April 25, 1926: Here the Maestro Died

The world premier of Giacomo Puccini’s last opera “Turandot” was held at Milan’s La Scala on April 25, 1926, two years after his death. Arturo Toscanini conducted. Toward the end of the third act, Toscanini laid down his baton, turned to the audience and announced: “Here the Maestro died.”  Puccini had died before finishing the opera. Subsequent performances at La Scala and elsewhere included the last few minutes of music composed by Franco Alfano using Puccini’s notes.

A highlight of the opera is “Nessun Dorma,” probably the most famous aria in all of opera.

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Elvis Presley scored his first number one hit on the Billboard Pop 100 on this date in 1956.  Recorded and released as a single in January, “Heartbreak Hotel” marked Presley’s debut on the RCA Victor record label . It spent seven weeks at number one, became his first million-seller, and was the best-selling single of 1956. The song was based on a newspaper article about a lonely man who committed suicide by jumping from a hotel window.

Here’s a version of the song that didn’t make number one.  http://youtu.be/PD7IELAvleY

March 13, 1930: Gonna Find Me a Planet

An advanced civilization inhabited Mars, but the times were desperate. The planet was becoming arid, and the Martians had constructed a series of canals and oases in an attempt to tap the polar ice caps. This was the theory espoused by Percival Lowell based on studies from his observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, during the early 20th century. Lowell was born on March 13, 1855, and after many years traveling in and studying the Far East, he turned his attention to the far reaches of space. He was all over Mars, writing three books on the red planet that captured the public imagination and helped give rise to the notion of men from Mars.

The existence of canals was later disproved by more powerful telescopes and space flights, but Lowell would make a more important contribution to planetary studies during the last years of his life. Turning from Mars to Neptune and Uranus, Lowell became convinced that their positions were affected by a hypothetical Planet X. Lowell began searching for the mystery planet in 1906. Dying in 1916, Lowell himself did not witness the discovery, but the Lowell Observatory announced on what would have been his 75th birthday — March 13, 1930 — that they had discovered the planet Pluto.

Sadly, after nearly a century as our ninth planet, Pluto was cruelly downgraded to the status of dwarf planet in 2006.  And the name Pluto will become more associated with the Disney hound dog of that name.

Of Which You Ain’t Nothing But a

Mike Stoller (right), born March 13, 1933, working with his partner Jerry Leiber, helped shape rock leiberand roll with an amazing list of hit songs beginning with Hound Dog in 1952. Elvis Presley , the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, John Lennon, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Frank Sinatra top the list of the many artists who have recorded their songs. More than three dozen of their hits were featured in the Broadway production Smokey Joe’s Cafe including the title tune, Young Blood, Dance With Me, Searchin’, Kansas City, Poison Ivy, On Broadway, Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, Spanish Harlem and Stand by Me.

In an interview, Stoller was asked to compare Elvis Presley’s 1956 version of Hound Dog with the original recorded by Big Mama Thornton. “It sounded kind of stiff and a bit too fast, a little nervous,” he answered. “It didn’t have that insinuating groove like on Big Mama’s record.”

Eventually, he grew to like the Presley version.   After it sold seven million copies it began to sound better.”

 

Eventually, I believe, everything evens out. Long ago, an asteroid hit our planet and killed our dinosaurs. But, in the future, maybe we’ll go to another planet and kill their dinosaurs. ~ Jack Handey

March 2, 1978: Grave Intrigue in Heidiland

graveSwiss auto mechanics turned thieves, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev, had a great idea for a heist. They executed their bold plan with daring and cunning in the wee hours of March 2, 1978. Their target: a 300-pound oak coffin in the village of Corsier, Switzerland. Inside the coffin, was the body of the Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, who had died on Christmas day of the previous year. The graverobbers phoned Chaplin’s widow Oona with their demand for £400,000 a few days later.

Oona was having none of it. “Charlie would have thought it rather ridiculous,” she said, refusing to pay. A cat and mouse game between police and the robbers ensued as the police set up phony payoff meetings. The robbers got cold feet, however, and contact was never made, although police and robbers continued to communicate in an effort to achieve their disparate goals.

So dogged were the Swiss police that they put 200 phone booths under surveillance. The robbers again called Oona, whose phone had been tapped. The call was traced, and the hapless thieves were arrested. The men led police to a cornfield where they had buried the body. Chaplin was buried once again in the same burial plot, surrounded by a thick layer of concrete where he has since rested in peace.

Other robbers have made attempts to steal notable remains, Elvis Presley for a supposed ransom of $10 million and Abraham Lincoln for a mere $200,000. Neither attempt got very far, but as a result the bodies of Presley and his mother were moved from a Memphis cemetery to Graceland and 24-hour security monitoring. The 16th President now rests in a steel cage ten feet below ground, covered by concrete.

Captain Courageous

Captain America was the beefier alter ego of Steve Rogers, a typical captain90-pound weakling who realized every 90-pound weakling’s dream of being enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental magic potion, so that he could employ his super abilities in the American war effort. He wore a rather gaudy American flag costume, a lot like those seen at Republican national conventions today.

In the first issue of Captain America Comics (March 1941), Captain America faced the Red Skull, a bellhop recruited by the Fuhrer himself to become a super villain for the Third Reich (and someone you wouldn’t want to forget to tip).

The incredibly patriotic Captain America fought the Nazis throughout World War II, and was one of the most popular comic characters during the war. After the war ended, his popularity waned and he was whisked off to the superheros’ retirement home in the 1950s, but made a super comeback during the 60s.

 

Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them. ~ P. G. Wodehouse

December 9, 1958: Taking Down the Names of Everybody Turning Left

Initially founded with only 11 lonely crackpots, the organization had by the early 1960s grown to nearly 100,000, each and every one of them searching nearby haystacks for concealed Communists.  Joseph McCarthy had gone away, but that didn’t mean his nemesis was gone. No fluorideindeed; the Red Menace was everywhere – Red Skelton, Red Buttons, Red Ryder – and Commie wanna-bes such as Rosie Clooney and Pinky Lee.   Only the witch-hunters of the John Birch Society stood between Evil and Armageddon.

The John Birch Society had its coming out party on December 9, 1958, under the tutelage of Robert H. W. Welch, Jr., a candy man who made caramel lollipops, marketed under the name Sugar Daddies. He also gave the world Sugar Babies, Junior Mints and Pom Poms before turning his attention to weightier matters.

The John Birch Society’s mission was the revival of the flagging spirit of McCarthyism; its tools, unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo; its cause celebré, the vast communist conspiracy existing within the U.S. government, particularly that nest of vipers at the State Department. According to its credo, the American people consisted of four groups: “Communists, communist dupes or sympathizers (fellow travelers), the uninformed who have yet to be awakened to the communist danger, and the (hopelessly) ignorant.”

Fortunately, by this time, Americans had tired somewhat of McCarthyism and had moved on to the menace of rock and roll under its Pied Piper of Prurience, Elvis Presley. As a result, few of the society’s sensational charges were taken seriously by mainstream American society. Oh, a few people got worked up by the Communist plot to poison us with fluoride in our drinking water, but for the most part, it was ho-hum as usual.

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August 5, 642: Arm and the Man, I Sing

A lock of hair from Elvis’ head, a scrap of material from something worn by a Beatle – we know how oswaldthese things are sought, treasured, and fought over by modern day groupies. We should not be surprised to learn that it was always thus, although, if anything, this practice was far less civilized in the past. Take the case of Saint Oswald, English King of Northumbria, son of the pagan King Aethelfrith, the Ravager of Bernicia.

Though both pagan and Ravager Jr., Oswald was a benefactor of the poor. Legend has it (as legend will) that Oswald was sitting at meal one day when a throng of beggars came to his gate for relief. This generous man sent them the meat from his own table, and there not being enough to feed them all, had one of his silver dishes cut into pieces to distribute among the rest. Aidanus, a Scottish bishop visiting Oswald, upon witnessing this gesture, took Oswald by the hand and said: “Nunquam inveterascat haec manus!” (“May this hand live forever”).

Nice thought, but this being the Dark Ages, forever lasted only until August 5, 642, when Oswald was killed in battle by a neighboring king. Oswald’s comrades, remembering Aidanus’ blessing, sorted through his body parts and took care to preserve his arm. The arm was saved and treasured and eventually sold to a wealthy collector of saints’ arms. Rumor has it that it eventually found its way to a secret private collection where it stands alongside a lock of Elvis’ hair and a scrap of skivvies once worn by a Beatle.

July 1, 1935 et al: They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not for Me

Delving into the musical history of July 1 during the 20th century can be instructional for trendspotters if not for music lovers. On this day in 1935, Benny Goodman and his band recorded the “King ElvisHoundDog_jpgPorter Stomp.” Elvis Presley appeared on “The Steve Allen Show” on July 1,1956, wearing tails and singing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound. And in 1963, the Beatles recorded “She Loves You.” So far so good.

Fast forward to the ’80s and a few melodies you no doubt whistled while on a pleasant walk through the park — all making their appearance on July 1.  In 1987, the English grindcore band Napalm Death released its first recording “Scum.”  Side A of the album was recorded at the Rich Bitch studio; it was planned as part of a split release with the English crossover thrash band Atavistic on Manic Ear. It was released as a single album through Earache. The song “You Suffer” was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest song at 1.316 seconds (at last, a redeeming quality).

There’s more: The first pressing of the CD included the From Enslavement To Obliteration album and four bonus tracks (hooray!). The album cover was designed by a member of the band Carcass.

Butchered at Birth by American death metal band Cannibal Corpse was released in 1991 through Metal Blade Records. One song, “Rancid Amputation” was later given a lounge music re-arrangement (and was no doubt a Wayne Newton favorite).

They’re not writing them like that anymore.