by an angelic entity named Aiwass.
For the rest of his life, Crowley insisted that Aiwass was a separate entity from himself, claiming that the spirit was his Holy Guardian Angel. Others have suggested that Aiwass was in fact a part of Crowley’s own mind, citing the stylistic similarities between this book and his other works.
Crowley published the book later in 1904, and the world was treated to his proclamation of the new Aeon of Horus. The book has never been out of print for more than a century now, which is surely evidence of some magickal power on Crowley’s part.
It is probably the best known maritime tragedy in history. The RMS Titanic, the largest passnger ship afloat and pride of the White Star Line, was three days out of Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York City when it collided with an iceberg and sank. Of the 2223 passengers and crew, fully 1517 of them were drowned, largely due to an insufficiency of lifeboats.
It’s a matter of historical record that the eight members of the ship’s band continued to play as the ship sank, in a feat of gallantry intended to keep spirits high. All eight of these men died in the sinking. Debate has raged over what their final song was. Some claimed that is was ‘Autumn’, others that it was ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. The debate is further complicated by the fact that ‘Autumn’ could have referred to either hymn tune known as “Autumn” or the tune of the then-popular waltz “Songe d’Automne” (although neither of these tunes were included in the White Star Line songbook). Similarly, there are two arrangements of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, one popular in Britain and the other in America (and the British one sounds not unlike ‘Autumn’) – and a third arrangement was found in the personal effects of band leader’s fiance.
Joyce’s first novel was also his most overtly autobiographical, and in its earlier drafts, was even moreso than the final version. It tells the story of the youth of Stephen Dedalus, from childhood until he finishes college. The first publication of it was as a serial in “The Egoist”, a literary magazine based in London after it was urged on the editors by Ezra Pound (who had at that point read only the first chapter). It would continue to be published for a total of twenty-five installments, concluding in the September 1, 1915 edition of The Egoist.
Later, it would be published in its more familiar novel form, and go on to become one of the most respected and critically acclaimed novels of the twentieth century. More immediately, it established Joyce as a major talent, talent whose promise would be more fully realised in his later novels, such as Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake.
Born Frances Rose Shore in Winchester, Tennessee, Dinah Shore almost didn’t become a star. She studied at Vanderbilt University, graduating in 1938 with a degree in sociology, but the pull of the stage was too great. She worked hard at her musical career for a while, with reasonable success, but it was television that made her a household name.
As the host of “The Dinah Shore Show” from 1951 to 1956 and “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” from 1956 to 1963, she was a weekly presence on American television. By the end of her career, in 1992, she had won three Emmys for her work on the small screen. Shore was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1993, and died in 1994 a few days short of her 78th birthday.
Sir Frank Crisp was an English lawyer and microscopist. He was an enthusiastic member of the Royal Microscopical Society, generous in his support of the Society: he donated furniture, books and instruments in addition to his work on technical publications.
Professionally, he worked as a solicitor, acting in many important commercial contracts. He counted several foreign railroad companies and the Imperial Japanese Navy among his clients, and drew up the contract for the cutting of the Cullinan diamond. In 1875, he bought Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, where he entertained the great and the good. He was a keen horticulturalist and developed spectacular public gardens there, including an alpine garden featuring a 20-foot (6-metre) replica of the Matterhorn. He published an exhaustive survey of medieval gardening titled “Mediaeval Gardens”, and received his baronetcy in 1913 for services as legal advisor to the Liberal Party. Crisp died on April 29, 1919.
Edwin Lutyens was one of the greatest British architects, possibly the greatest of his era. His design for the Cenotaph was originally intended to be a temporary structure, but became so beloved of the British people that it was replaced with a permanent version made of white stone. Its design has often been copied elsewhere in Britain and in other Commonwealth nations, and it is the centre of Remembrance Day events each November 11.
Like all cenotaphs, its design is that of an empty tomb, a memorial to ‘the Unknown Soldier’ – to all those who lost not merely their lives but their identities, but also to all those who served. It is sometimes referred to as “The Glorious Dead.”
One of the greatest actors of the Twentieth Century, Paul Newman starred in – among others – “The Hustler”. “The Sting”, “The Great Escape”, “Hud”, “Cool Hand Luke”, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Cars”. In his time, he was nominated for an Academy Award nine times, although he won only one (Best Actor, for “The Color of Money” a sequel to “The Hustler”).
From the mid-Sixties onwards, Newman was increasingly active politically – his opposition to the Vietnam War scored him a place on Richard Nixon’s Enemies List – and also became a notable philanthropist.
For a silent film running only 15 minutes, Un Chien Andalou casts a long shadow. It is seen as a predecessor to both low budget indy cinema and modern music videos. It helps, of course, that it was made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, and is widely considered to be a masterpiece of Surrealism. But consider that it was Bunuel’s first film (Dali’s too, but he was already famous for his painting).
And, of course, it opens with what is still one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history, an eyeball being cut open with a razor. (Don’t worry, it’s not a human eyeball – it’s that of a dead donkey. That is Luis Bunuel weilding the razor, though.) The rest of the film is a dreamlike series of disjointed images and scenes which creates a level of confusion in the audience that it takes Chris Nolan 2 or more hours to acheive. You should definitely see it if you haven’t yet.
“Triumph of the Will” (or in German, “Triumph des Willens”) is the best known film of Leni Riefenstahl. It is a blatant propaganda piece that covers the 1934 Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg, featuring footage of the massive crowds who attended the rally and speeches given by Hitler himself.
Its dubious political associations aside, “Triumph of the Will” is today recognized as a classic of twentieth century cinema, one of the most frequently homaged and parodied works in the cinematic canon, featuring innovations in camera and music use for feature films. Leni Riefenstahl is today acclaimed as a genius of cinematic art, with horribly bad taste in friends.
It is probably the most infamous radio broadcast of all time: Orson Welles’ Halloween 1938 dramatisation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”.
Welles transplanted the story from England to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and told it as a series of news reports, keeping the tension and hysteria of it all steadily rising. It terrified audiences at the time – like a hell of a lot of Welles’ work it is arguably a great work of art, and an enormous prank at once.
Whether or not there was panic during the broadcast, there was considerable outrage afterwards – how that has to do with the alleged ‘cruelty’ of it, and how much with people just hating to be fooled is an open question.
Born in Tenterfield, in country New South Wales, Peter George Woolnough was performing from an early age. In the 1960’s, he and a friend named Chris Bell formed an ensemble called ‘The Allen Brothers’, and became a reasonably popular cabaret act both live and on television.
Peter Allen, as he now called himself, got his start when he joined a tour with Judy Garland in the late Sixties. In 1971, he began recording as a solo artist, and over the next two decades, had a number of hits, notably “I Go To Rio”, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)” (which he co-wrote and shared in the Oscar for) and “I Still Call Australia Home”. A musical retelling of his life story, “The Boy From Oz”, starring Hugh Jackman, was a Broadway hit in 2003 and 2004, with Jackman winning a Tony for his performance.
The man who basically invented the modern science fiction novel (Jules Verne himself insisted that this was the case), one of the earliest people to worry about what we now call ‘peak oil’ and a designer of wargames in his idler moments, Herbert George Wells is one of the people who created the Twentieth Century. His death, at the age of eighty, was not especially marked by a British establishment that found his views on politics and religion an embarassment.
Wells was the writer of, among others, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. His work as a writer of science fiction, as an historian and as a journalist, is among the most influential in human history – among other things, he is the inventor of almost every basic modern science fiction device except for alternate universes.
By George Charles Beresford – one or more third parties have made copyright claims against Wikimedia Commons in relation to the work from which this is sourced or a purely mechanical reproduction thereof. This may be due to recognition of the “sweat of the brow” doctrine, allowing works to be eligible for protection through skill and labour, and not purely by originality as is the case in the United States (where this website is hosted). These claims may or may not be valid in all jurisdictions.
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Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
“South Pacific” was a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, based on James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”, an anthology of short stories. The musical has a single coherent narrative drawing on some of those short stories while also including what was, for its time, a progressive social message about race.
The musical was a hit, running for 1925 performances on Broadway (at that time, the second most of any Broadway production) and winning a Pullitzer prize for drama in 1950. It has been filmed several times, and remains a perennial favourite for revivals.
Cecil B DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah” was the second film version of the tale, and the first to be in colour and sound. The marquee stars were Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature in the title roles, along with George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar.
The film would go on to become the highest grossing film of 1950, and win two Academy Awards (for Costume Design and Art Direction). A portion of the film’s sets and production would later be recreated in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”, with De Mille playing a character based on himself.
A bluesman in the classic mold, George Thorogood was born in Wilmington, Delaware. (It is unknown whether or not the head nurse immediately recognised his badness upon his birth.) The middle of five children (with two older brothers and two younger sisters), he played sport in high school and considered going pro until he had a life-changing experience in 1970: he saw John P. Hammond play live.
After that, it was pretty much all about the music for him, although commercial success eluded him until people realised quite how awesome a song “Bad to the Bone” truly was, and started to use it in films and advertisements.
A collection of some 28 short stories that loosely tell the story of the human colonization of Mars between the years 1999 and 2057, Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” is one of the classics of science fiction, and one of the first science fiction books to be seen as art. Bradbury’s lyrical prose style illuminates these tales, elevating them above the work of his contemporaries.
While the Mars he depicts is very much an early twentieth century vision of Mars, with canals and Burroughsian Martian natives, it remains one of the greatest works of science fiction, and has never been out of print since its initial publication. About half the stories in it had been published previously as short stories; the other half were original, and later editions contained still more new stories of Bradbury’s Mars.
First published in February of 1951 (the exact day is, alas, lost to history), ‘The Illustrated Man’ is a volume of some eighteen short stories, loosely connected by a framing device: the title character. The Illustrated Man is a carny worker, and each of the stories in the book is represented by one of his tattoos.
Only one of the stories was original to the book, although several of them were revised by Bradbury to better fit the frame concept.
Bradbury’s best known novel is a savage and dystopian satire of media trends in Bradbury’s day. He foresaw such implausibilities as wall-sized tv screens with hundreds of channels of aneasthetizing pap playing 24 hours a day, while literacy was not merely rare but close to outlawed. It was a world where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, but only to burn books.
As such, it played into the prejudices that every new medium has faced, that it would enfeeble the minds of those who followed it. “Fahrenheit 451” depicts a world where every channel is Fox News (or some close affiliate), and the only escape is to destroy it all and start anew in the ashes of the world – although Bradbury himself (an Emmy winner) presumably has a more nuanced attitude to the glass teat than this novel would indicate
Burroughs was inspired by the works of Paul Bowles to visit Tangier, and found it much to his liking. He rented a room in the home of a procurer who supplied prostitutes to visiting tourists, and began to write. Burroughs referred to his prodigious output of fiction in this period as “Interzone”, and it would later form the basis of his best known work, “Naked Lunch”.
He also maintained a regular correspondence with friends and relatives, notably Kerouac and Ginsberg, as well as Burroughs’ parents (whom he was financially dependent on at this time). Although Burroughs stayed in Tangier only a few months before returning to America, there was never any question that he would return, and he saw in the new year of 1955 there.
The greatest poem of the Beat Generation writers, and one of the finest of the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is a lengthy, stream of consciousness rant with strikingly hallucinatory imagery of drug use, New York City, the back roads of America, and sex of both homosexual and heterosexual varieties. Ginsberg performed it for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco at the behest of Wally Hedrick.
Later, the poem would be published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books (a small press and book shop also located in San Francisco), and become the centre of one the depressingly frequent obscenity trials that dot American judicial history – in this case, the court ruled that the court contained redeeming social value. The greatest minds of a generation rejoiced.
Frankie Lymon was only 13 when “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” was released. The song reached number 6 on the US charts and number 1 on the UK charts. The song would eventually be ranked #307 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
All of which was good news for Lymon, who co-wrote the song and thus did well from the royalties. Less good was Lymon’s fate – he died of a heroin overdose twelve years later…
Most famous for his stage and screen portrayals of Dracula, Béla Lugosi was born in Austria-Hungary in the region of Lugoj (in what is now Romania). Born on October 20, 1882, his real name was Béla Ferenc Dezs? Blaskó.
After a successful beginning to his film and stage career in Hungary, he was forced to flee after World War One, and entered the United States via Ellis Island in 1921. He first acted on Broadway in 1922, and made his first American film in 1923. In 1927, he began playing the role of Dracula on Broadway, and later on tour. He played the same role in the 1931 film of Dracula, and became famous the world over for his performance.
But being a foreigner most famous for playing a monster led to typecasting in Hollywood, and this, along with a variety of other factors, including the closure of Universal’s horror films division and also Lugosi’s growing drug habit, made it harder and harder for him to get roles. His appearance as Dracula in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” was his last role in a major film.
In the final months of life, he became friends with Ed Wood and appeared in several of his films. He also entered treatment for his addiction, which he completed successfully. However, old age and lifetime of drug abuse caught up with him, and he died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956. He was buried in his Dracula costume, but has yet to rise from the grave lusting for the blood of virgins, alas.
Adapted from his 1953 short story of the same title, Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” is one of his best known books. It consists of a series of short stories linked together by recurring characters and themes. The book follows the exploits of Douglas Spaulding, a 12 year old boy, across a summer in his small town named Green Town. It has a sequel, “Farewell Summer” and a related book of vignettes entitled “Summer Morning, Summer Night”. Thematically, it is also linked to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” which addresses similar ideas with a different set of characters.
It is widely considered Bradbury’s most personal work, and Douglas Spaulding is an obvious stand in for a young Bradbury. The book has been adapted into film and radio, and remains a good seller.
The facts, as generally agreed upon, are these:
At appoximately 1AM on February 3, 1959, Holly, Valens and Richardson (‘the Big Bopper’) boarded a plane in Clear Lake, Iowa, intending to fly to their next concert, in Moorhead, Minnesota. The three, flown by pilot Roger Peterson, were killed a short time later when their plane crashed.
The major cause of the crash appears to have been a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson was not qualified for nighttime flights, and it also appears that he may have been given incorrect information regarding the weather conditions on that fateful night.
Albert Camus was not an existentialist. He’d have been the first one to tell you that. He was mates with quite a few members of that tribe, but he never considered himself one of their number. Nevertheless, his works – especially “The Stranger”,”The Plague” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” – are often considered to parts of the existentialist canon (insofar as such a thing can be considered to exist).
Camus was only 46 when he died, in an unfortunate car accident that also claimed the life of his publisher, Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car at the time. His death was a great loss to the development of philosophy in the twentieth century.
While there had been rumours about payola in the music industry for years, the practice became more prevalent in the 1950s as radio overtook jukeboxes as the primary way music was listened to. In 1959, the US Senate began to investigate these claims, dragging the whole sordid practice of pay for play into the light. DJs testified to taking payments of as much as $22,000 to play songs, and careers were ruined and reputations tarnished.
In an effort to combat the public reaction to the scandal, the National Association of Broadcasters announced heavy fines for DJs caught accepting such bribes. Later, they restructured the industry to make programme directors at each station instead responsible for deciding what to play – a decision that actually made payola easier for the record labels. It is widely believed that the practice of payola continues to this day with little change other than that the DJs no longer see a dime from it.
Like the related Dandelion Wine, Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (a title taken from Macbeth) is largely inspired by his childhood fascination with travelling carnivals. In particular, when Bradbury was 12, a carnival magician named Mr Electrico exhorted him to “Live forever” – Bradbury began writing the next day.
The novel was a great success for Bradbury, both critically and commercially. It has been adapted for film, stage and radio – the first film adaptation was even written by Bradbury himself – and has greatly influenced the writers who followed Bradbury, especially those who, like him, blend horror and fantasy elements in their works. In particular, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King have both cited this novel as a major influence on their own writing.
Like most other cities the world over, Los Angeles moved away from the inflexibility of light rail public transportation after the Second World War. An increasing emphasis on car ownership gripped the West, leading to booms in freeway construction, service station openings and closures of all sorts of rail lines, light and heavy. Most of the light rail lines of Los Angeles were replaced by bus routes – often, the lines were purchased by bus companies with the express intention of doing so.
The last of the Red Cars – those operated by the Pacific Electric company – ran on the Los Angeles to Long Beach line until April 9, 1961. The last of the Yellow Cars ran almost two years longer, before the last service on the J, P, R, S and V routes on March 30. All of these were replaced by bus lines on March 31, 1963. It was the end of an era.
Based on an original novel written by John Wyndham and published in 1951, “The Day of the Triffids” starred Howard Keel and Janette Scott. It wasn’t, however, a very faithful adaptation. It’s not a bad film – with the possible exception of its deus ex machina ending – but it doesn’t have much relation to the novel.
It is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction and horror movies of all time – its opening sequence inspired ’28 Days Later’; the alien plants helped inspire ‘E.T.’, and the list goes on.
Space: the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
With these words, one of the greatest science fiction franchises of all time was inaugurated. “Star Trek” may have had its flaws, but its vision of a future in which all sentients of good will worked for the common good was an appealing one. From the humble beginnings of a first season that was still trying to figure out what it was, “Star Trek” grew to become a media behemoth, made the people who acted in it stars of the screen, and exerted a great influence over our culture.
As Spock might put it, it lived long and prospered.
“S is for Space” is a collection of science fiction short stories written by Ray Bradbury and published by Doubleday. It was released in August 1966, and sold respectably (for a science fiction/fantasy hardcover).
It included 14 stories, including the classic “Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed” (which later gave its name to a bookshop in London that specialised in science fiction and fantasy books).
Originally recorded for “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, it was instead decided to release “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a double-A side with “Penny Lane”. It is widely regarded as one of the best songs the Beatles ever made, and one of the greatest exemplars of psychedelic rock.
The song was a top ten hit in the UK and the USA, and reached #1 in Norway and Austria, and was finally included on the “Magical Mystery Tour” album release. It remains one of the most popular Beatles songs, frequently covered by other artists. After John Lennon’s murder, a memorial was created for him in Central Park, New York City, and named after the song.
Jayne Mansfield was one of the great blonde bombshells so beloved of American cinema in the Fifties and Sixties. Along with Mamie van Doren and Marilyn Monroe, Mansfield defined beauty for a generation of American men. By 1967, Mansfield’s star was in decline. Fashions had changed, and left her somewhat behind. She was still a celebrity, but her days of headlining films were coming to an end.
At approximately two thirty in the morning, the car Mansfield was traveling in rear-ended a truck that braked abruptly. Mansfield, her driver Ronnie Harrison and her lover Sam Brophy, all of whom were sitting in the front seat, were killed almost instantly in the impact as the car went under the rear of the truck. Mansfield’s three children, sitting in the backseat, survived with minor injuries.
Prudence Farrow (younger sister of Mia Farrow), came to study under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram Rishikesh for the same reason everyone else did in the late Sixties: seeking enlightenment via Transcendental Meditation. The members of the Beatles arrived there a few weeks later, and became fast friends with her – especially John.
Farrow was notoriously serious about her meditation practice, and routinely stayed in her room meditating long beyond the assigned times for classes and sessions – up to 23 hours a day, in fact. Lennon in particular made efforts to drag her out into the world, to remind her that the point of meditation was ecstatic union with the world, not separation from it. She would need to be reminded to attend meals at times.
Andy Warhol understood one thing about the general acceleration of life and culture in the self-reinforcing media spiral of the twentieth century: that there would be no more ‘nine days’ wonders’. We wouldn’t have time to be that patient any more. We wouldn’t have the attention spans. We would lose interest in things much more quickly, a bottomless appetite for novelty that even the internet struggles to fill.
In particular, he saw this as happening to celebrities: to them, he alloted 15 minutes apiece. It’s almost like he foresaw how debased the currency of ‘celebrity’ would become in the face of the relentless banality of reality television. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he first wrote the words “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” in the program for a 1968 exhibition of his work at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Proving both that there really were serious amounts of drugs around in the Sixties, and that science fiction is harder to do right than it appears, the 1969 hit “In The Year 2525: Exordium and Terminus” by one hit wonders Zager and Evans is quite possibly the most nonsensical song to ever reach number one on the US charts.
Starting at 2525, each verse jumps another 1000 or so years into the future, and each set of projections is consistently more extreme and less well explained: although the one way in which it is good science fiction is that everything mentioned in the song is a reflection of the social concerns of 1969 rather than anything that likely to actually occur.
Woodstock Music & Art Fair (informally, Woodstock or The Woodstock Festival) was a music festival, billed as “An Aquarian Exposition”, held from August 15 to August 18, 1969, at a dairy farm belonging to a Max Yasgur in the rural town of Bethel, New York. Bethel, in Sullivan County, is actually 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock, after being turned down from its original venue.
Thirty-two acts – inlcuding Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead – performed during the sometimes rainy weekend in front of nearly half a million concertgoers – the organisers had expected only 50,000. Woodstock has come to be seen as one of the high water marks of the hippie movement, and it is sometimes regarded as marking the end of the Sixties.
One imagines that the various acts who were invited but did not attend (those still alive, at any rate) – including the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan – probably still regret it.
Born Shawn Corey Carter, the man today known as Jay-Z probably didn’t realise at the time that he would become one of the most financially successful rap artists in the history of the genre, win ten Grammys or marry Beyonce.
Jay-Z was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, in New York City. His was a large family, but his musical talent showed itself early and his mother made sure to encourage him. By the time he was 19, he was well on his way, working with rapper Jaz-O. Twenty years later, he’d be working with Barack Obama to help the latter get elected.
Neil Young, that ageless and eternal figure of musical protest, has rarely attracted more controversy than in 1970, when he released “Southern Man”. Nearly six minutes long, it expressed Young’s contempt for slavery and slaverholders in his trademark hard rock style, and left no one with ears to hear in any doubt as to where he stood on the issue of race in America.
Never released as a single (the song appeared as the fourth track of Young’s 1970 album “After the Gold Rush”), its uncompromising lyrics made it one of the best known songs on the album – a notoriety that only grew after Lynyrd Skynyrd prominently criticised the song in their best known song “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Reportedly, there was no particular animosity between Young and the members of Skynyrd regarding the songs, just an honest disagreement of opinions. Indeed, at the time of the plane crash that killed Skynyrd, Young and the band were trying to sync up their schedules so that Young could perform “Sweet Home Alabama” with them sometime.
Despite being one of the best known songs of all time – and one of the most frequently requested on radio – Led Zeppelin’s eight minute opus was not released as a single until years after its legend was well established. It was the fourth track of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, and its length precluded its release in single form in the 45rpm vinyl format.
It at once sums up everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with seventies rock in one song: it is pretentious and wanky, with lyrics that make little or no sense; but on the other hand, it rocks damned hard, has one of the greatest guitar solos ever, and is completely made of awesome.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention liked to say that they brought the house down when they played. One time, they really did.
Montreux Casino’s entertainment complex caught fire during a concert Zappa and the band played on December 4, 1971, when some idiot fired a flare gun into the ceiling, which was covered with a flammable rattan surface. The entire complex burnt down, taking with it all the instruments and equipment belonging to the band. As the smoke billowed out across Lake Geneva, it was observed by the members of Deep Purple, who had arrived in Montreux that evening to begin recording their next album.
The events they witnessed that night led them to write a song about it. Bassist Roger Glover is credited with the song’s title – “Smoke on the Water” – and although all five members of the band are credited as the writers and composers, and Ritchie Blackmore composed what may well be the most recognizable guitar riff in rock and roll history…
Carly Simon’s most famous song is also one of her most hotly debated. Because Simon has never revealed who it is that she finds so very, very vain. Oh, she’s dropped the odd clue now and again, but an actual confirmation still eludes us.
Spoiler: it’s Warren Beatty. Or maybe Mick Jagger or David Geffen. Definitely not James Taylor (although the two were married for a time). And despite Simon’s jokes to the contrary, it probably isn’t about Mark Felt (although it would be kinda cool if it were – alas, the dates don’t line up for it to be him).
So I guess we’ll never know – or at least, we won’t know until Carly Simon gets tired of messing with us.
Originally written in 1967, “The Halloween Tree”‘s first incarnation was a script that Bradbury planned to turn into an animated film in collaboration with Chuck Jones. When those plans fell through, Bradbury re-worked it as a novel, which was published in 1972.
Twenty years later, he finally got the chance to do it as the animated film he’d planned, although alas, Chuck Jones was not involved. Regardless of this, the animation was produced in 1993 with Bradbury himself providing the voice of the Narrator, and went on to be a commercial and a critical success. It also made Bradbury one of the few winners of a Hugo to also win an Emmy.
Also known as “Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite”, this Elvis Presley concert was broadcast live from the Honolulu International Centre to South East Asia and Oceania. 28 European countries saw it the following day, while citizens of the USA had to wait until April to see it on tv (its original broadcast date conflicted with Super Bowl VII).
Of course, there was another way to see it: you could buy a ticket. Tickets went on sale in Hawaii a week before the concert, and all the funds raised by the concert (US $75,000) were donated to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund. That figure includes $1000 donated by Elvis himself, who took no payment for his performance. The concert cost an estimated $2.5 million dollars to stage, and Elvis Presley Productions claimed that 1.5 billion people watched it, a figure which has largely gone unchallenged (despite that fact that the total population of all the countries it was broadcast to was at that time less than 1.3 billion people).
The Sunbury Pop Festivals were intended to be Australia’s Woodstock. Four of them were held, in late January of each year from 1972 to 1975. The 1973 festival is one of the best remembered, largely due to the first release from Mushroom Records, “Sunbury 1973 – The Great Australian Rock Festival”, a three album set of the festival’s highlights.
About 25,000 people attended the 1973 festival, and performers who played there included The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Spectrum, Max Merritt & the Meteors and Johnny O’Keefe (who was initially booed off the stage, but won over the crowd to such an extent that he ended up doing several encores). The MC for the festival was the comedian Paul Hogan.
“Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” was an iconic British sitcom in the 1970s. Its lead character, everyman Frank Spencer (played by Michael Crawford), went from disaster to disaster, and was terrifically annoying – yet somehow, Crawford’s performance (and the writing) never made him unsympathetic.
“Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” ran for a total of 22 episodes, split into three seasons (7 episodes in the first season and 6 in each of the other two) and three Christmas specials, the last of which screened in 1978. It has frequently been repeated in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth, being particularly popular in Australia (which, in turn, lead to a plotline about Frank moving to Australia in the final season).
In his last years, Picasso’s productivity dropped off from the manic peaks of his youth. To be fair, he was in his nineties by then, and in all his decades, had created more than 50,000 works of art ranging from sculptures to sketches, in addition the paintings he was most famous for. He had certainly earned a quiet retirement, and he seemed for the most part content with his lot, if disappointed by his exile from his native Spain.
His last sketch, entitled “Couple” shows that although he may have slowed down with age, he has lost none of his skill or talent. His last painting had been created some years earlier, but showed a similar spirit. Picasso would die only a little later in that same year, during a dinner party with some friends. His last words were “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink any more.”
One of the truly great albums of all time, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon was something of a change of pace for them – it featured more (and tighter) vocals and fewer instrumental breaks. In many ways, it was the most commercial album of their career thus far, and spawned two hit singles: “Money” and “Us and Them”.
The album charted highly, although it was quickly pushed off its peak in each market. More notable was its longevity – in both Britain and America, the album remained in the top 100 charts for over a decade, and it is one of the top ten selling albums of all time. In addition, it achieved widespread critical success, being highly rated in numerous surveys of both fans and critics ever since its release more than 40 years ago.
If you don’t actually own a copy yourself, you probably know at least five people who do.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was to be Jim Croce’s last number one single – it was released only six months prior to Croce’s death in 1973. In the song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is a big tough guy from the South Side of Chicago, who doesn’t take crap from anyone – until one night he meets a man who is bigger and tougher than him.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was the second single from Croce’s fourth album, “Life and Times”. It earned Croce two Grammy nominations (for Pop Male Vocalist and Record of the Year) and was still on the charts at the time of Croce’s death, having spent three months climbing to number one and three months descending.
It’s a rare country and western song that breaks out of its genre to become a mainstream hit, but Charlie Rich’s 1973 song “The Most Beautiful Girl” is such a song. It reached #1 on the US, Belgian and Canadian charts, #2 in the UK and Ireland, and various top ten positions in Australia, France, Holland, Denmark and Norway. It took three months to climb to the top of the US charts, and held that exalted position for two weeks (it was knocked off by Jim Croce’s masterpiece, “Time In A Bottle”, which is certainly no shame).
One of the greatest comedies of all time, Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” was a scathing satire of the Western genre that ranged from critique of racism to metafiction to one of the most memorable fart jokes in cinematic history and back again, and somehow it all works. All credit is due to Brooks’ winning cast, notably Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens and Harvey Korman.
The film took considerable effort to make – it took the support of an unlikely team of John Wayne and Richard Pryor to get it past the studio heads, and even after it opened, its vulgarity and blatant disrespect for both the Western genre and Hollywood itself made it a flashpoint in the culture wars.
What nothing could do, however, was make it less funny.
One of the greatest golf players currently competing at a professional level, Eldrick Tont ‘Tiger’ Woods was born to parents who were each of decidedly mixed ancestry – he himself has referred to his racial background as “Cablinasian” (a syllabic abbreviation he coined from CAucasian, BLack, american INdian, and ASIAN). He began playing golf when only two years old, and soon proved himself a prodigy at it.
When only eight years old, he won the 9–10 year old boys’ event (the youngest age group available) at the Junior World Golf Championships of 1984, and he has continued to win tournaments ever since, except for the Keeping One’s Infidelities Secret Tournaments of 2009 and 2010, in which he placed last.
Born on December 19, 1940, Phil Ochs would become one of the best known protest singers in America (although he himself preferred the descriptor ‘topical singer’). He had his roots in the folk scene of Greenwich Village in the early Sixties. Although he never achieved the commercial success of some of his contemporaries, such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger or Peter, Paul and Mary, he was an influential composer. His song “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” was a popular rallying cry of anti-Vietnam War protests, and was even once broadcast on the news by Walter Cronkite.
Ochs’ life took a turn for the worse in the Seventies. His troubles with bipolar disorder and alcoholism grew worse, and his behaviour grew paranoid and erratic. Ochs hanged himself on April 9, 1976, bitter and disillusioned by the Nixon era and the assassinations of 1968.
They’re a tad embarrassing now, but at the dawn on the Eighties, they were cutting edge entertainment. In fact, the Choose Your Own Adventure novel – a story characterised by many decision points and branching paths, and many, many endings – prefigured the text adventure computer game, and even today, someone creating a new cutting edge roguelike or fps would produce a first draft plan with a distinct family resemblance to the Choose Your Own Adventure.
The books were an incredible success, with over 250 million copies of the hundreds of titles published by Bantam sold – and that’s not including the 19 copycat series started by other publishers. Over the course of the decade, they would become one of the most iconic items of the Eighties. You can still find them in many second hand shops today, but good luck finding one of the small number of endings in each book where you don’t die.
It’s probably a good thing that Nick Cave decided that suicide really didn’t suit his style. From relatively inauspicious beginnings, the members of the Boys Next Door would form the nucleus of the Birthday Party, Nick Cave’s first truly great band, who would in turn pave the way for the Bad Seeds.
“Shivers” remains a perennial favourite of fans of Australian goth and alternative music, and if JJJ hadn’t rejigged the Hot 100’s rules to make it a year by year thing, it would still be placing respectably in it each January.
So imagine this: it’s the day before your band’s big debut. Your first single is doing well on the charts, but you’re still recording the rest of your first album. You’re even going to be on national television, on the highest rating music show in the country. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, your lead singer could hit by a car as he walks across Swanston St in central Melbourne. You could all wind up waiting anxiously at the hospital to see if he’s going to be okay.
As it happens, he is. James Reyne suffered minor fractures to his arms. Australian Crawl recorded their first appearance on Countdown the next day, Reyne sporting a matched pair of plaster casts on his forearms. Disaster was narrowly averted, and Reyne’s distinctive vocal style went national for the first time. The legend began, and the band later memorialised the incident in song on their first album.
While this date is almost certainly incorrect, this song was too much fun for me to leave out. I’ve dated it based on the generally agreed date that the car accident occurred the day before Reyne appeared on Countdown sporting plaster casts on both arms. The only problem with that is that Countdown was most likely pre-taped – this date is based on the broadcast date. it’s as close as we’re likely to get barring the release of the definitive James Reyne biography, though.
One of the earliest and best arcade games, infamous for its simple vector graphics and unjustly overlooked for the difficulty and depth of its game play, Asteroids was never as popular as Space Invaders or Pac-Man, although historically, it’s almost as iconic. But its simplicity ultimately worked against it: there was nowhere to go to build a franchise out of it, not even any easy way to create variant forms of it (there’s no game that serves as the Galaga to Asteroids’ Space Invaders, for example).
Asteroids had a reasonable reign in the arcades, but even prettying up the graphics couldn’t do that much to keep it current as display technologies improved and newer games took over the marketplace. But to those of us who loved it, it will never die.
It became one of the most controversial court cases in Australian history.
On August 17, 1980, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were camping with friends in the Australian Outback, not far from Uluru (Ayers Rock). Lindy had been in one of the tents with the infant Azaria, when suddenly she came rushing back into the main part of the campsite, crying “A dingo’s got my baby!”
What followed would be a long series of investigations, claims and counterclaims. Eventually, Lindy would be convicted of Azaria’s murder, and served several years in prison for it. Azaria Chamberlain, whatever her true fate, was never seen again, alive or dead, although the clothes she was allegedly wearing at the time of her disappearance were found near a dingo lair, torn and blood-stained, a week later.
One of the earliest side-scrolling arcade video games, and probably the best known and most successful side-scroller, Defender was the single best-selling game ever to come out of the Williams Electronics workshops. Defender was a legendarily difficult game, in which it was never possible to actually finish – the game just continued to scroll from right to left, with an endless stream of enemies appearing.
It was an important evolution in gaming: the horizontal scrolling of the game was a massive advance in gaming formats that paved the way for a multitude of successors, imitators and evolutions – few of which managed its challenging game play as well.
One of the classic arcade shoot-em-up games, Centipede was released in June 1980. Its success can be roughly measured by the number of sequels, clones and ports that it spawned. Although not as large a franchise as Space Invaders, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong/Mario, it is still one of the few games to have survived from its arcade beginnings to all the current games platforms.
One of the most fondly remembered arcade games of its era, Berzerk combined fast shooting action with (at the time) groundbreaking speech synthesis samples – many of which have been sampled in assorted songs and other video games in tribute to Berzerk. Most of these samples came from the robots who were the player’s main enemy in the game.
The main enemy of Berzerk, Evil Otto, appears to be a malign basketball, but he is also the only arcade game villain to have caused deaths in the real world, with two different people succumbing to heart attacks (as teenagers, yet) after marathon Berzerk sessions.
A children’s television show created by Kermit Love (who had previously worked with Jim Henson on The Muppets) and Jim Martin (who would later work with Henson on Sesame Street), The Great Space Coaster ran for five seasons and had a total of 250 episodes. As you might suspect from the creators, it used a lot of puppetry.
The central premise of the show was that three singers – Francine, Danny, and Roy – traveled to an asteroid (on board, of course, the Great Space Coaster) which was inhabited by a wide variety of alien lifeforms, most of them puppets. Being a kid’s show, it features lots of songs and moral lessons, and the occasional celebrity guest star.
In a three-hour long introduction, Dynasty first appeared on tv screens across America on January 12, 1981. Over the course of nine seasons, it would become one of the most dominant shows on the decade. In the field of soap operas, it and its competitor Dallas – both of which revolved around wealthy oil families – reigned supreme.
But Dynasty, although it rated respectably in its initial season, didn’t really take off until its second season, the first episode of which introduced actress Joan Collins in the role she is still best known for, Alexis Carrington. Collins and Dynasty were synonymous in the Eighties, an actor and a show that couldn’t be separated from each other. Dynasty finally came to an end on May 11, 1989, after 220 episodes of scheming, betrayal and infidelity.
It was nothing short of a revelation.
A host playing music clips or having bands perform live in the studio was nothing new, but it was the way Basia went about it. For a start, she didn’t pass herself off as an expert, just an enthusiastic fan. And the music! At that time, Australian television played mostly mainstream acts from the UK, the US, or home. Basia took the title of her show as a mission statement: she didn’t care where in the world a piece of music came from, so long as it was good.
Fans responded to this approach, and the show rapidly went from playing once a week to screening four times a week. It only lasted three years, but those three years saw the Australian music landscape changed forever, with international influences becoming stronger, and local bands given a shot at reaching a national audience rather than just however many people could fit in the pub.
On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll,” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. Appropriately, the very first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
And thus it would remain for the first few years, when MTV took its full name – Music TeleVision – seriously. But try finding a clip on MTV these days – it’s all Real World retreads and Behind The Music rockumentaries now. Well, not all, but enough to make one nostalgic for when MTV played any weird crap they could get their hands on just to fill the hours.
Mouse Trap was a 1981 arcade game released by Exidy, A fairly obvious Pac-Man ripoff, it was successful enough that it was also ported to three different home game systems ColecoVision, Intellivision and the Atari 2600.
Mouse Trap did at least change up certain aspects of the game from Pac-Man – there were doors that players could open and close, it was possible to store power pills for later use, there were six rather than four hunters, and bonus items were available constantly rather than intermittently. The game had a small but devoted following, however, by 1999, very few of the arcade versions of it were still extant.
One of the all time classics of arcade gaming, Frogger is a simple enough game in its concept: you have to steer a frog across a busy highway. How hard could that be, right?
Produced by Konami, and distributed by Sega and Gremlin all around the world, it was very successful as an arcade game. So it’s no surprise that it would be ported to various computer and gaming systems. Perhaps more surprising, in thirty years, it hasn’t lost much in popularity – it’s now available for nearly any platform it can be, in a variety of remakes and sequels, most of them with greatly revised and improved gameplay.
One of the most successful game franchises of all time – if not the most successful franchise – Donkey Kong originally started life as a Popeye game. Nintendo didn’t have the rights to Popeye, so they altered the characters into more original ones – although as the obviously King Kong inspired name of the game suggests, not that original. Still, it’s a good thing for them they did.
The Donkey Kong franchise has done very well itself, but Donkey Kong was also the origin of Mario, who would go on to become Nintendo’s flagship character and a highly successful game franchise in his own right. To date, across assorted media, there are more than 20 Donkey Kong games (depending on how one counts different versions of the same game), and another 30+ Mario games. It’s hard to imagine that a Popeye franchise would have been that popular.
In the early Eighties, getting a rock star to advertise your fizzy sugar drink was the done thing. Both Pepsi and Coca Cola got some of the biggest names of the era – David Bowie, Tina Turner, Billy Joel and others all recorded versions of their songs with the lyrics changed to spruik their sponsor’s drinks. But then Pepsi announced that they had won this arms race. They would produce an ad with the biggest star in the world, the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.
The ad was shot in late January, 1984. It was never completed and has never been screened, due to the events of January 24. On that day, Michael Jackson was injured in a pyrotechnics accident, setting his hair on fire and leaving him with second degree burns. Jackson suffered extreme pain from the burns, and developed a pain killer habit as a result. It was a terrible accident, one that too many marks the beginning of Jackson’s decline as an artist.
Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest singers ever to come out of Motown, possessed of a soulful, sensitive voice with great expressiveness and a vocal range of three octaves. Best known today for such classics as “Sexual Healing”, “Let’s Get It On” and his cover of “Heard It Through The Grapevine”, Gaye also used his music to pursue an activist agenda, creating anthems for the civil rights movement, most notably “What’s Going On?”
He was only 44 years old in 1984, when he intervened in a dispute between his parents. Enraged, his father shot him twice – although the first shot was fatal, and Gaye was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. He was cremated and his ashes scattered near the ocean. His father pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet represents the high water mark of the Eighties hair metal craze. Bon Jovi were different from other hair metal bands, in that they didn’t costume or wear make up, and also because one of their hits (“Wanted Dead Or Alive”) was a country and western song. (Not that stopped it from being the best song on the album.)
The album spawned four singles, two of which (“Living On A Prayer” and “You Give Love A Bad Name”) reached number one on the US charts. The other two were both top 20 hits. Unfortunately for Bon Jovi, the album was lightning in a bottle, and they would never recapture the success they enjoyed with it, although John Bon Jovi’s solo hit, “Blaze Of Glory”, would be a top ten hit around the world.
Some relationships have an expiry date from the very start – the marriage of Sean Penn and Madonna was one of these. Both were infamously volatile and egotistical, and the failure of the film they made together, “Shanghai Surprise”, didn’t help. By the start of 1987, it was pretty obvious that the couple wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas together that year.
The two weren’t speaking for a while – and it appears that Penn may have be trying to delay the inevitable. Even so, Madonna choosing the occasion of their family Thanksgiving to serve Penn with divorce papers was some cold shit.
A horror movie based on Wade Davis’ non-fiction book about the case of a ‘zombie’ in Haiti, “The Serpent and the Rainbow” was directed by Wes Craven (best known for the “Nightmare on Elm Street” film series). It starred Bill Pullman, leading a cast of mostly unknowns.
It was a very loose adaptation of the book, with considerable liberties taken with both Davis’ account and the facts, but a lot more horror added. It grossed a respectable US $19 million, well over double its budget.
“Two Moon Junction” was a fairly forgettable erotic thriller from 1988. It actually had a fairly reasonable cast, featuring Louise Fletcher, Milla Jovovich in her first film role and Burl Ives in his last, but given that it was an erotic thriller, it was naturally the beautiful and desirable Sherilyn Fenn who was front and centre.
The film was neither a great flop nor a great success, although it did well enough to inspire a direct to video sequel some years later. In fact, aside from inspiring Screaming Jay Hawkins to write a song about how much he wanted to have sex with Ms. Fenn as a result of it, the film contributed little to the world. Hawkins did have a point, though.
Die Hard was the first film in what would become one of the most popular franchises of the last three decades. A massive commercial success, it also created a set of expectations for the career of Bruce Willis: people expected that his every new film would start a franchise. From Hudson Hawk on, through The Last Boyscout and Striking Distance, every film was supposed to be the foundation of another great franchise.
But these other characters did not have the staying power of John McClane. It turns out that the same shit tends to only happen to the same guy once when it comes to successful film franchises (unless that guy is Harrison Ford, obviously).
In 1988, the anonymous masked men who comprise TISM a.k.a. This Is Serious Mum released their first album, “Great Truckin’ Songs of the Renaissance” (actually a double album, although a single CD). This 27 track magnum opus featured a mixture of songs, snatches of interviews, random strangeness, and the poetic ranting that is “Morrison Hostel”.
It reached #48 on the Australian charts, and failed to chart anywhere else. There are any number of reasons why this occurred, but the unavailability of the album on any basis other than import probably had a little to do with it.
They Might Be Giants’ third studio album, and probably their best known, “Flood” features their single best known song – a cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” – as well as “Birdhouse in Your Soul” which was a top ten hit in both the US and UK. It would go on to be their best selling album, achieving platinum status in 2009.
The album as a whole is one of the most consistently excellent of all their albums, and is widely regarded as their best (although that may be something of an artifact of it being the most widely owned of their albums). It would be followed up by “Apollo 18” two years later.
Happy Land nightclub had been ordered closed for building code violations during November 1988, including the lack of fire exits, alarms or sprinkler system. These faults were never remedied, and fire exits were later found to have been deliberately blocked (to prevent people entering without paying).
The evening of the fire, Julio González had argued with his former girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, a coat check girl at the club, urging her to quit. She told him to leave, and when he refused, she called the bouncer. González tried to fight back into the club but was ejected by the bouncer. He was heard to scream drunken threats in the process. Later that night, González returned to the establishment with a container of gasoline which he spread on the staircase that was the only access into the club.
In the resulting fire, 87 people lost their lives. González was convicted of 87 murders and 87 charges of arson, and sentenced to 25 years to life on every charge (a total of 4350 years), although he will be eligible for parole in March 2015 (the sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently under New York state law).
The second film in the Die Hard series, this sequel went out of its way to draw attention to the fact that it was a sequel – lines like “how can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” were a non-too-subtle reminder of that. That said, the film was reasonably successful commercially (if not artistically), and the franchise would continue.
Die Hard 2 is the most blatantly sentimental and patriotic of the Die Hard films – released on July 4, set on Christmas Eve – no tactic of cheap manipulation was left unused by writers or marketers for this one. But who cares? Bruce Willis shot bad guys and stuff got blowed up real good. What else do you want?
A true giant of popular music, and the possessor of one of the finest voices ever to grace a song, Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, died at the age of 45 after a protracted struggle with AIDS. An openly gay man, Mercury had contracted the disease some years earlier, being diagnosed in 1987, but chose to conceal his illness from all but his nearest and dearest, including the other three members of Queen, until relatively shortly before his death. This desire for privacy has unfortunately tainted his legacy somewhat, as he arguably could have done much to promote awareness of AIDS had he announced his infection sooner – although this would likely have taken a greater toll on his health and seen him die even sooner.
Mercury left behind him an incredible range of musical accomplishments, both as singer and songwriter. In particular, he wrote 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits volume one: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, “We Are the Champions”, “Bicycle Race”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Play the Game” – all of them still played frequently on radio to this day. He was also a consumate showman in concert, rivalled only by Bowie and Jagger in his ability to charm a crowd.
“Songs My Mother Taught Me” was published in 1994 after Brando wrote it with the assistance of Robert Lindsay. An autobiographical work, it dealt with Brando’s life as an actor, from his earliest auditions through to his later cinema work. However, the book is in no way a linear or detailed recounting – it is rambling, digressive and anecdotal, serving largely as a vehicle for Brando to express his thoughts on a variety of topics, and on the people who shaped him (for good or ill) – a list which does not include his wives or children.
The book has remained a perennial seller and been translated into numerous foreign languages. Brando himself died ten years after the book’s publication, leaving behind a legacy of superior work such as his appearances in “Streetcar Named Desire”, “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now”, and a string of bafflingly awful film choices made in his twilight years, most notably “Free Money” and “The Island of Dr Moraeu” (in which he played the title character).
The third film in Bruce Willis’ highly successful Die Hard franchise, this was the only one to actually be set in New York – which is kinda weird when you consider that John McClane is a member of the NYPD. It also famously re-united Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, even featuring a couple of call backs to their previous film together (in which they never actually shared the screen), Pulp Fiction.
Ultimately, it was the least successful film in the franchise, and it would be over a decade until the fourth installment in the series was made.
Technically, the Twentieth Century did not end for another year, at the end of the year 2000. But in the popular imagination, the last day of 1999 was the last day of the millennium. A day when many a religious – and one big secular – apocalypse was counted down to, to hit at the stroke of midnight. But neither the Second Coming nor the Y2K bug proved to be that big a threat.
The Twentieth Century was over with, and now, the 21st Century – the future – could begin. Only it turned out that if apocalypse wasn’t just around the corner, neither was utopia. And only 21 months into the new century, we’d all be dragged into a brand new endless Cold War when we’d just finally shaken off the last one.
Folds’ 2001 album “Rockin’ the Suburbs” was his first solo album since the dissolution of Ben Folds Five. It marked a progression for him to a more guitar-based sound, and despite its inauspicious release date, it remains one of his best selling albums. The title track was released as the first single from the album, and became his best selling song to date.
Just to clear up any confusion: the song “Rockin’ the Suburbs” mentions the release of a new cd, and in the clip, Folds brandishes a copy of his new album, also titled “Rockin’ the Suburbs”, which features the song of the same name. It’s all very recursive, and you’ll probably just get a headache if you think about it too much.
Before his career as an independent recording artist got off the ground, Kanye West nearly died in a car accident in Los Angeles. He survived, although his injuries were not very severe, he had to have his jaw wired shut, leaving him unable to speak until it healed…
…no, some jokes are just too easy.
Chris LeDoux was best known for his career in country music, which included 36 albums worth of material, a large portion of which he released himself. A good buddy of Garth Brooks, LeDoux was also a bronze sculptor and a one-time world bareback rodeo riding champion – in fact, his musical career began as a means of paying the bills while touring the rodeo circuit, and his first album was sold exclusively from his trailer.
But his star rose over the years, peaking with a duet with Brooks entitled “Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy?” which reached #7 on the US Country Music charts. However, in 2000, LeDoux’s doctor advised him that he had developed primary sclerosing cholangitis. This condition necessitated a liver transplant later that year (Brooks volunteered his, but was unfortunately incompatible). LeDoux recorded two more albums after the transplant, but the disease and its treatment took a toll on him. He died of complications arising from them on March 9, 2005.
Cochran was perhaps the most famous lawyer of the 1990s, primarily for his defence of O.J. Simpson in Simpson’s murder trial. Cochran’s refrain of “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” (the it in question was a glove that was a key piece of evidence for the prosecution) eventually swayed the jury, and Simpson’s acquittal was forthcoming.
However, despite Cochran’s habit of defending rich celebrities, he also prided himself on representing those whose circumstances were less happy. Even before his defence of Simpson, Cochran had a reputation for taking on cases of police brutality, and his 2001 civil suit representing Abner Louima (who was sodomised with a toilet plunger by members of the NYPD while under arrest) resulted in a settlement of US $8.75 million being paid to Louima, a record that still stands more than a decade later, and years after Cochran’s death from a brain tumour.
Best known for his many appearances as ‘The Riddler’ on the Batman TV show, Gorshin was an actor who rarely got lead roles, but frequently stole the show anyway. Indeed, his performance on Batman resulted in an Emmy nomination, the only one that series received for acting. He was also nominated for his appearance as Bele on Star Trek’s original series.
Gorshin never stopped acting, getting good reviews for a supporting role in 12 Monkeys in particular, and his last acting role was as himself in an episode of CSI which aired, dedicated to him, two days after his death. He was 72 years old, a victim of lung cancer. No one writes songs about him, but they do write them about the Riddler, so I’m bending the rules to pay tribute to one of my all time favourite actors:
Originally discovered in 1930, Pluto was at that time classed as a planet, and named for the Roman god of the Underworld. However, as the years went by, evidence mounted that it was not truly a major planet. Although it did have moons of its own, it also had an eccentric orbit (which crosses that of Neptune, the next furthest out planet) and a lower mass than any other planet.
The discovery that Pluto was just one of a number of bodies in the Kuiper Belt, many of them with comparable size and mass, also weakened the arguments for considering it a planet. Finally, a new definition of what a planet issued by the International Astronomical Union on August 24, 2006, excluded Pluto. On September 13, Pluto was named a Dwarf Planet, alongside Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris – all of which, other than Ceres, are also Kuiper Belt objects.
Heath Ledger was riding high as 2007 ended. The gossip about his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” was that it was nothing short of a revelation, and even though the film was still months away from release, people were openly speculating about Ledger’s chances of winning an Oscar for the role.
Ledger himself was working on his next film, “The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus”, directed by Terry Gilliam, but he was having trouble sleeping. And he was taking pills to deal with his insomnia – pills that, on the night of January 21, he seems to have taken far too many of. Ledger was found dead in his room early the following morning By his housekeeper and his masseuse.
He was later awarded the 2008 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, posthumously (only the second actor ever to win in that way).
I wouldn’t ordinarily include advertising here, but some things are just too cool to miss. And Andrew W.K. is definitely one of those. But rather than try to summarise, it’s simpler just to show you:
At the time of Harry Patch’s death, he was aged 111 years and 38 days. The last surviving World War One veteran to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front, he was nicknamed “the Last Fighting Tommy.”. His great age made Patch the third-oldest man in the world, the oldest man in Europe and the 69th oldest man in history (at least, history since reliable records were kept).
In his later years, Harry Patch was deeply cynical about his experience of war, and the politicians who start but never fight in these wars. Patch was a passionate opponent of war for most of his life, and did not hate his former enemies; rather, he pitied enemy and ally alike. As he put it:
“Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.“
Harambe was a gorilla living in the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden – where he had been for the previous two years – when a three year old boy somehow got into his enclosure. Harambe took hold of the boy and carried him around. His behaviour was not overtly hostile, but he was clearly becoming agitated by the crowd and zoo officials were concerned that the gorilla might become angered and hurt the boy – or even hurt him accidentally.
Harambe was killed by a single shot from a rifle, and the boy was rescued from the enclosure. The gorilla’s death became a highly divisive issue, with strong social media contingents for and against.
Thomas Earl Petty – better known to most people as Tom – was one of the great American songwriters and musicians of the late twentieth century. Whether with his band, the Heartbreakers, as a member of the Traveling Wilburys or dueting with Stevie Nicks, he created unforgettable song after unforgettable song.
Early in the morning of October 2, 2017, he was found in his home suffering a full cardiac arrest. He was taken to hospital, but died that night. He was survived by his wife and daughter.