The actual origin of religion is a hotly debated topic in anthropoligical circles. We don’t know exactly when or how it happened. We know that it pre-dated the invention of writing, but not by how much. And we don’t know what the first religious beliefs were – do cave paintings represent a recording of a successful hunt, or a devotion to the aurochs spirits?
It is generally – though not universally – accepted that the ritualisation of death and burial, and the invention of the funeral, mark the earliest evidence of a belief in an afterlife or a spirit world. We know nothing of what was believed, but the care and attention which our ancestors paid to the arrangement of the dead, the things they buried with them and the markers left at gravesites – all of these imply a developing spirituality. We cannot say exactly where it happened, but somewhere in this process, the idea of God was invented.
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.
Oddly, not the Platonic Ideal of the philosopher (although in fairness, he would have been the first to point that out), Plato is one of the trio of great Greek philosophers who helped to define Western Philosophy and Science for millennia. The other two were his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle (who was himself the teacher of Alexander the Great).
Plato was born in Athens (although the exact date is unknown – the one I have used here is traditional, but not necessarily correct) to a wealthy family, and given the best education money could buy. Even as a child, he was known for his quick mind. As a younger man, he traveled widely in search of knowledge, and returned to Athens at the age of forty to found the Academy, an institution that would last for nine centuries and train many philosophers, scientists and others from all over the ancient world.
He also left behind a considerable body of writing that helped to define the parameters of philosophy and science until virtually the Renaissance. He also wrote on politics, art and religion. Often, his writings were in the form of Socratic Dialogues, in which Socrates would be the one who espoused the ideas that were actually Plato’s.
The third of the three great Ancient Greek philosophers was the student of Plato (who, in his turn, had been a student of Socrates). The works of Plato and Aristotle were the foundation of science and reason – and for that matter, of theology – for literally hundreds of years. It was not until the Renaissance that their works were surpassed in Western Europe.
Aristotle’s works included foundational texts on logic, politics, ethics, poetry, physics, metaphysics and biology. In addition to being one of the most prolific writers of his era – and this is based only on his surviving works (some of them are lost to us) – he was also a teacher. He taught in Athens and later in Macedon, where his students included Alexander the Great, as well as Ptolemy I (a general of Alexander’s) and Cassander (a later Macedonian king). In his 62 years of life, it appears that about the only thing he didn’t do was sleep…
One of the most influential works in Chinese history, the Analects of Confucius were written over a period of several decades during the Warring States period.
Ever since copies of the Analects first begin to be distributed, over 2000 years ago, it has shaped Chinese society, teaching the Confucian virtues to generation after generation. Its influence has also been felt in other parts of Asia, as it slowly diffused into other nations and cultures.
Even today, the Analects remains one of the canonical texts that any serious Chinese scholar (or scholar of China) must read and understand in order to be considered properly educated.
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.
The 1527 Narváez expedition was a disaster. Only four of the approximately 600 men to go on it survived. Some died when two of the ships were sunk in a hurricane. Some deserted when they reached Cuba. The rest died from starvation, disease or in conflicts with the natives.
But one of the four men who survived was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, originally sent on the mission as the king’s eyes and ears. He had been the treasurer and sherriff (responsible for making sure the crown got its 20% cut) and also the second in command. In 1536, he finally made his way to Mexico City, having trekked from where he was shipwrecked on Galveston Island (near the site of present day Houston, Texas) in November 1528. The following year, he returned to Spain and wrote a book: La relación of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.
This book introduced the idea of the “Seven Cities of Gold” or “Seven Cities of Cíbola”, which were said to be located somewhere on the other side of the desert north of Mexico and rich beyond all imagining. Sadly, when conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado finally arrived at Cíbola in 1540, he discovered that the stories were unfounded and that there were, in fact, neither treasures nor cities in Cibola.
It’s not true to say that Sir Walter Raleigh – privateer, nobleman, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, soldier, sailor, explorer and unsuccessful quester for the fabled city of El Dorado – killed more men than cancer.
However, as the man generally credited with the introduction of tobacco products to England – where they became popular at court, thus guaranteeing their spread throughout the rest of the nation and rival European courts (fashion is a harsh mistress) – he should at least be thought of as one of cancer’s most able accessories before the fact.
It would be nice to say that he died of lung cancer, but actually, he was beheaded in what many believe to have been a political maneuver aimed at placating the Spanish (whom Raleigh had fought during the Armada incident and the related war), and something of a miscarriage of justice (since King James, Elizabeth’s successor, did not have much love for her former favourites).
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.
One of the greatest of the Baroque composers, Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach (in the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, now a part of Germany). Even in a family as musical as the Bachs, Johann was a standout – in addition to composing, he was also an accomplished player of the violin, viola, harpsichord and organ (although it was the latter he was most in demand for during his lifetime).
Bach’s compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Mass in B minor, the The Well-Tempered Clavier and over 300 cantatas. He lived to be 65, and was a great influence on the composers who followed him, including Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Mendelssohn.
Hardly anyone at all knows it, but this ode of Thomas Gray’s is the origin of one of the English language’s most often quoted aphorisms: “ignorance is bliss”. One rather wonders if Thomas Gray himself would still agree, at least insofar as ignorance covered his works or his self. To be fair, Gray was not praising ignorance, but rather, the innocence of childhood.
Gray was an academic and a poet. He studied and worked at Cambridge most of his adult life, and was regarded as one of the greatest poets of his age during his lifetime, even though his total works amount to less than a thousand lines of poetry – whatever else can be said of him, Gray clearly favoured quality over quantity. His wordsmithing was not limited to the occasional aphorism: Gray is the originator of several phrases that are now horribly time-worn cliches, including “far from the madding crowd”, “kindred spirit” and “the paths of glory”.
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Til The Ocean Takes Us All — The Cat Empire
One of the best known and most loved composers of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach was 85 years old at the time of his death. In those years, he created such works as the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B minor, The Art of Fugue, and the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Although he did not create any new forms, his works broadened and deepened the scope of existing forms.
After his death, several of his sons carried on his legacy as composers in their own right, notably Johann Christian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The Bach, it seems, did not stop here.
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Green Onions — The Blues Brothers
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.
Hegel was one of the most influential philosophers of his time. He built upon the work of Kant, Descartes, Hume and others – his work assumes a familiarity with the writings of many of his predecessors – and Hegel himself was an influence on any number of the philosophers who followed him, notably Karl Marx and Theodor Adorno.
Hegel lived to be 61 years old, and spent most of his adult life studying and writing in a total of eight different German universities. He wrote four books: Phenomenology of Spirit (1807); Science of Logic (published in three volumes: 1811, 1812 & 1816); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1816) and Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1822).
Generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the classical composers, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, in what is now Germany. However, most of his early creative life was spent in Vienna, where he studied music under the tutelage of Joseph Haydn. Exposed to works by other composers of Vienna (notably Mozart and Bach), Beethoven nonetheless developed his own distinctive style.
At the age of 26, Beethoven began to develop tinnitus, an affliction which would slowly rob him of his hearing entirely. Undaunted, he continued to compose, play and conduct music, and many of his greatest works were written at a time when he was either partially or completely deaf.
The date given here for his birth is actually that of his baptism – no conclusive record exists of his actual birth date, although it is unlikely to have been more than a week or so earlier.
Schlegel and his brother August were two of the leading members of the Jena Romantics, a group of artists and patrons between roughly 1798 and 1804 who were the earliest influential Romantic movement in Germany. Schlegel would pass through atheism and a firm commitment to individualism in his twenties before converting to Catholicism in 1808.
His contributions to philosophy mostly consist of his promotion of and work to develop the Romantic school in Germany, especially as a critical position from which to analyze art.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig, in what is now Poland. The child of a wealthy patrician family, Arthur went to university in 1809, and published his seminal book of philosophical thought (“The World as Will and Representation”) in 1819. However, he struggled to attract students as a lecturer (possibly because he was competing with Hegel), and soon left academia.
Nonetheless, over his 72 years, he continued his philosophical enquiries and published a number of other books, cementing his place in the history of his discipline. But his popularity as a philosopher peaked in the early part of the Twentieth Century (when he was a major influence on the Modernist movement), and has never again attained the same degree of prominence, although there has been a recent upswing of interest in his works.
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.
Probably the most famous member of Shoshone tribe of North American Indians, Sacajawea (or Sacagawea, depending on your translation) is best-remembered as the native guide who helped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their journey up the Missouri river, and on to the Pacific Ocean.
Sacajawea was vital to the success of the mission, as without her knowledge of the Shoshone tongue, Lewis and Clark would not have been able to barter with that tribe for badly needed supplies. Lewis and Clark tended to refer to her as ‘the Indian woman’ in their journals – but those same journals make it very clear that the entire expedition would likely have died, either from starvation or encounters with hostile Indians, without her knowledge of the lands, tribes and tongues of the areas they explored, and her apparently considerable skills in diplomacy.
Benjamin Banneker was born a free black man in Virginia in 1731 – his mother was also a free black, his father a former slave now free. Largely self-educated, in 1791 he was a member of the team that surveyed the boundaries of the newly declared District of Columbia. His primary duty was to take astronomical observations to ascertain the exact locations of the various points the survey visited.
The following year, Banneker turned his skill at astronomy to creating an ephemeris, which he then published in an almanac. The almanac sold well enough that he continued to make them annually until 1797. He became a man of some note, and was a regular correspondent of President Thomas Jefferson, with whom he argued about slavery and other political issues. He died after retiring from public life, aged 74.
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.
Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most well-known composers ever. His Fifth Symphony’s opening bar is perhaps the most recognisable musical passage in Western culture – “da da da DAH!” (It’s also the Morse code for V, which is the Roman numeral for 5. Sam Morse apparently liked complicated puns.)
Born in Bonn, Germany in the year 1770, he would rise from relatively humble beginnings to become one of the great composers of his (or any other) era. In addition to his nine symphonies, he also wrote a wide variety of sonatas, concertos, string quartets and a single opera. Among his better known compositions are “Fur Elise” and the Triple Concerto.
He died on March 26, 1827 in Vienna, after a lengthy series of illnesses that had left him deaf and bedridden. His funeral was a massive undertaking, and mourners lined the streets of Vienna as his body was taken to the cemetery. He left behind him a vast musical legacy, and remains one of the most played and performed of composers even today.
Franz Peter Schubert was only 31 when he died of what doctors diagnosed as typhoid fever (although others claimed that it was tertiary syphilis). The Austrian was one of the most prolific composers of his era, writing more than 600 songs, 7 symphonies – not including his famous “Unfinished Symphony” (of which he wrote two movements before his death) – 5 operas and 21 sonatas.
His 600 songs were primarily Lieder, and Schubert’s greatest influence is found in this form – understandably, as in doing so many of them he explored nearly every possible variation of them. There is no telling what he might have accomplished had he lived longer – even in his relatively brief span, his style changed and evolved markedly. His epitaph reads “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes” – and rarely has anyone had a more accurate epitaph.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s design for the SS Great Western, which he designed (with some assistance from Thomas Guppy and other members of the Great Western Steamship Company) for the company whose name it bore, was a revolutionary design, and a breakthrough in ship construction. Brunel’s key insight was that the carrying capacity of a ship increases as the cube of its dimensions, whilst the water resistance only increases as the square of its dimensions – which meant that a larger ship was disproportionately more effective in speed and fuel economy.
The SS Great Western would become the model for all successful paddle steamships in the Atlantic, and its owners were able to turn a profit from it even though it was the only ship they ran for several years. It was later sold off after the dissolution of the company, passing through various hands and seeing service as a troopship during the Crimean War. It was broken up for salvage in 1856.
The Thames Tunnel, connecting Rotherthithe and Wapping, was the first of its kind – the only tunnel up to that point to have been excavated beneath a navigable river. Construction on it began in 1925, by Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The two used a new invention created by the older Brunel and his associate Thomas Cochrane, called a tunneling shield. The shield’s purpose is to prevent mud, water or other liquids from flooding the tunnel.
Even with this shield, the tunnelling took years – by the time it finally opened to the public in 1843, after floods and other delays, many had given up on it. But the tunnel proved to be a wonder of its era. It was intended for horsedrawn carriages, but attracted so much pedestrian traffic that it was used solely by pedestrians until 1869. In that year, it was purchased by a railway company and tracks were laid. Services still run through the tunnel today.
Of all the great philosophers, none is quite so famous for being, well, a raving loon, as Friedrich Nietzsche.
Born in Rocken, near Leipzig, on October 15, he would become the most famous German philosopher of the 19th century. His best known works include the posthumous “Will To Power”, “Ecce Homo”, “Beyond Good and Evil” and “The Spake Zarathustra”.
Nietzsche was widely seen, in Germany and elsewhere, as a supporter of German militarism – and his work was influential to Hitler and other Nazis (although they were selective in their use and interpretation of him). Later, he was seen as a forerunner of the Existentialists. However, his most lasting contribution to Western culture may be the concept of the Übermensch, or Superman.
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!
Stephen Foster has been widely hailed as the father of American Music. In the nineteenth century, he was one of the greatest of American composers of popular music – and many of his songs are still widely known and performed today. Foster wrote such classics as “Camptown Races”, “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Oh! Susanna”.
Foster was only 37 when died, the result of his impoverishment: after a persistent fever, he collapsed, banging his head against a basin and gouging it quite badly. He was admitted to hospital but died three days later. God only knows how much more he would have written had he lived, how many American classics we were denied by his early demise.
Born in 1791 in Germany, Giacomo Meyerbeer was one of the foremost exponents of the musical and theatrical form known as ‘The Grand Opera’. In his day he was one of the most famed composers in all of Europe, but his reputation has suffered since his death – largely due to the attacks on his character and works by his former student Richard Wagner.
The motivation for these attacks is complex – Wagner was clearly jealous of his teacher’s success and the wealth that it brought him, but also despised Meyerbeer due to the older man’s Jewishness. Among other wild accusations, Wagner accused Meterbeer of bribing critics to ensure favourable reviews.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge was built more than a century after it had first been proposed, from a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that was completed by William Henry Barlow and John Hawkshaw after Brunel’s death in 1859. The bridge is particularly notable in that, unusually for a suspension bridge, the towers at each end are not symmetrical with each other.
The bridge operated as a toll bridge upon its opening and it remains one today, still in operation more than 150 years after its construction. It was also the site of the first modern bungee jump, in 1979
Composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky when he was only 24, “Characteristic Dances” was the first of his pieces to be publicly performed. Tchaikovsky himself was not present for the performance, which was conducted by Johann Strauss (itself an honour to a neophyte composer). However, he was pleased with both the fact of the performance and its reception.
Amazingly, “Characteristic Dances” has never been published, and exists today only in a modified form, as Tchaikovsky reworked it as “Dances of the Chambermaids” in his 1867 opera, “The Voyevoda”, and this is the form that they were recorded and popularised in. However, despite its obscurity, the public performance of his works was a turning point in the career of Tchaikovsky, and marked the first step to his becoming one of the best known of all Russian composers.
The Great Chicago Fire was not, despite early reports, started by Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern – the reporter who claimed that later admitted that he’d decided to sexy up the story a little. In fact, despite the fact that the fire started in the O’Leary’s barn (and failed to destroy either their house or the nearby Catholic church at which they worshipped), the O’Learys appear to have been scapegoats. The true culprit was likely a thief who set fire to the barn – the same man who first reported the fire, one Daniel “Pegleg” Sullivan.
The fire lasted for two days, and burned hot enough that it was impossible to enter parts of the area it affected for some days, even after it was extinguished. 125 bodies were recovered, but it is believed that they may have been less than half of the total deaths. The fire destroyed an area more than 2,000 acres in size, including about a third of the city’s buildings. Over $200 million of damage was done, and that’s in 1871 dollars. Approximately a third of Chicago’s citizens were rendered homeless by the blaze.
Chicago was rebuilt by architects such as Daniel Burnham, and within two decades, the city was bigger and better than ever before. Today, the former site of the O’Leary farm now houses the Chicago Fire Academy.
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
As mentioned in:
If I Had A Million Dollars — Bare Naked Ladies
Born Samuel Horwitz, Shemp Howard and his brother, Moe Howard, were two of the original Three Stooges, one of the most successful acts of the vaudeville era, and also one of the few to make the jump to cinema. Shemp would come and go from the Stooges over the years, being replaced by his and Moe’s brother Curly in the lineup. In between times, Shemp was a fairly successful stand up comedian.
His stage name was derived from how his nickname, Sam, sounded when pronounced by his mother, who had a thick Litvak accent. Shemp was famous for his ability to improvise, and his quick wits belied the foolish image of the Stooges. In his solo years, he also performed in a few dramatic roles, showing a range that few would have suspected.
Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest English writers. He was persecuted for his homosexuality, and indeed, it was a conviction for being one who enjoyed “the love that dare not speak it’s name” that led to his arrival in Reading Gaol.
Wilde had been convicted on May 25 after a trial lasting almost exactly a month. He was first sent to Pentonville, then to Wandsworth, and finally transferred to Reading Gaol. His famous work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written about his experiences in prison after his release four years later.
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.
Pablo Picasso’s first public exhibition of his works was held in Barcelona, four months short of his nineteenth birthday. Much of his early work is now considered derivative, showing clear signs of the influence of those earlier painters that Picasso admired, such as El Greco, Diego Velaskes and Fransisco Goya.
The exhibition consisted of 150 portraits of Picasso’s friends, and was well-received. Picasso would shortly afterwards relocate to Paris, and embark on what would become known as his ‘Blue Period.’
Subsequently, Pablo Picasso was frequently called an asshole.
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
Born in Clarinda, Iowa, Glenn Miller grew up wanting to be a musician. When he was 11, he finally saved enough money to buy himself a trombone, and joined the town orchestra of Grant City, Missouri (to which his parents had moved that year). Miller became interested in a then-new style of music – the style he would later become famous for – and in 1918, formed his first band.
He played in many bands over the next two decades, slowly rising to become one of the best known bandleaders, musicians and composers of his time. Among his best known songs were such classics as “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, “Moonlight Serenade” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. To this day, he remains one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century.
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.
Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was born in Hobart, Tasmania. His parents were Theodore Thomson Flynn, a professor of biology at the University of Tasmania; and Lily Mary Young, later Marelle Flynn. They had married in Balmain North, Sydney, on 23 January 1909 – which implies a little about their motivations for marriage.
That said, there is no reason to think that Flynn was unloved as a child (or at least, not unloved by the standards of his time and culture). He later attended school with future Australian Prime Minister John Gorton, who would also become a notorious larrikin.
A painter of the Post-Impressionist school, whose work was largely in the Naive or Primitivist manners, Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was born in 1944. A self-taught painter, his works were not respected during his lifetime – indeed, they were often derided for what was seen as a ‘childish’ style.
However, after his death, he became noted as an influence on many of the painters who followed him, notably the Surrealist school and Pablo Picasso, and his work was re-evaluated and its merit seen (too late to do Rousseau any good). His influence continues undimmed even today – one of his paintings was recently the inspiration for certain elements of the animated film ‘Madagascar’.
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.
Best known for his tales of Teyve the Dairyman, Sholem Aleichem was a Jewish writer born in Russia in 1859. His real name was Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich – Sholem Aleichem was a pen name he used, a play on the Yiddish expression “Shalom aleichem” (which means ‘peace be with you’). His stories of Teyve are best known in English by the title of their musical adaptation “Fiddler on the Roof”, which came to pass after he emigrated to New York City in 1905.
Aleichem died of a combination of tuberculosis and diabetes, still working on his latest novel “Motl, Peysi the Cantor’s Son”. He was 57 years old, and despite having been in America only a decade or so, his funeral was one of the largest in New York history, with over 100,000 mourners in attendance, and his will was read into the Congressional Record and published in the New York Times.
By Unknown author – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART2/508/779.html”>http://www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART2/508/779.html</a>, Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
Better known respectively by their noms du plume, Ann Landers and Dear Abby, Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman are perhaps the two best known advice columnists in American publishing history. Eppie’s “Ask Ann Landers” column ran from 1955 to 2002, while Paulione’s “Dear Abby” ran from 1956 until the present, although Pauline’s daughter took over the writing of it from 2000.
The twins were highly competitive, and writing two such similar columns led to a cycle of recriminations and reconciliations between them, but it didn’t stop either of them from becoming two of the most influential women in America. Both were refreshingly frank and unsentimental about dealing with people’s problems, but always empathetic. Eppie was more left-leaning, favouring, among other things, the legalisation of prostitution and equal rights for homosexuals, while Pauline’s characteristic style was marked by her brevity and somewhat abrasive humour. America felt that it could tell them anything, and both women were known to publish only some letters – the more personal and difficult problems would often receive direct letters (occasionally, in cases of great urgency, telegrams) in reply to their missives.
By Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer – Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c11600″>http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c11600</a>, Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
The Chanukah Song (Part I) — Adam Sandler
The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar, Germany (the town, not the government) by Walter Gropius, an architect. Ironically, as first comprised, the Bauhaus lacked an architecture department, although given its project of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together, this was an oversight that was corrected in short order.
Bauhaus would become one of the most – if not the most – influential schools of design in the twentieth century, affecting art, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, typography and, yes, architecture. Ironically, its wide influence had much to do with its suppression by the Nazis – many Bauhaus alumni were exiled by the Nazi regime, others fled it. They spread its influence to Western Europe, Britain, North America and Israel (Tel Aviv, for example, built more than 3000 buildings influenced by Bauhaus ideas from 1933 onwards).
By <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Louis_Held” class=”extiw” title=”w:en:Louis Held”>Louis Held</a> – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://museum-digital.de/san/index.php?t=objekt&oges=1791″>http://museum-digital.de/san/index.php?t=objekt&oges=1791</a>, Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Alma — Tom Lehrer
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.
In the 1920’s, aviators were heroes. They were bold explorers and experimenters, pushing back the boundaries of the known. And none of them loomed larger in the public eye than Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh.
At the age of 25, this formerly obscure US Air Mail pilot was catapulted to fame and fortune when he completed the remarkable feat of being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. Flying a custom-built single engine monoplane named The Spirit of St Louis, he took off from from Roosevelt Field on Long Island shortly before 8AM on May 20, and landed 35 hours later at Le Bourget Field in Paris.
This exploit won him the Orteig Prize, a sum of $25,000. He was also feted and decorated, receiving the Medal of Honor from the USA and the Legion of Honour from France, among other awards.
Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were a pair of comedians and actors who, in 1926, created one of the earliest serialised radio shows, a comedy (with occasional dramatic elements) entitled “Sam ‘n’ Henry”. Which is fine and dandy, although presenting one major problem to us today: Correll and Gosden were white men who parlayed an ability to impersonate black men into a highly successful career.
Their true success began with their subsequent creation, the radio serial “Amos ‘n’ Andy”. This series would run for over thirty years, spawning a film and a television series as spin offs, and become an unforgettable part of mid-twentieth century American culture. It would also, in its later years, become quite controversial for its portrayal of black characters by white actors and its use of negative stereotypes in its characters. Although some have argued that some of its “racist” stereotypes were more accurately seen as comedic stereotypes who happened to be black, but given that these were among the very few black characters on television at all, the overall effect was a negative one on black and white listeners (and later viewers) alike.
One of the most popular and influential of all French composers, Claude Achille Debussy was on August 22, 1862. Debussy was a tireless experimenter who was not satisfied to stay within the bounds of what his teachers taught, and this quality informs the majority of his compositions. For instance, he was the first European composer to show the influence of gamelan. By the turn of the century, he was not merely seen as one of the greatest living composers in France, but in most of Central Europe.
Debussy’s death from cancer occurred during the final months of World War One. He died in Paris while that city was being bombarded by the German Spring Offensive. As such, despite being one of the nation’s most honoured sons, he was buried with a minimum of ceremony. After the war concluded, he was reinterred in a style more fitting his influence and status.
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 wielding 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 achieve. You should definitely see it if you haven’t yet.
Franz Werfel was husband number three for Alma Mahler. She’d already been having an affair with him and even living together for about a decade when they married. Unlike her other marriages, however, this one would last. Alma would stay with Franz until his death.
Along the way, she had a very beneficial effect on his career, inspiring him and promoting him, and she deservedly shared in the success of his most famous work, The Song of Bernadette. After the couple fled Austria in the wake of the Aunschluss in 1938, they settled in the United States, and when The Song of Bernadette became a Hollywood film, they became wealthy celebrities.
One of the most famous films of all time, the original King Kong is famed for its storyline (a sympathetic monster?), Fay Wray’s luminous beauty and Ray Harryhausen’s superb stop-motion special effects. It was not the first giant monster film, nor the first jungle film – there were dinosaur and Tarzan films before it – but it was the first giant ape film.
Kong himself has gone on the be one of the most famous movie monsters of all time, with multiple remakes, sequels and appearances in other films to his credit – his only serious rival for the crown of King of Monsters is Godzilla (who is equally iconic and even more prolific).
The film is one of the most loved films of all time, being a massive commercial success (except in Nazi Germany, where it was banned), a critical favourite (admittedly, of the guilty pleasure variety), and a cult classic. Not bad for an adventure yarn.
Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, OM, GCVO was one of the greatest English composers of the pre-WWII era. He wrote across a range of styles of music, influenced more by European composers (especially Dvorak and Handel) than his English predecessors (indeed, he was noted for his dislike of the English folk music tradition). He also was one of the first composers to experiment with and understand the potential of the gramophone, and recorded music in general.
His reputation has varied over the years – he fell out of favour after the First World War, but his work has been re-assessed by critics since the 1960s. His best known work today is The Engima Variations.
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley, was born to Vernon Elvis and Gladys Love Presley in a two room house built by Vernon. He was preceded into the world by his stillborn brother, Jesse Garon Presley, some 35 minutes earlier.
Presley is one of the best known and most popular rock stars of all time, achieving a level of fame and success in his 42 years that remains the yardstick by which all celebrities must still be measured, and if you don’t already know who he was… well, you were probably born after 1977.
Also, although Guinness doesn’t keep records on it, he is also probably the most-frequently impersonated human being of all time.
“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.
The 1935 adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel, “Captain Blood” was the second film version of the story, after a 1924 silent version. It was a surprise hit for Warner Bros, which took a chance on two unknowns – Errol Flynn and Oliva de Haviland – as the leads. Not only were they both immensely attractive, but also, their chemistry was magnetic. The pair would go on to make 7 more films together over the next 6 years, almost always as a romantic couple. Their best known film is 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (which re-teamed them with their “Captain Blood” co-star Basil Rathbone).
Flynn in particular distinguished himself not just as a leading man, but also as an action star (although his swordplay was the despair of Rathbone, who was actually a trained fencer, but required to lose to Flynn by the plot). The film, while melodramatic by modern standards, was one of the first great pirate movies, and Flynn’s Captain Blood has influenced almost all subsequent cinematic pirates. The film grossed more than double its million dollar budget, and ensured the careers of not just its actors, but also its director, Michael Curtiz.
Originating from a 1934 comic strip appearing in publications of the King Features Syndicate, Flash Gordon was one of Buck Rogers’ earliest competitors, and far and away his most successful. Flash Gordon was a blonde American hero who, with his love interest Dale Arden and scientist companion Dr Hans Zarkov, is transported to the planet Mongo. Here, Gordon comes into conflict with the dictator, Ming the Merciless, and encounters Ming’s many client states, slowly uniting them into a force that can overthrow the despot.
In 1936, Flash Gordon first his the silver screen. Episode one of a thirteen part serial premiered on April 6, starring Buster Crabbe as the title character. Since that time, there have been numerous sequels and revivals of the character, most notably the 1980 feature film of the same title that attempted to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars.
At 8:43am local time, the last radio transmission definitely from Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was received at Howland Island, Earhart’s intended destination that day.
Problematic conditions had led to the pair relying on radio navigation, but their radio contacts were sporadic and patchy. Although later transmissions were received, they were too weak to get a fix on or properly interpret. The two were never heard from again, and their plane’s wreckage has never been located. There are a number of theories regarding their disappearance, but the lack of crash evidence tends to support the idea that they crashed at sea and sank.
Spam didn’t used to have anything to do with enlarging your penis or getting cheap medicines of dubious quality.
It was originally the name of a certain kind of meat, although the ‘dubious quality’ part is well-enshrined in urban legend – known backronyms devised for it include “Something Posing As Meat”, “Stuff, Pork and Ham” and “Spare Parts Animal Meat.” Oddly enough, Spam wasn’t even the original name of the product – it was introduced because the previous name – Hormal Spiced Ham – was losing market share.
It wasn’t until Monty Python and Joel Furr got involved years later that the word assumed its modern meaning.
By the way: according to Hormel’s trademark guidelines, Spam should be spelled with all capital letters and treated as an adjective, as in the phrase “SPAM luncheon meat” – strange but true.
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.
One of those rare actors to not use a screen name, Harvey Keitel was a US Marine and later a court reporter before he became an actor. He first began to get attention for his roles in some of Martin Scorcese’s early films, such as Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. His career took a downturn after he was replaced by Martin Sheen on the set of Apocalypse Now after only a week of filming, although Keitel remained a prolific supporting actor for years.
It was not until 1992, when he played the role of Mr White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, that his career really took off again. Throughout the Nineties, Keitel was one of the most well-known and respected actors in Hollywood, having starred or guests in some of the highest profile films of the decade.
“Million Dollar Legs” – the 1939 film, not to be confused with the 1932 W.C. Fields vehicle of the same name – was not a subtle film. Its poster showed only Grable (and her expensive lower appendages), and its 65 minute running time featured few scenes in which she wore anything other than hot pants. Grable appeared in the film with her husband, Jackie Coogan, but the experience was not a good one, and the two divorced later that year after the film flopped upon its release.
Grable actually announced her retirement from show business at that point, but was wooed back at a bigger studio and wound up becoming a greater star than ever before. Coogan went on to play Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family”.
Born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez, the man whose stage name is Martin Sheen was the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother, who emigrated to the United States prior to his birth. Good Catholics both of them, they gave him eight brothers and a sister.
Sheen adopted his now familiar stage name in order to counteract racism among those casting for acting jobs, although the choice was not one he made without certain regrets. In his own words:
“Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I’d get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. It’s still Estevez officially. I never changed it officially. I never will. It’s on my driver’s license and passport and everything. I started using Sheen, I thought I’d give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn’t keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad.“
Elizabeth Taylor was only 8 years old when she was first signed with a Hollywood studio. The studio in question, Universal, agreed to pay her $100 a week for six months. (Another studio, MGM, had already auditioned her, but passed her up when they discovered that she could not sing.)
Her first film, made when Taylor was 9, was “There’s One Born Every Minute”. A dissatisfied Universal did not renew her contract, but the following year, MGM reconsidered, and contracted her for three months. She appeared in “Lassie Come Home” alongside fellow child star Roddy McDowall, and the film did sufficiently well that she was signed for a seven year contract by MGM thereafter.
She would go on to become one of the most famous and respected actresses in cinema history, winning three Oscars and three Golden Globes.
A Jew from Prague who fled the Aunschluss in 1938, Franz Werfel was also a playwright noted for his satirical plays about the Nazis (written before 1938). He and his wife Alma (the widow of Gustav Mahler) fled to Paris, where they were safe until the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 – when they fled once more, going into hiding and eventually reaching Portugal, from whence they took ship to New York. It was during this period, sheltered by assorted sympathisers, that Werfel learned the story of St Bernadette Soubirous, who had reported 18 separate visions of the Virgin Mary while at Lourdes. Some of this was told to him by people who had actually met Bernadette, although it is likely that their accounts were somewhat embroidered.
Werfel wrote the saint’s story largely as a tribute and thanks to the people who had helped them in France, Spain and Portugal (something he had promised them while fleeing the Nazis), and it was published in 1942 and spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list, including 13 weeks at the top of it. In 1943, it was adapted as a film which was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 4 of them.
Born in Chicago, Harrison Ford would rise from humble beginnings to become one of the best known and highest grossing movie stars of his era. He is best known for his roles as Han Solo in the Star Wars film series and Indiana Jones in the four films of that series. To a certain generation of filmgoer, he defined rugged manliness in the way that Eastwood or Wayne had before him.
Ford’s family has a highly mixed background – his paternal grandfather was Irish, his paternal grandmother German, and his maternal grandparents Jews from Belarus. When asked about the effect this had on his life, Ford jokingly replied “As a man I’ve always felt Irish, as an actor I’ve always felt Jewish.”
While Jimi Hendrix may not have been the greatest guitar player of all time – although that’s not a bet I would take – he is certainly the most legendary. Partly for his stage presence and antics (you seen anyone else set a guitar on fire on stage lately?), partly because he died so tragically young, and but mostly because, DAMN, that man could play.
He was born Johnny Allen Hendrix (which was shortly thereafter changed to James Marshall Hendrix) but the world knows him best as Jimi. Of mixed descent – the man had African-American, Cherokee and Irish genes – he was not merely a great musician but also a great experimentalist, pioneering many of the sounds, effects and techniques that created the modern rock vocabulary of the electric guitar. The debt owed to him by practically ever guitar player who lived after him is immeasurable.
Not bad for a guy who played guitar for only a little over 12 years.
Named after her best known song, Vera Lynn’s 1943 movie “We’ll Meet Again” was her second film, but her most successful. Much like her character in the film – a dancer who discovers that she is better suited to being a singer – acting didn’t work as well for Lynn as singing.
She spent much of the war years working with ENSA, performing in front of troops in Burma, India and Egypt, and was one of Britain’s greatest sweethearts and inspirational figures during World War Two. For her service to the nation and Empire’s morale, she has been awarded the OBE, made a Dame and even given the Burma Star (a military honour).
Born in 1873, Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of the greatest Russian composers of the Twentieth Century, and one of the last Russians to compose in the Romantic style. In addition, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest pianists in history. Ironically, his greatest fame came after he moved to the West in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution. His works – which include four concertos, three symphonies and 24 preludes – tended to emphasize the piano, the instrument he knew and loved best. As a writer for piano, he explored a wider range of its capabilities than almost any other composer.
Rachmaninoff was diagnosed with melanoma in late 1942, although only his family was told of the diagnosis – he himself was not. He died a few months later, only four days short of his seventieth birthday, and was buried in a cemetery in New York. His will had called for him to be buried on his property in Switzerland, the Villa Senar, but World War Two made that impossible.
It was supposed to be a headache cure.
What Dr Albert Hofmann and his assistants were searching for, in their lab in Berne, Switzerland, was a better cure for the common headache. It was originally synthesized on November 18, 1938, but it seemed a failure, and was put aside. Hofmann barely gave it another thought, but five years later, he decided to give it another look.
Examining it, he accidentally dosed himself with an unknown quantity on April 16, 1943. The effects he experienced are now very familiar, even to those who’ve never directly felt them, and although it took him some time, he figured out what had happened. Three days later, he took the first ever deliberate acid trip, ingesting 250 micrograms, and experienced similar effects. Famously, he rode his bike home from the lab while feeling the effects, which is why this day is sometimes referred to as Bicycle Day by the kind of people who think acid’s pretty cool.
Happy Bicycle Day, everyone!
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.
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Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
After her first visit in 1929, painter Georgia O’Keeffe became enamoured of the landscapes and colours of the American South West. She spent at least a part of each year there. Many of her paintings, including some of her best known, such as Summer Days (1936).
In 1945, she bought a property at Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiu, New Mexico, and began renovating it. In 1949, she permanently relocated there, producing numerous paintings, sketches and sculptures. She eventually moved to Santa Fe as old age took its toll on her health, where she died in 1986. Her artistic legacy is vast and she is particularly noted for her contributions to abstract landscape painting.
“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.
The first of the pieces of legislation that would collectively form Apartheid to be created by the National Party after they took power in 1948. It was a self-evidently a pointless piece of law in its own right – only 0.23% of all marriages in South Africa from 1946-1948 were mixed – but it was the thin end of the Apartheid wedge, the beginning of that oh so slippery slope.
The law was repealed in 1995, after the fall of the Apartheid regime.
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.
“Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was first published by L. Ron Hubbard in 1950. It is a canonical text of Scientology, often referred to as “Book One” of the Scientological holy books. One of the best-selling self-help books in American history, it is also one of the most widely reviled, as the Church of Scientology, like all churches, does not lack for enemies.
“Dianetics” itself is a mixture of biology and psychology, none of it more recent than 1949, and most of it soundly debunked – in some cases, even before the book was written. In particular, the book is frequently criticised for its lack of either qualifiers to its claims or evidence to support them.
No doubt all these critics are merely dupes of Xenu and his thetans.
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.
One of the wonder-fabrics of the Fifties, Dacron was the trade name of a particular polyester sold by Du Pont Chemical – the first from that company and the second overall (after Terylene). Its actual chemical name is Polyethylene terephthalate. It was first sold in New York, where it was used to make a variety of garments, most prominently men’s suits. Although a fashion sensation at the time, it has dropped out of favour since the technophiliac Fifties, and is no longer used as much in clothing.
Modern applications for Dacron include ropes (especially for nautical use) and artificial organs, especially hearts – both applications where Dacron’s lack of biodegradability is desirable.
The Bantu Authorities Act was one of the major foundations of apartheid in South Africa. It permitted the forced removal of black Africans to government-designated “homelands” (or bantustans). There were a total of twenty such areas, located across South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) – usually in the less desirable parts of the nation.
The South African government liked to pretend that these were independent states – this made it easy to justify spending very little on them, with the result that the black populations living in them lived in squalor and poverty. Those who had work had to travel to and from South Africa proper each day, for work that was poorly paid, and often unsafe and degrading.
The bantustans were abolished in 1994, when the era of apartheid finally ended.
“The Day The Earth Stood Still” was a milestone in the history of the cinema. It was perhaps the first truly serious science fiction movie, and certainly the first such film to achieve mainstream success. Before it, and for the most part, after it, science fiction films were b-movies. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” changed that.
Its combination of serious social critique with the tropes of science fiction cinema was a shocking break from the previously accepted notions of filmic science fiction cinema. It remains one of the most influential films ever made, and not merely within its own genre or medium – when Ronald Reagan was President, he made references to the warring nations of Earth uniting against an extra-terrestrial threat, apparently inspired by his viewings of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. More recently, 2009’s “District 9” has shown that the science fiction film as social commentary is alive and well.
Although it took nearly six months to reach #1 on the charts, reach that storied number it did, and made Johnnie Ray a star. The nature of the song, and the quality of his voice, saw Ray given many nicknames, such as “Mr. Emotion”, “The Nabob of Sob”, and “The Prince of Wails.”
In the years that followed, he would have several more hits, some with the Four Lads, some without. These included “Please Mr. Sun”, “Such a Night”, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”, “A Sinner Am I”, “Yes Tonight Josephine”, “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” (which was the 1956 Christmas #1 in the UK) and “You Don’t Owe Me a Thing”.
But no other song ever matched “Cry” in chart performance, or its place in the hearts of his fans.
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.
Liberace was one of the first of a new breed of entertainer in post war America. He saw that television would displace radio as the dominant medium, and that his own act, with its intensely visual aspects, would be well-suited to it. But his initial efforts to find success on the box did less well than he had hoped – guest spots on variety shows didn’t seem to help that much.
On July 1, 1952, he screened a fifteen minute first episode of “The Liberace Show”, which soon went on to become a syndicated series – and to net Liberace a small fortune (he got as much as 80% of the residuals in some markets). Soon, Władziu Valentino Liberace was a household name – or at least, his surname was, and he became one of the best known entertainers of his era, a legend in his own time.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications in the world. Its first issue, published on December 10, 1945, was only two pages in length. It has grown since then.
In June of 1947, its cover featured, for the first time, what became known as the Doomsday Clock. This would become the regular cover for Bulletin, throughout the run of its print edition, and even today’s online version, which has no cover per se, maintains the clock. The number of minutes before midnight – measuring the degree of nuclear, environmental, and technological threats to mankind – is periodically corrected; when it was first published, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.
In September of 1953, Volume IX, Number 7, the Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight – the closest they had ever been. The hands remained here until January of 1960, and in the following years, would peak at 17 minutes to midnight. In 2018, the hands were once again set to 2 minutes to midnight, where they remain to this day.
Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel is one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century. Its subject matter – a middle aged man lusting after a teenage girl (the title character, although the name is a pet name he had for her rather than her actual name) – along with the clear unreliability of the narrator, making it unclear how true his words are, made the book both fascinating and infuriating to many readers.
The novel was filmed twice, in 1962 and again in 1997, and brought to the stage on multiple occasions, but surely its greatest accolade is that an entire genre of porn is named after it.
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.
One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock…
Rightly or wrongly, this is the song – and Bill Haley and his Comets are the band – that is remembered as the first rock and roll song. It’s simple, fun and catchy, and if you can listen to it without tapping your foot along in time, you most likely don’t have feet.
It went to number one in the US, the UK and Germany, and then used as the opening theme song of “Happy Days” two decades later, permanently burning it into the cultural collective unconscious.
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.
Eddie Jones – better known to most as “Guitar Slim” – was only 32 when he died pf pneumonia (which was brought on largely by his alcoholism). In his brief career, he recorded two bona fide classics: 1952’s “Feelin’ Sad” (later covered and made more famous by Ray Charles) and 1953’s “The Things That I Used To Do” (a #1 hit on the US R&B charts).
A bluesman, Slim was part of the New Orleans Blues sound, although also something of an experimentalist – he was among the first to use distorted guitar tones, a decade before Hendrix would make them famous. Indeed, Hendrix was influenced by Slim’s work, to the point that he recorded a cover of “The Things That I Used To Do” in 1969. (Other artists to cover that particular track include James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan.)
One of the most influential jazz artists, Lester Young’s instrument of choice was the tenor saxophone (with occasional forays into the clarinet). Unlike many of his contemporaries, his style was relaxed and laid-back, featuring complex melodies and improvisations.
Young first came to prominence as a member of the Count Basie Orchestra, but left music to serve in World War Two. After the war, he embarked on a solo career, although he frequently played with other musicians and featured in their recordings just as they featured in his.
Lester Young’s greatest influence on the world had little to do with his playing: he is credited with having invented a large portion of ‘hipster’ slang. In particular, the modern colloquial meanings of cool (as ‘good’) and bread (as ‘money’) are attributed to him.
Young suffered from alcoholism in his later life, and died from complications brought on by it at the age of 49.
On this day, Sinatra completed the recording of this, his third album for the year, after a break of over a month – the rest of the album having been recorded between the 24th and 26th of March.
The album, considered a sequel to Sinatra’s earlier “Where Are You?”, includes a recording of “Stormy Weather”, a song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler in 1933, and performed first by Ethel Waters at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem that year.
Naked Lunch – no The – was first published in Paris in 1959. (US publication would wait until three years later.) It was a breakthrough novel for William S. Burroughs, who had spent five years writing it, mostly in Tangier, and mostly under the influence of a variety of drugs, or withdrawal from the same. As a text, it is a challenging work, with Burroughs’ hallucinatory prose further made confusing by the application of the Cut Up Method. Classifying it into a genre is nigh impossible, although it could be argued that the work prefigures both magic realism and gonzo journalism.
The book was not well received in the US upon its publication. In Burroughs’ own words:
When I started writing Naked Lunch, people offered their opinions: “Disgusting,” they said. “Pornographic, un-American trash!” “Unpublishable.” Well, it came out in 1959, and it found an audience: town meetings, book burnings and an inquiry by the state Supreme Court. That book made quite a little impression…
Born Eleanora Harris, Billie Holiday was one of the greatest singers of the Twentieth Century. She sang across a range of genres, including jazz, folk and pop, but always in a voice and a style that was distinctively her own. It is no exaggeration to say that she single-handedly changed the way that pop music was sung – no female vocalist who followed her is entirely free of her shadow, and not a few male vocalists also owe a debt – Frank Sinatra, for example, said that she was his single largest influence.
Holiday’s death, at the age of 44, came a few months after she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, caused by her heavy drinking. She died after spending a month and a half in hospital – a period during which she was arrested by the New York Police Department for drug possession and other crimes. Her health had prevented her from being arraigned, and the charges were still pending when she died, placing her beyond the reach of any earthly jurisdiction.
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.
In 1960, no one knew who Jane Goodall was, or how she would revolutionise our ideas about chimpanzee behaviour and intelligence, and by extension, about human behaviour. When she arrived at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, she was 26 year old best known as a protege of Louis Leakey who had worked with him at Olduvai Gorge in the late Fifties.
Over the course of more than five decades now, Goodall has devoted herself to scientific research and to ecological activism, but in 1960, no one could have imagined the important figure that Jane Goodall would become. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine the field of chimpanzee studies without her.
One of the most famous science fiction novels of all time, Robert Anson Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” remains a cult favourite even today. In the 1960’s, it took a while to find a mainstream audience. Despite winning a Hugo (for Best Novel) in 1962, it was not until 1967 that the book became one of the texts most associated with the burgeoning hippie movement. The plot of the book basically concerns a messiah figure who comes to Earth from Mars and founds what he calls ‘the Church of All Worlds.’ It’s an open question whether the book’s emphasis on free love made it attractive to hippies, or whether the book introduced that idea.
Approximately 60,000 words were cut from the book when it was first published, presumably because they were considered too shocking at the time, and it was not until thirty years later (and three years after Heinlein’s death) in 1991 that the full version, some 220,000 words in length, was published. Neither version has ever been out of print.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is perhaps the single best known film of Audrey Hepburn’s career. Less well-remembered for it is the other lead, George Peppard. It is based – somewhat loosely – on a short story of the same name written by Truman Capote. Hepburn and Peppard play Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak. He’s a struggling writer. She’s, umm, well, something unspecified. But although the film (largely due to the Hays Code) dodges around the issue, Capote’s story is less circumspect: she’s a call girl (albeit, a very high class one) and he’s a kept man. The don’t fight crime (what with being too busy committing it on a daily basis), but they do, somehow, find love with each other.
Hepburn was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but lost out to Sophia Loren. In fact, the film’s two Oscars actually came from it’s music – one for Henry Mancini’s score, one for the song “Moon River”, co-written by Mancini with Johnny Mercer and performed by Hepburn in the film.
The film is also controversial for its stereotypical depiction of the Asian character, Mr. Yunioshi, who was played by Mickey Rooney, and is little more than a buffoon.
Was it suicide? Was she killed? Or was it an accidental overdose, like the death certificate claimed?
Marilyn Monroe was found dead by her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, at some point between midnight and four thirty or so on the morning of August 5, 1962. He called another doctor, Hyman Engelberg, and Monroe is certified dead. Only then are the police called.
The proximate cause of her death was poisoning – an acute barbiturate overdose, as the coroner put it. But there were a number of inconsistencies in the nature of the dose and the apparent method of its consumption. Furthermore, in the course of the investigation, witnesses made a number of contradictory statements (in some cases contradicting not just each other, but also reality), and the evidence – what little there is – is ambiguous.
It is widely believed, even today, that she was murdered, but no charges have ever been brought for that crime.
“Green Onions” is probably the single best known instrumental of the rock era, and routinely appears on lists of the “the greatest songs of all time”. It was originally released as the B-side of “Behave Yourself” in May of 1962, but when its popularity became apparent, the single was re-released with its A and B sides flipped. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, but its influence goes way beyond that.
“Green Onions” was composed by the members of Booker T. and MGs (Booker T. Jones, Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, Lewie Steinberg and Al Jackson, jnr. Originally a group of session musicians at Stax Records, they metamorphosed into a successful recording act in their own right, but never had another single as successful as “Green Onions”.
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.
“The Feminine Mystique” is the book most credited with kickstarting Second Wave Feminism. Betty Friedan took aim at a number of targets, most of them to do with assumptions that the current roles of women in American society. Friedan disagreed with Freudian psychology and functionalism in sociology, pointing out how often each was used to suggest that societal roles were biologically determined.
Friedan received a huge number of letters from women, and as a result founded the National Organisation of Women (which she became the first president of), one of the most influential feminist organisations in America. It’s a damned shame that so much as what Friedan was criticising remains true in society.
About a month after finishing recording her fourth, and, alas, final album Sentimentally Yours, Patsy Cline died in what has been described as “one of the worst wrecks in the country”. Also on the plane that night – and also dying in the crash – were her manager Randy Hughes and fellow musicians Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.
Patsy Clines’s legacy is vast: at the time of her death, she was one of the most popular and best-selling artists in the world (and deservedly so). Her works remain perennially popular, both in terms of airplay and of being covered by the artists that followed her.
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.
The first entry in cinema’s most enduring franchise, Dr. No introduced audiences to both James Bond and Sean Connery. Many of the iconic elements of the franchise were introduced in this film, including the famous gun barrel view opening sequence and the now instantly recognisable theme music. Equally iconic, if not as continued, was the white bikini worn by Ursula Andress in her introductory scene.
Dr No was made on a comparatively small budget of $1.1 million. It made nearly $60 million on its initial release, and much, much more from later home video releases. A sequel was greenlit, and did even better – so much so that by 2020, the 25th film in the franchise would be released.
The longest-running science fiction series of all time started 48 years ago today. 783 episodes and 32 seasons later, it’s still going strong. It originally starred William Hartnell as the Doctor – the first of eleven Doctors to date – in a serial (and episode) entitled “An Unearthly Child”. No one expected it to last this long, but then, it was the earliest days of television in the UK – no one really knew anything.
Hartnell would remain the Doctor for the first four seasons – which means that due to the BBC not keeping episodes of anything at the time, more episodes of his run are missing than any other Doctor except his immediate successor, Patrick Troughton.
Forever to be associated with her best known role, that of the dancer Alex Owens in the 1980 film “Flashdance”, Beals never thought of herself as a dancer (she famously turned down “Dancing with the Stars”), but as an actor. And despite often being criticised (particularly in the Eighties) for being cast more for her sex appeal than her acting, she is undeniably a talented actor.
Other than “Flashdance”, career highlights include the film “Vampire’s Kiss”, and roles in the long-running “The L-Word” and the unfortunately cut short (but excellent) “The Chicago Code”. Despite her inclusion in the song by Sandler, Beals is not Jewish – her (now deceased) father was African American, and her mother is Irish American.
It was the Beatles’ first American tour, and it was more than a little crazy. The Fab Four were young and still new to fame, and America was in the midst of the upheavals of the Civil Rights movement. It was a tense time, adding additional stress to that of touring and being far from home. Ringo Starr received threats from anti-Semites who thought he was Jewish – and those threats were sufficiently credible that the band decided not to stay in Montreal after playing there on September 8, choosing to fly out that night for Florida.
But Florida had problems of its own, most pressingly, Hurricane Dora bearing down on it. The Beatles’ flight to Jacksonville was diverted to Key West, and they were stuck there until the storm blew out. They landed at around three in the morning, and McCartney and Lennon, too keyed up to sleep, got very drunk in their motel room, with both men eventually reduced to tears and professing their love for each other. Hurricane Dora’s threat abated soon after, and the Beatles played Jacksonville on September 11 to a racially mixed crowd.
Gene Seski was an experienced truck driver who, on the 18th of March, 1965, was driving a semi-trailer load of bananas from the piers in New Jersey to the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. His chosen route was Rt. 307, a long, slow descent that winds for two miles into Scranton. It features a section in which, over the course of a single mile, the road drops 500 feet in elevation.
For reasons unknown, Seski lost control of his vehicle. It was traveling at about 90 miles an hour when this happened, and the combination of the truck’s momentum and the downhill slope ensured that it traveled a considerable distance before it came to rest at the corner of Moosic St and S. Irving Ave. Seski did not survive the crash, and the thirty thousand pounds of bananas were scattered all about the vicinity, many of them smeared to a paste.
These things happen on Thanksgiving, especially in the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts where this all happened. It’s the kind of town where littering could be the biggest crime of the last twenty years – or at least, it was on November 25, 1965, when Arlo Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins were arrested for illegal dumping of garbage.
Two days later, the case came to court, where the judge, one James Hannon, was blind. Unfortunately for the prosecution, this meant that he was unable to see the “27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures, with the circles and arrows, and a paragraph on the back of each one, explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us“. Nonetheless, Guthrie and Robbins were each fined $25 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow.
Later, Guthrie learned that his criminal record (consisting solely of this incident) disqualified him from military service in Vietnam on the grounds that he was not sufficiently moral to be drafted.
A song from the album “Revolver” (or, in America, “Yesterday and Today”), “Doctor Robert” is a somewhat autobiographical song about the way that the Beatles’ touring schedule was somewhat fuelled by drugs.
Somehow, it doesn’t seem to get much airplay.
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.
Although he was mostly an obscurity during his life, in the last few years, beginning with an appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1964, Mississippi John Hurt became a star of the folk and blues scenes.
He had originally recorded back in the Twenties, but nothing much came of it, and by the time the Great Dperession killed Okeh (his label), he was back in Avalon, Mississippi, sharecropping. He would have stayed there if not for the efforts of musicologist Tom Hoskins, who tracked him down and convinced him to give it another go, with much better results.
But Hurt was already in his seventies by then, and his life had been marked by poverty and suffering. He died of a heart attack in 1966, although not before recording a few more sessions.
Louise Post was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1966. She later moved to Chicago, where her friend Lili Taylor introduced her to Nina Gordon. This simple introduction would radically change the courses of both women’s lives.
In 1993, Gordon and Post formed the band Veruca Salt, which originally had a sound not unlike that of the Indigo Girls. However, with the addition of Gordon’s brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums, and Steve Lack on bass, the band began gigging, and soon recorded their first (and best known) song, “Seether”, which was a hit for the band. Gordon and Post eventually had a falling out that led to Gordon leaving the band in 1998; while the two have since mended fences, they are not as close as they once were.
“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).
Bowie himself regards it as one of his worst songs.
He’s not wrong. The Alvin and the Chipmunks high-voices, the tortured puns… it’s just horrible. Except for the music. Musically, it’s one of the strongest pieces of his work to that time. It’s the lyrics that let it down.
However, on the plus side, Bowie performed it for an audition in 1968 and failed to get the part – which meant that he continued to record pop music instead of pursuing a career in cabaret.
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.
Although much of “She’s Leaving Home” is fictionalised in its details, the heart of the story – a teenage girl runs away from home – is accurate. Moreover, Paul McCartney’s lyrics capture the emotion of the event, from both the girl’s point of view and that of her parents.
The true story that inspired McCartney was published on the front page of the “Daily Mirror” in 1966, and concerned a 17 year old girl named Melanie Coe. Sadly, Coe’s freedom was short lived, and she returned to the home of her parents less than a fortnight later.
Henry Luce was an American magazine publisher, who rose to be a magnate in his industry and was called, with very little hyperbole, “the most influential private citizen in the America of his day”. Luce was a staunch patriot who predicted that the United States would achieve world hegemony. It was he who coined the phrase “the American Century” (by which he meant the 20th century) in 1941.
He launched and closely supervised a stable of magazines that transformed both journalism and the reading habits of millions of Americans. Including his radio projects and newsreels, Luce’s corporation was the first truly multimedia endeavour.
Among his stable were such iconic magazines as Fortune (which reported on national and international business); Life (a picture magazine of politics, culture, and society); Time (which summarized and commented on the week’s news and famously selected an annual ‘person of the year’); and Sports Illustrated (which explored the world of sports and famously published an annual ‘swimsuit edition’).
It must have seemed quite the fairytale romance at the time. Peter Allen, the Boy from Oz, all of 23 years old; Liza Minelli, two years his junior; both of them just on the cusp of the stardom that would define their later lives; neither of them married before.
The marriage would last a little over seven years, ending in divorce in July of 1974. Minelli would marry another three times, divorcing each time. Allen would never marry again, becoming more comfortable and out about his sexuality, and spending most of the rest of his life in a steady relationship with his long time partner Gregory Connell.
Widely hailed as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, and probably the greatest psychedelic rock song, “Purple Haze” is not actually about drugs, psychedelic or otherwise. According to Hendrix (who wrote the lyrics and music), it’s mostly about falling in love – although it’s possible that the whole song is happening on Neptune (Hendrix was a big science fiction fan, and frequently used elements of it in his songs). In fact, Hendrix gave different explanations at different times – although he always strenuously denied that it was about drug use.
According to the track’s producer, Chas Chandler (no, not that Chas Chandler), Hendrix began writing it on Boxing Day, 1966. “Purple Haze” was recorded in a four hour session on January 11, 1967 at De Lane Lea Studios in London, and released in the UK a little over two months later. (It would not be released in the US until June 19.) It would become a Top Ten hit in the UK and other European nations, but fare less well in the US, where strong sales of the album it featured on as track one (“Are You Experienced?”) harmed sales of the single despite heavy radio play.
It remains one of the most well known and popular Hendrix songs.
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.
From slight beginnings, Rolling Stone magazine would go on to become one of the world’s great organs of music journalism, while also gaining respect for its excellent political reportage. The brain child of Jann Wenner, who started in San Francisco with borrowed money, it differed from most of the underground press at that time by eschewing radical politics (while still being notably left-leaning) and aspiring to standards of professional journalism.
One of their early successes was the serialisation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in its pages, the first publication of that legendary work. Aside from Thompson, notable writers for Rolling Stone have included Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, P.J. O’Rourke and Matt Taibbi.
Never fear, Hook fans: they were finally featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone (albeit as a caricature rather than a photo). It is unknown how many copies they bought for their mothers.
Nina Gordon was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1967. It was here that her friend Lili Taylor introduced her to Louise Post. This simple introduction would radically change the courses of both women’s lives.
In 1993, Gordon and Post formed the band Veruca Salt, which originally had a sound not unlike that of the Indigo Girls. However, with the addition of Gordon’s brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums, and Steve Lack on bass, the band began gigging, and soon recorded their first (and best known) song, “Seether”, which was a hit for the band. Gordon and Post eventually had a falling out that led to Gordon leaving the band in 1998; while the two have since mended fences, they are not as close as they once were.
On December 9th, 1967, The Doors performed at the New Haven Arena in New Haven, Conneticut.
Accounts vary as to what motivated Morrison, but it is generally agreed that he launched into an extended rant in which he belittled the New Haven Police Department. The police invaded the stage, arresting Morrison and dragging him away, abruptly ending the concert. In response, the crowd rioted while the police booked Morrison on charges of indecency and public obscenity.
This incident helped to solidify Morrison’s reputation as a counter-culture hero and spokesman to his fans, and as a petulant drunkard to many others.
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.
“Waiting for the Sun” was the third studio album released by the Doors, although ironically, the title track of this album does not appear on it. (It was later released on their fifth album, “Morrison Hotel”, in 1970.) There were two singles from this album, “The Unknown Soldier” and the #1 hit, “Hello, I Love You” – other tracks included “Spanish Caravan”, “Five To One” and “Love Street”.
The album itself also went to number one on the charts – and it’s not even the Doors’ best-selling album. It is also the shortest of all of the Doors’ albums, with a total running time of only 32 minutes and 59 seconds.
One of the most controversial relationships in modern cultural history, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s love began inauspiciously, as an affair (Lennon was already married at the time) characterised by the usual deception and unthinking cruelty of such things, and notable for Ono’s miscarriage in 1968 (a few weeks after Lennon’s divorce). With Ono, Lennon became more activist, protesting the Vietnam War in particular.
The two were married in Gibraltar, and their honeymoon was spent in the Hilton Hotel of Amsterdam, conducting their now-legendary Bed In for Peace. How much influence Ono had over Lennon in the ongoing dissolution of the Beatles in this era remains a matter of dispute. There seems little doubt that she may have exacerbated existing strains, but it is unlikely that she was solely responsible (as some have claimed). Lennon and Ono would remain married until Lennon’s death in 1980.
By Joost Evers / Anefo – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ab63feee-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84″>http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ab63feee-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84</a>, CC0, Link
As mentioned in:
The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles
After getting married on March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono proceeded to have possibly the strangest honeymoon ever.
From their room in the Amsterdam Hilton (room 902, the Presidential Suite), they held a series of press conferences each day from March 25 to March 31. Between 9am and 9pm each day, they invited the press into their room, where the couple discussed peace (especially in regards to Vietnam) while sitting in their bed. The wall above them was decorated with signs reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”.
It’s unclear exactly what effect, if any, this all had on the outcome of the Vietnam War. If nothing else, Lennon’s astute use of his celebrity to get his message out certainly helped to raise the issue’s profile, although it’s arguable he was preaching almost entirely to the converted – by 1969, pretty much everyone already had an opinion about Vietnam…
By Eric Koch / Anefo – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ab63599e-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84″>http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ab63599e-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84</a>, CC0, Link
As mentioned in:
The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles
Brian Jones was the original Rolling Stone. He coined the band’s name and recruited its members in 1960. But as their fame grew, Jagger and Richards outshone him in the media, especially as their songwriting partnership developed. In 1969, he was asked to leave the band by the other members, as his drinking and drug use were taking a toll on his abilities, and on June 9, he did so.
In the last month of his life, he kept writing songs and reached out to other musicians, including John Lennon, about forming a new band. At around midnight on the night of 2–3 July 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. The coroner’s verdict was death by misadventure, although he also noted that the condition of Jones’ organs was deteriorated due to his drug and alcohol intake. Two days later, the Rolling Stones dedicated a free concert in Hyde Park to his memory. Conspiracy theories about him being murdered swirl to this day.
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.
It may seem unbelievable today, but there was a time when he wasn’t ‘the King’. In fact, there was a time when he was barely even Elvis Presley. In the period from the start of 1967 through to May of 1968, he released 8 singles – only 2 of which made the top 40, and none of which reached higher than number 28. That all changed with his “Comeback Special” in June 1968, the first time he had performed live since 1961. Broadcast on tv, it made him a household name once more, and from that point on, there would be no looking back.
Presley parlayed the success of the special into a residency at the newly opened International Hotel, in Las Vegas. On the day of his first concert there, July 31, 1969, Elvis was asked by a journalist how it felt to be the King of Rock’n’Roll. Elvis pointed at Fats Domino, who was also present: “No,” he said, “that’s the real king of rock and roll.”
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.
The Beckenham Free Festival was held at the Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham in August 1969, in parallel with the Woodstock Festival. It was organised by a group of British musicians and artists, the most prominent of whom was David Bowie (quite early in his career).
The festival was a success, with some 3,000 people attending. The atmosphere was generally peaceful, for which Bowie was complimented by Bromley’s mayor and chief of police (who were among the attendees).
Rupert Murdoch was already a media magnate in his native Australia, and in New Zealand as well, when he entered the British media market in 1968. His initial foray was to purchase the “News of the World”, but the following year, he picked up the struggling daily “The Sun”, which was five years old and in serious trouble. He shifted it to a tabloid format with an emphasis on page three girls and sports – he also saved money by using a single printing press for both papers (they had previously each had their own).
The revamped paper first appeared in its tabloid format on November 17, 1969 – the first headline was “HORSE DOPE SENSATION”, and its redesigned masthead was deliberately in imitation of its main competitor, “The Daily Mirror”. In the years that followed, “The Sun” would become one of the dominant newspapers in the United Kingdom (and its success helped to fund Murdoch’s later expansion into the American market). Along the way, Murdoch has made powerful enemies at every turn – but he’s also made even more powerful friends, especially on the right wing of politics in the countries where his enterprises operate.
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.
The South’s Gonna Do It (Again) — The Charlie Daniels Band
“Instant Karma” (also known as “We All Shine On”) was Lennon’s third solo single (that is, single as a non-Beatle – although George Harrison contributed electric guitar, piano and backing vocals), and the first to be a great success. It sold over a million copies in the US alone, and was a top ten hit in eleven different countries. It was also one of the quickest produced songs of all time, taking literally only ten days from recording to release (February 6 was its debut in the UK).
Like much of Lennon’s work, it is a vague hippie anthem, raising philosophical questions and radiating optimism – although not without its sly touches, such as the lines “Get yourself together / Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead”. Two months later, Paul McCartney would announce the official end of the Beatles, but until them, “Instant Karma” would compete with “Let It Be” (the second last Beatles single) on the charts.
Widely acclaimed as the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix was only 27 years old when he died. He had released only 4 albums before his death, but he was already one of the iconic figures of the Sixties. He popularised the use of the Fender Stratocaster, the guitar on which he played, and he played some of the greatest live sets of all time at Woodstock and Monterey.
Although occasional allegations of murder or suicide have been made, it seems most probably that Hendrix’ death was a tragic accident. He asphyxiated on his own vomit after taking a combination of an overdose of sleeping pills (Hendrix was unfamiliar with the brand and it was stronger than he likely realised) and red wine. He died in London, but his body was returned to his native Seattle for burial.
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.
Although there had been occasional special matches played on a Monday night before 1970, it was not until that season of NFL play that they became a regular feature of the game. The first Monday Night Football game was played between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, at Cleveland Stadium.
The Browns defeated the Jets 31-21, and all the action was relayed to the lounge rooms of America by the commentary team of Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson and Don Meredith. The experiment was a roaring success – even movie and bowling alley attendances dropped on Monday nights as Americans stayed home to watch the games. Monday Night Football has been a regular feature of the game ever since, about to enter its 44th season.
John Lennon’s 30th birthday fell in one of the most tumultuous years of his life. Although he had actually left the Beatles the previous year, he had agreed not to publicise it while the band re-negotiated its contract. So he’d been surprised when Paul released his first solo album in April of 1970, and the media attention surrounding it largely credited Paul with breaking up the band.
His own first solo album would not be released for another two months, and while Lennon’s relationships with his former bandmates (Paul most of all) were strained, he was apparently both pleased and touched when Harrison presented him with a recording of “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” on his birthday.
A number two US chart hit for Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” was a departure from his previous Motown sound into a more personal and introspective direction. Inspired by the rising tide of racial and social unrest in the United States in the late Sixties, and more personally by events like the death of Gaye’s cousin (a soldier in Vietnam), “What’s Going On?” was a plea to everyone to just stop and take a look around at the world, and to ask themselves why it was like that.
The song was nominated for two Grammy awards, and ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 4 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004, and again when the list was revised in 2010. They may actually have been under-rating it.
The child of one of the most famous and creative rock stars of all time, Zowie Bowie was also saddled with one of the world’s most embarassing names. Later on in his childhood, he would known as Joey, but this wasn’t really much of an improvement, and he eventually settled on Duncan as a first name, and Jones (his father’s actual surname – Bowie is a stage name only) as his last name.
Since then, Jones has gone on to direct the films “Moon” and “Source Code” – and is apparently in talks to direct the next Wolverine film. He’s not yet wholly emerged from his father’s shadow, but to be fair, his father’s shadow is a very, very large one.
Born Tupac Amaru Shakur in New York City on June 16 of 1971, Tupac was a rap artists. In addition to his own name, he also used the stage names 2Pac, Pac and later Makaveli (although that last name never really caught on).
He grew up in Harlem and many of his songs reflect his background, dealing with topics such as growing up amid the violence and hardship of ghettos, racism and crime. In addition to his career as a rapper, Tupac was also an actor and a social activist known for his advocacy of racial egalitarianism.
In the course of his career, he sold over 75 million albums worldwide and was named the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. He was shot in a drive by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996, and died from his wounds in hospital shortly thereafter. Tupac was mourned by rap fans the world over, and remains one of the best known rappers in history.
Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy has left many questions regarding Morrison’s cause of death.
Many believed that Morrison had in fact faked his death, as he had occasionally talked of doing over the preceding few years, but if so, he has yet to reappear. And it’s hard to believe that a man with Morrison’s ego and drug use could have stayed anonymous for nearly 40 years now…
Born Winona Laura Horowitz, the actress now known as Winona Ryder is best known for her appearances in such films as “Heathers”, “Alien Resurrection”, “Reality Bites”, “Girl, Interrupted”, and more recently, “Stranger Things”, among many others.
She is also well known for dating Johnny Deep in the early Nineties (he had a tattoo reading “Winona Forever” on his arm; after they broke up, it was modified to read “Wino Forever”), and for getting arrested for shoplifting in 2001.
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…
Mississippi Fred McDowell was 68 at the time of his death – he was born, died and was buried in the state that gave him his nickname. Cancer took him, and the world lost a great talent.
McDowell, although often lumped in with the Delta Blues tradition, is more accurately seen as one of the earliest representatives of the distinct yet related North Mississippi Blues tradition. He often served as a mentor to younger musicians – famously, although he always said “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N’ Roll” (he even released an album with that as its title), he was happy to associate with those who did, notably Bonnie Raitt.
Jane Fonda, daughter of Henry Fonda, and a well-respected actress in her own right, was also a prominent anti-war activist during the Vietnam War. She went further than most others did, though. She visited Hanoi, meeting with North Vietnamese officials and American prisoners of war. On August 22, 1972, she made a broadcast of her impressions from her visit, and was photographed wearing an NVA uniform.
These facts are undeniable. Pretty much everything else regarding her visit is a matter of considerable controversy. A persistent rumour states that she handed notes passed to her by POWs to the NVA, leading to the torture of those prisoners. However, the prisoners actually named in this rumour (circulated as an email), have denied that she did this – and made it clear that they are no fans of her actions, either.
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).
Tim Leary had been free for a couple of years when the feds caught up with him in Afghanistan. He’d broken out of the California state prison where he’d been sent, and knocked around the world for a couple of years looking for a place to stay. He’d even been placed under “revolutionary arrest” by Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, although not for long.
The United States did not, at that time, have an extradition treaty with Afghanistan, and Leary’s arrest there was as controversial as anything else about the man. He was busted while disembarking from a plane, which according to treaty was supposedly US territory.
They brought him back home and dropped him into solitary at Folsom, in the cell next Charlie Manson. The two did not get along at all, as murderers and pacifists so frequently don’t.
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.
One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Picasso was the co-founder the Cubist movement, the inventor of constructed sculpture, the co-inventor of collage, and a relentlessly innovative artist for most of his life. He is best known for his cubist works, such as the legendary 1937 painting “Guernica” and the 1967 sculpture known as the Chicago Picasso (for which he refused the $100,000 he had been promised, instead donating it to the people of Chicago).
In the last few years of his life, Picasso created a myriad of new paintings and sketches, and it was only after his death that the art critics of the world realised that Picasso had moved into neo-Expressionism before anyone else had even conceived of it: an innovator to his dying day.
“Piano Man” was Joel’s first bona fide hit – in the years since its release, it has become so synonymous with him that he is now frequently called ‘the piano man.’ The song was written by Joel in 1973, as he played barroom piano under an assumed name and licked his wounds after the commercial failure of his first album, and draws on that experience heavily, although most of the characters in the song are composites or entirely fictional.
The single version of the song was cut down for time by the record company, who spliced two verses together in an effort to get it down to what was considered a commercial length. Ironically, today it is far more likely that the full album version will be played on the radio, and the song is a staple of golden oldies stations everywhere.
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).
In 1968, Bobby Darin was doing well for himself. He’d had a string of hits over the last decade, starting in 1958 with “Splish Splash”, and continuing with “Dream Lover”, “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife” that had brought pleasure to millions. And then things went bad for him in a hurry. A close friend of and campaigner for Bobby Kennedy, he was present when Kennedy was shot and killed. Later that same year, he learned that the people he had always believed were his parents were actually his grandparents, and the woman he had thought was his sister was actually his mother.
Darin’s health, never great, took a turn for the worse under the stress of it all. He underwent heart surgery in 1971, and in 1973, developed an infection which led to sepsis that eventually killed him. He was only 37 years old. And not being done making the world a better place, he donated his body to science.
There was a time when, in just seven days, Charles Atlas could make you a man. Born Angelo Siciliano in 1892, Atlas (he legally changed his name in 1922) was the creator of a bodybuilding program that is probably best remembered for its advertising campaign. Atlas himself was famous for his body building, selling himself as one his program’s success story.
He died of a heart attack while out jogging at the age of 80, although given the Siciliano family’s history of heart attacks, it’s impressive that he lived to be that old. He was survived by a son, Hercules, and a daughter, Diana.
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.
Russell Hoban was always somewhat peripatetic in his writing interests. While he tended to return to the same themes, he was far less loyal to genres. “Riddley Walker” is one of his best known novels, and as the only major work of science fiction he wrote, is representatively unrepresentative of his oeuvre.
It concern a young man in a world (ours, about two millennia after a nuclear war) who stumbles on a plan to build a super-weapon. The novel took Hoban more than five and half years to write, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. (It was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982, but lost to Gene Wolfe’s “The Claw of the Conciliator”.)
“Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!“
It is the most successful sketch comedy series in the history of the world by any measure: the longest running, the most prolific generator of spin-offs and the launching place of the most careers. Even just the original cast line-up is a chapter in comedy history: it consisted of Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase. Chase, Belushi, Radner and Aykroyd in particular would find that appearing on “Saturday Night Live” would really get their careers going.
The first ever episode featured George Carlin as the host, with Billy Preston and Janis Ian as the musical guests. It also introduced what would become famous recurring features, including The Bees and The Land of Gorch.
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.
The youngest of the “Three Kings” of blues music (along with B.B.King and Albert King), Freddie King was born in Texas in 1934. He was a professional musician for most of his life, releasing 14 studio albums from 1961 to 1975. His best known singles were “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” in 1960, and “Hide Away” in 1961 (a Top 40 hit for him).
He was a hard working man, almost constantly on tour and frequently playing more than 300 times a year. In 1976 he developed stomach ulcers, and later pancreatitis, as a result of his busy schedule and frequent alcohol use. He was only 42 when he died from these later that same year.
If the phrase “wha chu talkin’ about Willis?” doesn’t make you cringe, you were presumably born after this show went off the air. Well, I suppose you might have liked it. Someone must have – it ran for eight seasons, and made stars out of the kids in it. That’s right, Gary Coleman was a star for a while.
Leaving the snark aside, “Diff’rent Strokes” was a fairly decent example of the American sitcom, and it did make a lot of important points about racism, albeit mostly in a humourous way. On the other hand, it also gave airtime to Nancy Reagan so she could push her “Just Say No” campaign, so no one agreed with everything it had to say.
Except that it really does take different strokes to move the world.
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.