Isn’t it romantic?

The next in a series on the history of classical music.

Our next period in music after the Classical Era is the Romantic Era, although the term also covered art, literature, and the intellectual movement of the first half of the 19th century.

Modern folk may think of “romantic” in terms of Rom-Coms, that cloying genre about the couple that’s all wrong for each other and yet who still wind up in the end. It may also conjure up images of all those “bodice-rippers” — steamy novels generally about young women pining after slightly old, much wealthier, and definitely bad-boy type men.

Both of these are just watered down versions of what Romanticism really was, especially when it came to literature.

See, the Romantics were basically the first Goths. Don’t believe me? The first Romantic novel ever written was a little book called Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

But that’s right: The literary romanticists were big on horror and darkness. The whole movement was about emotions, which had to be bigger than life — the greatest joy to the deepest terror.

Three composers from the era stand out: Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, and Franz Liszt. Interestingly, only was Austrian, like Mozart. Chopin was Polish and Liszt was Hungarian, representing the move in music away from the traditional Western European hub.

This becomes much more significant in the next era.

Schubert was the first, born 1797 and he died young, just shy of 32 in 1828. While the exact cause of his death is not known, he did exhibit symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning and, at the time, mercury was a common treatment for syphilis — a classic case of a cure being just as bad as the disease.

Since he came out of the Classical Era, he somewhat took up the baton from Beethoven, who was nearly thirty years his senior, and some critics perceived his early works the way that we would look at popular composers of pop music — simple catchy tunes with nothing deeper behind them.

When later critics really looked at his music, they saw so much more to it. He was definitely an experimenter and loved to play with things like modulation, meaning key changes in music. One example, that I’ll try to walk non-musicians through, is in his String Quartet (D. 956).

It’s written in the key of E Major, but somehow modulates to a central section in the key of F minor. If you’re a musician, you’ll see the potential clash immediately, but I’ll walk you through it for those who aren’t. A musical “key” simply refers to the starting note and the sharps or flats that occur in the Major scale that beings on that note.

I’ve covered this in-depth elsewhere, but in this particular case suffice it to say that the main key of E Major has four sharp notes in it: F, C, G, and D. Note that the other key, F minor, specifically does not have an F sharp in it, quite the opposite. It does have four flats, though: B, E, A, and D.

Now, in F minor, F-C-G-D are decidedly not sharp, and in E Major, B-E-A-D are not flat. But a funny thing happens if you swap the flats to sharps or vice versa.

The four flats in F minor are the same as these four sharp notes: A-D-G-C. And if we go back to the E Major key signature, we see F-C-G-D. Or, in other words, three of those notes are actually the same, and F sharp and A sharp go together like peanut butter and jelly, because A sharp is the third step in the F sharp Major scale.

To get from one key to the other, then, Schubert just had to get clever in dancing from the F# to the A# (the “#” is the sign for sharp in music), fiddle it around with the other three sharps, and then land on an E.

And that’s how you create a big emotional effect by shuffling two apparent incompatible keys together.

Next on our list is Chopin, and in keeping with the gothic theme, he was an almost exact contemporary of American author Edgar Allan Poe, who is well known for his tales of the macabre. Chopin was born about a year after Poe and died only ten days after the author did.

No one really knows why Poe died — he was found wandering the streets of his native Baltimore, incoherent and in severe need of medical attention. A common theory, though, is that he was a victim of cooping, which was a form of physically violent voter fraud of the era.

Chopin, meanwhile, took the most romantic era way out possible: Tuberculosis.

In the 39 years he was on the planet, he became a celebrity, and a lot of his work was based on improvisation on the piano. Personally, I can relate to this completely, because that’s my thing. I learned and internalized musical theory, so I just sit down and make stuff up.

Although Chopin probably did it a lot better. He was also somewhat of a teacher via his series of études, or studies, designed specifically to teach piano playing. If you’ve ever taken formal lessons on any keyboard instrument, then you’ve played your share of Chopin.

He also wrote a series of preludes, which cycled around the Circle of Fifths, until he had written one in each of the twelve Major and minor keys, for twenty-four preludes in total.

If we’re going to make modern comparisons, Chopin was the indie artist who became well known by playing intimate venues and having a very dedicated fanbase. But our next composer is, arguably, music’s first Rock Star.

Dear audience, I give you… direct from Doborján, Hungary, Sopron County’s favorite son… put your hands together and make some noise for… the one and only… Liszt Ferencz!

(Wild cheers, women screaming and fainting, fans rushing the stage…)

At the height of his career, this was pretty much it. Franz Liszt was to the Romantic Era of music what Beethoven had been to the Classical — the force of nature that swept in, elevated it to its pinnacle, and then blew it into something completely different.

If you were to think of him as his era’s Bowie, Prince, Springsteen, or any of a number of other icons who had relatively long, multi-generational careers, you would not be far off the mark.

Performance-wise, he was to piano what many people consider Eric Clapton is to guitar, and he started as a child star. He published his first composition when he was 12, and was living in Paris with his mother by 16. When Liszt was 19, he met the composer Hector Berlioz, and also became friends with Chopin.

It was at a concert by the violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini that young Liszt became determined to become as good on piano as Paganini was on his instrument.

He had a relationship the Countess Marie d’Agoult, with whom he had three children, Blandine in 1835, Cosima in 1837, and Daniel in 1839. Cosima would go on to become important in 19th century musical history for entirely different reasons.

After he separated from the Countess in 1844 at the age of 33, his career really took off. He continued to tour, and was wildly popular with the fans, particularly the female ones. Various authors gushed over his physical beauty, Hans Christian Anderson among them.

It was during this period that Lisztomania swept Europe, and yes, that was a contemporary term, not a neologism. It seemed unique to him at the time, and was exactly like you’d expect in comparison to screaming fans of groups like The Beatles or Justin Bieber.

One of the stories my music history teacher told me was that at every concert, Liszt would enter wear an elegant pair of gray gloves and make a big show of slowly peeling them off. He would then drape them over the side of the piano, where they would stay for the duration.

When the show ended, he would take his bows and exit, “forgetting” the gloves, and the women in the audience would hurl themselves at the piano in a frenzied brawl to get them. They would also snatch up broken piano strings, try to get locks of Liszt’s hair, and steal his handkerchiefs.

So really no different than modern fans. Ken Russell made a film in 1975 called Lisztomania that dramatized this, although in a highly stylized and anachronistic fashion. The plot is completely off the hook, with Liszt ultimately taking up arms against Richard Wagner at the behest of the Pope to stop Wagner from unleashing a mechanical Thor designed to kill all the Jews in Europe.

Yeah, so little resemblance to reality. It’s still a fun film, and the casting is brilliant, because a lot of the principals in it are well-known musical stars themselves: Peter Frampton as Liszt, Paul Nicholas as Wagner, Rick Wakeman as Thor, Little Nell as part of the court of a Russian princess, and Ringo Starr as the Pope — Gregory XVI to be precise.

It’s all way over the top and larger than life, but so was Franz Liszt. He even experienced another seemingly modern phenomenon. By his 40s, he had accumulated so much wealth that he started giving it away to charity. He was also instrumental in keeping the struggling Berlioz afloat by supporting and promoting his music.

He had retired from performing at 35 to focus on composing, but right around the time he turned 50, his son Daniel and daughter Blandine died within three years of each other. He took holy orders in 1865 — which was as big a deal as when Elvis got drafted — and returned to teaching.

Momentous Monday: Witches’ brew

You’re suddenly whisked back to medieval Europe, where you see a woman walking down the street. She’s wearing a tall, black, pointed hat — which is why you notice her in the first place, and she’s selling people some sort of potion.

Intrigued, you follow her until she comes to her permanent place of business, which is also her home. The “sign” above the door is a broom, and she invites you in, where you see a bubbling cauldron and the black cat who is the only other occupant.

She finally offers you her potion and you reluctantly take it, wary of whatever witchcraft she’s trying to pull. Then you realize that she’s selling beer, and this is a microbrewery.

The tall hat is mainly to be seen over the crowds. As for the “broom,” it was actually an alestake, a sign to let people know that a fresh batch was ready. The cauldron, of course, was for the actual brewing and fermentation, and the cat was meant to keep rats and other rodents away from the necessary grains.

From its beginnings in Mesopotamia and Egypt 9,000 years ago, brewing was done almost exclusively by women, which makes sense if you consider it to be more of a culinary art, which in many ways it is.

This continued to be the case on into the Middle Ages, and in many cases it was the only way a woman could earn money — either extra money for the household, or to support herself if her husband died.

Ale was very popular at the time because the water wasn’t so good, but people needed a pure source of hydration and nutrients. Ale and “small beer” of the time wasn’t that strong. But women made a lot of money doing it.

As the industry grew in the 14th century, men started getting involved, particularly in the production of “hopped” brews, which had a longer shelf-life and different flavor than the women’s un-hopped versions.

In that age-old story, because the men wanted in on the action and brewing had made many women independently wealthy, the Ale Wives begin to suffer increased scrutiny, and the Church helped out by associating their symbols with what they bring to mind today: witches.

They were also libeled by male authors, particularly John Skelton in his The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, which depicted every aspect of the Ale Wife trade as ugly and unsavory, from the brewsters themselves to their customers and their brews.

Of course, the Church was only too happy to oblige in changing the depiction of these women from successful entrepreneurs and business owners to Satan’s handmaids and minions of evil.

This all came about because the Catholic Church had suffered a schism in 1517, When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Luther only intended them for the clergy, but thanks to the invention of printing, they were translated from Latin to German and promulgated far and wide.

They might as well have been 95 Feces, because the shit hit the fan.

Over the course of 70 years, from 1560 to 1630, The Great Hunt saw about 80,000 people accused and 40,000 executed. It was all about marketing. Once the idea of witches had been sold to people, whichever church found and dealt with more of them would convince more people that they were the “right” one.

Those 40,000 deaths were individual selling points for whichever side caused them.

One of the few prominent cases of a man being executed for witchery and dealing with the devil was decidedly political. The early 1600s, Cardinal Richelieu wanted to un-fortify towns around France, but one recalcitrant priest, Urbain Grandier, refused to tear down the wall around his town, Loudun. He was ultimately executed in 1634.

Aldous Huxley wrote a documentary novel about these events, The Devils of Loudun, in 1952. It was later adapted into a play that was eventually made into the film The Devils, directed by Ken Russell and starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave.

While these witch-hunts were marketing for the church, the secular impetus for them was the usual: the continued oppression of the already powerless, particularly women, who made up the bulk of the accused.

There modern, non-European examples as well, such as The Dakan of Gujarat. Currently ongoing in India, these are cases of men basically accusing women — often from their own families or households — of witchcraft and sorcery in order to take over land that the women own.

The drivers in this case are a combination of misogyny, the caste system, and a way to blame women for the problems caused by failed economic policies created by… the men.

One of the more extreme examples: Women in a household were accused and beaten by men in the same household because the women had the audacity to tell the men to not shit in the fields where the women were growing food crops. How dare they!

Ultimately, every case of railroading, persecuting, and punishing the less well-off are just cases of the 1% desperately trying to keep what they have — which is already way too much.

This is perfectly depicted in the cartoon where a rich, old white man with a plate piled high with cookies points accusingly at a person of color with no cookies at all, and telling a construction worker with one cookie on his plate, “Careful, mate… That foreigner wants your cookie!”

Someday, the “foreigner” and the worker are going to figure out that they can just take most of the hoarding billionaire’s cookies and share them among themselves.

Witch hunts are just the way that the richest use the least powerful as a scapegoat to keep everyone in the middle from realizing who the real witches, demons, and villains are.

While the Ale Wives had money, it wasn’t enough in a society that wouldn’t even respect the concept that women could. And so the rival brewers called them licentious women, the church called them the Devil’s Daughters, and everyone else started buying their beer from the men, and going to the church that made them feel safer via better witch-killing spectacles.

It’s a never-ending story that needs to end, but even to this day has not. After all, the Japanese Internment in America that began with WW II was never about national security. It, too, was about taking land and an industry away from a defenseless class.

Remember the Ale Wives and what happened to them the next time you’re enjoying a beer that was no-doubt brewed by a man, and make an effort to support businesses that are owned by women, people of color, or members of the queer community.

Christmas Countdown, Wednesday #4

The theme of this day is Superstar Christmas song, and the one that popped to mind is Christmas from the rock opera Tommy by The Who.

Now, in my personal opinion, Tommy is actually the inferior version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, even though The Who did the story first — it’s just that The Who’s music sounds like nails on a chalkboard, while Pink Floyd’s has depth and melody and so much more going for it. Plus theirs is a better version of the story.

Fight me.

Anyway, both of these rock operas are a direct reminder of how WW II created much of modern music. Why? All of those pioneering rock artists who became prominent in the mid-60s and early 70s were born in the early to mid-1940s.

In other words, Boomers, all of them. And quite a lot of them — The Who, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Bowie, etc. — were British, hence directly affected by the war.

Read “directly affected” as “having Nazis bomb the city you lived in, so your parents evacuated you to the safe spots far north in the Lake District or elsewhere for the duration.

That and having a really good chance of learning that your dah got blown to bits somewhere in France or Italy.

These are the catalysts that led to the creation of both Tommy and The Wall. I think the big difference is that The Who basically avoided the real issues and came up with metaphors that missed the mark, while Pink Floyd hit it head-on with the admission up front of, “Yeah, this formed who we are now, but it’s still no fucking excuse.. Sorry!”

Meanwhile, in Tommy, the protagonist suffers from hysterical sensory loss (becoming “blind, deaf, and dumb”) after seeing his mother and step-father murder his unexpectedly returned from the dead actual father.

Much, much lamer than Pink’s realistic journey and lament about how the “tigers broke free” and “took my daddy from me.”

But I do digress. Here is todays superstar Christmas song. If it seems a bit weird, it’s because the video take footage from the Ken Russell film of Tommy and tries to sync it to the original album.

Trust me, the movie version, with musical star Ann-Margret and couldn’t sing his way out of a paper bag Oliver Reed does a lot more justice to the vocals. Anyway, enjoy.

Theatre Thursday: On the shoulders of giants

Quarantine is hard, so in lieu of not posting anything, here’s a blast from the past, an article posted one year ago but which is still relevant today.

A while back, I wrote about two writers who had a big influence on me, one directly in real life, and the other stylistically. But I’ve also been influenced by four film directors, one of whom directly inspired me to stupidly pursue a career in this business. Unlike one of the writers above, I never met any of them, and they all also happen to be dead now.

In a nutshell, and in order of influence, those directors are Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ken Russell, and Nicolas Roeg. Sure, four old, white British men (Kubrick being an American ex-pat), but I didn’t know better as a kid, okay? All I knew was that my dad took me to see Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey during one of those many times when the Cinerama Dome opened a would-be blockbuster that bombed, so they had to fill time with something else — and this movie blew Star Wars right out of the water. It was Science Fiction that felt real. There was no sound in space, the movie took its time, the soundtrack was mostly classical music in a future context, and I walked out of that first viewing thinking, “Yeah. I want to do this.”

Present me would love to time travel back to then, grab that kid by the shoulders and shout in his face, “No, dumbass. You want to figure out how to make enough money to pay other people to do this for you so you’ll be richer than Croesus.”

Young me wouldn’t have listened.

Anyway, a few years later, I discovered the several “Art House” cinemas in Los Angeles like the Nuart Theater, mainly because I noticed that they showed other Kubrick films. They also didn’t seem to really pay a lot of attention to ratings, so I could get my young ass into R-rated films. Note: There are absolutely no penalties, legal or otherwise, for a theater not following the MPAA ratings when they sell tickets. None. Nada, and one theater openly defied an NC-17 rating. It’s all smoke and mirrors, folks. So anybody can go to an R-rated movie. It’s just the idea that ratings are some legal bar that makes them effective. But I do digress…

So I worked my way through the Kubrick oeuvre, then stumbled into Hitchcock, and while he created in a G-rated world, his films were just as amazing for different reasons. Kubrick’s works are all about Big Ideas passed through the filter of human experience. 2001 deals with the evolution of the human species, past and future; Clockwork Orange handles crime and punishment; Dr. Strangelove takes on war and peace; Barry Lyndon is all about the class system, and so on.

Hitchcock, though, was all about plot, especially when layered with suspense. Kubrick would make you think. Hitchcock would make you sit on the edge of your seat and clench your butt. Hitch was also far more prolific than Kubrick, which is why I think that there isn’t a single Kubrick film I don’t love, but I’m not a fan of every Hitchcock film.

The ones that really bowl me over, though, are North by Northwest, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Rope. Oops… Psycho isn’t on that list? Well, for me it’s not, because it really doesn’t stack up against the others. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great film, but in the context of the rest of his works, it’s actually on the lower end of the scale.

The other thing that struck me about both of these directors, though, is that they were technical innovators. Both of them constantly came up with new ways to do things on film. Hitchcock actually has a particular shooting technique named after him, and Kubrick managed to out-Star Wars Star Wars a decade before Star Wars without a single computer in sight.

After Hitchcock, though, those art house movies led me to another director who worked on a completely different plane, but to whom I clung immediately: Ken Russell. And if Kubrick specialized in ideas while Hitchcock mastered in plot, I’d have to say that Russell’s playing field dealt with emotions in general, or fantasies specifically. His biopics were amazing exercises in giving us emotional truths through metaphors.

Three in particular, each of which dealt with famous composers, run the scale (pun intended) from lightest to heaviest in fantasy: The Music Lovers, about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with some fantasy sequences, but not a lot; Mahler, about the composer Gustav Mahler, about half and half; and Lizstomania, almost entirely fantasy and, while it seems to be the most off-the-rails of them all in covering the life of Franz Lizst, it is actually the most accurate in its metaphorical way, because Lizst really was the first rock star, even if it happened 120 years before the Beatles.

Russell used fantasies and dreams to explore the emotional life of his characters, and it is beautiful. He’s another director with an oeuvre limited enough that I think I’ve seen almost all of his films, and while I have ups and downs, I don’t think there are many I don’t like. For calibration purposes, I’d rank Lair of the White Worm as worst, and the aforementioned Mahler as best.

After Russell, the art houses introduced me to another influence, a director named Nicolas Roeg. And the thing he specialized in was playing with time. Not a single one of his films took place in chronological order, and this was what taught me the power of editing. He’s probably best well-known for a film that most people haven’t seen but only know about because David Bowie starred in it: The Man Who Fell to Earth. And here’s the thing. This is one damn difficult movie to sit through, and it wasn’t my first Roeg film, so I came to it knowing his style.

Here’s the order I learned Roeg, as far as I can remember. Don’t Look Now, which is an amazing and stylish suspense horror film that isn’t gory, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie; Walkabout, which deals with issues of privilege at a time when that wasn’t even a concept, as White Girl and White Boy (literally their names in the credits) are dumped in the Australian outback by their suicidal father, only to be saved by an aboriginal Black Boy who is on his Walkabout, which is a right of passage for his belief system. Needless to say, guess who it doesn’t end well for.

And before I got to The Man Who Fell to Earth, I also saw Roeg’s first big “Hey, look at me” movie, Performance, which actually gave us an incredible, well, um, performance from a young, often nude, and sexy Mick Jagger.

But the most important takeaway for me from Roeg’s films was this. Do not tell your story in chronological order. Tell it in emotional order. If the thing that happens in normal Act 3 seems meaningless then, but can serve as set-up for later, then move it up. And if the thing from Act 1 that seems meaningless up front takes on power later, move it down.

Put them all together, and this is where my playwriting goes: Stories about big ideas that are still very plotted, but which also use fantasy and surrealism to explore emotional truths, and tend to not take place in chronological order. In fact, only one of my produced full-length plays takes place in literal time, and that happens to be the first one produced.

And so there you go. I constantly play with ideas, plots, emotions, and chronology. The big idea comes first, and I build the story from that via plots that are driven by emotions. Once that’s in place, I chop the story up and order it based not on when, but on how the emotions drive the timeline and the plot. And this is how four very different directors created my artistic vision.

(Not noted above, Terry Gilliam, who I didn’t realize really was an influence at first, but taught me the idea of not taking anything too seriously, least of all yourself, and also confirmed that I was playing the game of cut and paste creativity properly.)

So who are your major influences? What have you taken from them, and how do you use that? Tell us in the comments!

Momentous Monday: Don’t nobody bring me no bad news

Times may seem dark because, well, honestly, they are. The world is being torn by plague, my country may soon face another civil war or worse, and there’s no clear end in sight.

So, as a palate-cleanser, I want to take the opportunity of this April 27th to highlight a few good things that have happened on this day in history.

  1. 1981: Birth of the mouse

No, not Mickey. He’s a lot older than this. This date 39 years ago was the beginning of the revolution in computer interfaces that you are still using today. Only it wasn’t IBM or Apple who created it.

Nope. That would be the company whose name was once synonymous with photocopying things — i.e. the Google of their era — Xerox. And their mouse was created as a user interface for their Star workstation.

It was an inverted variation of the trackball, which had been first created in 1952. And it was called a mouse for reasons that are probably obvious — its shape, it crawls all over your mousepad, and it has a tail. Well, it did back then. Your modern mouse may not.

  1. 1759: Birthday break 1! Mary Wollstonecraft

You might know her by her married name, Mary Shelley, or you might not know her at all. But you no doubt know her most famous creation — Baron von Frankenstein and his monster.

Mary and her gang were basically the Instagram Influencers of their day. Young, hot, into questionable games and drugs, and very, very emo. They invented the entire genre of gothic romance. One wild weekend involving Mary, her husband Percy, her step-sister Clair, a perverted doctor named John Polidori, and the notorious Lord Byron led to a bunch of famous fiction and the possible creation of the monster movie genre.

Frankenstein wasn’t the only thing created that weekend. Poilidori created the vampire at the same time. And it was all a bunch of kids hanging out in a really expensive house and daring each other to do wilder and wilder shit.

Hm. Sound familiar? Although I really doubt that Danny Duncan or the either of the brothers Paul are ever going to give us great literature.

Here’s the trailer for the Ken Russell film inspired by that momentous weekend. Yes, it’s a cheesy 80s trailer. The film itself is actually very good. Strangely, given the subject-matter, it’s actually one of Russell’s more understated efforts.

The real reason to remember Mary, though, is that she was a strong and early advocate for what eventually became the feminist movement.

  1. 1992: Madam Speaker

You would think, given that the place has been (and currently is) run by a few famous queens, and had their first female prime minister in 1979 — who proved that she could be as evil and cold-hearted as any man — you’d think that Britain would have had a woman in charge of the House of Commons a lot sooner than the early 90s, but that was not the case.

The first female speaker was Betty Boothroyd, an MP from the liberal Labour Party, who assumed office about two years after Thatcher ended her reign as Prime Minister. Currently, she is one of only two still-living Speakers of the House. Compare this to the U.S., where four of our past Speakers of the House are still alive.

Fun fact: the Speaker of the House does not actually have to be an elected Representative. The position goes to whomever is elected by a majority of votes when the new session starts. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical because, to date, no non-member has ever been elected.

As for Baroness Boothroyd, her great interest was in getting young people interested in politics. She voluntarily resigned her position as Speaker in October, 2000 to great acclaim.

  1. 1932: Birthday Break 2! Casey Kasem

While the idea of social media influencers might seem new, it’s not. The main difference is that the means of production have become so available to everyone, so that some kid in their bedroom actually can have an impact via Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube, or even Facebook when their proud grandma shares.

But before the internet, there was TV, and in a different era the big influencers were the VJs on MTV, guiding the musical tastes and interests of their audiences back when the “M” in “MTV” actually meant “Music” and not “Merde.”

It’s no accident that the first thing that aired on MTV was the song Video Killed the Radio Star, considering that MTV and their VJs wouldn’t even exist with radio and their DJs.

Side note: Yes, the concept of “vlog” being a portmanteau of “video” and “blog” comes directly from the idea of a “Video Jockey.” Of course “vlog” itself is a triple portmanteau, since “blog” is short for “weblog.” And Video Jockey comes from Disc Jockey, the radio equivalent, the idea being that their job was to hold the reins on the records they played. Modern DJs take the riding a little more literally with scratching and skipping and other techniques that physically manipulate the disc, whether actual vinyl or just an analog controller of digital sound. Personally, if I were a DJ, I’d go with the analog device over the actual vinyl any day for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I wouldn’t have to haul around vinyl with it inferior sound quality and easy ability to be damaged.

Back when Casey Kasem was an influencer, though, he didn’t really have that choice. Well, okay, later in his career, he would have been able to jump from vinyl to CD. Cassette was never a choice in radio because of the inability to easily cue a track on the fly But his big influence was in creating something called American Top 40 fifty years ago, in 1970.

Oh, sure. You’ve heard of it with a different host, but it was Kasem who presided over it (on and off) for (oddly enough) almost 40 years, and it was the musical tastemaker of its day. But that’s not all he did.

Right before he started AT40, he had this little voice-acting gig in some cartoon show called Scooby-Doo Where Are You? as a character known as Shaggy. It was another endeavor he stuck with for 40 years, although with a slight break.

Finally, being of Lebanese descent, Kasem was active in working to support the rights of Arab-Americans, probably the least well-known part of his public life. Sadly, he died in 2014, but he left a lot of positive behind.

  1. 1994: Enfranchised at last

Other things you would have expected to have happened a lot earlier: black South Africans finally got to vote for the first time in the elections of 1994. For perspective, that was two years after Bill Clinton was first elected president in the U.S.

And it’s an object lesson in how a tiny minority can keep the vast majority oppressed as long as they control the money, the media, and the political system — which the white Afrikaners did for centuries, although it got really bad when apartheid came along in the late 1940s.

If you don’t remember the South African election of 1994, you’re probably aware of the outcome. Anti-apartheid activist and long-time political prisoner Nelson Mandela was elected president of the country. Yes, despite rumors to the contrary, he was quite alive.

To put this in perspective for Americans: this would have been like Martin Luther King being thrown into prison on trumped-up charges of sedition or treason in the late 50s, being released around 1990, and going on to be elected president in 1992.

Oh… and that whole part where black people weren’t allowed to vote until 1992 as well, instead of technically having been allowed to vote since the 15th Amendment in 1870 (men) or the 19th Amendment 50 years later (women) complicated things

I say technically because, well, racists gonna racist, and come up with all kinds of tricks to keep people from voting.

Oh, wait. I said “no bad news.” So the good news here is that on this day in 1994, changes in South Africa led directly to one of the opposition leaders finally being put in the position of authority. And what happened there and how is an object lesson to all of us today to be aware, forewarned and forearmed to prevent the whole “oppression and suppression” part from happening again here soon.

So there are just a few good things that happened on April 27th throughout history. I know you’re probably still stuck at home right now. Well, if you have smart leaders who haven’t yet cut down the number of new cases or deaths while increasing testing, anyway, then you’re still stuck at home.

Take a moment, then, to make one small good memory for this April 27th. Contact a friend through text, PM, Zoom, or even good ol’ phone call, and let them know you’re thinking of them. Write something, read something, learn something new. Go through that old box of random crap that’s been in the back of your closet forever.

There’s a universe of possibilities in the place you’re stuck in now. That’s the good news. Explore it to its fullest. You don’t need to go outside yet. There will be plenty of time for that later. As for now?

Bring yourself your own good news. It’s all literally within your physical reach right this second.

Image: Zane Gray Cabin, (CC BY 2.0)