This Week In History - Oct. 8-14

By: David Ball

This Week In History - Oct. 8-14
Cats

Cats opened at the Wintergarden Theatre in New York on October 8, 1982. By 1997, it had become the longest-running show in Broadway history. Well, there's no accounting for taste. Based on T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical won seven Tony Awards in 1983 and became yet another massive money-maker for its hobbit-looking composer. Besides shows in North America and Britain, dozens of other countries around the world have produced their own professional version of Cats. Now, I'm a firm believer that all humane societies should implement an anti-euthanasia policy. But in the case of these costumed, song-and-dance felines, I'll make an exception. BTW, Cats was surpassed as the longest-running Broadway show in 1996 by another Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera.   

The funeral for John Bonham was held at Rushock, Worcestershire parish church on October 10, 1980. "Bonzo" died of asphyxiation on September 25. He was 32. Tara Reid take note: the legendary Led Zeppelin drummer chocked on his own vomit while "sleeping off" yet another booze binge. Bonzo's infamous love of the drink rivaled that of other notable liver-beaters such as Dick Van Dyke, Jackie Gleason, Bon Scott and Keith Moon—the latter, unsurprisingly, was his drumming and drinking role model. How much alcohol did Bonham consume on his fatal day? According to some reports, Bonham's last day went something like this: "On September 24, 1980, John Bonham drank roughly sixteen shots of vodka with breakfast and continued to drink during the band's studio rehearsal. By the evening it was estimated that he had consumed approximately forty shots of vodka. After falling asleep, Bonham was put to bed where sometime during the night he aspirated his disgorge and asphyxiated. Plant's assistant Benji LeFevre and John Paul Jones found him dead the next morning." (findagrave.com) A sad footnote to an otherwise brilliant career. Although self-taught on the kit, Bonham remains one of rock's most talented and influential drummers. His skilled powerhouse playing dominated every Zeppelin album and after his death, he was deemed irreplaceable by his surviving band mates. Led Zeppelin rightly disbanded just two months after he was cremated.  

NBC's long-running sketch-comedy/variety program, Saturday Night Live, premiered on October 11, 1975. Featuring a cast of relative unknowns (dubbed the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players"), the first episode was hosted by George Carlin and the musical guests were Billy Preston and Janice Ian (Andy Kaufman was also featured where he did his infamous Mighty Mouse routine). As SNL progressed, so too did its irreverent humour and biting—and often ruthless—socio-political satire. From the get-go, the 90-minute live-to-air broadcast was a hit and continues to be a ratings-grabber today. Now in its 36th season, SNL remains occasionally relevant and sporadically funny, plus countless alumnae have gone on to greater fame such as Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Will Farrell. At least where genuine laughs are concerned, SNL has been on the decline for decades (well, let's just say there's been more downs than ups since the early '90s). And sometimes ongoing skits, whether funny or not, seem designed as potential movie-launching vehicles, although there have been a few winners such as The Blues Brothers and Wayne's World. But most turned out to be tremendous crap: It's Pat, MacGruber, The Ladies' Man, Night at the Roxbury.

Nearly as important as the show's comedy sketches—and savagely funny music parodies—are its musical guest spots. Since its inception, SNL has done a terrific job of booking edgy up-and-coming artists and/or more established acts. In fact, sometimes a music segment has saved a particularly bad episode. Here are some of the best SNL music moments, voted on by yours truly: Frank Zappa "I'm the Slime" (1976); Patti Smith "Gloria" (1976); Neil Young "Rockin' in the Free World" (1989), Elvis Costello "Radio, Radio" (1977) Pearl Jam "Alive" (1992), Simon & Garfunkel (1975), Nirvana (1992) and The Tragically Hip (ok, so their 1995 performance doesn't belong on this list, but it was awesome for fans of Canada's biggest band and to everyone that calls Kingston, Ontario their hometown, which includes the Hip, that particular episode's co-host, Dan Aykroyd, ... and me).

Inevitably, there have been some notable stinkers over the years. Here's some of the worst-ever SNL performances (the first three are in order):

#1 goes to fatally clueless Ashlee Simpson and her epic lip-sync malfunction (2006), which concluded with the fake-nosed, fake-blonde media-bloodsucker dancing like a rubber-legged scarecrow before abruptly leaving the stage (but really folks, her 30 second gig was her BEST-EVER live performance to date); 2nd and 3rd worst went-down in April 2010, courtesy of that dirty ditch-dweller, Ke$ha (who could ever forget seeing the drunk-tank skank gyrating around on stage in day-glo body paint whilst wailing like a wounded raccoon on "Your Love is My Drug"—or her decision to add harp and laser flourishes to that vile piece of sugar-free bubblegum, "TiK ToK); another qualifier was Canada's annoying weirdo, Nelly Furtado, who finally revealed her annoying weirdo self to American TV audiences (2006); and Kanye West's lip-sync malfunction in 2008 rivaled Ashlee's. This doesn't really qualify as music, but it deserves special recognition: Sinead O'Connor's 1992 tirade where she ripped the Pope's picture in half while saying: "Fight the real enemy". Her pro-abortion stance was shocking and ballsy, but perhaps she could have preached it more subtly and by using a different medium? Just saying...

Film and music great (but perhaps not the "gentlest" of fathers), Bing Crosby, died on October 14, 1977 of a heart attack at the age of 74. A native of Tacoma, Washington, Harry Crosby adopted the nickname "Bing" from his favourite movie, The Bingville Bugle, whose lead character was named Bingo. A respected actor (and golfer), influential crooner and post-war radio and recording pioneer, Bing sold more than 300 million records during his career and starred in over 50 movies, including the popular "Road" pictures he did with pal, Bob Hope. Crosby also won an Oscar for his role in 1944's Going My Way. Perhaps best known for the 1954 film White Christmas and his rendition of the title song, Crosby was a star on radio beginning in the early 1930s and became one of television's best-loved variety television personalities throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. And as unlikely as it seemed at the time, his David Bowie collaboration on "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy", from Crosby's 1977 TV special, went on to become a yuletide classic (filmed a month before Bing's death).


Video: "Your Love Is My Drug" by Ke$ha

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