Friday, October 7, 2011

Today in Pop Culture History: Nevermore and Never Again

7 October 1849: Edgar A. Poe, who was found delirious and raving (natch) on the streets of Baltimore three days earlier, died in Baltimore. No one knows for sure what killed him. Again I say, natch. His bloody fingerprints are all over pop culture, having either invented or greatly popularized the short story (sitcoms!), the detective story (procedurals!) and sci-fi (he would have been a fan of Lost). His life (and death) inspired Matthew Pearl's novel The Poe Shadow, as well as the upcoming detective series Poe, and film The Raven, which stars John Cusack!

It will make you cry. It should.
7 October 1998: Matthew Shepherd, a twenty-one-year old college student, was found severely beaten and hanging from a barbed wire fence in Laramie, Wyoming. He died from his injuries five days later. He had been tortured and murdered due to his sexual orientation. In addition to the legislative response, there was a pop cultural one. Artists including Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, and Tori Amos wrote songs about Matthew, and several films were made about the tragedy. One, The Laramie Project, is often performed as a play.

7 October 1952: American Bandstand, a music performance show most often associated with its Dorian Gray-esque host Dick Clark, premiered. Until it went off the air in 1989, anyone who was anyone performed on its stage while teenage "regulars" danced below. We're talking acts that ranged from a-ha to Barry White. The show itself became a metonym for teenage culture itself, being referenced or parodied in films like Taxi Driver, Grease, Dead Poets Society, and Can't Buy Me Love. My favorite fictional stand-in for AB has to be "The Corny Collins Show" from Hairspray.

7 October 1955: Allen Ginsberg read his era-defining poem "Howl" for the first time at Six Gallery in San Francisco. I bet it was awesome. Here's a recording of him doing it again a year or so later.

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