November 29, 2012

Live Blogging 'The Specialist'

For reasons known only to me I have decided a) to watch The Specialist (again), and b) to live blog it.  Yes, The Specialist, that 1994 movie starring Stallone! and Stone! and also James Woods.  You're welcome.

Let the record show that we (I'm dragging my poor roommate and cat into this) began watching at 8:08pm MST.

8:08 Auspicious beginning.  Colombia.  Stallone and Woods in camo.  Classic double-circle binocular view.

8:09 "Pull the plug, Ned.  There's a kid in the car!"  Stallone is the one with heart.  Woods is obviously the villain.  They may as well have their roles tattooed on their foreheads.

8:10 RUN!  Ka-BOOM!  Not to spoil things but two minutes in and already a car has blown up and plunged off a bridge.

8:11 The dialogue is basically the cliché-meets-"let's throw darts at books until sentences emerge" style of writing.

8:12 Four minutes in and Stallone is already bloody.  Quick cut to titles and a new city.  I'm going to guess Miami based on the palm trees, mini skirts, and neon.

8:14 This movie was filmed eighteen years ago.  The payphone would have given that away if the styling didn't.

8:16 Friend to cats.  Rider of public transit.  Stallone is gunning for the Everyman Award.

8:17 First glimpse of Stone.  I will say this: Sharon Stone is unbelievably stunning.  Whatever becomes of her acting (spoiler: not much) she is definitely beautiful.

8:18 Blue lit memory sequence.  "I never thought... blood would be so sticky."  I think I've made that exact sentence with my vampire fridge poetry.

8:20 Eric Roberts?!  What?!  Now it's real.  Woods and Roberts together is real.  Eric Roberts is like slime personified.

8:23 Blowing a smoke ring.  Impressing the girl.  She's wearing the hell out of that dress and appears to be professionally sulky.  Roberts is clearly some kind of mob nut.  I'm not sure plot is important but I think she's freelancing some kind of personal vendetta undercover gig.

8:25 Back on public transit Stallone shows us what he's made of.  Thugs disrespect a pregnant lady?  Shit just got real! 

8:27 I'm pretty sure he just said "I hate knifes."

8:30 Roberts is throwing his weight around, showing off, punching dudes in a bar: I think it's plot related but Stone, like me, is bored of the machismo and walks off.

8:31 Stallone has been following Stone around, watching Roberts grope her, while listening to recordings of her phone conversations with him on headphones.  Over a soft piano music score.  It's like highly unsexy softcore voyeur porn.

8:34 Stallone and Roberts trade insults.  Stallone doesn't flinch when Roberts pulls a blade.  A blade!  So thug!  When do they have a dance-off and pop their collars?

8:35 It's funny to me that Stone's undercover character name is 'Adrienne'.  I dearly hope there's a moment later for Stallone to yell out "Adrienne!"

8:36 Stone is smoking naked.  Whatever you're envisioning that might be hot, stop.

8:38 Stallone is wearing a festive Hawaiian shirt!

8:40 A secondary character just got shot and Stallone has activated a bomb rigged on a door.  Just over a half hour in and we get our second explosion.  Little slow for a nineties blockbuster, Luis Llosa.

8:42 There's a lot of mafioso in the onscreen Roberts clan.  A lot of posturing.  Plot stuff.  Woods is involved.  The most important thing to note is that Roberts is wearing bright red high waisted pants.

8:44 Stallone, rocking the mom jeans!

8:46 Stallone, half-naked, veiny, doing some kind of tae kwon do in a highly sweaty environment.  Overdubbed with another saucy phone conversation between him and Stone.  Interspersed with shots of her in a thong pressing bodily up against filmy white curtains.  I feel... dirty.  Like I'm trapped in a rejected 80s Madonna video with no way out.

8:49 Woods is in a jaunty white jacket, white shirt, black and white polka dot tie combo.  The other cops in the bomb squad aren't so much pissed off at his attitude as jealous of his style, I'm thinking. 

8:51 Woods made a pen bomb to prove that he's unhinged and really good at fucking with stationery.  Seasoned cops are wide-eyed and shitting themselves:  We have literally never seen such a bad ass!  In such a saucy sport coat!

8:54 Stone insults Roberts' interior decorator.  I feel her there.  But I also think she must have pissed off wardrobe because that coat is nine sizes too big for her.

8:57 Bomb plan foiled.

8:58 Or not.

8:59 In which we are treated to the amazing visual of a man on fire hurtling through the air strapped to a car seat.

9:01 Is Stone wearing wallpaper?  No, worse, it's a matched brocade nightgown and robe combo.  And could it be that she's involved in a double-cross?  I can NOT believe that Sharon Stone would be cast as a duplicitous femme fatale of questionable moral standing.

9:04 Bomb-making music and a fresh white tee for Stallone which he is getting all sweaty.  No, you're not turned on.  Don't be turned on. 

9:05 Stallone, deep undercover in a polo shirt and tennis racket ensemble.

9:06 Roberts in another pair of ill-advised high waisted pants.  His hair is feathered.  Feathered!

9:07 Roberts blew up!  Apparently so did Stone?  I blame wardrobe.  After the first two divine outfits they appeared to have had a falling out.

9:11 Obituary that reveals, belatedly, that Stone was an agent.  Of the police variety as well as the double kind.  The plot, it is a dense labyrinth of mystery and bad acting.

9:15 In which Woods loses his shit after Stallone bests him on - wait for it - a payphone call.

9:17 Stallone approaches Stone's casket... it isn't her!  But wait... who is that stylish shadow sauntering into the church backlit by sun, veiled, leggy?  Yes, it's her.  She lives!  And... Stallone falls to his knees in front of her and pulls a wire out of her garter... I am fairly certain this plot was assembled from four other movies.

9:20 Hotel room.  Stallone.  Stone.  People, this is what we've been waiting for.  All that softcore voyeurism has been building to this perfect union.  And now that it's here I'm kind of nauseous.

9:21 Saxophone.  Because of course.

9:22 Shower.  OMIGOD STALLONE'S ASS!  I AM BLIND!  And still... and... dear god, will this ever end?

9:23  Oh lord, my eyes... they are like two tangled burnt sienna crayons in a puddle...

9:24 Dialogue, while naked, casually soaping up in the world's most vast hotel shower.

9:25 For the love of all that is holy, put on clothes!

9:27 Stone just bitch-slapped a woman in the lobby bathroom. 

9:28 Stallone is rigging the hotel window with something that we just know will end up exploding.

9:29 Surprise!  It wasn't the window, it was the phone.  And now... the whole room!  Yes, the entire room just broke off the side of the building and fell into water.  Do not employ your grey matter.  Nothing makes sense.  Black is white.  Down is up.

9:31 Obligatory escape-through-hotel-kitchen scene.

9:32 Double-double-cross by Woods.  Double-crossing the double-crossing by Stone.  It would matter if I a) followed the plot, or b) cared.

9:34 "You're too much of an unknown.  Adrienne Hastings.  May Munroe.  Who the hell are you?"  Questions the audience is also asking.

9:36  I'm still trying to figure out if Woods' car is dark pink or light red. 

9:38 Explosion!  Two explosions!  Woods has crabs!

9:40 Some late-in-the-game detective work here.  When all else fails, do your job.  But only as a last resort.

9:41 Stallone is naked and reclining on pillows: he has black sheets on his bed, of course.  Though I have black sheets on my bed so I wonder what that says about me.  I suddenly question my bedding choices in life.

9:43 My roommate notes the abrupt shift from Sexy Scene Music to Dramatic Scene Music.

9:44 Are you sitting down?  Because it will surely come as a shock that Stallone has rigged his own warehouse with sequential bombs if 'the outer perimeter is breached'.  Is that also a euphemism?

9:46 It is worth noting that at this point I have officially lost count of the explosions.

9:47 Bombs in the warehouse.  Bomb in Stone's cigarette case.  The movie was a bomb.  I enjoy the continuation of theme.

9:50 They saved the cat!  Feelings for the first time in this movie.

9:51 So many explosions, people.  All the things are blowing up everywhere, it's mayhem, it's badly-scored chaos.

9:52 One more bomb because why not?

9:53 Cue the Gloria Estefan dance beat as Stallone and Stone drive off in a convertible.  What?  They live?  God, this movie.

We reached the end, glory be, and it was a hot mess from start to finish.  It's so bad it's almost awesome.  The Specialist, I have no idea why you exist but you bring me twisted joy.

November 24, 2012

"I consider it useless and tedious to represent what exists, because nothing that exists satisfies me.  Nature is ugly, and I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial."
~ Charles Baudelaire

October 25, 2012

Welcome to The Crypt

I interrupt the still-in-infancy series 'Billy Joel Teaches History' to do a little introduction of sorts.  I am Corinne and this is my Crypt.  If you're new here, you're in for a real treat*.
*No actual treats will be given.

If you're an olde tyme visitor, you'll know the drill by now.  I update fitfully.  I create all content as I go.  And I may yet revive Skotty's favorite* feature, 'Your Weekly Catherine', to properly pay homage to everything Catherine Willows gave us, selflessly, sassily, on CSI.
*'Favorite' used in the sarcastic sense.

But this is about introductions, not nostalgia. 
There are links hidden in the VAMPIRENOMAD and it's time to talk about them.  "Let's talk about links, baby / let's talk about you and me / let's talk about all the good things / and the bad things that may be / let's talk about links..."

V - About Me.  My online business card kind of thing.  I collect websites!
A - VampireNomad.  My other VampireNomad site.  The one on Tumblr.
M - Twitter.  Me.  In 140 characters or less.    
P - Pajiba.  My favorite movie review (and more) site.
I - IMDb.  Because I like movies.  A lot.
R - Wil Wheaton.  He's just this guy, you know?  WHO ROCKS.
E - Hark! A Vagrant.  Kate Beaton teaches history in saucy comic form.
N - stormwarning.  Jeff Nelson takes very pretty pictures, people.  Professional-like ones.
O - Coco Rocha.  Supermodel.  Blogger.  Canadian.  Coco is fabulous.
M - Mark Ryden.  One of his collections is called 'Blood'.  I know, right?
A - Enterprise.  The ambient engine noise of the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D.  My lullabye.
D - A mystery link.  It's the circle of life.  A link that leads back to The Crypt.  Infinite linkage!

Thank you for visiting.  Look, I'm not going to lie to you.  If you don't bookmark this page you'll be missing out on everything.  The Crypt teaches, entertains, fills in dull hours at work, occasionally employs the use of shock and awe, sometimes provokes, and some believe that prolonged contact could save your life*.  So go on, become one of my pretty pretty mortal regulars.
*This claim has never been tested and is not based on science or facts.

the VampireNomad

October 15, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

South Pacific

I’ve been on sick leave from Professor Joel’s history class but now, mostly recovered, I’m back into the swing of things.  Today’s lesson is ‘South Pacific’ which is a big one.  There are a lot of possibilities to explore here.  If only the lyrical rhythm of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ allowed for slightly more exposition to clarify precisely what was meant by each reference so I wouldn’t have as much homework to do.  Though what would be the challenge in that, am I right? 

Inexplicably and entirely at random, I’m listening to ‘It’s a Sin’ by the Pet Shop Boys. 

The South Pacific is a geographical area in the Pacific Ocean comprised of island nations in three major regions: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.  Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and New Zealand are among the many nations included in the South Pacific descriptor.

The South Pacific was a region of significance in World War II.  Popularly it is remembered that war in the Pacific was launched by the Japanese attack on US soil at Pearl Harbor.  Several events precipitated the attack, however.  Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1931 and attacked China in 1937.  Then in 1940 Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy which initiated the military alliance known as the Axis.  The US responded to the escalating aggression by imposing economic sanctions on Japan.  Wanting to replace the US as the dominant power in the Pacific and facing oil and natural resource shortages, Japan subsequently launched the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Pearl Harbor prompted the US to declare war on Japan.  And after Germany declared war on the US, America also declared war on Germany which is how World War II came to be fought in two distinct theatres - Europe and The Pacific - simultaneously. 

Marines landing at Guadalcanal in WWII

Steven Spielberg produced the miniseries Band of Brothers in 2001 and The Pacific in 2010 and the two, though nine years apart in release dates, are two sides of the same coin, examining the twin conflicts of World War II in similarly gritty and wrenching styles.  Rather than recount the entirety of the war in the Pacific here, I will instead direct you to watch ‘The Pacific’ or to visit a concise but thorough timeline here

Back to Billy Joel and ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.  Remember in lesson one when we discussed Harry Truman?  (You can scroll if you missed that one.)  This is Truman-era conflict we’re talking about.  Harry Truman is partially remembered as being the president tasked with ending the war with Japan which he did by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In yet another pop culture aside, if you have ever wanted to watch a film about the secret Manhattan Project in New Mexico where the atomic bombs were built (and also have ever wondered if Dwight Schultz of The A-Team fame, Paul Newman, and John Cusack have ever shared screen time in the same film), then you should rent 1989’s Fat Man and Little Boy.  Fat Man and Little Boy were the code names for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively.

Where was I?  South Pacific.  Billy Joel, you need to narrow down these references.  We’re only 2/3 of the way through this lesson.  To be fair, though, all three of the potential meanings are related - region, conflict, and pop culture rendering.

Which brings us again to pop culture.  South Pacific is also a highly regarded and popular Broadway musical that premiered in 1949.  It is one of the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and it spawned three London productions, five New York revivals, a Carnegie Hall concert, a London tour, a 1958 film starring Mitzi Gaynor and John Kerr, and a 2001 made-for-TV film starring Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr.  As well as literally thousands of high school and amateur theatre productions, I’m guessing.  The story takes place on a South Pacific island during World War II where US Navy nurses and officers are stationed.  It directly explores themes of racial prejudice, most notably in the controversial number ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’, and also includes such Broadway standards as ‘Bali Ha’i’, ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, and ‘I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy’.

Six degrees of Billy Joel and South Pacific, can it be done?  In 2008 Billy Joel performed his Face2Face tour with Elton John in Australia and New Zealand to rave reviews.  Billy Joel and Glenn Close (who played South Pacific’s Nellie in 2001) have both voiced animated Disney characters - Billy Joel was Dodger in Oliver & Company and Glenn Close was Kala in Tarzan.  Additionally both attended the glitzy 2006 re-opening of New York’s acclaimed Le Cirque restaurant.  (No word on whether they sang a duet of ‘Bali Ha’i’ at the time.  In my imagination they did and it was glorious.)

October 5, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

Johnnie Ray

Full disclosure: I am not listening to any music while writing this.  I did just watch an episode of ‘Ghost Hunters’, however, which is appropo of nothing particularly except that it is a highly addictive show.

That was a non-sequitur.  We’ll just jump blindly into Johnnie Ray then, full immersion, no toe dip tester.

Who was Johnnie Ray?  He was an American singer who first sprang to prominence in 1951 with the two million selling hit record ‘Cry’.  The success of ‘Cry’ propelled him to teen idol status and he followed it up with a string of hits including the B side of ‘Cry’, ‘The Little White Cloud That Cried’, 1952’s ‘Walkin’ My Baby Back Home’ which would later be a hit for Nat King Cole as well, ‘Please, Mr. Sun’, ‘Such A Night’, and ‘Yes Tonight Josephine’.  He possessed a very soulful delivery, inspired as he had been by such rhythm singers as Kay Starr and imbued his songs with an impressive amount of emotion.  He appeared in There’s No Business Like Show Business alongside Marilyn Monroe at the height of his ‘Cry’ stardom but never followed it up with other movie roles.  When later asked why he simply replied “The answer is I was never asked”.

Johnnie Ray might well be considered the grandfather of rock’n’roll.  His performance style broke from the standstill norm and paved the way for the writhing, physical, stage-crossing antics of later rock acts.  He was known for running across the stage, white-knuckling the microphone, falling to his knees, and even crying during frenzied performances.  He quickly earned himself nicknames such as ‘The Nabob of Sob’, ‘The Prince of Wails’, and ‘The Atomic Ray’.

After a childhood accident - a Boy Scout ‘blanket toss’ dashed him to the ground and jammed a straw into his left ear at age 13 - he was left with 50% hearing loss.  He got his first hearing aid a year later and would wear the trademark piece in his ear throughout his career.  Surgery in 1958 was successful in removing a blockage in the damaged ear but left him with less hearing than before.  His enunciative crooning style partly morphed out of this loss; an effort to sing past it.

His personal life was turbulent.  He was arrested for soliciting men for sex and seemed to be known for living a bisexual lifestyle in a time that didn’t openly embrace such decisions.  Despite her foreknowledge of his preferences, Marilyn Morrison married him in 1952 but by 1953 the couple was separated and they divorced in 1954.  Ray drank regularly and later in life was diagnosed with cirrhosis.  He died of liver failure in 1990.

It has been said of Johnnie Ray that his cultural significance was only slightly less substantial than that of Elvis Presley.  His popularity, unfortunately, waned due to personal problems and his contribution to music was largely relegated to nostalgic collections and the annals of history.  But modern rock performance may owe him a great debt indeed. 

You may have already heard ‘Cry’ without knowing it.  It appears on the soundtrack to 2010’s Martin Scorsese-directed, Leonardo DiCaprio-starring Shutter Island.  In 1989, the year ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ was released, Johnnie Ray was still alive although in an LA hospital.  Billy Joel covered both the song ‘Hey Girl’ by Freddie Scott and the Beatles song ‘I’ll Cry Instead’ and Johnnie Ray sang similarly titled ‘Hey There’ and the monster hit ‘Cry’. 

October 1, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

Red China tells me that ‘Red China’ is “an unofficial name for (the People’s Republic of) China”.  The red doubtless references the Communist Party of China which is the founding and ruling political party of the country.  Red has long been associated with communism from the Red Army of Soviet Russia to the bright red Chinese flag.  ‘The East is Red’ was a popular slogan under Chairman Mao and, indeed, a song that became the de facto anthem of China during the 1960s Cultural Revolution.  Fear of the rise of communism was referred to as the Red Scare and after World War II was synonymous with McCarthyism.

All Billy Joel says, however, is ‘Red China’ and he doesn’t offer a lot of insight as to what meaning he wants ascribed to the term.  Perhaps it’s an abstract.  Perhaps, and possible given it’s lyrical proximity to Harry Truman, it’s in reference to Truman’s intervention in the Chinese Civil War near the end of the conflict in 1950. 


The Tiananmen Square protests took place in 1989 (the same year ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ was released) and ended in military suppression on June 4th which earned the event the name Tiananmen Massacre.  The People's Liberation Army, under orders to clear the Square of the student protestors, used live fire to to push through the blockade and protestors. There is no precise count of those who were killed but estimates range from several hundred to several thousand.  It seems likely that this event is what we’re meant to recall when we hear the lyric ‘Red China’.

June 5, 1989: Tiananmen Square 'Tank Man' image

In November of 2008 Billy Joel performed a concert at the Asia World Arena in Hong Kong with attendees calling the performance ‘outstanding’ and ‘unforgettable’.  Then in 1993 Joel’s River of Dreams album contained a song called ‘The Great Wall of China’. 

September 26, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

Doris Day

Suggestively, I’m listening to ‘She’s Got a Way’ while writing this.   Could there be a Billy Joel song to suit the mood of every historic event mentioned in ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ or is that too meta? 

Doris Day - born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio - is an iconic American actress, singer, and animal rights activist.  She has an extensive filmography but titles such as Pillow Talk (for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1959), Calamity Jane, and The Man Who Knew Too Much are as widely recognized as co-stars like James Stewart and Rock Hudson.  Her self-titled TV show ran from 1968 to 1973 (and earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Star - Female in 1969).  Weirdly she also earned something called a Sour Apple for Least Cooperative Actress at the Golden Apples Awards three separate times.  Still, it seemed nothing could dampen her appeal and at the height of her fame she was ranked the number one female box office star of the time. 

She was as known for her singing as for her acting and hit tunes such as ‘Que Sera Sera’, ‘Sentimental Journey’, ‘It’s Magic’, and ‘Secret Love’ earned her a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  At one point in a single year of her early singing career she had five Top Ten hits on the Billboard Hall of Fame.  I mean!

Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  Of Hudson, her three-time co-star, she would later reminisce: "I asked, 'Who's with me in Pillow Talk?' They said, 'Rock.' That struck me as funny. That's a name?"
The cheerful musicals she frequently starred in and her sunny California blonde looks contributed to her image as the quintessential all-American girl next door and seemed to foster a perpetual virginal stereotype about her.  In ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ from Grease, she is referenced in the lyrics “Watch it! Hey I'm Doris Day / I was not brought up that way / Won't come across, even Rock Hudson lost / His heart to Doris Day” which seems to tidily sum up how the public saw her.  Things were not so sunnily pure in reality, however, as she survived four marriages - one of which was abusive, three of which ended in divorce, and one of which ended with a devastating death - being thrown into debt by an unscrupulous business partner, and the loss of her only son Terry. 

Interested in animal rights activism her whole life, when she more or less retired from acting after The Doris Day Show she focused her attention full time on the welfare of animals.  She is responsible for founding the Doris Day Animal League, an animal advocacy group based in Washington DC, which merged with The Humane Society in 2006. 

There are some fun facts (or even “facts”) about Doris Day floating around on the interwebs, too. 
  • She turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate for ‘moral’ reasons.
  • She is mentioned in ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ by Wham: “ You take the grey skies out of my way / You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day”.
  • She voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.
  • She has a fear of flying.
  • Her nickname is ‘Clara Bixby’.
In 1951 Doris Day was in a movie called Storm Warning.  In 1989 Billy Joel released his album ‘Storm Front’ which contained the single ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.  In which he name drops Doris. 

September 24, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

Harry Truman

I think it’s important to be absolutely transparent about this process.  So right away I need to tell you I’m listening to ‘I Go to Extremes’ while writing this.  It was Harry Truman’s favorite song.  No it wasn’t.  Harry S. Truman (1884 - 1872) was the 33rd President of the United States of America so he pre-dated Billy Joel by a lot.  Nonetheless Billy Joel felt strongly enough about Harry Truman to open ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ with him.  In fashion shows the opening and closing looks are often the most noted, thus big name models frequently wear them.  I’m just saying... if this were Zac Posen’s Spring/Summer 2013 show, Harry Truman would be Naomi Campbell. 

I will just let that image sit with you for a moment.  Along with this one:

Lauren Bacall and Harry Truman.  I don't know where this photo came from or who owns it but it is amazing. 
Some of the many things Harry S Truman did before he became the 33rd POTUS include serving as an officer in the First World War, marrying Elizabeth (Bess) Wallace in 1919, fathering daughter Mary Margaret, being elected presiding judge for the County Court of eastern Jackson County (Missouri) in 1926, winning the 1934 US Senate seat for Missouri, and spearheading the ‘Truman Committee’ to fight waste and corruption in the Second World War.

In 1944 Truman was chosen to be Franklin Roosevelt’s running mate and in January 20, 1945 he was sworn in as Vice President.
On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. Offering his consolation to the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?" Mrs. Roosevelt responded, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."  (From 'Eleanor & Harry: The Correspondence of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry S Truman')
The official White House biography of Harry Truman notes that "as President, Truman made some of the most crucial decisions in history".  In August 1945 Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons against Japan after the Japanese turned down the Potsdam Declaration. On August 6, 1945 the atomic bomb Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima and on August 9, 1945 the atomic bomb Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki. The Japanese agreed to surrender on August 14 and Eleanor Roosevelt noted that Truman had "made the only decision he could".

Truman strongly supported creation of the United Nations and instituted the 'Marshall Plan' which was designed to assist with the rebuilding of post-war Europe. He also signed the National Security Act of 1947 which, among other things, created the CIA and the National Security Council.

You can't trust everything you read.
During the 1948 presidential election, Truman strongly backed civil rights and issued Executive Order 9981 which racially integrated the US Armed Services.  His second term in office saw him announce the detonation of the first US hydrogen bomb on January 7, 1953, offer strong support to NATO, and intervene in the Chinese Civil War in June of 1950.  On June 25, 1950 the North Korean People's Army invaded South Korea, precipitating the Korean War.  Early victories led to an unfortunate stalemate at the 38th parallel. General MacArthur wanted to attack Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu but Truman rejected the plan and, when it later leaked to the press, fired MacArthur. The least politically popular move of his career would prove to be the firing of MacArthur. Truman's approval rating plummeted and he endured impeachment calls.

In 1948 Truman had ordered a controversial addition to the White House: a balcony known as the 'Truman Balcony'.  It soon proved the only stable part of a deteriorating House and when the White House was subsequently closed for extensive interior renovations, the Truman family moved across the street to Blair House.  It was at Blair House where, on November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman.

In 1953 Truman retired and returned home to Independence, Missouri.  Today, in Independence, you can hire a Billy Joel tribute act to perform at your special event - even one held, perhaps, at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. 

There are some, quite frankly, awesome quotes attributed to Truman.
“My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

“If you can't convince them, confuse them.”

“Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow and only one thing endures - character.”

September 23, 2012

Billy Joel Teaches History

I have always believed I would have retained a lot more of what I was taught in school if everything had been set to music. My ability to memorize song lyrics is baffling and, in most cases, useless. But if physics theories had been sung by New Kids On The Block... well, I might be a genius today.

Of course some songs do teach you things. One of the most thorough pop examples in relatively recent history is Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' which walks you through the major events of the 20th century up until the point Joel wrote the song. It doesn't explain the events or give any context but memorizing those lyrics gives you an intense rundown on a fairly active little segment of history. And while listening to the song in a fit of nostalgia in 2010 I came up with the idea of expanding my mind by way of historical readings via Billy Joel. Basically I decided to research every single thing mentioned in 'We Didn't Start The Fire' and blog about my findings. It would tidily combine pop culture, music, and learning in one handy package. Which - as apparently only Sesame Street, Maria Von Trapp, and Billy Joel understand - is really the key to knowledge retention.

It was derailed by personal life events.  But it's a solid idea so I'm picking it back up, dusting it off, and making it my fall/winter 2012 project.  Billy Joel Teaches History, ladies and gentleman.

The first step: Writing out the song in it's entirety.  (You may read the lyrics at the end of this post or, if you have any respect for popular culture at all, sing them from memory now.)

During this phase I realized two very important things. Firstly, the trouble wasn't in the sewers. The trouble was in the Suez. So it's not a reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's the Suez Canal. Secondly, there aren't Belgians in the condo. The Belgians were in the Congo. I suppose either way constitutes some sort of invasion but Belgians in the condo strongly suggests waffles and I suspect the reference is slightly more pressing than breakfast.

Having thus cleared up minor confusion, I am armed with accurate lyrics and the power of the internet. Let the history lesson commence!


Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio

Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, "The King and I" and "The Catcher in the Rye"

Eisenhower, vaccine, England's got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, "Rock Around the Clock"

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go

U-2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, "Stranger in a Strange Land"
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn't start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning
We didn't start the fire
No we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah's in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

"Wheel of Fortune", Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China's under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can't take it anymore

We didn't start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on...

June 17, 2012

Oh Crypt, I really need to get back to you. I've been most slack.