History, Bitter & Twisted October 12

Arrivals:

1537 – King Edward VI of England, the long-awaited male heir to the English throne, was a terrible disappointment.  Henry VIII had defied God and the Pope, changed a whole country’s religion and killed at least one wife to get him.  Despite all that Edward never actually ruled England.  He was crowned when he was 9, spent the next few years being sick and finally died in 1553.  The best that can be said about the guy is his half-sister was Elizabeth I.

1875 – Aleister Crowley, a rich Victorian nutbar, the prototype of all nutbars who came after him.  Once called, “the wickedest man alive” the best that can be said of Crowley is that he may have been the “weirdest man alive.”  He loudly proclaimed that he was a warlock and practiced white, black and, probably, after he bought a house in Scotland, plaid magic.  He spent his life travelling the world and indulging himself in sex, drugs and the Edwardian equivalent of rock n’ roll.  He gathered and discarded disciples (mostly upper class women) the way you and I change our socks.  A con artist of the first order, this charlatan didn’t even have the excuse that he was conning people out of their money.  I know I’ve sugar-coated it, but this guy was a git.

1492 – Christopher Columbus became the first tourist in North America.  He loved it, even though he’d originally planned to go somewhere else.  He immediately organized a number of excursions to return to what was then called the “New World.”   Everybody loved the place.  Unfortunately, things got out of hand and before anybody in the “New World” knew it, they were being overwhelmed by a couple of hundred years of illegal immigration.

Departures:

1978 – Nancy Spungen was the punk wave girlfriend of the absolute Emperor of Punk — Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols.  Nancy was found stabbed to death on the bathroom floor of their Chelsea Hotel room in New York.  There was speculation and rumour, but in the end, it was probably Sid who killed her in a drug-soaked rage.  It was the quintessential punk rock romance.   

In a different time and in a different place (September 5th, 1951 in Mexico City) Beat writer William Burroughs and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer were hanging out, drinking heavily, smoking dope and (likely) doing heroin.  According to one version of events, Joan put an empty glass on her head and Bill tried to shoot it off, William Tell style.  He missed.  Joan died later that day from a gunshot to the head.

Plus ca change…..

2002 – Ray Conniff is still the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion of Elevator Music.  Even as Walmart and Generic Gigantic Mall are turning to less lobotomizing lullabies, Ray and his “Million and One Strings” are still sucking the life out of us, every time we travel vertically through our world.  One of my biggest fears is future historians are going to think we liked this stuff.

Time Flies October 8

Arrivals:

1920 – Frank Herbert, who wrote the all-time best selling science fiction novel, Dune, in 1965.  Dune is an incredible tour de force in league with the sword-and-sorcery epic Lord of the Rings.  And, like Lord of the Rings, it sits alone at the top of its genre.  Unlike most science fiction writing, which is normally single-cell dystopia, Dune creates an intricate picture of a complete society.  It also deals with conflict and frailty, ambition and emotion.  Dune is not a one-time week-end read, so set some time aside.  Don’t bother with the movie; it’s not very good.

1943 – Chevy Chase.  This guy isn’t funny.  He used to be funny on Saturday Night Live.  He was hilarious in the National Lampoon Vacation movies.  But anything else he’s ever touched just isn’t funny.  Name one movie that Chevy Chase ever did that’s funny — aside from Three Amigos! (and Steve Martin and Martin Short carried his ass through that one).  Deal of the Century? Not funny.  Spies Like Us? Not funny.  Cops & Robbersons?  Not funny.  Even Funny Farm isn’t funny, and several of his latest movies haven’t even been released to the public they’re so not funny.

1871 – As you watch Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann punch it out, night after night on television, let me take you back to the Great Chicago Fire which started on this day in 1871.  The story goes like this.  One night, October 8th actually, Mrs. O’Leary went out to her barn to milk her cow.  Stupidly, she set her lantern down on a messy floor of straw.  The cow moved away from Mrs. O’Leary and kicked the lantern over.  The straw burst into flames.  Mrs O’Leary, being an immigrant and unfamiliar with American things like fire, fled the scene rather than put the fire out or call for help.   When the fire finally burned itself out, 2 days later, over 200 people were dead, 90,000 were homeless and 4 square miles of central Chicago were a smoldering ruin.  In a bitter side note, the O’Leary residence had been spared by the flames.  That’s how Michael Ahern a reporter for the Chicago Republican newspaper told the story.  What has this got to do with O’Reilly and Olbermann?  Quite a bit.  Ahern made the story up he lied to sell newspapers.  It was widely re-reported across the country at the time and is still taken for the truth in many places.  Mrs O’Leary had no defence.  She didn’t have a newspaper to tell her side.  So the next time O’Reilly or Olbermann or any of those other talking heads start telling you “the truth,” remember Mrs. O’Leary and that journalistic integrity is an oxymoron and always has been.

1956 – Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the one and only perfect game ever thrown in a World Series (not a play-off! a World Series!).  There have been only 20 perfect games pitched in all of MLB history.  According to Larsen in interviews given after the game, he was quite relaxed through it all — even stepping out of the dugout in the seventh inning stretch to have a cigarette.

Departures:

1793 – John Hancock, another one of those rich guys who made the American Revolution happen.  Hancock took up the revolutionary cause after the Stamp Act.  He was described on more than one occasion as a smuggler.  In other words, he was bringing goods into the colonies without paying the Stamp tax.  No wonder he was a proponent of “No Taxation without Representation.”  On the night of April 18th, 1775, the British sent a detachment of soldiers to destroy the guns the American militia had been collecting at Lexington and to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams.  Paul Revere was sent to warn the two men and, on the way, gather the militia.  Paul did his job, John and Sam escaped and the British had a revolution on their hands.  Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, loud and proud so King George could see it.  That last bit is actually part of the mythology of the Revolution.

1982 – Fernando Lamas, an actor who was intentionally brought to Hollywood from Argentina to play the “Latin lover” and the “swarthy villain.”  He did this very well in a number of movies and then as a guest star on a ton of television shows.  He was seriously lampooned by Billy Crystal on Saturday Night Live and the catch-phrase “You look …mahvelous” was everywhere for awhile.  Lamas, who obviously had a Spanish accent, once responded with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard: “When a person has an accent, it means he can speak one more language than you.”

Time Flies October 7

Arrivals:

1952 – Vladimir Putin, the current Tsar of Russia.  Putin started out in the KGB, and it shows.  However, for all the negative press Putin gets he has established a certain stability in Russia and has restored its economy.  This is no minor accomplishment, given what he had to work with when he started. 

1959 – Simon Cowell, the smarmy smug bugger who thinks bitchy is witty.  He makes his living insulting people who can’t defend themselves.  It is the earnest hope of most of the people in this world that somewhere, sometime, when he least expects it somebody is going to jump down off that stage and punch his lights out.

1916 – Corporal Adolf Hitler was wounded by a piece of shrapnel, during an artillery barrage at the Battle of the Somme.  Just think of how history would have changed if that British artillery officer had straightened out his aim!

1955 – Allen Ginsberg performed Howl for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.  And with the words “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked….” Ginsberg launched the Beat Generation.   With Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Kerouac’s On the Road the Beats set the tone for the rest of the century.  Today the microserfs of Generation Y look with nostalgia on the Beat era as a time of hedonism, sexuality and creativity.  No wonder, given the restrictions most contemporary people endure.  One of the things that they don’t know about the Beat Era, however, is it was tons of fun.

Departures:

1849 – Edgar Allan Poe, the author who invented spooky.  He wrote stories that are frightening, macabre, gothic and just plain weird.  His best known work is a poem “The Raven”, which, when read properly – alone and at night – scares the crap outta ya.  He also invented detective fiction with his recurring character C. Auguste Dupin who was not called a detective at the time because that word hadn’t been invented.  Poe’s death reads like one of his stories.  On September 27th, he left Richmond Virginia to go home to New York and literally disappeared.  He was found 6 days later, in the gutter outside a tavern in Baltimore, Maryland.  He was dressed in somebody else’s shabby clothes.  He was delirious, slipping in and out of consciousness until he died.  And in a last twist that he could have written himself, all of his medical records and his death certificate have disappeared.

1956 – Clarence Birdseye, the guy who perfected flash freezing as a method of preserving food.  Apparently, he learned this technique while ice fishing with the Inuit in Labrador.  It’s a good story that’s actually true.  Birdseye artificially reproduced the freezing effects of the Arctic weather, first in a laboratory and then, on a bigger scale, in a factory.  There’s not a single guy or university student alive today who doesn’t worship Birdseye for the frozen pizza alone.