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April 16th

On this day in 1943 while most of the rest of the world was up to its neck in war and shit like that, a Swiss chemist called Albert Hoffman was getting off his tits on lysergic acid diethylamide. To be fair to Bertie, his first trip was wholly accidental; his second one, three days later was not.

Hoffman may or may not be off his tits here

Hoffman had first synthesised LSD on November 16th 1938. At the time he was trying to obtain a substance to use as a stimulant for respiration and circulation. He did not do anything with the synthesis at the time and other experiments took up more time. The LSD synthesis was put to one side for nearly five years. On the morning of 16th April 1943, Hoffman decided to make another synthesis, but this time accidentally contaminated himself (he got some on his fingertips) and ingested an unknown amount of the drug. He later wrote about his experiences on that day. About an hour after the accidental ingestion he began to feel a little odd and had to go home for a bit of a lie down even though he was restless, he was also dizzy and all out of sorts in the normal way of things. Once there he lay with his eyes closed because the daylight was too harsh for him. The next two hours brought him pleasant and strange images, feelings and a whole kaleidoscope of colours. Luckily for old off his tits Hoffman, he was having a good trip.

The same could not be said for the trip he had the following Monday. He had figured that the odd experiences he’d had were linked to the LSD, so he decided to take it again, in controlled conditions to see if he was right and what would occur. First off, he totally overestimated the threshold dose. He took 0.25 miligrams (250 micrograms) figuring, from his knowledge of other ergot, that this would be about right. The threshold dose is in fact 20 micrograms. Less than an hour later he was utterly fucked and had to ask his assistant to take him home. They had no car available, it being wartime and petrol being at a bit of a premium, so they had to use bicycles. Hoffman, was by now in a heightened state of paranoia. His mood wavered between anxiety and, well, sheer terror. He believed that his next door neighbour was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, that the LSD had poisoned him. A GP was called out, but the only physical change he noted was Hoffman’s incredibly dilated pupils. The doctor’s visit reassured Hoffman, whose trip now took a different turn, back to the images, colours, shapes etc of the previous Friday, but more intense, due to the larger dose he had taken.

Hoffman was immediately convinced that LSD would be a breakthrough psychiatric drug, because of its introspective qualities and LSD was used extensively in psychiatric research and on some patients throughout the fifties and into the sixties. However, Hoffman

Aciiiiiiiid!

did not think that LSD would ever be used recreationally and there he was quite wrong. Everyone knows about Timothy Leary, the explosion of LSD use in the 1960s, the hippies and all that. But before the whole counter-culture thing, it was also being experimented with by people as unlikely and diverse as Francis Crick (the DNA man), Cary Grant (who lectured to students at UCLA on its efficacy), Aldous Huxley, JFK and Groucho Marx. The CIA also used it in hugely unethical experiments. They would, effectively, spike someone with acid and then see what the effect was. Not surprisingly this led to a lot of psychiatric problems for many of the subjects of their experiments and may have led to more than one suicide.

From my own personal experience, I would not advocate the use of LSD, especially not if you’re going to watch Groundhog Day, you will cry because you have been watching the film for centuries and at the same time be fascinated by Bill Murray’s pulsating nose. You may also find that acid makes you bossy, form a belief that you are a godlike creature and it will almost certainly make you a strange inhabitant of a small Welsh village at 6am in the morning. Probably. Bad trips are bad, but my stepfather has told me that vitamin b is very helpful for alleviating these and for bringing the subject down from a trip. Oh also note that if you happen across a Shabba Ranks video while tripping you may feel as though the whole world is turning in on itself. In this likelihood I recommend The Breeders and the foetal position.

Today was the birthday of Mary Catherine Isobel Bernadette O’Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield.

Instead of waxing lyrical about Dusty’s fine and beautiful voice, I’m going to put a video of her singing at the end of this and let her voice do the talking. It’s so hard though. What on earth does one choose when everything she sings is so damned wonderful!

Dusty came to the public’s attention in the early sixties with “I only want to be with you” and came to define a certain cool of the period for the rest of the decade. She was instrumental in bringing Motown to the attention of the British, both by her singing various Motown covers and getting artists spots on tv shows. For a period she was the biggest selling female singer in the world and

Dusty

songwriters, especially Burt Bacharach, vied to write for her and have her sing their songs. Her voice is instantly recognisable and has the most luscious soft, breathy sensuality that the listener is always in danger of melting away into a puddle while listening to her.

Dusty’s life away from the stage was not so easy. She suffered from depression, battled alcoholism and addiction and because she was not ever linked to any man, her personal life was under constant scrutiny. She refused to identify as “bent” as she put it, but said that she loved men and women and why not.  Her only known loving relationships are with other women and she admitted to being scared of men, but wanting to be straight. She was also a self-harmer at times and it seems that there was a darkness at the centre of her life that is so horribly sad. This woman could break and mend hearts with her singing, she could bring joy to others, but  …

I don’t want to dwell on the darkness, I just want to say a heartfelt happy birthday to a woman who brought happiness to generations with her voice. She was in the wilderness for years after the sixties and then came back with the Pet Shop Boys and we all hoped she’d never go away again. Her death came too early, her beauty lives on. Happy birthday, Dusty, I hope that you have found love that is always close at hand.

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February 21st

On this day in 1848 a very small pamphlet that was to have a very big influence was published. It was The Communist Manifesto and its authors were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For those who haven’t read it, and you really should give it a go because unlike

Karl was a martyr to his bum-grapes

Das Kapital by Mr Marx, it is not eleventy billion pages long, here is a brief outline of its contents.

It sets out its stall in the introduction, where the authors state that the governments of Europe are scared of communism (“a spectre is haunting Europe”) and that opposition parties are accused of being communist by ruling parties and more mainstream opposition parties accuse slightly more radical parties of being communist and … basically “Communist!” is the bad word to use on those people you not only disagree with, but whom you also want to discredit. Of course that sort of stuff doesn’t happen any more and  no one, for example, calls Barack Obama a socialist. Oh.

Four sections follow on from the introduction. They look at the bourgeois and proletarians, wherein the bourgeois rid the world of slavery and serfdom and turn free men into wage slaves with no certainty or security in their lives; proletarians and communists, wherein the proles realise that we are all communists if we are not the ruling class; socialist and communist literature, wherein Engels and more specifically Marx flick Vs at Socialist ideas of reform and say “Das ist schieße!”; finally, they present us with the position of the Communists on various opposition parties, which is the most outdated part of the pamphlet, dealing as it does with the situations in various European countries at the time of writing.

A little bit of context. 1848 was a pretty out there period in European history, known now as the year of revolutions with France starting the whole thing and many other countries getting all “Yeah, fuck off and stop oppressing us, you oppressors!” So, there was a lot of fear of radicalism amongst the ruling classes and the Manifesto was pretty much tuning into this, feeding off it, and scaring the pants off of quite a few mustachioed overlords.  That said, as we know, there weren’t any communist or even socialist revolutions at the time. They were far more bourgeois and capitalist in nature, but as Sam Cooke sung, many years later, a change

Engels won "Beard of the Year" for five years running in the 1860s

was gonna come. The Manifesto wasn’t so heavy on detail of how the proletariat would rise up and bring about the classless society, mostly because Marx, especially, was a thinker and not a doer, but it was important and still remains so, despite what we might class as the failure of communism in the 20th century. Er, at this point I could write a long and detailed refutation of the communist nature of those communist states that all started falling over in 1989, but while I am a genius who loves to share my big ole brain with you all, I have more sense than to bore you all rigid with my opining  on the necessary basis for a true communist revolution, the problems inherent in skipping over the necessary capitalist revolution, and totalitarianism 101. Let’s move on instead to a quick look at the lads Marx and Engels before wrapping this baby up.

Many lesser wits have pretended that they thought Karl was one of the Marx Brothers. This isn’t even a little bit funny and anyway, as true giants of intellect know, he was the grandfather of Groucho (but not the others, who were in fact foundlings) and it was his lack of humour and lifelong battle with haemorrhoids that inspired Groucho to seek out a career in comedy. The Marxes managed to cover up their controversial antecedent, but there are many glimpses of their grandfather’s influence in their films. Duck Soup, for example, is an obvious and not very well disguised allegory on the corruption of the ruling classes (Mrs Teasdale), the tyranny of leaders who aspire to ape the role of the ruling class (Rufus T. Firefly) and the manipulation of the good proletariat (Chico and Harpo), who seek for nothing but fairness and equality. Other things that we know about Grandfather Karl are that he had a large and bushy beard which was generally stained with Heinz tomato soup, was fond of criticising Hegel and loved a bit of Kant, and he had a preternatural fear of Dachshunds after being mounted and sexed by one as a young child.

Engels is more of an enigma. He always put Marx first, pretty much denied how influential he was in his collaboration with Marx, despite the fact that  he had undertaken a more serious investigation into the lives of the poor in Britain, and that he too had a large and rather splendid beard. Engels managed his family’s factory in Manchester in order to fund Marx’s research, even though he hated being a bourgeois, the very type he despised most, and eventually went to live in Primrose Hill in London where, when jaded by too much politics, he would party with the likes of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost.

These were the two men who wrote what was undoubtedly, whatever your political affiliation, the most important political document yet written. It was certainly blinkered as to the nature of humanity’s ability to fuck things up to the nth degree, a little too utopian and unwilling or unable to foresee possible dystopian consequences, but right, left and centre have all been influenced by the words of these two German chaps who knew that in order for change to happen, the workers of the world had to get down, get with it, and unite.

Today is the birthday of actor and reformed gak-head, Kelsey Grammer, famous for playing the snobby and erudite psychiatrist Frasier for far more years than he really should have. To be fair he was rather good at it and it is difficult to know where Frasier ends and Kelsey Grammer begins. It is, however, clear that, good as he was, he was often upstaged by Eddie the dog who was utterly adorable in ways which only served to highlight the pretensions of Frasier and his brother Nile Rodgers, who was famed for being the greatest dancer.

Put it away!

Since the end of Frasier, Grammer has worked pretty consistently in television, most notably voicing Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons, but it’s fair to say he’s been more famous for his private life, which has often consisted of him being drunk, taking drugs, and marrying women who used to work in porn and then divorcing them. He has recently been seen snogging  his new fiancée and showing off his torso, which has not been a good look for him. Dr Frasier Crane would not approve.

All of that said, and despite him thinking that John McCain would make a good president, he’s brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people (even if Eddie brought more), and so it would be too, too ignorant to not wish this slightly washed-up ham a very happy birthday indeed. A note to the not-so-wise, Mr Grammer, shorts and an open shirt are not a good look on a 56-year-old man who has a very distant relationship with the concept of exercise.

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