Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
– as teacher John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989)
Advice for us all, however old we might be. And his life was extraordinary.
Robin McLaurin Williams: 1951-2014.
Rest In Peace, Genie.
As today would have been his 75th birthday…
Amongst all his legendarily Gonzo work, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is still probably most renowned for his writings on the Nixon era of American politics. He first interviewed the notorious ex-president for a magazine in 1968, meeting Tricky Dicky in a car on their way to the infamous politician’s private campaign jet.
On the airport runway once the interview was over, Hunter said farewell to Nixon and exited the car, immediately going to light a cigarette. Before he could get flame to fag, however, he was rugby tackled from the side and his lighter ripped from his hand:
I thought they had mistaken me for an assassin and they mistook the lighter for some kind of weapon… but the Secret Service agent who tackled me helped me up and began apologising very quickly. It turned out they were fueling the plane and I was standing just a few feet from the gas tank. I could have blown the fucker up and saved this nation a lot of trouble.*
Goddammit Hunter. God. Damn. It. One little cigarette could have changed history….
* ‘Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson’ – Paul Perry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993, p.130)
On the evening of Thursday 17th November, thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched across the city to the Brooklyn Bridge. At the bridge, and to their delight, they saw that some very clever individuals were projecting this message, ‘bat-signal’ style, onto a nearby office block:
99% / MIC CHECK! / LOOK AROUND / YOU ARE A PART / OF A GLOBAL UPRISING / WE ARE A CRY / FROM THE HEART / OF THE WORLD / WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE / ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / #OCCUPY MOVEMENT / OCCUPY WALL STREET / … / OCCUPY EARTH / WE ARE WINNING / IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING / DO NOT BE AFRAID / LOVE.
The man who put all this together was 45-year-old Mark Read, who later told the website Boing Boing how much he has been inspired by the Occupy Movement:
I feel immense gratitude to these youngsters for kicking my ass into gear. I’m feeling so much gratitude to everyone, for putting their bodies on the line every day, for this movement. It’s a global uprising we’re part of. We have to win.
It was those eyes. Those ridiculous, unfeasible violet eyes. That’s what made me, and millions of other movie-goers, sit up and take notice of Elizabeth Taylor over a film career that lasted more than six decades. A much, much better actress than her voluptuous, glamorous sexiness might, at first glance, suggest, she had an incredible screen presence, a huge acting talent, and the knack of making even the daftest films oddly watchable (Cleopatra, anyone?). Nominated for the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar five times, she won it twice – alongside many other acting awards – and performed with countless members of the Hollywood aristocracy over her long and eventful career.
There is no doubt her life was an intense one by most people’s standards and that she was one tough cookie – anyone who can survive child stardom in the Hollywood studio system of the 1940s, a grand total of eight marriages (two of which were to that notorious Welsh actor and professional hellraiser Richard Burton), well-publicised drug and alcohol addictions, and some very serious ill health would have to be, quite frankly. It was Burton who, half awestruck and half exasperated, described her as “too bloody much”; their tempestuous and profoundly passionate relationship (which began on the set of Cleopatra – see photo, above) made headlines around the world.
Most people, when they hear the name Mae West, think of old Hollywood movies and a brassy bottle blonde delivering comic double entendres in a studied drawl. In fact, there was a lot more to Mae than innocently smutty remarks (although she made those into a cinematic art form – most famously replying to the comment “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” with a knowing “Goodness had nothing to do with it” in the 1932 movie Night After Night).
A woman way ahead of her time, she was a multi-talented performer and a very successful and highly controversial playwright – her first play (entitled, with admirable brevity and decades before Madonna, simply Sex) led to her arrest and brief imprisonment during the highly moralistic 1920s. Beginning her career in vaudeville, she became a smash hit on Broadway for both her acting and her plays before moving to Hollywood in the early 1930s, where she became a huge success, again for her acting and writing.
Her distinctive and naughty style attracted the attention of the censors, and her early Hollywood performances were apparently partly responsible for the creation of the so-called Hays Code, which tied the American film industry into a narrowly defined moral outlook for more than thirty years. It was in order to circumvent this new code that Mae developed her now-famous facility with double entendres, a facility that turned her into an icon and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
That this house notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on February 26th 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worthy of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers – Stephen Pound MP, in a February 2004 Early Day Motion before the House of Commons.
Today would have been Bill Hicks’ 49th birthday. Born on December 16th 1961 in a small town in Georgia, Bill was about as far away from the stereotypical resident of the Deep South that you can imagine. Discovering at an early age that he had a gift for making people laugh and that he had a lot to say for himself, he grew up to become – without exaggeration – the most influential comedian of his generation and, as Stephen Pound MP pointed out in his extremely unusual EDM, a modern philosopher.
Despite the fact that Hicks had to cross the Atlantic to make a success of himself (he was immediately and passionately adored by us Brits from a very early stage in his professional career), and although his material was frequently outrageous and often very closely skirted the borders of good taste, there were many in his homeland and elsewhere who were inspired into action on hearing his vicious, pin-point accurate critiques of humanity and American culture. He loved and despaired of his country in equal measure, and was never afraid to poke at cultural sacred cows with a pointy stick.
Tomorrow marks an anniversary that anyone who was ever a member of a teenage tribe should be celebrating. April 1st 2010 is the fiftieth birthday of the 1460 – the original and iconic eight-hole Doc Martens boot, so named for the date it first went into production:
Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.
Of the many styles of DMs that are now available, it is these boots in particular which have become design classics, and which have also gathered a cult following among the many who have had the pleasure of owning a pair at some point in their lives (I, for one, wore out several much-loved pairs of 1460s in my teens and early twenties).
Beginning life as a practical, hard-wearing and popular footwear solution for workers, the 1460 soon became much more than that. Adopted by the burgeoning skinhead movement (which started out as non-racist – ska and rocksteady being their soundtracks of choice – and very style conscious), the 1460 style soon spread further afield.
According to the Dr Martens website, these simple, comfortable boots rapidly grew in popularity, and were to be found on the feet of any number of youth culture tribes (and, of course, the musicians they followed) over the next few decades:
I nearly choked on my coffee when I heard. I checked the date. Nope, it’s not April 1st. Really? Did I misread that? Nope, they really have given the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Really?? Once I had finally absorbed this strange bit of information, I sat and thought for a while. It was quite a lot to take in.
I checked the BBC website again, just to make sure. Yes, Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I’m not imagining things again. Or am I? This isn’t one of trickygirl’s ‘funny turns’, is it? Perhaps I should sit down and have a nice cup of hot sweet tea. That’s good for shock.
In the midst of all this confusion, two small but perfectly formed and highly pertinent thoughts managed to crystalize in my poor old politically-addled brain.
I mean, it’s beyond obvious that Obama is a hell of a lot saner, a hell of a lot more sensible, and a hell of a lot more intelligent than the previous resident of the White House, but I had no idea they were giving out Nobel Peace Prizes for simply Not Being George W Bush these days, as destructive as the Shrubby One’s eight-year reign over America clearly was.
More insanity from the front line of the US health care debate….
Last week, the Senate subcommittee on finance met to discuss the controversial issue of whether the federal government should be allowed to define what sort of health care provision should be included in private insurance coverage – a subject which was always going to bring the Republican dingbats out of the woodwork.
And so it did…
Meet Jon Kyl, the Republican Senator for Arizona, a man who clearly hasn’t quite got his head around his own responsibilities as a father and grandfather. How else can you explain this comment?
“I don’t need maternity care, and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”
Well, Senator Kyl, you may not personally need maternity care, but, as Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat Senator for Michigan pointedly interjected:
“I think your mother probably did.”
Yes, Senator Kyl, and your wife, and your daughter, and your daughter-in-law – and probably also eventually your two grand-daughters too. Of course, Senator Kyl doesn’t have to worry his pretty little head about these things himself; as a US Senator, he gets free health care. That’s right, free health care. The stuff that the vast majority of Americans will never, ever get if he and his Republican cronies have their way.