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March 8th

On this day in 1911 Clara Zetkin started up the first ever International Women’s Day and launched it in Copenhagen. Although she set no official date for it, the date she started it has since become the date it is celebrated  upon following the  1977 UN decision to mark UN Day for Women’s Rights and Peace. It was celebrated behind the “Iron Curtain” before then, but has only been a thing in the west for 34 years.

Clara was a fine woman and if you don't think so you are a wronger

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the day and we’ve come a long way since then. Many  people think we’ve come far enough and don’t need a women’s day and why isn’t there a men’s day and anyway get  your tits out love and shut your mouth, where’s my tea you slack bint, gertcha!

Don’t worry, darlings, I’m not going to write a long feminist treatise, mostly because if I started I don’t think Id be able to stop myself. However, to those who truly hold the opinion that we’ve come far enough, I do have three words to say: do fuck off.

Instead of making your eyes bleed and your hearts weep with how far we have to go, I’ll concentrate instead on what a great bunch of lasses, Clara Zetkin was. She had intended to become a teacher, but early in her life she became involved in leftist politics and the women’s movement and from then on devoted her life to politics. This meant many periods in exile as socialists weren’t exactly welcome in Bismarck’s Germany. While in exile she did a lot of work to set up the Socialist International and became great friends with Rosa Luxemburg.

They were both members of the SPD but, along with many more far left elements in the party, they split with them over the issue of the war. The SPD supported it and they did not. Along with Karl Liebknecht they formed the Spartacist League (named after Spartacus and his wife) and produced illegal anti-war pamphlets throughout the war. Clara was arrested several times, but she fared better than Rosa and Karl who were both murdered in the uprising that took place after the war. Clara became a member of the KPD which grew out of the Spartacist league and remained prominent in the party, with a strong interest in women’s issues until 1933, when we all know  who came along, fucked the communists and either killed or imprisoned them. Clara went into exile for the last time. She ended up in Moscow and upon her death later that year she was buried by the wall of the Kremlin.

To many she may seem a troublesome leftie bitch and some of those might even see this as a bad thing. A pox on you if you do. Clara Zetkin was a good woman on the side of those who most needed a voice. She spoke up for the poor and oppressed and she spoke for women everywhere. So if you’re doing anything to celebrate International Women’s Day today, remember Clara Zetkin and if possible raise a glass to that fine German firebrand.

Today is the birthday of Carol Bayer-Sager, songwriter, lyricist, singer and artist.

When Carol graduated from New York University, she had already written her first hit single, A Groovy Kind of Love. Over her career she as collaborated with, among others, Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Michael Jackson, as well as her ex-husband Burt Bacharach.  She’s won an Oscar, two Golden Globes and a Grammy for That’s What Friends are For which was originally written

Talented woman but WAY too much plastic surgery

for the movie Night Shift, but was later released by a group of singers and Elton John to raise money for AIDS.

Her career has been long and her success pretty constant. She didn’t record as a singer herself until 1977 and hasn’t released any albums of her own since 1981. She’s basically a talented woman and seems to be an all round good egg. I wanted today’s entries to be all about women what with it being IWD an’ all, but Carol aside, most of the candidates I found were either porn stars, so-so actresses or beauty queens. I mean really, c’mon! I don’t know much about Carol and I don’t have any strong feelings about her either way. Although, I do hate That’s What Friends are For with a small passion; it’s so bloody schmaltzy! But I like a lot of her stuff with Burt’s Bees and I admire her for being an incredibly successful person in an industry which was far from woman friendly when she made her name.

So, la! This lacks teeth or sweetness, but it’s honest. Probably. Happy birthday to you Ms Bayer-Sager. It will not interest you to know that I always hear your name in the faux American voice of Eric Idle in drag in The Meaning of Life, but I’m telling you because  I’m trying to pad your birthday greeting out. I love your songs, but please no more of that awful schmaltz and no more Elton John. Oh and anyone in LA, Ms Bayer-Sager has an art exhibition opening this month, er, somewhere in LA.

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February 27th

On this day in 1812 Lord Byron made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the subject of Luddite attacks on industrialism in Nottinghamshire. He defended the Luddites and asked that there be more understanding of their plight and less condemnation.

We’re all used to the mad, bad and dangerous to know Byron, although to be fair that was a description bestowed upon him by a

I totally would

woman (Lady Caroline Lamb) who most people saw as totally batshit mental, so only so much credence should be given to it. We definitely know him as a poet, an adventurer and a man who put it about quite a bit. But there was more still to Byron.

He could hardly be called a devoted member of the Lords, but from taking his place there in 1809, until he finally left England for good in 1816, he did sit there occasionally and his views were far more liberal than the majority of his peers. His speech in 1812 was in opposition to the Frame-Breaking  Bill, which sought the death penalty for those involved in Luddite activities.  Byron thought this was a little bit previous and explained that he had seen what had been going on in Nottinghamshire, that the men involved were distressed and in great want. In short, Byron, this man who we tend to imagine as a billowy romantic, giving no thought to anything but muff, cock and poetry, understood the plight of the working man, better than most political philosophers or economists were able to either at the time or for decades afterwards.

And what was their plight? Well, by and large we see Luddites as men who were opposed to change and smashed machinery (broke frames) in order to hold back industrialisation and prevent innovation. This isn’t quite what was going on. As the simply wonderful E. P. Thompson explained in his The Making of the British Working Class, it wasn’t change per se, it was real and justifiable worry about their future wages. Most factories were paying far less as the weaving economy became a free market. Those factories or workshops that were maintaining a living wage and set prices remained free from attack. History would prove their fears right; as industrialisation and the mechanisation of the manufacturing industry spread, skills disappeared and it was necessary to work longer hours in often dangerous conditions in order to maintain pre-industrial levels of income.

And speaking up for the workers, one of the few with influence to do so, was the tall, dark, and really rather handsome, Lord Byron. One should never forget his poetry, because some of it was stonkingly good, but beyond that, beyond the debt and the scandal, there was a man whose first speech, after three years in the House of Lords, was on a subject that was of no personal benefit to him, but was instead a plea for the common man. Unfortunately his opposition did not prevent the Bill from being enacted. There were executions and transportations and ultimately the organised resistance was broken. But for one brief moment, the most famous man in Britain tried to make his fame mean something. It is no wonder that when he left the country four years later he felt no need to return. Byron might well have had his end away with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife while your back was turned, but he had a morality that rose above mere lower-storey shenanigans.

Today is the birthday of violet-eyed lovely and oft married actress, Elizabeth Taylor. To be strictly accurate, she’s not such a beauty these days, but as she is a year off being 80 and pretty seriously under the weather, that’s hardly surprising.

Liz, as she is often known, first found fame as a child and adolescent, especially in the Lassie films, in which she often co-starred with Roddy McDowell, who later found fame as an ape.  Unlike many a child star before her and since, she made the difficult transition to adult roles with relative ease. She also got into the marrying habit pretty young, first walking up the aisle with Conrad Hilton Jr when she was just 18. The marriage only lasted a year, mostly because he was an abusive drunk. If she had stayed married to him, she would today be the great-aunt of Paris Hilton, so all thing’s considered it’s a good job she binned Conrad Jr early on. She married seven more times, although two of those marriages were to the same man, Richard Burton. He was the great love of her life, but she was also deeply in love with her third husband, Mike Todd, but he was tragically killed in a plane crash just over a year into their married life. All her other marriages have ended in divorce and she has been single since 1996.

It’s easy to get caught up in Taylor’s predilection for marriage, her love of  well flashy bling and her later battles with weight and to

Liz in her heyday

forget all about her acting career, but she proved her acting chops in quite a few films throughout her career, not least when she was paired with Burton who seemed to bring out the best of her ability. She is most assuredly a diva, probably a bit of a nightmare to live with and could probably have drunk the whole of the British army under the table in her heyday, but she did an enormous amount of good in the fight against AIDS, setting up her own foundation and campaigning for the recognition and acceptance of the disease and the rights of sufferers. So, while it’s easy to see her as a caricature of Hollywood excess, she’s used her fame to do some pretty good stuff in this world. That said, she does believe in all that Kabbalah bullshit and she hung around with Michael Jackson more than was entirely necessary, but what can one say? Nobody’s perfect.

Liz is currently in hospital, suffering from congestive heart failure. We can but hope that the tough old Dame (hey, she’s a DBE, I’m giving her nuff respec’) is able to entertain guests, drink a glass or two of  bubbly goodness and enjoy celebrating her 79th birthday. Happy birthday, Ms Taylor, they really do not make them like you any more!

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