Monday, September 29, 2008

"London Calling" - The Clash, 1979 (punk)

London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared-and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look at us
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning-and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, an' go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out-and draw another breath
London calling-and I don't wanna shout
But when we were talking-I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

Now get this
London calling, yeah, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won't you give me a smile?

I never felt so much a' like

Even the punks have something to teach us!

"London Calling" was the first track recorded by this British punk band in 1979 and it reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart. Of course, it didn't do very well in the States (reaching only to No. 30 on the Club Chart) because punk music was never intended to be heard by the masses...the "squares". However, "the underground" provided a great place for musicians to vent their political and cultural frustrations without fear of reprisal from the fans or their producing companies. After all, at this time, punk rock especially was about playing what you wanted to play and saying what you had or wanted to say.

The song was written by Clash band members Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. The song revolves around the state of the world's countries nuclear power capabilities, not so much as they appeared in the world in 1979, but it poses more of an apocalyptic look to the possible future of such goings-on. While we have learned to harness nuclear power for the good of humanity, today we are blessed to have a wealth of knowledge and technology at our disposal. However, in the world during which the song was written, bear in mind that in 1979, the home computer consited of an Atari 800 that was really good for playing Pong or Asteroids; nevermind running a dangerous, precision-required nuclear reactor. The technology for ultimate safety just wasn't available. In particular, the song uses the accident which occurred at Three Mile Island as an example, which is noted by the lyrics, "The ice age is coming/The sun's zooming in/Engines stop running/and the wheat is growing thin/a nuclear error but I have no fear..."

Three Mile Island is a civilian (meaning non-military) nuclear power plant located on an island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was built with two pressurized water reactors. These reactors use ordinary water under high pressure (superheated water) as a coolant. While these types of nuclear reactors are the most common in the world, they do have some severe disadvantages. In order for the superheated water to remain liquid (and not turn to steam), this requires high-strength piping and a heavy pressure vessel. The higher pressure can increase the consequences of a loss of coolant accident, which is a form of nuclear reactor meltdown, which is what happened at Three Mile Island when one of the feedwater pumps broke. In a nutshell (without being too nerdy...after all, this is pop culture) coolant, obviously, keeps things from overheating. You put it in your car. Nuclear particles move around and create friction. When particles are split (fission) or joined together (fusion) friction happens again. Friction causes heat. When your serpentine belt or your water pump break in your car, there is nothing to cool the parts that rub together (like the particles). If you keep driving it, you'll seize your engine. The same thing happens with a nuclear reactor. The particles get too hot and well, there you have meltdown.

The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 was probably the most significant nuclear accident in the history of the American commercial nuclear power generating industry. Approximately 43,000 curies of radioactive krypton (think Superman) and just under 20 curies of radioactive iodine into the environment. While that sounds very ominous, this incident really wasn't all that big of a deal. There were no deaths recorded, and although 25,000 people lived within 5 miles of the reactor site, there were no reported injuries from radiation.

What made this reactor meltdown so prestigious was general public ingnorance of nuclear power and the lack of information available and understood by the public. For starters, just a few weeks prior to the meltdown, the movie The Chine Syndrome was released...and guess what it's about. Yep. A sci-fi movie about a nuclear reactor meltdown. Also, during this time, there was much political and social activism against nuclear power. To make things worse, during the occurrance, there was a lack of official information available to the public. People like to know what's going on, and when they're not told they panic. There were, though, several mass adverse health affects, however even those have been judged by many epidemiologists to have been stress induced BY the fearful public.

The incident has been a point of interest as an example of how groups of people react and make decisions under stress. There were many decisions made by public officials, plant operators, and the general public that was made based on information that was either non-existent, incorrect, misleading, or irrelevant. However, what we DID learn was that people are afraid of what they don't understand. Nuclear physics is not something that the average person is wired to comprehend, so even something as innocuous as Three Mile Island can cause a panic. What this incident also taught us was that these things should NOT be taken lightly. As a result, safety in operation of nuclear power plants has been greatly improved. Today, we have emergency plans, standardized checklists, trouble tags and alarms - all kinds of bells and whistles and fancy gizmos on these complicated things that help us all sleep better at night instead of fearing total apocalyptic chaos...like The Clash did.

By the way, the repeated lyrics (and title) "London calling" refers to the BBC World Service's radio station identification during WWII. "This is London calling..." was heard during opening news/informational broadcasts and emergency and broadcast interruption to occupied areas.


"London Calling" - The Clash, 1979

(all information in this entry is hoping to be correct...and not irrelevant, having been gleaned from all kinds of places from London to Pennsylvania)

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Wind of Change" - The Scorpions, 1989 (rock)

I follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change
An August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the wind of change

The world is closing in
Did you ever think
That we could be so close, like brothers
The future's in the air
I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change

Walking down the street
Distant memories
Are buried in the past forever
I folow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
With you and me
Take me to the magic of the moment
On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
in the wind of change

The wind of change
Blows straight into the face of time
Like a stormwind that will ring the freedom bell
For peace of mind
Let your balalaika sing
What my guitar wants to say

The Meine brothers, whom you and I know as a couple of serious guitar shredders who hail from Germany (aka The Scorpions), began writing this song in 1989 after a visit to Moscow. They were actually the first hard rock band ever to play in Russia. They returned the following year to play the Moscow Music Peace Festival. It was then that the words to this song were written. They were inspired by the site of thousands of Russians cheering them on, even though they were German. Lead singer Klaus Meine is quoted as saying, "Everyone was there: the Red Army, journalists, musicians from Germany, from America, from Russia - the whole world on one boat. It was like a vision; everyone was talking the same language. It was a very positive vibe. That night was the basic inspiration for Wind Of Change."

It was the same year this song was written that the world changed forever. Modern history will record that in late summer of 1989, Communist Europe ceased to be. "Wind of Change" rose to be the unofficial theme song of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, late in the summer of 1989.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and separated two German states for 28 years. West Berlin was free. East Berlin was not. The Wall was over 96 miles long and was actually two walls back to back. In 1975, the final modifications to The Wall were added, constructed from 45,000 sections of reinforced concrete each 12 feet high and 4 feet thick. It had 116 watchtowers, 20 bunkers, barbed wire, canine patrols, fakir beds (beds of nails under balconies) and anti-vehicle trenches that guarded a "no man's land"...the death strip area in between the two walls. It was paved with raked gravel, which made it easy to spot foot prints.

When the border between East and West Berlin was officially closed at midnight on August 13, 1961. East Berlin was controlled by Josef Stalin and became a socialist state. Families were abruptly separated. People who commuted to work from East to West were instantly either homeless or without employment. At least 136 people are confirmed killed trying to escape from East to West Berlin (but there were probably many, many more "unconfirmed"), and countless documented and undocumented desperate successful and failed escape attempts.

Ironically, the collectiveness The Scorpions (and everyone else) experienced at the Moscow Music Peace Festival would not end when the Music Peace Festival ended. "Wind of Change" celebrated the political shift in Eastern Europe. Although "Winds of Change" wasn't written specifically about the Berlin Wall, the feelings of the world and the lyrics of the Meines was somewhat of poetic foreshadowing. The Berlin Wall was an icon of the rule of tyranny and poverty behind the Iron Curtain, and it was one of the largest, most real, tangible, material objects that smacked the face of humanity and said that the Cold War was real...and it was so much more than simple politics. When the Berlin Wall came down, it signalled the beginning of total collapse of the Iron Curtain in Europe, which would trickle all the way up to the very hub of communism: Mother Russia. The Cold War, which had gripped the world and glued us to the edge of our seats for five decades, was finally over.

In 2005, viewers of the German television network ZDF chose "Wind of Change" as song of the century. It is the highest ever selling song in Germany, and is frequently played with footage of the Wall coming down. This song is also widely known in Germany as the song of German reunification (and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, generally), even though it only rose to popularity two years after.

A key to some of the lyrics:
Moskva - the name of a river that runs through Moscow
Gorky Park - an amusement park in Moscow
balalaika - a musical instrument of Russian origin that is fretted and has three strings and looks an awful lot like a Gibson Flying V guitar.

"Wind of Change" - The Scorpions, 1989

(gathered freely from east to west and various places in between)

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Fur Elise" - Ludwig van Beethoven, 1810 (heroic classical)

Ludwig Van! Come on down!

This is one of THE most famous classical pieces of all time. Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons can at least play the beginning. I'd even venture to say that if you know nothing else by Beethoven, you know this one. And true to the Beethoven asthetic, no piece of music was written "just because". When he wrote a piece, it served a purpose.

Beethoven's life of music is generally divided into three periods: Early, Middle, and Late. More specifically, these periods are known as the Classical, Herioc, and Romantic periods. It is the Herioc period which concerns us today.

Beethoven's Herioc Period began during a time of personal crisis. This middle period spanned the years between 1803 and 1814; he was in his twenties. It was at this time Beethoven recognized his encroaching deafness. He suffered from severe tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which made it very difficult for him to appreciate his art. He also began to avoid conversations with people. During this time, he frequently contemplated suicide. His hearing loss also made him iracible and it is alleged that he also suffered from bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, he resolved not to end his own life but to suffer for his art. It was this suffering that marks his Herioc Period. During this time is when he wrote most of his large-scale works - works that express heroism and struggle - most of which are quite famous today.

It was also during this time that "Fur Elise" was composed, dated April 27, 1810. However, the piece wasn't published until 1865 - 38 years after Beethoven's death. While there is no hard, documented evidence, "Fur Elise" is generally accepted by the musical community to be a mistranscription of an illegible, handwritten title that appeared on the piece when it was discovered. It is believed the true title of the piece is "Fur Therese".

"Therese" was one of Beethoven's love interests, Therese Malfatti von Rohrenbach zu Dezza, who was one of his students. Beethoven did not have successful romantic relationships because his tastes steered him towards women who were either already married or who belonged to the aristocracy. Beethoven had planned to marry Therese in 1810. However, she declined his proposal in 1816. Therese was the daughter of wealthy Viennese merchant Jacob Malfatti von Rohrenbach. Knowing Beethoven's knack for choosing women who were out of his league, it should not surprise us that she instead married the Austrian nobleman and state official, Wilhelm von DroƟdik.

The song is written in a minor key, which means that it sounds agitated, dark, sad, ominous, and just not happy, but the song is really a love song. During the Beethoven era, the word "Elise" was also used to describe one's sweetheart, so today we may also loosely apply the piece's title to our sweethearts in general, with no specific person in mind. MUAHHHH!

...and since this blog LOVES all things pop culture, what a more fitting way to present this piece than a la Richard Clayderman's most excellent, bogus rendition:


"Fur Elise" - Richard Clayderman


(gathered from hither and yond, near and far, with a few sprinklings of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure")

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Enola Gay" - O.M.D., 1980 (synthpop)

Enola Gay, you should have stayed at home yesterday
Aha words can't describe the feeling and the way you lied

These games you play, they're gonna end in more than tears someday
Aha Enola Gay, it shouldn't ever have to end this way


It's 8:15, and that's the time that it's always been
We got your message on the radio, conditions normal and you're coming home

Enola Gay, is mother proud of little boy today
Aha this kiss you give, it's never ever gonna fade away

Enola Gay, it shouldn't ever have to end this way
Aha Enola Gay, it shouldn't fade in our dreams away

It's 8:15, and that's the time that it's always been
We got your message on the radio, conditions normal and you're coming home

Enola Gay, is mother proud of little boy today
Aha this kiss you give, it's never ever gonna fade away

True to the spirit of the 80's, O.M.D.'s (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) 1980 hit "Enola Gay" is a bright, catchy, poppy tune...with some incredibly dark and sinister lyrics. But that's all part of the idea, sometimes, isn't it - to get an otherwise hush-hush topic on the lips of thousands of people by making it cute or catchy? Sardonic gallows humor at its best. The song soared to No. 8 on the UK charts.

The Enola Gay was an aircraft - the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan in WWII on August 6, 1945. Enola Gay, in the song, is "mother" - impregnated with a "Little Boy" bomb that would go down in infamy.

Little Boy was the codename of that nuclear bomb, which was deployed over the city at 8:15 am that morning. It was dropped three days prior to the "Fat Man" bomb was used on Nagasaki. It exploded with a destructive power equivalent to 13-16 kilotons of TNT and killed approximately 140,000 unsuspecting civilians. Death was immediate and occurred either by blast, fire, or radiation. The death toll of this explosion is technically unknown because any people within the blast area were instantly cremated. The figures of those deaths are estimates gathered from area population information.

The first effect of a nuclear explosion is blinding light and then radiant heat from the fireball. Little Boy's fireball was 1,200 feet across. This intense fire melted glass and any water-based organisms (aka living things) were vaporized instantly. The blaze was even enough to vaporize one anonymous subject yet leave his shadow permanently etched on the stone steps of a bank building. But the bomb's fire isn't alone. This blaze would ignite secondary fires with electrical shorts and combustible and flammable materials.

Little Boy's blast, the fireball, was a result of x-ray heated air and sent shock and pressure waves travelling through the air at the speed of sound, which is the same as hearing a thunder roll. The blast levelled an area two miles in diameter from the detonation site, even turning buildings into kindling and rubble in a matter of seconds.

There were survivors, however to survive a nuclear explosion is only to die in the following fallout - the air particulate in the detonation zone and surrounding - contaminated with radioactive fission particles. The fallout area, sadly, is much larger than the blast and fire areas. They are easily spread by wind, rise up to the stratosphere, dissipate, and actually become part of the global environment forever. Thousands died in subsequent years due to the radioactive contamination of the area. Millions more suffered physical defects and serious illnesses as a result of the fallout.
The dropping of Little Boy by Enola Gay was a huge mistake, and as the song suggests, the Enola Gay should have stayed home that day.


"Enola Gay" - O.M.D., 1980


(compiled from various sources)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Video Killed The Radio Star" - The Buggles, 1979 (new wave)

I heard you on my wireless back in '52
Lying awake intent on tuning in on you
If I was young it didn't stop you coming through
Oh oh
They took the credit for your second symphony
Rewritten by machine on new technology
And now I understand the supernova scene
Oh oh
I met the children
Oh oh
What did you tell them

Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone too far

And now we meet in an abandoned studio
You hear the playback and it seems so long ago
And you remember the jingles used to go
Oh oh
You were the first on
Oh oh
You were the last one

Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone too far
Too far!
Alright

Video killed the radio star
It's my mind and in my car
We can't rewind we've gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
So put all the blame on vcr

You are radio star
Video killed the radio star
Yes video killed that radio star, yes it did


Exactly! A blog about history within music and finally we have a song whose sole purpose what just that - remember. "Video" is all about the coming to a close of the golden age of radio. The song is about a character whose musical career is cut short by the video age. Buggles band member Trevor Horn was inspired to write this song after reading the short story "The Sound-Sweep" by JG Ballard.

The main character in the story is a mute boy who lives in a world that has no music. His job is to vacuum up any stray music he finds. While he is sweeping, he discovers and opera singer hiding in the sewer; the singer has been rendered obsolete. The entire theme of the story (and this song) is nostalgia - the passing from one era to the next. What is often missed about this song's concept is that it really doesn't have a lot to do with music, outside of a few references. Music wasn't actually the chief programming format during the radio days.

By the early 1920s, radio broadcasting was prolific and was the chief form of home entertainment until the 1960s. During this era, families would gather around their radios much like we gather around our television sets today to enjoy stories of drama, comedy, suspense, romance, and adventure cast by radio actors the same way our movies, reality TV, sitcoms, and news broadcasts are presented today. By 1947, a Hoover survey reported that 82 out of 100 surveyed were avid radio listeners. People all had their favorite shows, plus the Armed Forces Radio Network did a tremendous job broadcasting US radio programs overseas to fighting men and women everywhere.

But by the 1960s, technology had grown from the characteristic live broadcasts of the radio stations to electric transcription discs, magnitic wire recordings, reel-to-reels, eventually progressing to an entirely new medium...a medium we could actually see with our own eyes - Television.

As early as the late '40s, television sets were slowly replacing the radio as the family's first choice of entertainment. However, there was very little to actually view, so viewers would again schedule their entertainment agendas around the tv station programming schedule. But the trend was growing. This not only effected how people would take in the programming, but it also changed the programming itself. Radio shows were built around character actors who could simply just read well and be interesting. Acting on radio consisted of a microphone, a script, and a sound-effects guy. There was no need for props or wardrobe or even real acting skills outside of one's own interesting voice and interpretation of the written word. However, when television made its way onto the scene, now the audience was having to view the actors. Now the actors had to portray, from head to toe, a convincing character. There was no more room for the "creative reader". The screen required a total package.

This song actually does play a small, poetically odd part in the drama between radio and television. "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the very first music video to air on MTV, and as we know, the music television industry would soon become an indispensible staple in the music entertainment industry. Unlike the opera singer in the short story, radio never did become obsolete. It found a niche in broadcasting that didn't require its listeners to imagine charcters. It found its purpose in broadcasting music and news, just as it had always done, only now it did so exclusively. Yet, with the dawning of the age of music videos, it would appear that now even music sounds and looks better after one's seen the video that goes with the song.




"Video Killed The Radio Star" - The Buggles, 1979


(complied from various technological places...like the www)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Beds Are Burning" - Midnight Oil, 1987 (rock)

Out where the river broke
The bloodwood and the desert oak
Holden wrecks and boiling diesels
Steam in forty five degrees

The time has come
To say fairs fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share
The time has come
A facts a fact
It belongs to them
Lets give it back

How can we dance when our earth is turning
How do we sleep when our beds are burning

Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore east to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty five degrees


G'Day, Mates! Welcome to Oz - the Land Down Under - the home of politically active Midnight Oil.

The song's two verses are jam packed with images of the Australian desert landscape. In verse one, the bloodwood is a species of Eucalyptus. The Holden was a vehicle manufactured by Australian auto maker GM Holden Ltd. located in Port Melbourne, Victoria. However, it's not just a generic description of what one might see in Australia. These are illustrations of a specific landscape - the Western Desert. Even more specifically, the land area west of Lake MacDonald and Lake Mackay in the Gibson Desert. Verse two talks about the desert and the abundance of life within it. Kintore is a settlement found on the border of the Western Territory. Yuendumu is an Aboriginal settlement and thriving settlement in the Northern Territory.

Yet, the entire purpose of this song is to protest the forcible removal of the Australian Aboriginal people, the Pintupi, from this Desert, their homeland, to the Northern Territories. During and leading up to the 1950's, this western desert's remoteness and isolation was prime real estate for Blue Streak (ballistic) Missile testing. It was figured that the trajectory of these missiles would land them in desert areas known to be inhabited. So, the government thought it best if those inhabitants, the Pintupi, were relocated. The vibrant life within the western Desert was disregarded in favor of military testing. Their land was not purchased from them. The received no compensation for their troubles.

The Pintupi were systematically removed from their traditional lifestyles and homes beginning in the 1940s, to Alice Springs and the Northern Territory and other government settlements such as Hermannsburg and Papunya. The last of these people, the Pintupi Nine, left in 1984. As with many people group relocation projects, the Pintupi were not alone in their dispersal, and while they were moved to these government settlements, they were not culturally isolated. For example, at Papunya, they were mixed with other language groups as Warlpiri, Arrernte, Anmatyerre, and Luritja. While the Pintupi represented the largest language group, conditions were so bad that 129 people (one-sixth of the decendents) died of treatable diseases such as hepatitis, meningitis, and encephalitis. But this forcible government relocation didn't just remove a people from their land; it also forceably removed thousands of Aboriginal children from their parents. These children were dispersed into separate government and religious institutions and foster care. They became known as "The Stolen Generation".

The focal point of "Beds Are Burning" is the repetitive rhetorical questions: "How can we dance.../How can we sleep..." while all this is going on, as if nothing wrong happened. Families were torn apart and the identity of a culture began to disappear into government supression. The call of the song and the most repetition "The time has come..." emphasizes the return of these native lands to their native people.

Over recent decades, many Pintupi have moved back into their traditional homes in their native land as part of the Outstation Movement. They have set up the communities Kentore in the Northern Territory, Kiwirrkura and Jupiter Well in Western Australia.

Midnight Oil performed this song at the close of the 2000 Sydney Olympic games to a world audience of billions of people, including Prime Minister John Howard. The entire band was dressed in black with the word "sorry" printed on their clothing because the Prime Minister refused to apologize on behalf of Australia to the Aboriginal Australians for how they were treated in the past 200 years, which was a gutsy move on the band's behalf at this venue, considering how they were allowed to perform but were advised to not make any political speeches.


"Beds Are Burning" - Midnight Oil (2006 Sydney Olympics live recording)

(compiled from various sources)

The Wreck of the Old 97, 1924 (country)

Well, they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia
said, "Steve you're way behind time.
This is not 38 this is old Ninety-Seven,
so put her into Spencer on time."

Then he turned and said to his black, greasy fireman
"Shovel on a little more coal
and when we cross that White Oak Mountain,
watch old Ninety-Seven roll"

And then the telegram came from Washington station
and this is how it read:
"Oh that brave engineer that ran old Ninety-Seven
is lying in old Danville dead"

'Cause he was going down the grade makin' ninety miles an hour
when the whistle broke into a scream
He was found in the wreck, with his hand on the throttle,
scalded to death by the steam

Now all you ladies you better take warnin'
from this time on and learn
Never speak harsh words to a true lovin' husband
he may leave you and never return


This is a cowboy song if I ever heard one. Better yet, it's a train song, and who doesn't love train songs?! It was originally recorded by G.B. Grayson & Henry Whittier in 1924, yet this ballad is revered by nearly every country music fan that has lived since then. It's easier to count the country music stars who haven't covered this song than it is to count the ones who have. It's a song about a train wreck, pure and simple. Better than that, though, it's not just a song about a train wreck, it's about a train wreck that actually happened in 1903.


"Steve" who is "way behind time" is engineer Joseph A. ("Steve") Broadey, who boarded the train at Washington with two other crewmen, destined for Monroe, Virginia where The Old 97 was to pick up the Fast Mail and put it in to Spencer, 166 miles away. There were only two things that stood in Steve's way: 1.) The Old 97 had a reputation for never being late; and 2.) that day, The Old 97 was already an hour behind schedule.


The terrain from Monroe to Spencer was a rolling terrain riddled with dangerous grades and tight curves. There were many signs posted for engineers to watch their speed. However, to uphold The Old 97s reputation in punctuality, Steve accellerate on the down grades so as not to lose speed on the way up the other side. This worked until he reached the 75-foot high Stillhouse Tressle bridge, which spanned Cherrystone Creek. The Stillhouse Tressle was a curved bridge, and sadly, Steve discovered he did not have enough air pressure to slow the train for the up coming curve. Nonetheless, he did what he could and reversed the engine to lock the wheels of the locomotive. The flange of the engine wheel broke, projected over the rails, and struck the underlying railroad ties. As a result, The Old 97 jumped the track and the entire train vaulted off the track, plunging into the ravine below. Steve's mistake cost the lives of 9 people, including his own.


The Southern Railway disavows all information that says that Steve was ordered to go faster to make up time. Eyewitnesses to the event estimate the train's speed to have been near 50 mph when the turn was attempted. The standard engine operating speed in this diffucult area was only 39 mph. However, the railway estimates his speed at closer to 70 mph. Fellow engineers partially blame the lucrative contract that was between the railway and the U.S. Postal Service, as a penalty clause caused the railway a monetary penalty for every minute the train was late. This put great pressure on mail engineers.




"The Wreck of the Old 97" (The Seekers)


(compiled from various sources)

"The Trooper" - Iron Maiden, 1983 (heavy metal)

Now, just because the song's by Iron Maiden doesn't mean that it's "devil music" or that it has no value. Sure they use lots of grouchy skeletons and lightening bolts in their artwork, but this is heavy metal. The year is 1983, and although metal has been around for a while, it was just starting to take off in the mainstream. While the rest of pop culture was still "feelin' groovy" from the 70's, metal was there to remind us that life wasn't all "incense and peppermints." This is heavy metal...you were expecting flowers and kitty cats?

Iron Maiden is one of those band that throws it up in the face of those who say that metal has no purpose and is just a cacophany of worthless, ear-shattering noise. This ain't your kids' metal...this is metal from back in the day - before computer processors and echo boxes. Everything you hear was done by the person playing it...not some geek sitting at a pc. Maiden has a technically tight, skilled sound without using all kinds of wiz-bangs that are found at the modern heavy metal stage or studio. Besides all that, during the early 80's, Iron Maiden went through a period of enlightenment in history and literature. "The Trooper" is one of those educational songs, though it takes a little digging to get some real understanding because, as is the spirit of music, history is not recited in text book form, but rather poetically.

"The Trooper" is about The Crimean War - faught between Imperialist Russia on one side and France, UK, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire on the other side from 1853-1856. The Crimean War is considered to be the first "modern" conflict and introduced technical changes that affected the future course of modern warfare. The war brought and end to an era of Anglo-Russian domination in Europe. It was faught primarily on the Crimean Peninsula, the Balkans, and the Black Sea.

More specifically, "The Trooper" is about a particular battle during the Crimean War - The Battle of Balaclava (October 25, 1854). It was the first of two attempts by the Russians to break the Siege of Sevastopol. The battlefield consisted of 2 valleys oriented in an E-W direction, divided by low hills and ridges, with the terrain consisting of open grassland. The southern plain was held by the British Heavy Brigade (Royal Dragoon Guards and the Scot Greys). The northern valley was positioned with the Light Brigade (4th and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and 8th and 11th Hussars) under the command of Major-General Lord Cardigan. The overall commander was Lord Lucan. The battle started with a successful Russian attack on Ottoman positions. This led to the Russians breaking through into the valley of Balaclava, where British forces were encamped. The port of Balaklava, a short distance to the south, was the site of a key British supply base. The Russian advance was intended to disrupt the British base and attack British positions near Sevastopol from the rear. An initial Russian advance south of the southern line of hills was repulsed by the British. A strong attacking force of Russian cavalry emerged over the ridgeline, and split into two portions. One of these columns drove south towards the town of Balaklava itself, threatening the supply of the whole British army. That drive was repulsed by the steady musketry of the 93rd Highland Regiment, which had been formed into a lone line of two rows by its gallant commander, Sir Colin Campbell - the action became known in history as "The Thin Red Line".

The Battle of Balaclava will forever go down in history as the insanely disastrous "Charge of the Light Brigade". Overall commander Lucan received an immediate order from Army commander Lord Raglan: "Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate." In response to the order, Cardigan led 673 cavalry men (back then, "cavalry" was still soldiers on horses) straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights. The opposing Russian forces were commanded by Pavel Liprandi and included approximately 20 battallions of infantry supported by over fifty artillery pieces. These forces were deployed on both sides and at the opposite end of the valley. It appears that the order was understood by Cardigan to refer to the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt* at the end of the valley, around a mile away, when Raglan had in fact been referring to a set of redoubts on the reverse slope of the hill forming the left side of the valley (from the point of view of the cavalry)!! Although these latter redoubts were clearly visible from Raglan's vantage point, they were hidden from the view of the Light Brigade on the floor of the valley. The Brigade set off down the valley. Captain Louis Nolan was seen to rush across the front, possibly in an attempt to stop them, but was killed by an artillery shell. The Light Brigade was able to engage the Russian forces at the end of the valley and force them back from the redoubt, but suffered heavy casualties and was soon forced to retire. Lucan failed to provide any support for Cardigan, and it is speculated that he was motivated by enmity for his brother-in-law. The brigade was not completely destroyed, but did suffer terribly, with 118 men killed, 127 wounded. After regrouping, only 195 men were still with horses. The Russian commanders initially believed that the British soldiers were drunk for trying to pull a stunt like that!!

"The Trooper" is sort of a musical rendition of the great poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In the poem, which itself is specifically about this incident, the area between the Causeway Heights and Fedyukhin Valley (through which the Light Brigade charged) was dubbed "The Valley of Death" by Tennyson.

"The Trooper" doesn't just borrow some of the poetic imagery of the Tennyson poem. The unmistakable opening riff was specifically written to sound like the thundering of galloping horses, especially in the bass (the song was actually written by Maiden bass player Steve Harris). When read correctly, Tennyson's poem also beats out the same galloping rhythm (although maybe not with the same speed. lol)

And for the record, when Iron Maiden performs this song, they don't just burst into it. Lead singer Bruce Dickenson, wearing an authentic-looking red cavalry jacket, will read a few lines from Tennyson's poem.

And there ya have it! A great deal of world history is preserved in music (with or without words). I bet you never thought that heavy metal could teach us anything.

If you're still worried about those grouchy skeletons, the artwork that donned the cover of "The Trooper" as a single forms part of a Loyalist mural in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland.


*A "redoubt" is a military term for a kind of fort or fort system that uses and enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort. It usually relies on earthworks, stone, or brick and is meant to protect soldiers outside the main line of defense.

"The Trooper" - Iron Maiden, 1983


(compiled from various sources around our wonderful world wide web)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Games Without Frontiers" - Peter Gabriel, 1980 (rock)


Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres

Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
Suki plays with Leo, Sacha plays with Britt
Adolf builts a bonfire, Enrico plays with it

Whistling tunes - we hid in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes - we're kissing baboons in the jungle
It's a knockout

If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers - war without tears
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers - war without tears
Games without frontiers - war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres

Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching's is blue
They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names

Whistling tunes - we hide in the dunes by the seaside
Whistling tunes - we're kissing baboonsin the jungle
It's a knockout

If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers - war without tears
If looks could kill, they probably will
In games without frontiers - war without tears
Games without frontiers - war without tears

Jeux sans frontieres
Jeux sans frontieres...

This song is actually a song about the World Olympic Games and about how the countries act towards each other during them. That would explain why in the video (found below), the dinner table's video screen shows pole vaulters, and there are other sports clips. Betcha missed it, huh? (or you chalked it up to Gabriel's eccentricism and just good videography). The lyric repeated at the beginning and end is "Jeux Sans Frontieres," which is French for "Games Without Frontiers." It is frequently misheard as "She's So Popular." (which is incorrect, and if you watch Peter's mouth when he says those words, his lips don't make movements that look anything like "She's so popular.")

This is about the childish antics of adults, which is especially prevalent when their countries are competing in the Olympics. We have an Olympics every 2 years, so when they come around next year, watch and see (or get out that TiVo recording you haven't erased yet)! It's true!! The 2008 Summer Olympic Games were used as political leverage in an attempt to stop Russian troops from encroaching on independent province, Georgia. Even the events themselves are not safe! Consider the shocking story of Figure Skating Pairs in the 2002 Winter Games, David Pelletier and Jamie Sale. This politicism has been going on for as long as the games have been international.

Gabriel wrote this song before the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980. This reinforced the theme of adults acting like children over the Olympics. This was not the first time the Olympics had been boycotted by the US or by other countries because the location of the games had been in some country whose politics were objectionable. While President Bush attended the Opening Ceremonies and many athletic events during his trip to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, his trip was in political harmony with the protests and demonstrations around the world, which focussed on the juxtaposition of the greatness of the games and the athletes and the oppression the host country inflicts on its citizens.

Gabriel got the idea for the title from a 1970s European game show of the same name where contestants dressed up in strange costumes to compete for prizes. A version of the show came out in England called "It's a knockout," giving him that lyric.

The video includes film clips of Olympic events and scenes from the 1950 educational film Duck and Cover, which used a cartoon turtle to instruct school kids on what to do in case of nuclear attack, as if to say that the countries and their athletes being in close proximity to each other during these 2 weeks was like "the end of the world.

Part of the song goes: "Andre has a red flag/ Chiang Ching's is blue/They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu..." Andre could refer to Andre Malraux (1901-1976) the French statesman and author of the book Man's Fate, about the 1920s communist regime in Shanghai. Red flag may refer to Malraux's leftist politics. Chiang Ching could refer to Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) Chinese leader of the Kuomintang who opposed the Communists - hence, the rightwing Blue Flag. Chiang's forces lost the civil war in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where they set up a government in exile. Lin Tai Yu may be Nguyen Thieu (1923-2001), South Vietnamese president during the height of the Vietnam war. After the Communist victory of 1975, Thieu fled to Taiwan, England, and later to the United States where he died in exile. The lyric could refer to the fact that while leftist politicians like Andre Malraux had a secure position in France, and rightist leaders like Chiang Kai Shek had a secure country in Taiwan, those caught in the middle like Nguyen Thieu were pawns in the Cold war and had no secure country. This could also be a reproach to either Thieu or his United States backers, saying that he was now a nobody.

And of course "Adolf burns a bonfire..." refers to Adolf Hitler, who actually has dual meaning in the song as in the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, Hitler desperately wanted to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan race and refused to shake the hand of Jesse Owens, a black man, who set Olympic history in the presence of der Fuhrer, and who found himself more insulted by FDRs lack of White House invitation than the absense of Hitler's congratulatory handshake on the Games' winners' podium. And all of this ties in with the last of this line, "...Enrico plays with it." referring, of course, to Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who is most famous for his work on the first nuclear reactor, winning the 1938 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on induced radioactivity...that's quite a bonefire to play with.

Having said all of that, it now makes sense:

"Games without frontiers" - an international competition of games, "War without tears" - countries competing to be the best of the best while not actually using any military force to prove themselves as such. Using athletes to "fight" for them on the game field.


(information compiled from various sources)