In the mid-1960s, the “Baby Boomer” generation was coming of age and like all teenagers and early 20-somethings, they didn’t understand their parents and the greater world around them. They grew up in the fifties which was an age of unparalleled peace and prosperity in the Western world. This was particularly true in the US which was spared the worst of the death and devastation caused by the Second World War. They didn’t grow up during the Great Depression, and they didn’t have to make the extraordinary sacrifices required by the Second World War. So unlike their parents they were not satisfied (see what I did there) with the orderly two bedroom, one car, 2.5 kids, baseball diamond, soda shop, 9-5 existence that their “square” parents were perfectly OK with. Teenagers found an outlet for their rebelliousness in Rock and Roll.
The Rolling Stones was a blues rock band from London who had been riding the British Invasion wave in America behind the Beatles, the Animals, and the Kinks, among others. The Stones’ problem was that most of their songs were old blues tunes sped up and given their own distinctive twist. Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham recognized singer Mick Jagger’s and lead guitarist Keith Richard’s untapped songwriting talent and creativity, but they were getting too comfortable with the status quo. In the summer of 1964, Oldham realized they were going to run out of old blues covers, and he needed to force the band to write their own music. So he locked them up in a hotel room, and wouldn’t let them out until they wrote a song. In that tiny, hot, and sweaty hotel room, Jagger and Richards wrote “As Time Goes By”. Oldham, a Casablanca fan, had them change the name to “As Tears Go By”. Since it was a ballad, something the Stones weren’t known for, Oldham had their friend Marianne Faithful record it and it peaked at No 6 on the UK charts. The Jagger/Richards songwriting duo had its first of many hits.
However, by early 1965 the Rolling Stones still hadn’t had an international breakout hit, despite the genius of the Jagger/Richards songwriting team. In May, they were on their third North American tour and their popularity was waning. It looked like the Stones were just another British Invasion band riding on the Beatles’ coattails, just another flash in the pan.
After a rowdy concert in Clearwater, Florida on 5 May 1965, Richards climbed into his hotel room bed. When he woke up the next morning, he noticed that his acoustic guitar was on the floor, and the tape recorder that he kept next to his bed, so he could immediately capture inspiration, was full. He replayed the recording, and it contained two minutes of a guitar riff and 43 minutes of his snoring. He didn’t remember playing the riff.
After some shopping, Richards took the recording to Jagger’s room, and he thought the riff would be great for some horns. Jagger and Richards spent the rest of the day writing a song around the riff. Jagger wrote lyrics poolside. While shopping, Richards had bought a Gibson Fuzzbox, which made an electric guitar sound vaguely like a saxophone. Richards incorporated the Fuzzbox in place of the horns. Later that day they got the band together with Richards playing the opening riff with the Gibson Fuzzbox in place of a saxophone. An acoustic guitar part for him was to be added later. Oldham heard the song, which Jagger named “Satisfaction”, and thought they were on to something. Ever one to strike while the iron was hot, Oldham booked flights to Chicago for their upcoming break in touring.
On 10 May 1965, at the famous Chess Records, the Rolling Stones recorded Satisfaction with Richards still playing the saxophone parts with the Gibson Fuzzbox. The band liked the version, but Oldham loved it. He demanded they release it immediately, as is. Jagger and Richards, as the writers, had the final say and declined: Jagger still wanted horns and Richards wanted an acoustic version more in line with what he found on the tape player. Oldham convinced them that since they were in America, everyone in the room should put it to a vote. Jagger and Richards reluctantly agreed and both voted “Nay”. The rest of the band, Oldham, and the sound engineer all voted “Aye”. Jagger and Richards lost, but stood by their promise. Satisfaction was to be released as soon as possible in its then current form.
Two days later, at Richard’s request, the Rolling Stones re-recorded Satisfaction in California using a Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone in place of the Gibson Fuzzbox. But by then there was no more talk of acoustic versions or horns.
On 6 June 1965, the Rolling Stones released “Satisfaction” as a single. It shot straight to the top of the charts, and stayed in the top ten an unprecedented three months. The version recorded on 12 May 1965 is the one we know today.
The Stones’ Satisfaction, with its teenage angst, sexual innuendo, and dripping sarcasm for their parents’ world, became the theme song for a generation. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction touched the soul of discontented people everywhere. Satisfaction is the total package: you can sing it, you can drink to it, you can yell it, you can rock out to it, you can protest to it, you can cover it, and you can dance to it. Keith Richard’s opening riff is instantly recognizable to all of humanity. It is the greatest rock and roll song ever and one of the songs I want played on continuous loop at my wake.
F**k the Man. \m/
After spending a year hunting in Africa, Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit toured Europe in 1910. On 23 April, they arrived in Paris and the former president was asked to speak to a crowd of about two thousand at the University of Sorbonne. He spoke on history, family, war, human rights, property rights, cynics, and most prominently, the responsibilities of being a citizen. The speech was officially titled “Citizenship in a Republic” but is now more commonly known as “The Man in the Arena” speech because of this passage,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Other great passages:
“Self-restraint, self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people.”
“Indeed, it is a sign of marked political weakness in any commonwealth if the people tend to be carried away by mere oratory, if they tend to value words in and for themselves, as divorced from the deeds for which they are supposed to stand.”
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life’s realities—all these are marks, not of superiority but of weakness.”
“But with you and with us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average woman, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for the heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average can not be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.”
“Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into a fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and the valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who “but for the vile guns would have been a soldier.”
In 303, George of Lydda, Roman officer, Slayer o’ Dragons and patron saint of England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Malta, Portugal, Serbia, Lithuania, knights, armor (and its ailing but delightfully crazy uncle “armour”), cavalry, chivalry, scouting, domestic animals, damsel rescuing, lawn gnomes, bacon, rugby, Rock and Roll, cool stories, general badassery, medium rare steak, and morning coffee with a ‘lil nip nip was executed by Emperor Diocletian for failing to renounce his faith.
May You Always Slay Your Dragons.
Happy Saint George’s Day!
By the end of the 1990s, American late night sketch comedy and variety show Saturday Night Live was still basking in the glow of its peak ratings in the mid-90s but was slowly declining. One of the few breakout stars in SNL’s post early 90s comedic nexus was cast member Will Ferrell. Over the years, every time Ferrell heard the hauntingly beautiful Blue Oyster Cult song “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, he wondered what life was like for the band member whose sole duty was playing the cowbell. In 1999, he wrote a skit about it.
The skit was written for host Norm MacDonald and pitched seven times in 1999, but producer Lorne Michaels wasn’t sure. Ferrell tweaked the script for upcoming host Christopher Walken and it was finally approved. The More Cowbell skit aired toward the end of the 8 April 2000 SNL show. Most of the offbeat and experimental skits appeared in the last third of the show, when the audience was usually too drunk or high to notice any issues and forgiving of content.
The More Cowbell skit follows a documentary style recording session of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” with Ferrell in the role of a fictional cowbellier “Gene Frenkle”. Walken played producer “The Bruce Dickinson” (not to be confused with Renaissance Man and Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickinson). And the rest of the cast filled out the remaining band members by accurately portraying Blue Oyster Cult at the time of the original recording.
Ferrell’s tight clothes and overzealous cowbell, Walken’s deadpan delivery, and the fact that the rest of the cast can’t keep from laughing made More Cowbell an instant fan favorite. The best SNL skits in its history are the ones where it’s obvious the cast is having fun on stage, and More Cowbell tops that list. If you watch the non-speaking cast they can’t keep a straight face, and several seamlessly switch from laughing to their speaking parts, well, except for Jimmy Fallon…
Christopher Walken, a veteran of dozens of serious movies like The Deer Hunter, The Prophesy, Biloxi Blues, and Pulp Fiction, credited Ferrell with “ruining my life”. “All everyone wants is More Cowbell,” said Christopher Walken with a slight smile, according to Wil Ferrell in November 2019. “The other day I went for an Italian food lunch and the waiter asked if I wanted more cowbell with my pasta Bolognese” Blue Oyster Cult members credited Walken and Farrell with “sabotaging” the song previously well known for its creepy tone and serious subject matter, though the band members were excited of their song’s new status in American pop culture.
Twenty years ago Walken’s gave his legendary line, “I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription is… more cowbell”
You know you said it in his voice. The world could use a little more cowbell, baby.
On 8 April 2005, four million people packed into Rome, St Peter’s Square, and the Vatican to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the greatest Roman Catholic Pope of the modern age. His funeral is the single largest gathering in the history of Christendom. It was attended by over 90 heads of state, and in a historical anomaly, was attended by the spiritual leaders of 14 of the world’s largest religions, including Islam, Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the various Protestant denominations. It was the first time the Archbishop of Canterbury attended Catholic Mass since the 16th Century, and the first time the Patriarch attended a papal funeral since the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches a thousand years before.
Born Karol Wojtyla outside of Krakow, Poland, he was the son of a Polish Army noncommissioned officer and attended university in Krakow where he studied history and languages until German National Socialists closed it down in 1939. By 1941, his entire family was killed by the Germans, but Wojkyla survived by taking jobs in factories that got him exempted from the random detention and execution of Polish civilians. He spent his free time studying at an underground seminary while protecting and hiding Polish Jews from the Nazis.
After the war, Wojtyla was ordained a priest and spent the next 30 years in the difficult position of an outspoken Roman Catholic in a country dominated by Communism. His unpretentious demeanor and wise counsel earned him the nickname “Uncle” which his parishioners and peers used until he was elected Pope in 1978, when he took the name John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 500 years, and one of the youngest and healthiest. He had a worldly view that contrasted greatly with previous popes. Pope John Paul II spoke eight languages fluently and was the most widely traveled pope in history. He spent much energy repairing relations with the other world religions and was the first Pope ever to pray in a mosque. Pope John Paul II was not against contraception for health reasons i.e. to prevent the spread of HIV, and routinely affirmed Catholicism’s stance that evolution and creationism are not mutually exclusive. He publicly apologized for many of Roman Catholicism’s historical sins, and the first ever papal email was sent apologizing for the church sex abuse scandals.
Despite this, Pope John Paul II was hated throughout much of the world due to his staunch and outspoken nature against totalitarianism. He specifically decried Apartheid in South Africa, the Mafia in southern Italy, Latin and South American dictators, Socialist Liberation Theology, and was the one of the few world leaders with the courage to call the fighting in Rwanda what it was: genocide. He was a consistent opponent of war in general, but more importantly, Pope John Paul II was the world’s moral leader against Socialism and Communism. Pope John Paul II routinely spoke on socialism’s corruption of the soul, destruction of the basic building block of society — the family, and that life is too complicated for simple and radical secular “one size fits all” solutions. For this he was despised by socialists and communists around the globe.
He survived numerous attempts at humiliation and two assassination attempts, one of which was bankrolled by the KGB, due to his voracious anti-communism. His homilies and sermons on the evils of Communism gave hope to hundreds of millions of oppressed people around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. Most historians agree with Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom said that without Pope John Paul II there would have been no Solidarity, and without Solidarity there would not have been the Fall of the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall in 1989.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and died in the Vatican on 2 April 200
On 1 April 1920, Japan’s greatest actor, Toshiro Mifune, was born. Born to Mehodist missionaries in Shadong, China during the Japanese occupation of German colonial possessions seized in the First World War, Mifune spent most his childhood in Manchuko, the Manchurian puppet state of the Empire of Japan. At age 20 he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army, where he was a photographer and photographic analyst in an aerial reconnaissance unit.
After the war, Mifune became a photographer. He first got noticed for his on screen presence after stumbling into an acting audition and flying onto a rage. Famed Japanese director Akiro Kurosawa was impressed by Mifune’s fury, and his imposing visage after Mifune sat in front of the judges and stared them down. 1948’s Drunken Angel was the first of 16 collaborations with Akiro Kurosawa that catapulted both into international superstardom.
Akiro Kurosawa was a master of cultural appropriation. Kurosawa took Shakespeare, Film Noir, and Classic American Westerns, gave them a Japanese twist and unleashed them on the world. Toshiro Mifune was Kurosawa’s favorite actor, and Kurosawa, Mifune’s favorite director. Through Kurosawa’s mentorship, Mifune’s tough and imposing exterior and natural ability to impart emotion was adapted into an impressive range. No emotion seemed beyond his ability to convey it to the audience. Kurosawa once said, Mifune could express in “three feet of film what other actors needed ten feet of film”. Mifune said of Kurosawa, “I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him.”
Mifune’s performances created archetypes that last to this day. His portrayal in the Drunken Angel of a young reformed Yakuza enforcer, Matsunaga, ushered in the Yakuza subgenre of film noir; a genre he excelled in on both sides of the law. Mifune specialized in gruff against-archetype samurai and ronin, single handedly creating the noble, wise, tough, stoic, quiet, drifting warrior anti-hero archetype, made famous by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. The Kurosawa and Mifune collaborations of Drunken Angel, Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, Ran, Yojimbo, Rashomon, and Sanjuro are cinema classics and there is no mistaking Toshiro Mifune in any of them – he steals every scene he is in.
Though he fell out with Kurosawa, Mifune became the go to actor for Japanese national heroes. Mifune played Miyamoto Musashi in four different films. He played Ieyasu Tokogawa in films and his thinly veiled fictional counterpart in the American adaption of Shogun. And Mifune played Isoroku Yamamoto in several films, including the 1976 American blockbuster Midway.
Mifune was the original method actor, and dove into the preparation for his roles. He played the Japanese submarine captain in Steven Spielberg’s hilarious ground breaking comedy, 1941, where he trained the entire crew to act like Japanese sailors. He mastered foreign roles in foreign films. He famously learned to speak his Spanish lines fluently for his role as a Mexican bandit in Anamus Trujano, and studied the movement of lions for Rashomon and Seven Samurai. He turned down the roles of Tiger Tanaka in Bond film You Only Live Twice, Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, and Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. He was close friends with American actors Scott Glenn, Charlton Heston, and William Holden.
Toshiro Mifune (and Akiro Kurosawa) did more to heal the post war rift between two bitter enemies, Japan and America, than any others in the twentieth century.
So next time you’re watching Speed Racer, know that there’s a reason Speed Racer is named “Go Mifune” and the M on his helmet does not stand for “mach” but “Mifune”.
Happy 100th birthday, Toshiro Mifune.
On Holy Thursday in the Year of Our Lord, 1300, the disgraced soldier, pharmacist, politician, and poet, Dante Alighieri – a Renaissance Man before there was a Renaissance – took a stroll through the woods outside his beloved Italian city of Florence. He soon became lost and was fell upon by a lion, a leopard, and a she-wolf. Dante was frightened and fled. In trying to escape, he ran deeper and deeper in the dark wood and became more and more lost. As the sun was setting, Dante met the spirit of the Roman poet Virgil. Virgil took him down the original “rabbit hole” to the underworld.
So began Dante’s journey into Hell. Over the next three days, he would need to explore its Nine Circles before finding the path to redemption through Purgatory and into Heaven…
Dante’s epic poem “Divine Comedy” was written from 1308 to 1320 and is the greatest Italian literary work. The Divine Comedy is a drama in modern terms, but in medieval Italy there were only two types of stories: Tragedies and Comedies. Their designation was based not on the form of the story like today but the ending. If the story ended poorly for the protagonist it was a tragedy; if it ended well it was a comedy.
The Divine Comedy consists of three books, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven). The entire work is an allegory for sin and redemption, and forms accurate depiction of the medieval world view. Dante’s fictional journey began on Holy Thursday, which in 1300 was the 25th of March.
Docturnal [däkˈtərnl] Adjective. 1. Unofficial, but easily understood, military phraseology which is never used in official publication, and frowned upon by pretentious doctrinaires. 2. Vain attempt to be doctrinal. 3. Military terms spoken only in the darkest doctrinal corners. 4. Terms and phrases awakened in the doctrinal twilight to rule over the deepest doctrinal night.
Examples: Adhocracy, Blowed Up, Bohica, Blue Falcon, Buttload, Crunchies, Disaster, Downtime, Epic, Eyes On, Flex, Fobbits, Fubar, F*k (a uniquely flexible term), FFG, Ginornous, Goat Rodeo, Forlorn Hope, Halfassery, Herding Cats, Hey Diddle Diddle, Intestinal Fortitude, JoeProof, Ninjas, Pipe Hitters, Pound the Sh*t Out Of, Presence Patrol, Release the Kraken, Rolled Up, Oodles, Service, Sh*tload, Slidology, Snafu, Space Cadet, Sprinkle, Strategery, Swag, Tarfulicious, Thirsty, Throwaway, Turd Burglar, Voluntold, Walkabout, Whack, Whip It Good, Wrecked, Your assembly area is so fat…
Upon his return from the Boer War, Lord Baden-Powell, a British cavalry officer and an old Africa and India hand, believed that cosmopolitan Edwardian society didn’t teach the life skills necessary for British youths to live overseas in unfamiliar cultures and environments. He also found that his “Aid to Scouting”, a military manual that focused on reconnaissance in hostile terrain, was a big hit among teenage and pre-teen boys. In 1907, he formed the Boy Scout Association to teach boys survival, individualism, manners and citizenship.
Two years later, a Western Pennsylvania newspaper mogul, William D. Boyce, was on a trip to East Africa and spent some time in London. One morning he was lost in the narrow streets and thick fog when an unknown boy scout came upon him and led him back to his hotel. The scout refused recompense and said he was “only doing his good deed for the day.” Boyce was so impressed with the young man that on his return trip he stopped at Baden-Powell’s Scouting headquarters and obtained a copy of “Aid to Scouting”.
Four months later on 8 February 1910, Boyce founded the Boys Scouts of America. He based the program on Baden-Powell’s book and incorporated several other youth organizations based on Native American lore and frontier living.
In 1861, Emperor Alexander II of Russia emancipated the serfs. Serfs, slaves in all but name, were finally given permission to marry without consent of the nobility, own land and property, own a business, and freely move. For the next 50 years a new class of middle class peasant arose in Imperial Russia, the “kulak”, who owned land and livestock, hired laborers, and upon whose backs was the agricultural foundation of the Imperial Russian Empire.
During the Bolshevik Revolution toward the end of the First World War, the kulaks were generally allied with the Red Army despite the socialist rhetoric. Bolshevik socialists prioritized organization and collectivization of the urban workers, the cities, and factories. In 1918, the Bolsheviks needed food for the Red Army and attempted to “organize” the countryside. They seized land and foodstuffs from the wealthier kulaks and organized peasant committees among the rest. Food production dropped, and in 1919 the Bolsheviks eased the pogroms against the kulaks to prevent famine.
In the 20s, “kulak” became a pejorative term used for any peasant who owned a certain amount of land, generally about ten acres or more, but the standards were lowered as the years went by. By the late 20s, Soviet collectivization was prepared to move into the countryside in earnest. In 1928, Stalin announced his “revolution from above”, the first “Five Year Plan” for Soviet industrialization, and this included rural collectivization. In December 1929, Stalin announced the collectivization of the kulak’s land and on 30 January 1930, the Soviet Politburo formally approved “Dekulakization” in the entirety of the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The kulaks’ land was collectivized at gunpoint. Kulaks who were not outright killed were sent to camps where they worked as slaves, sometimes in their own communities. Many were sent to camps in the arctic or Siberia, where they froze or were worked to death. As is normal for matters regarding absolute power, Dekulakization quickly spiraled out of control. Soviet commissars and peasant committees quickly found there was no check for their abuses of power. First the definition of “kulak” was broadened as to be meaningless. “Kulak” was first expanded to any peasant who hired labor, then to any peasant who owned any land at all, then to owners of just livestock, then to any who possessed property, and eventually to any peasant who disagreed with collectivization. By 1931, “Kulak” was a not a class but simply a “rural enemy of the state”. Eventually, strongmen on the Soviet peasant committees and secret police deemed anyone who disagreed with their rule a “kulak”, which was effectively a death sentence. Scores were settled with a simple denunciation of “kulak”.
About two million men, women and children across the Soviet Union were deemed kulaks and killed in 1930 and 1931. Millions more were deported, fled, or emigrated to other countries. The resulting famine that gripped the Soviet Union the next year was a direct result of Dekulakization. The Soviet Famine of 1932/33 killed another eight million people. In 1933, 30,000 people a day died, primarily Ukrainians and Kazakhs, from being deliberately starved to death by the prioritization of food to ethnic Russians.