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John Lennon and Yoko Ono Start Their “Bed-In”

bed in

John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their hotel room at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.

On March 25, 1969, John Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono, staged their first “Bed-In For Peace.” These “Bed-Ins,” based on sit-in protests, were meant to be experimental tests to promote peace and protest war. Lennon and Ono spent their honeymoon in Amsterdam, 5 days after their wedding, sitting in their hotel room bed, discussing peace while the press was allowed to come in to their room to ask questions and take photographs of the famous couple.

The couple knew their marriage would be a high profile event that the press would latch on to, so they took this publicity opportunity to convey to the world their thoughts on peace. Starting on March 25, and lasting an entire week until March 31, Lennon and Ono took up residence in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel’s Room 902, spending the entire time in their bed and allowing press to visit from 9 AM – 9 PM daily. Because Lennon and Ono were known for previous lascivious public images of themselves they had used as promotional material, most of the press expected something lewd upon visiting the hotel room of the two stars. Instead, they found Lennon and Ono in their pajamas, comfortably sitting up in their hotel bed with signs that read “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” above them. The two discussed their visions of world peace with the press and their opposition to the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

Most of the press that covered this protest/performance “peace” did not take it seriously, but Lennon insisted that that was exactly what Ono and he wanted. “It’s part of our policy not to be taken seriously. Our opposition, whoever they may be, in all manifest forms, don’t know how to handle humour. And we are humorous,” said Lennon.

Seven days later, the couple flew to Vienna, Austria where they held a press conference to discuss Bagism, which was a term created by Lennon and Ono to satirize prejudice and stereotyping. Bagism literally involved encapsulating oneself in a bag, so that no judgement about the outward appearance of a person could be made, and people could only judge someone by the vocal messages they conveyed. It was viewed as a form of total communication.

The Amsterdam Bed-In was not the only one performed by Lennon and Ono. In May of 1969, the couple again reenacted their previous peaceful form of protest in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. It was here that they recorded “Give Peace a Chance” with other notable individuals. Later that year, they further publicly spread their message of peace by displaying on billboards in 11 major American cities, “WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko”. A documentary film made of the two’s Bed-Ins can be watched here.

The impact made by Lennon and Ono’s Bed Ins has been seen in the several popular culture references made about the peaceful protests, and protest groups and artists around the world have reenacted the famous “peace” since the 1960s.

Sources: Wikipedia, TIME, The Guardian, NPR

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Bob Dylan Releases Debut Album

bob dylanOn March 19, 1962, American folk singer Bob Dylan released his first album titled Bob Dylan. Dylan’s now famous first album was very different than any pop music at the time. Little did critics at the time know that Dylan would help to popularize and define folk music of the time.

In the early 1960s, “The Twist” was at the height of its popularity, with many charted songs at the time honing in on this dance craze and using it as the focal point of their songs. The Beach Boys had also started to peak in popularity with their charged surfer rock tunes. The Kingston Trio was the most well known folk group at this time, and Dylan sounded nothing like them. He had been performing in coffee shops in New York City for the past year, singing traditional folk songs in his nasal voice, which most didn’t believe would be plausible for radio.

Legendary talent scout John Hammond saw great potential in the young singer after he met Dylan at a recording session for Carolyn Hester in which Dylan was playing harmonica. Shortly afterward, Dylan received a rave review from music writer Robert Shelton in the New York Times. Upon seeing this, Hammond signed Dylan to a five-year contract and a month later, they were in the studio recording. Dylan’s whole album only took six hours to cut and cost $402.

The album contained a variation of old traditional folk songs which were standard in Dylan’s live sets at the time. The only two songs on the album that were original songs written by Dylan were “Talkin’ New York” and “Song to Woody,” which was a tribute to one of Dylan’s biggest inspirations and favorite folk singers, Woody Guthrie. Dylan later reported that he wrote the song a few weeks after moving to New York. Dylan made the trip to New York in part to meet his musical hero (Guthrie), who was living at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.

Dylan’s first album was the only not to make it on to the Billboard charts, and some in the record industry began referring to Dylan as “Hammond’s Folly.” Though the album only sold 5,000 copies in the first year, Hammond was not discouraged and soon brought Dylan back into the studio to begin recording his second album. At this point, Dylan had more original songs under his belt and had shifted to writing about political topics. His songs spoke of the social unrest of the world, and Dylan became a cultural figurehead of the 1960s, chronicling the historical and political happenings of the time in his lyrics.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, The Guardian

 

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Julius Caesar Dies

On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar, Roman Consul, statesman, general, and Latin prose author was assassinated. He played a crucial role in the events leading up to the fall of the Roman Republic and the subsequent rise of the Roman Empire.

During Caesar’s time, Romans were reluctant to give praise to a king. Caesar was a powerful member of the Roman senate, and although he turned down the idea of kingship when it was presented to him, he held steady in the position of “dictator for life.” This action is what turned many against Caesar and plots for his assassination began to take hold. More disdainful feelings started to brew in the minds of many when Caesar’s face appeared on Roman coinage. This angered many because that honor was usually only given to deities.

The conspirators behind the attack on Caesar were called “the liberators.” At the head of this group was Marcus Brutus, who was somewhat torn with his relationship with Caesar. Caesar had spared the life of Brutus and promoted him in office even though Brutus had fought against Caesar in the Roman civil war. Brutus’s family, however, was known for defying those who were power hungry, and thus Brutus’s animosity towards Caesar grew.

Cassius Longinus was also a main conspirator and worked to get Brutus to join him in plotting against the “dictator for life.” Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18 to begin help fighting a battle, so the conspirators knew they had to work fast. Upon entering a Senate meeting, Caesar was apparently handed a note, warning him of his fate, but he failed to read it. He was soon surrounded by senators holding daggers, and was stabbed 23 times. In all, there were 60 conspirators involved in the attack.

The “Ides of March” has been marked in history as the famous day when Caesar met his demise.

Sources: Wikipedia, History.com, National Geographic

 

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The Cat in the Hat Published

cat in the hatOn March 12, 1957, children’s story The Cat in the Hat was first published. The story, penned by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, follows an anthropomorphic cat who wears a red and white hat and a bow tie.

The creation of this famous children’s tale began when William Spaulding, then the director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, saw a Life magazine article in 1954 written by John Hersey. The article was called  ”Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading,” and covered a topic that was a major concern of the time – why children couldn’t read. The conclusion of the article was that most children were bored of the story most used to teach children to read at the time – Dick and Jane. In the article, Spaulding suggested that Dr. Seuss write a new book for children to take interest in. Spaulding was intrigued by the idea and issued it to Dr. Seuss as a challenge.

thing1thing2This challenge spurred Dr. Seuss to write The Cat in the Hat, which went on to become a huge success. Dr. Seuss had achieved considerable fame as a children’s author before this, but The Cat in the Hat put him on the map and made Dr. Seuss a household name. The Cat in the Hat was Seuss’s 13th book, and has since become his most prolific.

The storyline of The Cat in the Hat follows an anthropomorphic cat in a large red and white top hat to the home of two children on a rainy day when their mother is out of the house. The cat brings with him two mischief-making friends named Thing One and Thing Two. The three try to impress the children with their various tricks bringing energy and exuberance into the house on what would’ve been a dreary day. Along with this excitement comes some chaos. The children’s articulate goldfish is vehemently opposed to the behavior of the cat and his friends. The children eventually get things under control, and the cat cleans up the mess he’s made in the house and disappears mere seconds before the children’s mother returns home.

This famous children’s story is not only praised for engaging children and making them want to read, but also is praised from a literary standpoint for its incredible feats in writing. The entire story follows a strict triple meter, keeps a tiny vocabulary that is easily understood by children, and weaves an intriguing tale that doesn’t bore its readers. The story only uses 223 different words, with 33 of these words only occurring twice, and 54 only once.

The Cat in the Hat is the 9th bestselling hardcover children’s book of all time and sold over 7.2 million copies in the United States alone.

Sources: Wikipedia, PBS, Seussipedia, NPR

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Barbie Day

barbie calendarOn March 9, 1959, the first Barbie doll was released at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie was the first mass produced doll made in the United States with adult features and has since become a cultural icon as well as a subject of much controversy.

The idea for Barbie came from the mind of Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. She noticed that her young daughter had stopped playing with her baby dolls in lieu of playing with paper dolls that looked like adults. Handler realized that this specific niche of dolls modeled after adults was something that had yet to be tapped into. Playing with these adult dolls allowed children to imagine the future of themselves as grown-ups.

Barbie’s design and inspiration came from a German doll named Lilli. Lilli was a comic strip character, who was turned into a doll meant to be sold as a gag gift for men sold in tobacco shops. Lilli unexpectedly became a popular toy with children, and Mattel bought the rights to her so that they may create their own version. The name “Barbie” came from Handler’s little girl who was named Barbara. In 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials targeted at children due to their sponsorship from The Mickey Mouse Club.

After her introduction at the American Toy Fair, and the new use of commercial ads, the popularity of Barbie skyrocketed. The demand for the doll was so great that soon Handler created a boy version of the doll and named it Ken after her son Kenneth.

Along with Barbie’s popularity came a significant amount of controversy. Some thought that Barbie’s mass amounts of material items – her dream house, her multiple cars, and her huge closet of “designer” outfits gave children the idea that being materialistic was a normal and good thing. The thing about Barbie that caused the most outrage though was the size of her waist and breasts which scores of people thought gave children negative views on body image, equating skinny with pretty.

Even with all this criticism though, Barbie has remained a popular and well-known figure in the world of children’s toys and her impact on the toy market is one that will and has go down in history. She has now become a global phenomenon.

Sources: History.com, Wikipedia, dolls4play.com

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Fight of the Century

life-frazier-cover frank sinatraOn March 8, 1971, two World Heavyweight Champion boxers, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali faced off at Madison Square Gardens in the “Fight of the Century” to determine the true world champion.

At the time of the fight, both boxers had a legitimate claim to the title “World Heavyweight Champion.” Ali won the title in 1964 from Sonny Liston with an undefeated record, but had been stripped of the title when he refused to register in the draft in 1967. He won an appeal for his conviction and 5-year prison sentence in front of the Supreme Court in 1971 and returned to fighting. During Ali’s hiatus, Frazier had fairly won the title, and soon a match between the two champions received considerable hype and was billed the “Fight of the Century.” Surprisingly, the fight lived up to its name.

Ali had become well-known over the years for his speed and dexterity despite his large size. Frazier was known for his unmatched left hook and the way he would ferociously attack his opponent’s body. At a time when the country felt divided, the two fighters came to represent the two politically and socioeconomic sides of America. Ali represented the anti-establishment left-wing liberals, while Frazier was seen as a symbol for the blue collar pro-war conservatives. This parallel symbolism of the two fighters added to the hype of the highly anticipated fight.

ali calendarBoth fighters were guaranteed a $2.5 million purse for the fight, which was a record for any single prizefight at the time. Madison Square Garden had a raucous atmosphere on the night of the highly publicized fight with tons of police officers on hand to keep the crowd under control, and countless celebrities in attendance. Among them were Norman Mailer, Woody Allen, and Frank Sinatra, who was there taking photos for Life magazine because he was unable to obtain a ringside seat.

Unexpectedly, the fight lasted a full 15 rounds. Ali was on top for the first three rounds, delivering several quick jabs to Frazier’s face, causing it to welt up. Things turned around at the end of round three though, when Frazier struck Ali’s jaw with one of his famous hooks, causing Ali’s head to snap backwards. Frazier followed up by ferociously attacking Ali’s body as he was stunned. The bodily blows wore out Ali, and Frazier began to dominate the match in the fourth round.

By the sixth round, Frazier had attacked Ali with a flurry of his famous left hooks and Ali began to look noticeably run down. Ali still had a speed and combo advantage that kept the match close until the eleventh round. In the eleventh round, Frazier cornered Ali and pummeled him with another one of his left hooks which nearly floored Ali. Ali survived the round and the next three, though Frazier was in the lead for all of them. At the beginning of round 15, Frazier once again struck Ali with a left hook, sending him to the floor on his back. Refusing to give up, Ali stood up with a swollen jaw and lasted the rest of the round despite the terrific amount of blows issued by Frazier. The judges unanimously declared Frazier the winner, and Ali faced his very first loss.

The fight no doubt lived up to its name, and is still considered one of the greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport.

Sources: Wikipedia, LIFE, ESPN Boxing

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“Minnie the Moocher” Recorded

cabcalloway

Cab Calloway performing.

On March 3, 1931, jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway recorded his hit song “Minnie the Moocher.” The song was the first jazz recording to sell over 1 million copies.

Calloway was one of the United States’ most popular big band leaders in the 1930s and 1940s and was well-known for his scat singing prowess. “Minnie the Moocher” is a sordid tale revolving around Minnie, a character who later made appearances in other Calloway songs. Minnie is a girl referred to in the song as a “red hot hoochie coocher.” The hoochie coochie was a type of belly dancing considered provocative and scandalous at the time, thus Minnie’s character was known for her raucous and enticing behavior. Minnie falls into some trouble when she meets a man named Smokey, who introduces her to a dangerous world filled with drugs and flashy riches. Though the song was riddled with lascivious language, most of it was not recognized by white audiences at the time because the lyrics were written in jive slang, which was an African American urban slang that became popular in the ’40s. The song ends with Calloway lamenting, “Poor Min!” making listeners believe that Minnie’s tale did not have a happy ending.

The song shot Calloway and his band into fame, and it continued to be an extremely popular and well-known tune for the next decade. A big factor in the song’s success was due to Calloway’s impeccable scatting talent. Scatting refers to a vocal improvisation using nonsensical syllables, using the voice as an instrument. When performed live, Calloway would perform a call and response with audience members, asking them to repeat each of his scat phrases. He would start out with simple scat variations that the audience could easily mimic, and made them increasingly difficult as he went on until the audience would give up in a fit of laughter. Because of his scatting abilities, he became known as the “Hi De Hi De Hi Man,” as that was the first scat he would sing when performing the song.

“Minnie the Moocher” has survived over the years, and Calloway even reprised his famous song in the 1955 movie Rhythm and Blues Revue and 1980′s The Blues Brothers. The song has been covered and remade by a variety of later artists like ’60s Australian band The Cherokees, hip hop artist Tupac Shakur, and British actor Hugh Laurie. 68 years after it’s original release, in 1999, “Minnie the Moocher” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

If you’ve never heard the famous song, take a listen here!

Sources: Wikipedia, Song Facts, Populist

 

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Thriller Album Hits #1

MichaeljacksonthrilleralbumOn February 26, 1983, Michael Jackson‘s  sixth album Thriller made it to the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Including well-known songs “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and of course, “Thriller,” the album changed this history of rock and roll and is still the best-selling album of all time.

Thriller was recorded from April 14 to November 8, 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood. The album was given a $750,000 budget and producer Quincy Jones began working on the album with Jackson, going through over 700 demos looking for material to record. Of the songs that were picked, four of them were songs Jackson wrote himself – “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “The Girl is Mine,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” All these songs were based on personal or social issues Jackson had dealt with over the years. “Billie Jean” was about a fan who claimed Jackson was the father of her baby while “Beat It” was an anti-gang violence anthem.

For an entire year Thriller remained in the top 10 on the Billboard charts, and spent 37 of those weeks at number one – more than any other album had. To date, the album has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, and in 1984, it won eight Grammy awards, eight American Music Awards, and three MTV Music Video Awards.

michaeljacksoncalendarThe iconic video for the title track of the album was thought up in 1983 after sales of the album were beginning a downfall. Frank DiLeo, Jackson’s manager, came up with the idea as a way to boost sales saying, “It’s simple – all you’ve got to do is dance, sing and make it scary.” Famed ’80s director, John Landis, who directed popular films Animal House and The Blues Brothers, helped Jackson write the screenplay for the 14-minute video. It centered around a date that goes wrong when Jackson turns into a zombie. The video and “Thriller” dance became one of the most influential pieces of music history, with people all over the world still recreating the dance. Even a group of over 1,500 inmates in a Philippine prison learned the moves in what is one of the most well-known viral videos on the internet.

The amount of airplay Jackson’s videos got on MTV led to an increase in videos by African-American artists in general, breaking down former racial barriers. The album has stood the test of time with Rolling Stone naming it #20 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, and a reissue of the album called Thriller 25 was released in 2008 featuring re-mixes of songs. The album has also been put in the  Library of Congress‘ National Recording Registry and the video for “Thriller” was included in the  National Film Preservation Board‘s National Film Registry for their cultural significance. Though it has been over 20 years since its release, Thriller remains one of the most significant album releases of all time.

Sources: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Wikipedia, Dave’s Music Database 

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The New Yorker Debuts

Eustace-TilleyOn February 21, 1925, The New Yorker debuted with its first issue. The New Yorker is an American magazine which includes serious reportage, social commentary, essays, satire, fiction works, poetry, and essays. Though mostly centered around the life of New Yorkers, the magazine has a broad international fanbase and because it is produced weekly, it is known for its highly topical covers and commentary on American popular culture.

The magazine was founded by Harold Ross and his wife, New York Times reporter Jane Grant. Tired of the “corny” content which filled other humorous publications at the time, Ross strove to create something sophisticated, yet entertaining. The magazine started out as a glorified society column centering around life in New York featuring a now famous dandy gentleman staring at a butterfly through a monocle on the cover. The dandy man on the cover, later given the name ‘Eustace Tilley,’ was drawn by The New Yorker‘s first art director, Rea Irvin.

NY168 - Seaside Cafe.graffleTilley’s appearance on the first cover was meant to be a joke, but confused readers did not know what to make of it or the magazine at first. Was it supposed to be an accurate portrayal of The New Yorker readers? And if so, what did it mean? Are readers cosmopolitan individuals closely studying life’s small beauties? Or are they haughty beings only concerned with their own existence? The perplexing first cover image seemed to mirror the likewise befuddling content inside. Filled with gossip and writing targeted at in-the-know Manhattanites, those involved in the beginning soon decided a broader scope should be the natural evolution of the new publication.

Still holding on to its humorous roots, The New Yorker gradually established a base for serious fiction writers and journalists to publish their work. After World War II came to an end, the magazine began to print short stories, poems, essays, and other contemplative and stimulating writing by some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most renowned writers. Such famed names as Haruki MurakamiVladimir NabokovJohn O’HaraPhilip RothJ. D. SalingerIrwin ShawJames ThurberJohn Updike, and E. B. White have appeared with bylines in the publication.

The New Yorker’s circulation is now well over one million, and its audience is made up mostly well-educated and liberal-minded individuals who seek the detailed coverage and commentary of Americana the magazine provides. Its combination of journalism and creative pieces as well as reviews and art has made The New Yorker one of the most revered magazines in the world.

Sources: The New YorkerBritannica.com, Wikipedia

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First Teddy Bear Sold

charliebearOn February 15, 1903, the first Teddy bear went on sale at a toy store in Brooklyn. The name ‘Teddy’ was borrowed from the nickname of then president, Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy bears have since become one of the most popular stuffed animal gift items to signify love, congratulations, or sympathy.

Roosevelt traveled to Mississippi in November of 1902 to help settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana. After the issue was resolved, Roosevelt went on a hunting expedition to relieve stress. In this famous incident, Roosevelt’s hunting guides had tied an injured black bear to a tree for him to kill. Though the details about the incident are unclear – like the age of the bear or the exact reason behind Roosevelt’s reaction – the most popular consensus is that upon seeing the bear, Roosevelt said he did not hunt prey who could not fight back and let the bear go. Clifford Berryman, who was a political cartoonist, witnessed the incident and based what was to become an extremely popular cartoon off the event. He titled it “Drawing the Line in Mississippi,” and it featured Roosevelt in hunting garb ordering a small bear cub to be released. It was published in the Washington Post a few days later, and the name ‘Teddy bear’ was spawned from this.

The original teddy bear cartoon featured in the Washington Post.

The original teddy bear cartoon featured in the Washington Post.

Morris and Rose Mitchom were toy store owners and inventors who owned a small store in Brooklyn. Inspired by the popular cartoon, the two decided to create a replica of the bear in the cartoon and dubbed it ‘Teddy’s bear.’ Because they feared the president would be offended by the use of his name in correlation with a stuffed toy, they wrote and asked his permission. Several months later, the president finally responded, giving the Mitchoms permission but also expressing his doubt that the name would actually boost sales. He was wrong.

They displayed two bears Rose sewed in the window and both were snatched up in no time. People were soon requesting more be made, and the ecstatic Mitchoms promised to produce more. After a while, they began solely producing the popular toy. Roosevelt and the Republican party adopted the bear as their campaign symbol in 1904, and they were displayed at all White House functions. The original teddy bear is now on display in the Smithsonian Museum.

Sources: Examiner, Wikipedia, History.com

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