Happy Birthday Cliff Williams (AC/DC)

Cliff Williams,  bass player with heavy metal band AC/DC was Born 14th December 1949, Formed in 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who have remained the sole constant members.AC/DC are Commonly classified as hard rock, they are considered pioneers of heavy metal and are sometimes classified as such, though they themselves have always classified their music as simply “rock and roll”. To date they are one of the highest grossing bands of all time.   AC/DC underwent several line-up changes before releasing their first album, High Voltage, on 17 February 1975.

Bass player Cliff Williams replaced  Mark Evans  in 1977 for the album Powerage. Within months of recording the album Highway to Hell, lead singer and co-songwriter Bon Scott died on 19 February 1980, after a night of heavy alcohol consumption. The group briefly considered disbanding, but Scott’s parents urged them to continue and hire a new vocalist. Ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson was auditioned and selected to replace Scott. Later that year, the band released their highest selling album, and ultimately the third highest-selling album by any artist, Back in Black.   The band’s next album, For Those About to Rock We Salute You, was their first album to reach number one in the United States. AC/DC declined in popularity soon after drummer Phil Rudd was fired in 1983 and was replaced by future Dio drummer Simon Wright, though the band resurged in the early 1990s with the release of The Razors Edge. Phil Rudd returned in 1994 (after Chris Slade, who was with the band from 1989–1994, was asked to leave in favour of him) and contributed to the band’s 1995 album Ballbreaker.

Since then, the band’s line-up has remained the same. Stiff Upper Lip was released in 2000 and was well received by critics, and the band’s latest studio album, Black Ice, was released on 20 October 2008. It was their biggest hit on the charts since For Those About to Rock, reaching No.1 on all the charts eventually.   As of 2010, AC/DC had sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, including 71 million albums in the United States alone. Back in Black has sold an estimated 49 million units worldwide, making it the third highest-selling album by any artist, and the second highest-selling album by any band, behind Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The album has sold 22 million units in the U.S. alone, where it is the fifth-highest-selling album of all-time. AC/DC ranked fourth on VH1′s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” and were named the seventh “Greatest Heavy Metal Band of All Time” by MTV. In 2004, AC/DC were ranked number 72 in the Rolling Stone list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In 2010, AC/DC were ranked number 23 in the VH1 list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time

Feetlebaum – Tribute to Spike Jones

The late, great musician and bandleader, Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones was born on December 14th 1911. Jones’ got his nickname from being so thin that he was compared to a railroad spike. At the age of 11 he got his first set of drums. As a teenager he played in bands that he formed himself. A railroad restaurant chef taught him how to use pots and pans, forks, knives and spoons as musical instruments. He frequently played in theater pit orchestras. In the 1930s he joined the Victor Young orchestra and thereby got many offers to appear on radio shows, including Al Jolson’s Lifebuoy Program, Burns and Allen, and Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall.   From 1937 to 1942, he was the percussionist for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, which played on Bing Crosby’s first recording of White Christmas.   The City Slickers evolved out of the Feather Merchants, and made experimental records and performed publicly, gaining a small following. The original members included vocalist-violinist Carl Grayson, banjoist Perry Botkin, trombonist King Jackson and pianist Stan Wrightsman.

Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s  Spike Jones and his City Slickers  enjoyed huge success, with their satirical arrangements of popular songs. Ballads and classical works, which after receiving “the Jones treatment” would be punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and outlandish vocals and  sounded absolutely hilarious. Among the best known satirical recordings  were humorous takes on the classics such as the adaptation of Liszt’s Liebesträume, played at a breakneck pace on unusual instruments. Others followed: Rossini’s William Tell Overture was rendered on kitchen implements using a horse race as a backdrop, with one of the “horses” in the “race” likely to have inspired the nickname of the lone SNJ aircraft flown by the US Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatic team’s shows in the late 1940s, “Beetle Bomb”. In live shows Spike would acknowledge the applause with complete solemnity, saying “Thank you, music lovers.” A collection of these 12 “homicides” was released in 1971 as Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics. They include such tours de force as Pal-Yat-Chee (Pagliacci), Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, Tchaikovsky’s None but the Lonely Heart, Flight of the Bumble-Bee and Bizet’s Carmen. Then In December 1945 Spike released his version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, arranged by Joe “Country” Washburne with lyrics by Foster Carling.

Sadly The rise of rock-’n’-roll during the 1950′sand the decline of big bands hurt Spike Jones’ repertoire. The new rock songs were already novelties, and Jones could not decimate them the way he had lampooned “Cocktails for Two” or “Laura.” He played rock-’n’-roll for laughs when he presented “for the first time on television, the bottom half of Elvis Presley!” This was the cue for a pair of pants — inhabited by dwarf actor Billy Barty — to scamper across the stage. Jones  adapted to changing tastes. In 1950, when America was nostalgically looking back at the 1920s, Jones recorded an album of Charleston arrangements. In 1953 he responded to the growing market for children’s records, with tunes aimed directly at kids (like “Socko, the Smallest Snowball”).

In 1956 Jones supervised an album of Christmas songs, many of which were performed seriously. In 1957, he revamped his own act for television. Gone was the old City Slickers mayhem, replaced by a more straightforward big-band sound, with tongue-in-cheek comic moments. The new band was known as Spike Jones and the Band that Plays for Fun. He also recorded a cover of “Dominique” with Spike Jones’ New Band in 1964, a hit by The Singing Nun, in which he not only plays part of the melody on a banjo but melds the melody successfully with “When the Saints Go Marching In!”   The last City Slickers record was the LP Dinner Music For People Who Aren’t Very Hungry. The whole field of comedy records changed from musical satires to spoken-word comedy (Tom Lehrer, Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Stan Freberg). Spike Jones adapted to this, too; most of his later albums are spoken-word comedy, including the horror-genre sendup Spike Jones in Stereo (1959) and Omnibust (1960). Jones remained topical to the last: his final group, Spike Jones’ New Band, recorded four LPs of brassy renditions of pop-folk tunes of the 1960s (including “Washington Square” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”). Jones was a lifelong smoker. He was once said to have gotten through the average workday on coffee and cigarettes. Smoking may have contributed to his developing emphysema. His already thin frame deteriorated, to the point where he used an oxygen tank offstage, and onstage he was confined to a seat behind his drum set. He sadly died on May 1, 1965, at the age of 53, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.

Django Unchained

I am a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns and the films of Quentin Tarantino, paticularly Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, and I would like to see the latest film Directed by Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained which is an exciting revenge western which takes palce in the old south during 1858 and is based on Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti-western Django from 1966, which starred Franco Nero, who returns in a brief cameo here. But it is more obviously inspired by Richard Fleischer’s film Mandingo. It is superbly acted by Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and, particularly, Samuel L Jackson, whose chilling character Stephen, is the biggest, nastiest “Uncle Tom” ever, a grey, stooping servant-elder to slave-owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who is being led across Texas in a chain gang, when his master meets Dr King Schultz, a German played with dapper and dainty eccentricity by Christopher Waltz. Claiming to be a travelling dentist, Schultz is driving a bizarre wagon with a huge model of a molar on the top. He buys Django and promises him his freedom in return for a favour: he needs Django to help him track three white slave-overseers with whom he has business. Django proves himself an able assistant and a brilliant gunfighter and Schultz is electrified to learn that Django is married to a woman (Kerry Washington) whose German owners taught her the German language and named her Brünnhilde, which her subsequent ignorant purchasers mishear as “Broomhilda”. She was spitefully sold off separately because she, like Django, was always defiantly running away. Now she has been branded on the face as a punishment and forced to work as a “comfort” girl.

Moved by her association with the Fatherland, Schultz vows to help Django find Broomhilda and wreak terrible vengeance on the people who mistreated her, a quest during which Schultz creates outrage in a small town, by riding in and permitting his black associate to ride a horse alongside him, a privilege which outrages the local racists and leads to a thrilling standoff. The quest also brings them into contact with a staggeringly incompetent KKK posse and then into the heart of darkness, the Candieland plantation, ruled by Candie. But Django must swallow his pride and pretend to be that most hated of things, a “Mandingo”, a fighter-trainer and the white man’s tame plaything, and uncomfortably close to Stephen’s domestic servitude. The film reaches an exciting climax on Candie’s plantation.

Alan Turing to be pardoned

Leading scientists have said Alan Turing, the British codebreaker and Enigma hero , should be pardoned posthumously over his historic conviction for homosexuality, Prof Stephen Hawking and other leading scientists have said. In a letter to the Telegraph, Prof Hawking and ten other signatories call on the Prime Minister to “formally forgive” Turing, whose work at Bletchley Park is widely credited with helping bring an end to the Second World War. Turing died from cyanide poisoning in 1954 after being convicted of gross indecency at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, and an inquest found he had committed suicide.

Lord Sharkey, the Lib Dem peer and one of the signatories on today’s letter, introduced a private members bill in the House of Lords to grant the mathematical genius an official pardon this summer.Other signatories include Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal, Sir Paul Nurse, the head of the Royal Society, and Baroness Trumpington, who worked for Turing at Bletchley Park during the war.Describing the codebreaker as “one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era”, the letter pays tribute to his  “astonishing achievement” in breaking the German Enigma code.

“Yet successive governments seem incapable of forgiving his conviction for the then crime of being a homosexual,” the letter continues. “We urge the Prime Minister to exercise his authority and formally forgive the iconic British hero.”In 2009 the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a posthumous apology to Turing, describing his treatment as “appalling”, but he was not officially pardoned for his “crime”. A later appeal to gain a pardon was turned down by the coalition government in February. Lord McNally, the justice minister, admitted the case was “shocking” but said a pardon was “not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence”.If the Private Members’ Bill submitted by Lord Sharkey in July was passed by both houses of Parliament before the end of the current session, an official pardon would be granted without consent from the Government.But Lord Grade, who drafted the letter, said he hoped the Prime Minister would use his own authority to pardon Turing, claiming his “brutal” treatment was “something we as a country should be ashamed of”. He claimed ministers had so far avoided pardoning Turing because they did not want to set a precedent, but said there was no reason why everyone historically convicted of homosexuality should not be pardoned.The government this year introduced legislation allowing people previously convicted of homosexuality to have the offence removed from their criminal record. Lord Grade told a newspaper:

“Here is someone who we are very happy to celebrate and talk about as a genius but who we are not able to forgive for having the ‘wrong’ sexual orientation, as it was seen in the 1960s. I do not think anybody would object to granting a pardon. Any right-minded citizen of this country ought to be keen to see a hero recognised.”

International Monkey Day

Monkey Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated internationally on December 14th. While the holiday is mainly about monkeys, it also celebrates other non-human primates such as apes, tarsiers, and lemurs. The holiday was started in 2000 when artist Casey Sorrow, then an art student at Michigan State University, jokingly scribbled Monkey Day on a friend’s calendar, and then first celebrated the holiday with other MSU art students. It gained notoriety when Sorrow and fellow MSU art student Eric Millikin began including Monkey Day in their artwork and Fetus-X comic strips, and began promoting it online along with other artists. Since then, Monkey Day has been celebrated internationally, across countries like the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

It is described it as the “one day when monkey business is actually encouraged.” The holiday is primarily celebrated with costume parties intended to help draw attention to issues related to simians, including medical research, animal rights, and evolution. Often there are competitions to see who has the best costumes, who can act like a monkey the longest, or speed knitting of monkey dolls. The holiday cuts across religious boundaries and provides opportunities to share monkey stories and contemplate our simian relatives. Other Monkey Day activities include going on shopping sprees for Paul Frank “Julius the Monkey” fashions, eating Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream, and spending the day at the zoo.In 2005, Peter Jackson’s King Kong was released on the fifth anniversary of Monkey Day. King Kong and Planet of the Apes films are popular at Monkey Day parties.Monkey-themed songs, such as Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time”, are also part of Monkey Day festivities.

Often, celebrations involve raising money for primate-related issues. In 2008, the official Monkey Day celebrations included an art show and silent auction to benefit the Chimps Inc. animal sanctuary; the show and auction included art by human artists as well as paintings from chimps Jackson and Kimie, residents of the sanctuary. The Biddle Gallery in Detroit also celebrated Monkey Day in 2008 with an annual Monkey Day art sale that included a free banana with each purchase.