Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, MTV!

I don't know if I was part of the original MTV generation or not....I was in high school by the time it started in 1981. My family didn't get cable television at all until about 1982, then I went off to college the year after. So I was never one of those who screamed, "I want my MTV."

MTV, which originally stood for "Music Television" made its debut on August 1, 1981.

I have to say that I did enjoy watching it some when I first found it. It was always fun to see videos of songs I had already heard, or videos of groups performing. However, I was never a big fan of "story" videos like David Bowie's "Let's Dance" or any of Michael Jackson's videos. In fact, I really didn't want to  see a song with a "story" video before I actaully knew the song. That kind of ruined it for me. A good example was "Hungry Like The Wolf" by Duran Duran. I was never a Dx2 fan, so when their songs came on the radio I would switch them off. But when they came on MTV I would sit through them just to watch what was going on. That's why I have the visuals for "Hungry..." in my head every time I hear that song. I prefer my songs to remind me of things or places or people, instead of heavily made-up Brits.

Maybe that's why MTV finally changed their format, and don't play nearly as much music as they used to? I can't imagine that would be it, though. There was absolutely NO costs besides paying the Video Jockeys; the videos were supplied to them for free. So ad revenue would make this idea a no-brainer. Yet, in the mid-90s the format changed and nowadays you can't find ANY music on "Music" TV.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. I guess YOUTUBE is the new MTV?

Here's my favorite MTV video from that era....a song I almost never actually heard on the local St. Louis radio stations, "Good-bye To You" by Scandal.

Happy Birthday JK Rowlings!

July 31 is the birthday of super-star HARRY POTTER creator JK Rowlings. It also happens to be the birthday of Harry Potter himself, as established in several books.

I started reading these books when I still lived in Japan when my sister sent me the first one. She thought I would like it, and because I had really nothing else TO read in Japan.....I devoured it. When the last one came out I was one of those people who stood in line at Barnes & Nobles to pick it up at midnight, then went home and read a few chapters before going to bed. By the way, the first chapter in DEATHLY HOLLOWS features the murder of Professor Burbage, so I have a link, albeit tenuous, to the whole HP world.

So Happy Birthday Ms Rowlings....and Happy Birthday, Harry!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blueberries & Blueberry Hills

July is Blueberry Month. I don't really know what that is supposed to mean, except that it's the month when most blueberries are ripe and should be picked? But that depends on the climate, so is not actually correct. Maybe most berries are picked in July? Whatever the case, if you go to your neighborhood grocery tomorrow you will find plenty of the delicious fruits for sale.

What I did not know when researching this topic is that blueberries are native to North America. The crop was not introduced to Europe before the 1930s. So the odds are good that you won't find blueberry pies or tarts or flavored candy anywhere else in the world! (Who says "Friends of Justice" isn't educational, haha!)

Speaking of blueberries, there is a very famous song "Blueberry Hill" with a very interesting history. It was written in 1940 by Vincent Rose, with lyrics by Larry Stock & Al Lewis. Gene Autry recorded it and it appeared in his 1941 movie THE SINGING HILL. Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Sammy Kaye, and Kay Kaiser all recorded versions as well.

Of course, the most famous version today is by Fats Domino, from 1956. It was brought to life for another generation when Richie Cunningham would sing the first few lines, "I found my thrill...!" whenever he was heading out on a date when he thought he might get some action. I tried to find a video of him doing it, but no matter what I typed in to youtube I couldn't find one. Oh, well.

That brings me to the last blueberry I want to talk about today, the one nearest (literally) to my heart: the bar/restaurant BLUEBERRY HILL in my hometown of University City, a suburb of St. Louis.
File:Blueberry Hill with SaintLouis.pngIt is famous for being the regular venue for living legend Chuck Berry. Because of that, stars like Bruce Springsteen show up whenever they are in St. Louis on tour. Bob Kostas, who began his broadcasting career in St. Louis, has mentioned several times on the air during his shows. And a few years ago Archie and The Gang drove cross-country and visited the place in one of their comics. I did an internet search but couldn't find any proof because I don't know the issue number etc. I do know that a copy of the comic is framed on the wall at Blueberry Hill....where it hangs out with a huge amount of other comic books, Beatlemania goods, and various pop culture toys and items. Every time we go back home for a visit we try to stop by. Luckily for us, my parents only live five minutes away! If you are going to visit St. Louis, you should stop by. It's on the left on Delmar heading out of the city; as soon as you enter University City you will see it occupying two city blocks!

And now, Mr. Fats Domino celebrating blueberries for all of us....! I wanted to pick something that was actually maybe from 1956 but I couldn't find anything where he was actually singing OR playing, so I chose this newer concert footage.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anniversary of the movie HELP!

Forty-seven years ago today, the Beatles' second movie and first color motion picture made its debut. HELP! had its ROYAL premiere on July 29, 1965. And just so that we're clear, "Royal" in this case meant that Queen Elizabeth herself was at the theatre when the movie was first shown!!

If you haven't seen this movie yet or recently and you like spoofs or James Bond type movies or The Beatles, you should see it again. It's not exactly hilarious, but it is fun. Just watching the trailer below you can see that the excitement inherent in the story.

Oddly enough, none of The Beatles actually cared for the movie all that much. They felt "outside the creative loop" with director Richard Lester (who also did A HARD DAY'S NIGHT the year before) and thought the story was not as good as the first one. There had been plans for more Beatles movies, but except for a British TV production a few years later (MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR) the only movies left to be made were concerts.

I always thought it was cool that the lads were spelling out the word "help" in flag semaphore code in the poster and on the LP cover. However, I have since learned that they aren't! They're just standing there as if they were....their gestures are close to "R-V-U-J" in the semaphone code, which, obviously, means.....nothing.

Here's the movie trailer from 1965, though. It means something. ;-)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

National Dance Day

Funny story....so on National Ice Cream Day (July 15) my wife Yuko and I went to our local Dairy Queen for some ice cream. Being conversational, I told the young woman serving her, "Today is Ice Cream Day. Did you know that?" to which she replied. "No, I didn't. But July 28 is National Dance Day. Did you know *that*?"

So we went home and I looked it up. According to Wikipedia:

National Dance Day was created by Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer and judge for the SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE television series. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a long-time proponent of healthy lifestyles, introduced a National Dance Day resolution to promote dance education and physical fitness across the U.S.
National Dance Day is an annual event and "grassroots initiative to encourage the nation, young and old, to move!" in the United States. This event occurs annually on the last Saturday of July. The first National Dance Day occurred on July 31, 2010, and the second annual event occurred on July 30, 2011.
The third annual National Dance Day will take place on July 28, 2012. The Dizzy Feet Foundation has comissioned two routines for this year, including a Hip-Hop Masterclass and, for the first time, a Zumba routine.
In association with the National Dance Day, a number of local dance celebrations have sprung up around the country such as Philadelphia Dance Day.

So...yes, I guess it really exists.

Not to be confused with International (or World) Dance Day, which is April 29.

In high school I would go to dances and never have enough nerve to dance. People who only know me now might find it hard to believe that I was shy but it's true. When I went to college, however, I saw far fewer "good" dancers, and I thought, "F' it. I'm not as bad as some of these guys!" and I have never looked back.

Here are some of my favorite dancers. Let's Dance!

(America's Best Dance Crew compilation)

Friday, July 27, 2012

"How Are You Going to Spend Your Summer Vacation?"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American. This one is from July 18, 1996.

How Are You Going To Spend Your Summer Vacation?

This weekend most schools in Japan will start their summer vacation. America starts theirs in June. However, although Japan starts theirs all at once, in the US their vacations start on different days depending on the state, the town, or even the school. However, most all schools start back up on the day after the first Monday in September, which is Labor Day.* By the way, the US school year starts in September and so that is our First Semester.

In America there is no summer homework or reporting to school during the break. The only direction is to read a lot of books. However, there are "summer schools" and "summer camps," but they are not mandatory. At summer schools you can pick what subject you want to study and the classes are 90 minutes long. I was never very good at Math, so I took math classes several years. And since I didn't want to just take classes I hated, I also took art classes. When I was in fourth grade I studied zoology at the St. Louis Zoo. I was able to hold baby animals. It was a very exciting experience. Camps are set up out in the middle of Nature, where you can study such things as foreign languages or computers. It is similar to Japan's "Rinkan Gakko."

Sometimes I hear (Japanese) parents say, "Summer vacation is too long. I want school to start again soon." However, please think of it from a different point of view. Summer vacation is when kids can have various adventures and make a lot of memories. This type of summer vacation for kids and students is a "lesson in life."

This article was definitely written for the Japanese audience. Let me explain to my American audience about Japanese schools and summer vacations to try to fill in the gaps.

Japanese schools throughout the entire country start and end basically on the same days. High schools start earliest, then middle schools, then elementary schools. Their graduation/final ceremonies are bascially in that order as well.

Japanese schools start the first week of April and run through mid/late March of the following year.
So summer vacation is actually a short vacation between two semesters in the same school year. For us in the US it would be the equivalent of Christmas/Winter Break or Spring Break.

Japanese summer vacation usually starts the last week of July and runs through the month of August, so is approximately only one month long.

In Japan the students are expected to report to school several times during summer vacation. The US standard of some family summer trip or time together is absolutely not followed in Japan.

I think parents everywhere get tired of their kids under foot, but because Japan's vacation is only one month long, it seemed especially sad for me to hear parents being tired of having their kids around.

*After I came back to the US in 2001 I was surprised to find that this is no longer the case. Schools in the rural town in Indiana where I lived started in mid/late August rather than wait for September. This was partly due to the farming seasons and partly to do with the amount of winter vacation that they anticipated having during the school year. 

Anniversary of the End of The Korean War

On July 27, 1953 the representatives from China, the two
Koreas, the US, and the UN agreed to The Armistice Agreement establishing the border between North and South Korea at the 38th Parallel. This was in lieu of a Peace Treaty, but had the desired effect to end the hostilities of  the "police action" that was The Korean War.

The War started on June 25, 1950 when forces from the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) advanced past the 38 parallel into the Republic of Korea (South Korea).   However, the story starts quite a few years before that.

The nation of Korea had been invaded and conquered by Japan in 1910. From then until 1945 the Koreans fought back against their invaders. Forces and groups who would later create North Korea were supported by the Communists in China (who was also by this time fighting against Japanese invaders). Syngman Rhee, the first President of South Korea, was supported by the other Allies, UK and USA.

After 1945, much like the divided city of Berlin, Korea was cut and spliced for the victorious Allies. However, Kim Il Sung in the North had delusions of grandeur and wanted to re-patriate the entire peninsula. Believing that the South was vulnerable, forces from North Korea attacked.

Three years and a month later, the conflict was ended. Military casualties combined for all forces are estimated to be close to 1.6 million. Another 2 million Korean civilians were killed in the fighting. Countless untold millions of dollars of damage was done, both physically and mentally. The two Koreas have still not signed any Peace Treaty, and South Korea's army is on constant call in case of another attack. All men must serve in the Korean military to help support their country's independance.

For several years the only vision of the Korean War the average American had was from the movie and TV series, MASH. Personally, I always found it a tad ironic that the majority of Korean characters on the TV show were Japanese! I always heard that Koreans hated the show because it made their country to look like it was existing in poverty.

Since the end of the TV series MASH in 1983 Seoul has hosted the Summer Olympics (1988) as well as the World Cup (2002). It continues to have a huge impact on Asian Pop Culture. It is considered more as a developed nation and a strong ally, and the war that brought such chaos and tears continues to fade into the background. The elder Koreans dreamt of uniting the two countries, but it seems that younger South Koreans don't hold that sentiment nearly as much.

Here's to all those people who survived the Korean War (including Jamie Farr, who played "Klinger" on MASH), and in honor of all those souls who didn't.....

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, New York!!

Today is the anniversary of New York's legislature voted to approve the US Constitution, joining the  United States of America.

New York is one of the most popular (?) and well-known states. Ask any American to name a handful of states and inevitably they will name New York. And foreigners? My guess is it and California and Texas are the three most-well known states.

Lots of people to introduce this time, so let's get to it!

Date of Admittance:
July 26, 1788 

Parentage: New York was named after the Duke of York (King James II) who helped captured the territory in 1644. And of course, it was then also stolen from the Native Americans for some beads and wompoms. According to history and that old song, "Even old New York was once Nw Asterdam" because originally there was a large Dutch immigrant presence. 
Place in the Family
Number 11
Between Virginia (6-25-1788)
and North Carolina (11-21-1789)

(Ever upward)
That's the American Dream
right there, as well as
the slogan of the Marvel Universe

"The Empire State"
It's never had a self-comfidence problem, haha

State Flag
A blue banner with the state seal in the center,
Lady Liberty on the left and Lady Justice on the right.
Hudson River in the state crest, with the motto
on the bottom.

First City You Probably Think of
When You Think "New York"
uhh...New York? ;-)  

Actual State Capital: Albany

State Size (Area) is 27th of 50.
Population is closer to 3rd of 50.
(per 2000 Census figures)

New York Sports:
Can YOU name them all?





Anybody From New York
Ever Grow Up To Be President?
New York claims more than four, but I'm going
only with the guys who were actually born there

Can you name them all?

(8) Martin Van Buren
(13) Millard Fillmore
(25)Theodore Roosevelt
(32) Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Good vs Evil
(Entertainment Version)
Christopher Reeve
Actor, Director, Hero

Woody Allen
Director, Actor, Pedophile

Broadway Stars
Jerome Kern
"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" etc

Ethel Merman
"Annie Oakley" etc

Eugene O'Neill
Anna Christie, The Iceman Cometh, etc

Arthur Miller
The Crucible, etc

Film Stars From New York
(Golden Age Version)
The Marx Brothers
Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, etc

Bogie & Bacall 
Academy Award Winning Actor,
Beloved Actress

Lena Horne
Actress, Singer

Bancroft & Brooks
Academy Award Winning Actress,
Comedian, Actor, Writer, Director, Producer

Kirk Douglas

Rod Steiger
Academy Award Winning Actor

TV Celebrities From New York
(Golden Age Version)
Lucille Ball
actress, comedienne, icon
Jackie Gleason
actor, band-leader, icon

Shirley Booth
Academy Award-winning actress
Frances Bavier
"Aunt Bea"

Michael Landon
"Bonanza," "Little House" etc

Barbara Bel Geddes

Musical New Yorkers
Sammy Davis, Jr
"The Candyman"  etc

Neil Diamond
"Sweet Caroline" etc

Carole King

Billy Joel
"The Piano Man"

Rick James
"Super Freak"

Cyndi Lauper
"She's So Unusual"

Jennifer Lopez

The Notorious B.I.G.
"Mo' Money Mo' Problems" etc

"Empire State of Mind" etc

Lady Gaga
"Born This Way" etc
Sporty New Yorkers
Lou Gehrig
Baseball Hall of Fame player

Sandy Koufax
Baseball Hall of Fame player

Julius Erving
Basketball Hall of Fame player

Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Basketball Hall of Fame player

 Carl Yastrzemski
Baseball Hall of Fame player

New York Businessmen
William Fargo

founder of Wells-Fargo

George Eastman
founder of Eastman-Kodak

John D Rockefeller
founder of Standard Oil

Donald Trump

Trump Unlimited

New York Literary Figures
Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass

Herman Melville
Billy Budd, The Whale, etc

Washington Irving
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Comic Professionals From New York
Stan Lee
The Father of the Marvel Universe

Jack Kirby
The Co-Creator of the Marvel Universe

Will Eisner
Classic Golden & Silver Age Creator of
"The Spirit"  

Neal Adams
Classic Bronze Age Artist

George Perez
Classic Modern Age Artist

Scott Adams

Tom Toles
Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist

Film Stars From New York
(Modern Age Version)

Jane Fonda
Academy Award Winning Actress

Robert DeNiro
Academy Award Winning Actor

Tom Cruise
Academy Award nominated Actor

Oliver Stone
Academy Award Winning Director

Adrien Brody
Academy Award Winning Actor

Anne Hathaway
Academy Award nominated Actress


TV Celebrities From New York
(Modern Age Version)
Jay Leno
comedian, host of The Tonight Show

Jerry Seinfeld
comedian, actor

Tim Russert
long-time host of "Meet The Press"

Rosie O'Donnell
actress & talk show host

Fran Drescher 
actress, "The Nanny"

Matt Lauer
host, NBC's "Today Show"

Roy Romano
"Everybody Loves Raymond"
Supreme Court Justices
From New York
believe it or not, three of the nine
current Justices are from New York!!
John Roberts
Chief Justice, US Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Associate Justice, US Supreme Court

Sonia Sotomayor
Associate Justice, US Supreme Court

Fictional New Yorkers
Too too many to mention....
but here are some of my favorites!

You Can't Take It With You

The Bowery Boys

West Side Story Gangs

Peter Parker and
the Entire Marvel Universe!

The Bunker Family

Barney Miller's Precinct

The Friends Gang 

The Seinfeld Gang

Most Famous New Yorker
The Statue of Liberty
She's actually from France. ;-)  

A Song For You....
"New York, New York"
Written by Fred Ebb & John Kander
(introduced in the 1977 Martin Scorcese movie
"New York New York" starring Robert DeNiro
and Liza Minnelli....I always thought it was
a standard....and Frank Sinatra made it his own!)
P.S. Frank is from New Jersey; and he sings the other song called
"NY, NY" from his musical comedy ON THE TOWN,
at the beginning of this version!