By Stephanie Findlay - Monday, June 6, 2011 - 0 Comments
Elvis is a hero to most in Hungary
On Wednesday last week, Budapest’s city council voted in favour of naming Elvis Presley an honorary citizen. Presley endorsed the hard-fought but unsuccessful 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Communist government when, on Jan. 6, 1957, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and performed the gospel song Peace in the Valley in dedication to the Hungarian rebels. It was the last song of his set and would be his last time ever on the Sullivan show. “The reasons for honouring Elvis are not sentimental but political,” said István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest, according to the Guardian. Indeed, Sullivan collected donations from the TV audience, in the order of some 25 million Swiss francs, to donate to a Hungarian relief fund.
The honorary citizenship isn’t Hungary’s first commemoration of “the King.” Earlier this March, Budapest also named a park in his name, part of a nationwide effort to remove names given during the Communist era. It’s perhaps understandable why war and peace were on Presley’s mind. Two days after his Sullivan appearance, the Memphis draft board announced that the 22-year-old would inducted into the army.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 1 Comment
The man who murdered Martin Luther King in 1968 later found Ottawa extremely helpful
Musicologists still argue over which particular demon was on Robert Johnson’s mind when the blues giant wrote Hellhound on My Trail—booze, drugs, or Satan himself in hot pursuit of the soul Johnson promised him at that crossroads 120 km south of Memphis, Tenn. The uncertainty makes Hellhound on His Trail an apt title for Hampton Sides’s haunting tale of a later Memphis tragedy, the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King. The civil rights leader too had more than one pursuer after him. Right up to the moment James Earl Ray shot him, King would probably have said his worst enemy was J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI director’s decade-old campaign against a man he loathed wasn’t restricted to relentless wiretapping; the bureau sent King lurid recordings of the clergyman’s extramarital sex life along with a note suggesting suicide as the only way out. Yet once King was dead, the FBI turned on a dime, and entered one of its ﬁnest hours, a two-month manhunt that reverberated across the world, not least in Canada.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 3:19 PM - 0 Comments
Pop Prince Michael Jackson
Even more startling than the news of his death was its impact. Not since Diana has a celebrity’s sudden passing sent such a profound and lasting shock wave around the world. Michael Jackson’s career had been in the doldrums for over a decade, his reputation shattered by allegations of child molestation, his face ravaged by cosmetic surgery, his body wired on painkillers, his finances in shreds. Although his fans had remained fiercely loyal, snapping up tickets for a sold-out comeback tour that would never take place, for much of the world the King of Pop had become a sad freak—a literally pale shadow of the man-child who once moonwalked into our hearts. But after Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009, a miraculous resurrection began to take place.
As the media became consumed with conjuring his memory, parsing his significance and exploring the riddle of his death, it soon became clear that this celebrity death was shaping up to be an event on a par with the loss of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. In death, the moral scales were instantly tipped. Jackson’s iconic stature would trump his human frailties. The man once accused of being a pedophile and a predator was now cast as victim, possibly a victim of murder by lethal injection, perhaps even the target of a conspiracy. The disturbing pathology of Jackson’s personality—the enigma of the lost boy trapped in a man’s body—only enriched the myth. As a showbiz prodigy forever trying to reclaim the Neverland of his stolen childhood, he acquired tragic nobility. Like Elvis, Marilyn and Diana, here was another martyr to celebrity. Jackson had always dressed as if auditioning for divinity. And in the months that followed, pieces of him would be auctioned off like religious relics, from his diamond-encrusted socks to the white glove he wore in the 1983 Motown TV special—which is considered the “holy grail” of MJ memorabilia.
As a black man who seemed bent on erasing his race and blurring his gender, Jackson’s shape-shifting was mocked when he was alive. In death it only magnified his cultural importance. Just as Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger had plundered the moves and music of black R & B to create their burlesque empires of rock ’n’ roll, Jackson merged black music with white pop, but from the other side. He seemed intent on transforming himself into an alien creature, as if the only ethnicity that really mattered to him was extraterrestrial. With Thriller, the monster video that broke racial barriers and virtually invented MTV, he tried on a ghoulish identity that would follow him to the grave.
Jackson always fancied himself a movie star, or rather a movie character. And he received some posthumous poetic justice with the release of This Is It, the movie stitched together from rehearsal footage of the concert that never was. The film, which has grossed more than US$200 million, puts a lie to all the media speculation that his heart wasn’t in the tour, or that he no longer had the chops to pull it off. His ethereal falsetto was still intact, and his quicksilver dance moves still dazzled, as if he had no choice: the music flowed through his body like an electric current, animating every move with semaphore precision.
Had he lived to perform the tour, no doubt there would have been a concert movie, but it would have shown a slicker performer. The rehearsal footage reveals a softer, more circumspect Michael Jackson. Though the film is more hagiography than documentary, it offers a glimmer of vulnerability, and of the creative soul behind the Oz-like armour of the persona. Jackson comes across as an adult, quietly focused and firmly in command. The movie lends credence to what Elizabeth Taylor once told Oprah Winfrey, that Jackson was “highly intelligent, shrewd, intuitive.” There’s a lovely scene in which Jackson is trying to hold himself back. “Don’t make me sing out,” he pleads. “I gotta save my voice.” It’s a moment freighted with sad irony in a movie that redeems a monstrous icon by reminding us that he was only an artist.