February 5, 1957: One If By Land, Two If By Saxophone

It has been endlessly debated when and with whom rock and roll actuallypromo began, but most enthusiasts have pretty much settled on a guy who cut an unlikely figure for a rock artist but who brought rock and roll into the public eye with a bang in 1955. The man was Bill Haley, along with his Comets, and the song was “Rock Around the Clock” introduced in the film Blackboard Jungle. During the next few years a string of hits including “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “See Ya Later, Alligator” followed.

Time passes quickly and when you’re at the pinnacle of musical stardom, you’re on a slippery slope. Along comes a guy named Elvis and you’re yesterday’s sha-na-na. Who’s going to scream and carry on for a thin-haired, paunchy 30-year-old musician with a silly curl in the middle of his forehead and a garish plaid sports jacket?

The Brits, that who.

By 1957, Bill Haley and the Comets had already enjoyed their golden days of American super-stardom. But the battle of Britain lay ahead. When they stepped off the Queen Elizabeth in Southampton on February 5, they began the first ever tour by an American rock and roll act and launched what rock historians called the American Invasion.

When Haley and the band reached London later that same day, they were greeted by thousands in a melee the press called “the Second Battle of Waterloo.” These were the British war babies just becoming teenagers, and they were ready for American rock and roll. Among those who turned out for Bill Haley and the Comets were a few that would make their own music history.

“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert” said Graham Nash. “Over the years I’ve lost houses. . .I’ve lost wives. . .but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”

“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” said Pete Townshend, “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets….God, that band swung!”

“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” said Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it. I knew there was something going on here.”

In 1861, Samuel B. Goodale who hailed from Cincinnati received a patent for a clever hand-operated stereoscope device on which still pictures were attached like spokes to an axis which revolved which caused the pictures to come to life in motion — a mechanical peep show that folks viewed through a small hole for a penny a pop.  Peep shows eventually descended into naughtiness.

Jean Lafitte, the infamous pirate who helped Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans during the War of 1812, died in 1823 while trying to plunder a Spanish ship.

Speaking of swashbuckling . . .

 

groucho

January 28, 1807: He Made the Night a Little Brighter

lamplightFrederick Albert Winzer was a German entrepreneur living in London on Pall Mall, that city’s version of Boardwalk or Park Place. He was one of those guys who, you could say, lit up his neighborhood. Winzer had developed and patented in 1804 a method of gas lighting fueled by the burning of coal , a technology he lectured on and demonstrated that same year at London’s Lyceum Theater. Earlier fuels included olive oil, beeswax, fish oil, and whale oil.

On January 28, 1807, thanks to Winzer, Pall Mall became the first street anywhere to be illuminated by gaslight. Street lighting itself was nothing new. For centuries, citizens were required to hang out lanterns or keep lights burning in windows that faced the streets. But the new gaslights were an exciting novelty and a boon for those old lamplighters.

Linzer followed the lighting of Pall Mall with a special exhibition later that year in honor of the birthday of King George III, using gaslight to superimpose images against the walls of the buildings along his street.The use of gaslight quickly took off. By 1823, the first public gas company, the Gas Light and Coke Co., had covered 215 miles of London’s streets with 40,000 lamps.

The gaslight remained the primary means of street illumination in Europe and North America throughout the 19th century. Although they’ve been pretty much replaced by electric lighting, some gaslights remain, usually in the historic districts of older cities. (In the United States, gaslit neighborhoods can still be found in Boston, Cincinnati and New Orleans).

 

Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! ―. George Carlin

October 29, 1636: Hermit of Grub Street

Henry Welby was a gentleman of fortune, education and popularity in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth who suddenly secluded himself from all public life – not as a hermit off in the Grub_street_hermitwilderness but right in the middle of London. His irrevocable resolution to live a solitary life followed an incident in which his younger brother, displeased over some trifle or another, attempted to shoot him at close range, certainly with the intent to kill.

To fulfill his resolution, Henry took a house at one end of Grub Street, known primarily for bohemians and impoverished hack writers. He occupied three rooms himself – one for dining, one for sleeping and one for study. The rest of the house was given over to his servants. A technical quibble here perhaps: can a man truly be a hermit with servants?  But it would seem that he managed. While his food was set on his table by his cook, he would wait in his bedroom. And while his bed was being made, he would retire into his study, and so on – thus avoiding any actual contact with his servants.

He ate only a salad of greens and herbs in the summer and a bowl of gruel in the winter. He drank no wine or spirits, only water or an occasional cheap beer. Occasionally, on a special day, he might eat an egg yolk, no white, or a piece of bread, no crust. Yet he provided a bountiful table for his servants.

And in these three rooms, he remained – for forty-four years, never ever leaving them until he was carried out on a gurney.  Not one of his relatives or acquaintances ever laid another eye on him – only his elderly maid Elizabeth ever saw his face. And she didn’t see much of it because it was overgrown by hair and beard. Elizabeth died just a few days before Henry’s death on October 29, 1636.

Books were his companions for those forty-four years, and not once did one of them shoot at him.

Inspiration for 10/29/16

lars4

October 27, 1666: I Did It with My Box of Matches

When the ashes settled after the great Chicago Fire, folks looked to assign blame and pointed their fingers at a cow.  The English were fire-of-londonalso looking to fix blame for a fire some two centuries earlier.  In early September 1666, a major fire broke out in Pudding Lane in the City of London and within days had destroyed 80 percent of the old city.
Accusations were flying in all directions — strangers, the Spanish, Dutch, Irish and most particularly the French, Catholics, even King Charles II.  Enter one Robert Hubert.  Hubert was a simple watchmaker who wasn’t quite wound up  — and he was a French Catholic.  He obligingly confessed to being the culprit, telling authorities he deliberately started the fire in Westminster.  He was arrested, but one little problem cropped up: the fire hadn’t even reached Westminster, let alone started there.
When confronted with the fact that the fire originated in a Pudding Lane bakery.  Hubert adjusted his story, saying that he had actually started the fire there, tossing a fire grenade through an open window.  What’s more, he did it because he was a French spy in service of the Pope.
Hubert was hauled before the court.  His story turned out to be riddled with problems.  The bakery had no windows, and Hubert was judged to be so crippled that he could not have thrown the grenade.  An even bigger problem:  he was not in England when the fire started, according to the testimony of the captain of a Swedish ship who had landed him on English soil two days after the outbreak of the fire.
Nevertheless, the court found Hubert guilty, and on October 27, 1666, he was hanged at Tyburn, London.  A year later, the cause of the fire was quietly changed to ‘the hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season.’

Inspiration for 10/27/16

cspeak2

October 17, 1814: This Round’s on Me

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.

Inspirational Quote for 10/17/16

maclaine

 

September 10, 1987: In a Taxi, Honey

Shortly after noon on September 10, 1897, on Bond Street in London an electric motorcar began to behave erratically. It swerved this way and that, then veered sharply and slammed into a wall. The gentlemen driving the vehicle, a taxi, was 25-year-old George Smith. George was quitetaxi drunk.

A police constable who witnessed the incident asked George to step down from the driver’s box. George complied, and the constable, seeing his silly grin and inability to walk straight, hauled him off to a nearby police station. At first George denied being drunk, but when a police surgeon certified his inebriation, he admitted to having had “two or three glasses of beer.”

“How fast was I going?” George asked.

“I should think about eight miles an hour,” answered the constable.

“I was going up an incline and could not have been going six miles an hour,” George argued. “The fastest these cars will travel is eight miles an hour.”

“You are not charged with driving furiously, but with being drunk. What about that?”

“I have nothing to say to that.”

George apologized, was fined 20 shillings, and found his way into the history books as the first man ever arrested for drunken driving. Today well over a million Georges are arrested every year for driving while intoxicated.

Do Do That Voodoo

Get a lover, keep a lover, get rid of a lover. She could do it all. “She could keep anybody from harming you and she could do anything you wanted done to anybody. How she used to do it, I don’t know. She used to say prayers and mix different things to give people to drink, to rubMarieLaveau with, to throw over your shoulder, to throw in the river. Oh! She had a million things to do but everything would happen just like she would say.” (Aileen Eugene, 1930)

For most of the 19th century, Marie Laveau was the most famous and powerful Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Rich and poor, black and white, they all respected and feared her. She was born a Free Woman of Color on September 10, 1794. A devout Catholic, she attended Mass daily. She worked as a hairdresser and a nurse before becoming involved in the practice of voodoo, a religion that draws freely from both West African ancestor worship and Catholicism.

Even after he death in 1881, she continued to influence the people of New Orleans. People still visit her grave in the city’s St. Louis Cemetery, voodoolovesongleaving money, cigars and rum with the hope she will fulfill their wishes.

Speaking of Voodoo . . .

I got your voodoo.  It’s all in this fun little novel — charms spells, magic, romance, danger — all sorts of things that go bump in the Caribbean night.  Take a look.  I’ve been known to stick pins into little dolls to get what I want.

Inspirational Quote for 9/10/16

churchquote

Sept 5, 1786: Watch it with that Thing, You’ll Poke Someone’s Eye Out

Jonas Hanway who died on September 5, 1786, was well-know in several British spheres — a vice president of the Foundling Hospital, founder of Magdalen Hospital, revolutionizing London birth registration and in charge of “victuallizing” the Navy. On the other hand, he was also known for tirades against tipping and tea-drinking and his support for the concept of solitary confinement.

But what he is most remembered for is bringing the umbrella to Britain. Now the umbrella had been around for a long time. It was invented in China back in the 11th century B.C. It was popular in Greece and Egypt as a sunshade. It was also used in Rome, but when the empire declined and fell, so did use of the umbrella. It was finally reintroduced in the 15th century, and by the 17th century had become quite popular among sophisticated women in France and even some British women. But a man?

Hanway is credited with being the first male Londoner to carry an umbrella, much to the chagrin of hackney coachmen who thought it their proprietary right to protect Londoners from rainfall. For years, they jeered at him with vigor as being a feminine sissy and even worse, a French sissy. But by the time of his death, umbrellas were commonplace throughout London.

Brolliology is of course the study of umbrellas. Of course. Does anyone actually know a brolliologist? What inspires someone to become one? What are their conventions like? We will study the umbrella a little further on September 7, the date of another noted umbrella in history.

Tango Pirates Sporting Umbrellas?

As America roared through the 20s, Hollywood’s fledgling film industry was itself roaring, the screen filled with stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph_ValentinoDouglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo, and the roaring MGM lion. Come 1926, a new star would jump to the top of the heap, blazing a trail of sex and seduction. It almost didn’t happen.

Italian born Rodolfo Alfonso Rafaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla arrived at Ellis Island in 1913, at the age of 18. The young man who would eventually be known as the Latin Lover Rudolph Valentino took up residence in Central Park and on the streets of New York City. He found work as a taxi dancer at Maxim’s and became a”tango pirate,” a gigolo who sought out wealthy women at dances who were willing to pay for the company of handsome young men.

Valentino developed a relationship with a Chilean heiress who was unhappily married to a wealthy businessman. When she sued for divorce in 1915, Valentino testified that he had evidence of the husband’s having had multiple affairs. The ex-husband didn’t let bygones be bygones and on September 5, 1916, at his instigation, Valentino was arrested and charged with luring a young man into a whorehouse for white slavery. Valentino was jailed for several days before being cleared and released. A short time later the heiress shot her husband and Valentino thought it wise to exit the scene. He headed to the opposite coast and began his meteoric rise to stardom.

Inspirational Quote for 9/5/16

Dave-Barry1-

August 24, 1850: Meet Me at the Fair

London’s Bartholomew Fair, a wild celebration on the eponymous saint’s anniversary, died not with bartha bang but a whimper after enduring for more than seven centuries, Although originally established for legitimate business purposes, the fair had become all eating, drinking and amusement (for shame!) and a bit of a public nuisance with rowdiness and mischief.

Serious pursuits, uplifting exhibits, and dramatic entertainments had given way to shows and exhibits catering to the lowest common denominator of British fair-goers tastes – conjurers, wild beasts, monsters, learned pigs, dwarfs, giants. A prodigious monster with one head and two distinct bodies, a woman with three breasts, a child with three legs. A mermaid with a monkey’s head and the tail of a fish. Puppet shows, pantomimes, and coarse melodramas. A pig-faced lady and a potato that looked like King Henry VIII.

Eventually the fair grew less curiouser and curiouser, and on August 24, 1850, when the mayor went as usual to proclaim the opening of the fair, he found nothing to make it worth the trouble. No mayor went after that. Fonzie jumped the shark, and in 1855 the fair rolled over and expired.

I went to the animal fair,

The Birds and the Beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey, he got drunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk, the monk?
The monk, the monk, the monk.

— Minstrel Song

July 28, 1948: Those Magnificent Men With No Flying Machines

A fog had settled over London on July 28, 1948.  All was quiet and seemingly normal. But of course it wasn’t. Visualize if you will a large shipment of gold bullion awaiting transport at London Airport. A gang of evildoers determined to make off with it.  And an elite throng of intrepid bobbiescrimestoppers known as the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad. You have all the ingredients in place for the adventure known as the “Battle of London Airport.”  Talk about fodder for a summer blockbuster action-adventure movie or at least a page turner to take to the beach.

You’d certainly be forgiven for picturing a major confrontation with flying aces swooping in for a pitched battle with the bad guys.  But this is England. 1948. More likely a bevy of bobbies pedaling in on their bicycles or on foot, with nightsticks drawn, like so many Keystone Cops.

In fact, The Metropolitan Police Flying Squad didn’t have a flying machine to its name. Formed back at a time when the Wright Brothers and other dreamers were still tinkering with air travel, the Squad — known at the time the Mobile Patrol Experiment consisted of a dozen members of Scotland Yard. Their original mission was to chase down pickpockets by hiding in a horse-drawn carriage with peep holes cut in the canvas top.

During the 1920s, the squad expanded to forty officers, under the command of a Detective Superintendent and was authorized to carry out duties anywhere in London without observing the normal policing divisions, thus earning the name “Flying Squad.” It was also given the nickname “the Sweeney” (as in Sweeney Todd) for reasons that remain obscure.

The 1948 Battle of London Airport was the Squad’s crowning achievement, thwarting the attempted theft of £15 million in gold and jewelry.

During the 70s and 80s, however, the Squad came under fire for its close ties with the criminal world (always part of its operating strategy). Bribery and corruption scandals surfaced, and the squad’s commander was jailed for eight years. Twelve other officers were also convicted and many more resigned.

The Flying Squad had lost its wings.

A flying squad without wings is as lost as pirates without a ship.  Speaking of pirates, Terry and the Pirate is available all over the place in both paperback and electronic versions. Check it out at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple.

October 17, 1814: This Round’s on Me

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.