Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Death...

The first stirrings of Spring is supposed to be a time of life, instead, it seems the opposite. Another influential singer has died, though I doubt many of you have heard of this one. Any bonafide Gen X'er would recognize her music immediately.

Her name is Blossom Dearie. You would recognize her for her "Number Eight" song and many others on Schoolhouse Rock. She was actually a very talented traditional Jazz musician. Retro junkies like me are grieving the loss.
I do not know the details...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secret History of Valentine's Day

Here we are once again, at the cusp of a holiday which most of us in our civilization have forgotten the meaning of. Sure, we all know what we do, but do we know why? Valentine's Day is that most universal celebrated holiday, which most people know the least about. It has become, for most people, simply an exercise in buying expensive chocolate, or the latest cartoon character inspired cards to give the children to pass out at school. What does it really mean? How did it get started?

It is believed that our modern holiday, now known as Valentine's Day, had it's beginning in ancient Rome. It was a fertility festival known as Lupercalia, widely known for the naughty antics of the Lupercals. These fellows would dress in goat skins and run through the streets, randomly striking all the young females they happened to come across with a long goat-skin thong. It was considered good fortune and a blessing to be struck by this thong, as it symbolically was intended to help bring about better fertlity for the girls. This being the case, the Lupercals did not really have to look hard to find girls to strike, in fact, they would willingly line up for it. Whether their clothes remained on was something else entirely. It was celebrated for an entire week, centered on February 13-15th, co-inciding with another festival dedicated to Juno. There were heavy romantic overtones for the whole festival. I am sure many guys willingly bellied up to the bar to become Lupercals for their favorite girl or girls.

This whole spectacle was a follow on to the Candlemas/Imbolg/GroundHog's day festivals. Where those festivals celebrated the first stirrings of spring, Lupercalia celebrated the first signs of rebirth from winter. In most Mediteranean climates, this was when things started to bud and show life. In more agrarian times, this sort of holiday helped the people connect with the circle of the seasons. When Rome later became Christianised, the feast of St. Valentine was placed in the middle of the Lupercalia festival, presumably to remind everyone to keep their clothes on, so that they would eventually forget the pre-christian holiday.

Nowadays, all we have to remember these flamboyant celebrations are lot's of hearts and little cupid's, who can be seen as socially acceptable representations of the original Pan of Lupercalian origin. It has become a celebration of love and romance, with no mention of the seasons (a loss no doubt contributed by our modern non-agrarian lifestyle).

Whatever it may mean to you, I cannot fault a holiday based on love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The End of a Legend

Several days ago, we lost a legendary performer, who happens to be a favorite of mine. Lux Interior, front-man for the iconoclastic, scary, and just plain strange band; The Cramps. The Cramps were Punk Rock before there was a name for it. Their sound combined the sounds of surf and rockabilly, with the shtick of Roger Corman B-Movies. They made being Dead cool, and helped usher in the Horror Punk and Death Rock movements. Lux and his dominatrix wife, Poison Ivy, started the band as a side project to her Domina work. They were actually funded by this work in the early years. They did not just act or dress the part; they WERE the part. They were truly strange and different people. They were also a huge influence on me, being a guitarist and general weird person myself.

Lux Interior was known for being the most chaotic, unpredictable, and just plain scary weird singer you would ever see live. Everyone else are pale imitations. There is a bass drum in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame that he put his head through during a performance. How cool is that? He was known for wearing women's high heels, and lot's of latex. He played sort of an aggressive male tart, while Poison Ivy played the evil Succubus pulling the strings. The roles were definitely reversed from the typical "cock" rock of the era (and our era as well). Lux Interior was 62 and kept playing and touring to the bitter end; The Cramps being one of the few bands to have never broken up, ever. He fronted the band from 1972 until his death on February 4th, of a pre-existing heart condition.

This is a true loss for REAL MUSIC.

Read more here...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Where did Groundhog's Day come from?

Seeing as yesterday was Groundhog's Day, maybe a little history lesson is in order. It seems this holiday has been around for a whole lot longer than the 200 years we in the US have been calling it Groundhog's Day. It was originally named Imbolg, and was one of the pre-christian Gaelic holidays. It is tied to the Irish goddess Brigid, and the whole point to it was to celebrate the lengthening of the daylight and first stirrings of Spring in the deep of winter from the Sun having been born on Yule. After the Christianisation of Ireland, and the beatification of Brigid into St. Brigid, the Holiday became St. Brigid's Day or Candlemas (the return of the light). The day was changed to the first, of course, because a good Christian could not celebrate on the same day as his pagan neighbors. Then he would be just like them, and most likely revert back to his old ways.

The origin of the Groundhog remains a bit of a mystery. It is said that the German immigrants to the US had a belief that the Groundhog would come out on this day to see the weather. If he saw his shadow, he would go back in for a six week snooze and we would have more winter weather. Where this came from, no one knows, but it sounds very Amish.

There is an older belief that comes from the Irish, which is sort of similar. This has to do with the Hag Goddess Cailleach. According to the Irish legend, she gathers her firewood during winter. If the winter is to last longer, she makes certain she has a bright sunny day to gather her wood. If the winter is to end soon, she sleeps through Imbolg because she needs no more firewood. Likewise, the day is cloudy because she does not need the sun to gather her wood.

I guess somewhere along the way someone mistook a Groundhog for a Hag?