History, Bitter & Twisted October 23


1959 – Sam Raimi a television producer and film director.  On TV he produced Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and the much more successful Xena: Warrior Princess.  He has done a number of pretty good movies including A Simple Plan and The Quick and the Dead.  His biggest hits so far, though, are Spiderman, Spiderman II and Spiderman III.  He can also claim to have directed one of the best kisses in the history of Hollywood.

1959 – Weird Al Yankovic, an icon of the 80s.  Weird Al reinvented himself in the 21st Century and has had substantial hits with “Don’t Download this Song” and “White and Nerdy.”  He is perhaps the only parody songwriter ever to last more than an album or two.  He began his career with “My Bologna” (a parody of “My Sharona,” by The Knack) and “Another One Rides the Bus” (a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”)  Most musicians take Al’s parodies as good fun but a few, like Prince, get cranky about them.  Al has sold millions of albums and CDs and anybody who was older than 12 in 1980 can quote at least one of his songs.

1958 – On October 23rd, Johan and Peewit were having an adventure, drawn by the Belgian artist Peyo in the comic book Spirou.  They were on a quest to recover The Flute with Six Holes.  On the way, they discovered a bunch of little blue guys called Schtroumpfs.  Almost immediately, the Schtroumpfs popularity replaced Johan and Peewit as the main attraction.  Within a year, the Schtroumpfs were getting their own stories in Spirou.  Soon they were appearing all over Europe.  In 1981, the Schtroumpfs jumped the Atlantic and showed up as a Saturday morning cartoon, called The Smurfs.  There seem to be millions of the little buggers.  They’re everywhere – on baby clothes, on key chains, in garage sales.   There doesn’t seem to be an end to them.  But the real question is since there is only one female of the species – Smurfette – where do Smurfs come from?

2001 – Apple launched the iPod and the entire world went “Wow!”  Suddenly, everything that came before it was obsolete.  No invention in history has ever been so complete or immediate.  It brought Apple back into the Big Leagues of the digital revolution and led to piles of imitators.  Its success also put the development of the iPad on the fast track.  This is a wonderful device which is, unfortunately, way too awkward to actually use.


1939 – Zane Grey was the original western writer.  He was one of the first authors to make a million selling books, and his Riders of the Purple Sage is still the all-time, best-selling western novel.  Despite what everybody says, Grey did not invent the Old West.  It was always there; Grey just romanticized it.  Actually, he was simply carrying on the tradition started by the “Dime Novels” and authors such as Ned Buntline.  Grey’s stories have been adapted for radio, television, movies and comic books.  There is a nasty rumour that his novel The Lone Star Ranger was the inspiration for The Lone Ranger.  This is a lie.

1957 – Christian Dior, a fashion designer who got his start in World War II Paris, designing clothes for wealthy Germans and their collaborator mistresses.  In 1947, he presented his own line of fashion which was immediately dubbed the “New Look”, the first of over a million “new looks” in the fashion industry.  In 1947, however, Dior’s look actually was new and it propelled him and his House into the mainstream of Parisian fashion.  Today, along with Yves St. Laurent and a few others, Dior, as it is now called, sits at the top end of the fashion world and most designs are arbitrated from there.  Dior also makes perfumes which smell more or less the same as every other overpriced fragrance.

History, Bitter & Twisted October 22


1811 – Franz Liszt was an 18th Century piano-playing celebrity.  Liszt drove women (and not a few men) crazy with how good he was; Heinrich Heine called it “Lisztomania.”  Liszt’s fans were almost hysterical in their devotion.  They swarmed him, tugging at his clothes and stealing his gloves and scarves.  They took locks of his hair and even his broken piano strings to hang around their necks or make into bracelets.  At his concerts, people fainted and peed their pants; he was that good!  At the insistence of one (he had several, including George Sand) of his mistresses, Princess Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, he gave up touring at age 35 and spent the rest of his life composing and living off his reputation.

1943 – Catherine Deneuve, a French actress who contradicts the rumour that beauty is only skin deep.  This woman is so beautiful it hurts.  In her movies, she portrays women who are elegant and somewhat aloof – even cold.  In real life…who cares?  She has had public affairs with several movie people, including Roger Vadim and Marcello Mastroianni.  Her love scene with Susan Sarandon in The Hunger pushed more than one borderline lesbian over the edge.  She was the model for Marianne, the national symbol of France.  Like goodness, sometimes beauty is its own reward.

1844 –  Although there is some minor disagreement over the actual date, October 22nd, 1844, was supposed to herald the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and October 23rd came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.”  The whole thing started in 1822, when William Miller, a Baptist preacher, published his personal calculations, indicating that the Second Coming was literally right around the corner.  Things immediately got out of hand when several flaky sects took him at his word and prepared for the wondrous event.  Millerites, as they were called, preached and prayed and brought all kinds of people along with them – probably half a million, or so.  However, Tuesday night came and went, just like every other Tuesday before or since, leaving a lot of empty souls in its wake.  The real terrible thing about this is that William Miller was not a charlatan; he actually believed that Christ was on His way.

1962 – President Kennedy appeared on TV and told the world the US had discovered nuclear weapons in Cuba.  He said, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”  He also said that the US Navy had instituted a blockade of Cuba and ships carrying weapons would be turned back.  In response, Khrushchev and the Soviet Union said that any US action against their ships would be viewed as an act of war.  For the next seven days, nuclear holocaust was a real option — to the point where nuclear bombs were actually armed on Strategic Air Command bombers.  Luckily, Khrushchev realized that the Kennedy boys were not just rattling their Sabres; they intended to use them.  He thought about it, made the best deal he could, and backed down.  The Soviet missiles were dismantled and sent home.  This was the closest the world has ever come to blowing itself to smithereens – so far.


1906 – Paul Cezanne, a French painter who is part of the pivotal connection between Impressionism and Modern Art.  Working at the same time as Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne saw colour, light and shape differently.  His colours were thicker, his light bolder and his lines were harder.  He saw shapes rather than forms, and worked with optical perception rather than visual presentation.  After his death in 1907, there was a huge show of his paintings in Paris.  It’s not his fault that young artists like Picasso and Duchamp took Cezanne’s work as a stepping-off point to pursue their own ideas of light and form.   His work remains linked to the 19th Century, but many of the artists who came after him shot his ideas forward into the abstract, leading to the Armory Show of 1913 and a complete break with the old world.

1934 – Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, just another crook who has been arbitrarily painted heroic.  Most of this middle class myth comes from Woody Guthrie’s song “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd” (1939.) Guthrie (who normally had more sense than this) represented Floyd as a kind of Robin Hood, a “regular Joe” driven to a life of crime by the Depression.  Pony pellets!  Just to set the record straight, there is no evidence — hearsay or otherwise — that “Pretty Boy” ever delivered groceries to any poor families at Christmas.  He didn’t rob from the rich and give to the poor.  And he sure as hell never had a social conscience or he wouldn’t have shot and killed at least 2 police officers who likely both had wives and children.  And one more thing: “Pretty Boy” wasn’t driven to a life of crime; he walked there by himself — when he committed his first robbery, in 1922 – eight years before the Depression even started.  God, people are stupid!

History, Bitter & Twisted October 21


1772 – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a very serious scholar, mostly remembered today for a couple of poems and a fondness for opium.  Actually, Coleridge and his friend “Wordy” Wordsworth were the poetic beginnings of the Romantic Age – “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”  Coleridge wanted to see the world without reason and enlightenment.  He wanted a poetic overthrow of the Industrial Revolution and a return to the magical, pastoral time of his youth.  Besides his most famous poems “Kubla Khan” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge also wrote tons of other poetry, philosophy and literary criticism.  The thing that amazes me is that he did all that while sucking back a bottle and a half of laudanum every week.

1833 – Alfred Nobel, who spent the early part of his life trying to find a safe way to blow things up.  He succeeded in 1867 when he invented dynamite, but not before he’d accidentally blown up his brother, Emil.  Naturally, the military loved dynamite and used it extensively throughout the 19th Century — making Nobel a very rich man.  However, Nobel didn’t want to be remembered as “The merchant of death,” so, in a clever attempt to fool history, he left most of his money to The Nobel Foundation and The Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace (Economics was added later.)  Except for nerds, very few people care about most of the prizes, but Peace and Literature get an annual discussion about how political they’ve become.  This was especially true in 2009, when Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace because he wasn’t George Bush.

1805 – In general, actual battles don’t mean very much to history; they’re just a way for lazy people to teach it.  However, there are a few battles that do mark an epoch or that change the world.  Trafalgar is one of those.  On a calm, cool autumn day, off the coast of Spain, British Admiral Nelson caught French Admiral Viileneuve and the combined French and Spanish fleets in open water.  Even though he was outnumbered and outgunned Nelson attacked “straight ahead.”  At the end of the day, the British fleet had achieved an overwhelming victory.  It was Britain 22 – France 0.  This was the beginning of Pax Britannica and nobody would challenge British power again for nearly 100 years — until a bunch of farmers, called Boers, decided that the British Empire wasn’t all that tough and took them on in a dirty little war in South Africa.


1969 – Jack Kerouac died of the extensive use of alcohol in St Petersburg, Florida.   If Ginsberg started the Beat Generation, it was Jack Kerouac who personalized it.  On the Road is the soul of the Beat Generation, and Kerouac is its high priest.  He wrote the entire novel on one continuous sheet of paper in about 3 weeks, in 1951.  It wasn’t published until 1957, and, even then, it was heavily edited.  The publisher Viking chopped many of the more descriptive (read “explicit”) parts out and changed most of the names.  It didn’t matter, though, because within minutes of its hitting the streets it was a best seller and Kerouac was being called The Voice of a Generation.  In truth, Kerouac has become the voice of many generations. There isn’t an undergraduate alive who hasn’t thought about it – just droppin’ the books and gettin’ out On the Road.

1984 – Francois Truffaut, one of the few French film directors who is actually any good.  Most of the rest of them wander around in black and white, making their actors look miserable and speak in sub-titles about how crappy life is.  Truffaut, on the other hand, had something to say and said it in such a cinematically unique way that he started a whole new movement in French film making – La Nouvelle Vague.  His early movies like The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim influenced directors on both sides of the Atlantic.  His only film in English, Fahrenheit 451 (1966) was done in a strong New Wave fashion and holds together very well in the 21st Century.  Before Truffaut began directing his own movies, he was an outspoken film critic and was banned from the Cannes Film Festival.