Tag Archives: Yankee Doodle Dandy

T.G.I.F. – Ten Tunes For Americans

Ding dong, the bitch is dead!

Yeah, I’m feeling patriotic this week. Who isn’t? Well, maybe not patriotic like Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” or James Cagney as George M. Cohan belting out “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. But after this week’s activities, why not let that freak flag fly a bit?

So here are Ten Tunes for Americans. Rock out with your face out!

(01) – American Girl (Tom Petty)

(02) – Dancing In The Street  (Martha and The Vandellas)

(03) – Celebration (Kool and the Gang)

(04) – Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young)

(05) – Get Together (The Youngbloods)

(06) – Pink Houses  (John Mellencamp)

(07) – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party (Beastie Boys)

(08) – People Got To be Free  (The Rascals)

(09) – Living In America (James Brown)

(10) – America (Simon and Garfunkel)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Daunting Dates

November 5th is one of those dates that makes one wonder whether the stars truly do align; a cluster of famous people’s births, deaths or accomplishments sharing the same 24 hour cycle albeit years apart. Not ready to believe my always-too-generically-positive horoscope just yet, but whether coincidence or fate, there’s no denying the facts.

Actually, it’s one of those days where I could have lowered the bar and listed another two dozen people famous for one thing or another. But when you combine the man who popularized slapstick comedy, a rebel drawn and quartered for trying to overthrow a government, one of the most ferocious rock’n’roll talents of the 70s and 80s and…hell…the man who invented time travel, why lower your standards?

So here are Ten Daunting Dates from history, all of which occurred on November 5th. Have a great weekend!

(01) 1605 The Gunpowder Plot…a conspiracy of men try to blow up the House of Lords and put an end to big government; now we do this with Tea Parties. Of course today they commemorate the event and celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks. Brits love their irony.

(02) 1931 Ike Turner is born…We lost Ike three years ago, but his musical legacy lives on. A violent and misogynistic man, he nevertheless discovered a ton of musical talent – hello, Tina – and is one of the forefathers of rock’n’roll.

(03) 1941 Art Garfunkel is born…Yes, Paul Simon wrote all those brilliant songs, played the guitar and even sang well. But Artie had the voice of an angel and his harmonies made those songs come alive. The coda to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” still gives me goosebumps.

(04) 1942 George M. Cohan dies…known best as the patriotic composer of wartime anthems, Cohan dominated Vaudeville and Broadway and was one of the pioneers of musical comedy theatre. James Cagney won his only Best Actor statue for portraying him in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

(05) 1943 Sam Shepard is born…Brilliant playwright and actor, among many other talents.You know some of his plays like True West and Buried Child and his many acting roles (most famously Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff) but did you know his early science fiction play inspired Rocky Horror?

Cosmic American

(06) 1946 Gram Parsons is born…Hard to believe Parsons crammed it all in before he died at twenty-six, but you can trace Americana and Alternative Country music right back to his doorstep…not to mention the twang that the Rolling Stones ingested into their sound in the early 70s. A genius.

(07) 1946 Herman Brood is born…The junkie/porn star/rocker leapt to his death nine years ago leaving behind a legacy of music and art that sadly never found an audience in the states. But I will put Cha Cha up against any live album you have, anywhere,  anytime.

(08) 1947 Peter Noone is born…Noone – Herman of Herman’s Hermits to you – is still going strong. Touring the world sounding like a man half his age, he continues playing that string of classic 60s pop singles to audiences of all ages. Someone sign him and get him some Mike Viola songs to sing!

(09) 1955 Doc Brown invents time travel…oh hell, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Whatever he’s got to tell you, you’ll find out through the natural course of time…

(10) 1960 Mack Sennett dies…Fifty years ago, the man who gave us the Keystone Kops, Charlie Chaplin, W.C.Fields, Gloria Swanson, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin and Mabel Normand left this mortal coil. But his work is immortal, and if those names don’t all ring a bell you have some serious homework to do.

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Remembering James Cagney

Simply the best.

James Cagney died twenty-four years ago today. 

When I was a kid my Dad and I would watch a lot of movies together, and that’s where I first saw this pugnacious little punk light up the screen. It didn’t seem to matter what film he was in; when he was on camera he attracted your attention with laser-like intensity. I guess that’s what they call a movie star

The Fighting 69th

Dad loved war movies – still does – and I have vivid memories of watching The Fighting 69th several times (as Irishmen, that’s almost a requirement). Later I discovered What Price Glory and 13 Rue Madeline, which I guess weren’t in rotation on the three or four New York stations available at the time. And his performance in Mr. Roberts was also a classic, although that was a comedy. 

Angels With Dirty Faces

But it was the gangster films that were seared into my memory. Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces were the two we watched most often; stone-cold classics that I still enjoy today. The latter also featured The Dead End Kids, who I would later follow through their comedic incarnation as The Bowery Boys. Two others that rank alongside them in his canon are The Roaring Twenties and the iconic White Heat; how Cagney did not win the Academy Award for the latter is still a mystery. (He eventually won for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and deservedly so.) 

I learned a bit later that Cagney was constantly battling the studio system – and Harry Warner in particular –  to be able to have more control over his career. The studios treated actors like indentured servants back then, although that also meant that you were used in a lot of movies and even loaned out to other studios on occasion as a favor between moguls. If you had the magic, as they say, soon enough you’d get a chance to prove it. But Cagney was getting typecast and didn’t like it. 

Man of a Thousand Faces

As I was growing up I caught up with several that I had missed, including other genres like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Time of Your Life (which was perhaps my own favorite moment on a college stage). His fierce performance in Love Me Or Leave Me was thrilling; he had played many bad men before but his gangsters always had some charm; Martin Snyder was an unlikeable character. And I got to see Man of a Thousand Faces again and understand what a magnificent performance it was; Cagney as Lon Chaney being other characters. There’s a wordless scene where Cagney re-enacts a brutally deformed cripple being healed and given the ability to walk; it is a master class in acting

I respected Cagney the man almost as much as I admired Cagney the actor. He fought for better working conditions for actors in general (his own behavior inspired others to stand up for themselves) and was president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was a patriot and generously devoted his time and services in support of the troops long before it became fashionable (or a savvy career move). His marriage at 22 lasted sixty-four years until his death at 86. And he avoided the hoopla of Hollywood, buying a farm first in Martha’s Vineyard and later another north of New York City. He approached life on his own terms, supported causes and people without fanfare or fear and set the bar early for the transition to a new style of acting. 

Ragtime

When Cagney died in 1986 it wasn’t a shock, as he had been in poor health for many years. He all but retired from movies twenty-five years earlier, but did return to the big screen in 1981 to play a supporting role in Ragtime as the cantankerous Police Commissioner. But thanks to my Dad and those many nights enjoying his work together, he always seemed vividly alive to me. If I’m flipping channels today and come across a Cagney movie, I automatically lock in and watch it even though the odds are I can recite every line of dialogue from memory. 

I was thrilled when Warners finally started releasing classic Cagney films on DVD (perhaps in an upcoming TGIF  I will rank my ten favorites). But one of my great thrills was being able to record the many unreleased Cagney films that TCM aired during a month-long tribute to Cagney and sharing them with my Dad. He had no idea that these had even aired, and some of them (Taxi, The Strawberry Blonde) he hadn’t seen since we watched them together all those years ago. Sometimes payback isn’t a bitch. 


March 1986 was a tough month. I lost my Mom to cancer; she had never really been sick a day in her life and was not a drinker or smoker. She felt some discomfort that January and it was determined that she needed minor surgery which was supposed to be routine. When under the knife in early February it was discovered that she had cancer. The pre-operative scans missed because it was too small, but it was scattered throughout her liver like buckshot, which meant her bloodstream, which meant it was now invasive everywhere. She never left the hospital. Every time I think of her I’m amazed that twenty-four years seems both like a long time ago and also like yesterday. 

When I think back to my childhood I remember her sitting nearby as my Dad and I watched Cagney’s movies. She probably enjoyed some of them herself, but knew that Dads and sons need to bond over certain things, and she gave us that space. (That was my Mom in a nutshell – unselfish.) So as I warmly remember the man who is still my favorite actor of all time, I do the same for the two people who always supported me unconditionally. March is a little easier to take these days. 

Thanks, Mom & Dad.

James Cagney on IMDB and Wikipedia

James Cagney Online – UK site with info and trailers

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T.G.I.F. – Ten For Independence

Canada Day, Independence Day, freedom! Have a safe and happy holiday!

fireworks_animated-gif 

Marvin Gaye with his incredibly soulful version of the National Anthem.

Canadian Neil Young ably echoed American sentiment with “Ohio”

Ditto American John Fogerty with “Fortunate Son”

What can a poor boy do? Ask The Rolling Stones.

Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July“. The X classic.

John Mellencamp sings his own national anthem, “Pink Houses”

Yes, Independence Day was a bit cheesey. But Bill Pullman rules.

Jimi Hendrix, a former paratrooper, with “Freedom”

U2 with the anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

And last but not least – my favorite actor of all time, James Cagney. I grew up loving his work, especially gangster flicks like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces and White Heat, any of which should have brought him the Oscar for Best Actor. He only won one, and it was for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. No one danced like that before or since, and if you think that’s good, check this out from the same film.

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