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Nelson Mandela, the South African prisoner of conscience who became the first president of the post-apartheid South Africa, has died at his home, at the age of 95. He had been ailing for some time.
Mandela was one of the few people one can say was truly great; a paragon of strength, dignity, forgiveness and wisdom, he endured terrible adversity for his cause, and when he won, he eschewed vengeance and led his country into a (relatively) peaceful new era. And here is the Onion's take.
At some point today, the world's political leaders will pay tributes to Mandela. When David Cameron, the UK's Prime Minister says his words (as he must, regardless of whether it'd be the decent thing to do), let it not be forgotten that the Federation of Conservative Students of which he was a senior member at the time called for Mandela to be executed as a terrorist.
It seems that yesterday quite a few notable people died; among them:
Sad news: Christina Amphlett, frontwoman of post-punk rock band The Divinyls, inspiration to many, first crush to many more and arguably the archetypal Australian Rock Chick, has died in New York, aged 53. The Divinyls are best known outside of Australia for I Touch Myself, though in their career had many more hits, including Pleasure And Pain, Back To The Wall and Science Fiction, through the 1980s and until their generation was displaced by the JJJ Grunge Revolution (many of whose key players, like Adalita from Magic Dirt, were inspired by her).
It's fair to say that Amphlett lived the lifestyle. Born in industrial Geelong, she left home in her teens and spent time busking in Europe, at one point being imprisoned for three months for singing in the streets; she was born at the right time to be there when punk broke, and her artistic career embodied its values—aggressively forward, unapologetically raunchy and cuttingly honest, expressing both toughness and vulnerability; her voice certainly did.
Amphlett was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and breast cancer in 2010; had it only been one of the two, she'd probably had more of a chance, but apparently the MS made radiotherapy impossible.
There is more coverage, including quotes from other musicians who knew her, here
Contentious former British Prime Minister
and inventor of the soft-scoop ice cream*, Margaret Thatcher, is fit for work dead. Thatcher is best remembered for her contributions to music, having inspired at once the vitriol of a generation of post-punk musicians and a market for smooth wine-bar soul for a rising generation of moneyed sophisticates, and also having laid the ground work for Britain's rave culture by ensuring an abundance of empty warehouses. That and the smashing of the mining unions, support for the South African apartheid regime and Chilean libertarian dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Section 28 law suppressing the discussion of homosexuality in schools and by councils, the Poll Tax and the resulting extinction of the Conservative Party in Scotland (a society to which Burkean conservatism, as a world-view, was not traditionally alien), mass privatisation, economic precarity for a large (non-Tory-voting) section of the population, soaring inequality (Britain's Gini coefficient rose from 0.28 at the start of her term to 0.35 in 1990, at the end of her term; it is now around 0.4), and cocaine replacing tea as the national drug of Britain some time around 1986.
Thatcher died following
a strike a stroke in a room at the Ritz; she was 87. She is survived by Nelson Mandela, whom she denounced as a terrorist, her son, motor racing enthusiast and Equatorial Guinea coup plotter Sir Mark Thatcher, and, of course, her economic policies, which now form the backbone of all major political parties in the UK, and UKIP as well. Now there is, indeed, no alternative.
A state funeral was proposed by the New Labour government a few years ago when Thatcher's frailty came up; there was also a petition to privatise it last year, as to better honour Thatcher's views. Meanwhile, a mausoleum, a towering pyramid of black onyx, is being constructed in Canary Wharf, where the great lady can spend eternity in the centre of the thrumming hive of finance she so loved in life.
A few years ago, there were also stickers circulating around London, presumably put up by some left-wing group or other, announcing a mass party in Trafalgar Square the Saturday after Thatcher died. I imagine, though, that, in this day of kettling and protest suppression, Trafalgar Square will be as conspicuously free of any political statements as Tienanmen Square is on any 4 June.
Russian singer Eduard Khil has died at the age of 77, following a stroke. Khil is apparently well known in Russia, though attained belated fame outside of Russia when a musical number he performed on Soviet television in the 1970s, in which he sung nonsense lyrics in a rich baritone over luxuriantly loungy background music, but above all with an infectious sense of good cheer, ended up on YouTube and became a meme. The song's original title was apparently “I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home” (in Russian, of course), though it was changed by the censors and replaced with the immortal words “Trololololo lololo lololo, hahahahaha!”, which probably contributed much to its global appeal some decades later.
Khil lived to see his song belatedly become an internet sensation, and was even filmed commenting on covers of it from all over the world; one partial parody of this song was performed by the German actor Christoph Waltz on television.
Robin Gibb, one of the members of long-running pop group the Bee Gees, has died, aged 62. While they're best known for some overexposed disco-pop from the 1970s, Robin, by all accounts the eccentric of the group, was a much more interesting figure than one might believe:
"I'm also doing the musical score for a film called Henry the Eighth," he told Fabulous, "and I'm making my own film called Family Tree. It involves a man, John Family, whose grandfather is caught trying to blow up Trafalgar Square with a homemade bomb wrapped in underwear." In July 1969 the NME announced Robin was "fronting a 97-piece orchestra and a 60-piece choir in a recording of his latest composition To Heaven and Back, which was inspired by the Apollo 11 moonshot. It is an entirely instrumental piece, with the choir being used for 'astral effects'." Robin Gibb was still only 19 years old.
Age barely mellowed his eccentricity. In the 90s he left his brothers speechless when, during an interview with all three of them on Howard Stern's show, he announced his wife Dwina was bisexual and they enjoyed threesomes. He quickly said it was a joke, then changed his mind again a week later. With their cocooned, peripatetic upbringing (Isle Of Man, Manchester, Australia), the Gibbs never had an instinct for cool pop moves. And Robin Gibb's music - untutored and isolated (I can picture most of it being written on a harpsichord in a dimly lit 12th century living room) – has come out without any of the usual dulling rock'n'roll filters. Who else could have written Odessa (City on the Black Sea) about a man stranded on an iceberg, writing a letter to his wife who loves "that vicar more than words can say"? Frankly, no one.Gibb was predeceased by his twin brother and bandmate Maurice Gibb, who died in 2003.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Yauch taught himself to play bass in high school, forming a band for his 17th birthday party that would later become known the world over as Beastie Boys.
With fellow members Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Adrock" Horovitz, Beastie Boys would go on to sell over 40 million records, release four #1 albums–including the first hip hop album ever to top the Billboard 200, the band's 1986 debut full length, Licensed To Ill–win three Grammys, and the MTV Video Vanguard Lifetime Achievement award. Last month Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Diamond and Horovitz reading an acceptance speech on behalf of Yauch, who was unable to attend.In addition to his role in the Beastie Boys (who started off as a crossover between hardcore punk and rap, taking turns to rhyme cartoonishly crude lyrics over sampled Led Zeppelin breaks, and then evolved into something more subtle though no less dynamic, even putting out two albums of instrumental loungecore grooves), Yauch, a practicing Buddhist, also made and distributed films and was involved in activism, organising a benefit concert for the rights of Tibetans under Chinese rule and, more recently, marching with the Occupy movement.
Meanwhile, Pitchfork has a piece on how MCA offered a relatable blueprint for growing up, in both his art and his life:
The Beastie Boys turned curiosity into a form of art. They wanted to know more about what was around them and learn everything they could about what wasn't. Forget about Kurt Cobain for a second: For kids like me, the Beastie Boys invented the 90s. Technology was changing fast and the world was shrinking rapidly. Between their music and label/magazine Grand Royal, the Beasties showed how to reach out and scoop up all the best parts. New York hip-hop and punk rock, Japanese pop, Jamaican dub-- all of it could be gathered and re-assembled into something that reflected who you were. This sort of cultural mixing was nothing new, but the Beastie Boys brought it to the mainstream. They were ambassadors, but their hipness didn't look down on anybody. It felt inclusive.
MCA was the spiritual center of the trio, even before he became a student of Tibetan Buddhism. There was a certain kind of Beastie Boys track that I liked to call a "State of MCA" dispatch, starting with "A Year and a Day" from Paul's Boutique. The group was known for its 70s references and corny jokes, but these MCA songs hinted at a yearning for something deeper.The piece ends with a piece of everyday philosophy from MCA:
There's an instrumental on Ill Communication called "Futterman's Rule". The only lyrics listed in the booklet say, "When two are served, all may eat." It turned out to be a reference to a community ritual that was dear to Yauch. In a later issue of Grand Royal, there was a short piece explaining that Gene Futterman was a professional chef and a friend of Adam Yauch's family. He was known for his large dinner parties and when he brought food in from the kitchen he would tell his guests: "When two are served, you eat!"
The elegance of Futterman's Rule does lend it a hint of spirituality. One eats one's food while it is hot, observing dinner as a natural continuum (instead of the top-down, "no-one-eats-until-the-chef-is-ready" hierarchical model that dominates most households). At the same time, no one eats alone (it is only once two people are served, and a social base is established for those with food, that one may begin to eat). If form follows function, the Rule is built to travel. So give it a try. And if you like it, tell a friend.Meanwhile, Stereogum has 20 Great Adam Yauch Moments.
Adam Yauch leaves behind a wife and daughter, two living parents and a world that's slightly less enlightened than when he walked on it. Here passes a true mensch.
Legendary British cartoonist Ronald Searle has passed away, aged 91. Searle had survived imprisonment in horrific conditions by the Japanese army on the Burma Railway (a fellow prisoner remarked that one would only know that he was dead if he stopped drawing) and went on to an illustrious career, creating the St. Trinian's books and the tales of the grotesque, recalcitrant schoolboy Molesworth, and also drawing for publications including Punch, Le Monde and Le Figaro. Searle apparently kept drawing right up to the end. His friend, the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (whom you may know from his work on Pink Floyd's The Wall) has a eulogy:
Ronald had a wonderfully dry sense of humour. Once a year, he would pay the restaurant with a picture: pigs going into the kitchen looking doubtful, or snails crawling on to people's plates. We would always find pictures waiting for us at the table: Jane would have a drawing of a cat wearing a ballerina's outfit or putting lipstick on in front of a mirror; and I would have a bearded, scruffy cat, scratching his head, pens and paper laid out, waiting for his cartoon to come.There's a gallery of images here and another, of drawings he made for his wife during her illness, here.
Kim Jong Il, the God-Emperor of North Korea, is dead, apparently having suffered a heart attack aboard his private train whilst on the way to offer guidance to workers. All of North Korea has reportedly erupted in mass hysterical wailing as the people are struck by the enormity of their loss and/or the consequences of being insufficiently emphatic in their grief. Meanwhile, the rest of the leadership is off the hook over its pledge to make North Korea prosperous by 2012; if the death of Kim Il Sung is any precedent, there will be a three-year period of national mourning and austerity.
What follows the death of Kim Jong Il is less certain; while there is no official designated successor, his son Kim Jong-un seems to be positioned as the likely candidate, with the state news agency instructing the nation to "faithfully revere" him. Whether the newly ascended God-Emperor will seek a rapprochement with the outside world or to consolidate his stature with belligerent acts, or indeed whether there will be a leadership struggle of any sort within the politburo, remains to be seen.
It is perhaps ironic that, over the past few days, we have witnessed the death of a prominent atheist and critic of despots, then that of a dissident playwright who led the dismantling of a Communist regime and its replacement by a democracy, and finally that of a nominally Communist dictator venerated as a living god. Almost as if there was a god and s/he was hosting a panel show.
Here passes a great man: Vaclav Havel, the Czechoslovakian dissident playwright who led the pro-democracy movement and became the country's first (and last) post-Communist President, then continuing to be President of the newly formed Czech Republic, has died aged 73.
Christopher Hitchens, incandescent polemicist, serially promiscuous believer (lapsed Marxist turned neoconservative warhawk, adherent of various religions turned outspoken atheist) and bon vivant, has died. He was 62.
Hitchens was known for his broadsides against various public figures, from villains like Henry Kissinger to alleged paragons of virtue like Mother Teresa (whom Hitchens described as a ghoulish political opportunist, feeding off and perpetuating the misery of the poor) and the Dalai Lama.
The Independent's Oliver Duggan has written a tribute to Hitchens:
For Hitch, it seems to those of us who truly admired him, was not simply an atheist, a polemicist, and least of all a contrarian. Nor was he a poster boy the left, a banner boy for Iraq, or the harbinger of the apocalypse. He was, in a small part, the 21st century’s answer to the enlightenment. He stood, first and foremost, for thought. Thought that would always – by definition – question inherited truth and inherited experts.Thought that could break the chain and cull the living flower. In fact, he can be - and often is – mentioned alongside Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, Orwell and Trotsky not for what he thought, but for how he thought.And other eulogies from Ana Marie Cox (you may remember her from suck.com), his close friend the writer Ian McEwan, and Christopher Buckley (the son of arch-conservative William F. Buckley). And here is a counterpoint:
Christopher Hitchens was a pompous buffoon, fueled by booze and cigarettes, and an advocate of an often-despicable worldview. You can dislike him for his repellant views. You can hate his loathsome behavior. You cannot pretend the world didn't just lose a one-of-a-kind voice in our culture. There's nobody left like Christopher Hitchens.I disagreed with a lot of Hitchens' points of view (his support for the Bush administration's war in Iraq, for example, not to mention his somewhat chauvinistic contention that women are incapable of being funny; anyone who has read one of Zoe Williams' columns in the Guardian will have seen disproof of this); his righteous eviscerations of all manner of nonsense, however, were a wonder to behold. Over and above this, he had integrity, and was willing to revise his views when faced with new evidence rather than sticking to an ossified dogma. When challenged on his assertion that waterboarding isn't torture, he had himself subjected to it, and then publicly recanted his previous conviction, which is something it takes a real mensch to do.
Hitchens now rests forever in the noodly embrace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; he will be missed (it is perhaps a great tragedy that we won't see his eulogy for Henry Kissinger). For what it's worth, longform.org has a selection of his essays.
Two culturally influential Czechs have died in the past two days: Ivan Jirous, 67, who had been the artistic director of the underground psychedelic rock group The Plastic People of the Universe, which was a core of the more absurdist wing of the dissident movement after the Soviet-backed crackdown on the Prague Spring, and Zdenek Miler, 90, creator of the cartoon character Krtek (or "Little Mole").
Rapper, actor and performer Heavy D has passed away, aged 44. Born Dwight Arrington Myers in Jamaica, Heavy D made a name for himself in the New Jack Swing movement of the late 1980s and saw success during the period when hip-hop first hit the pop charts.
Yet another titan of computing has died; this time, John McCarthy, the artificial intelligence pioneer and inventor of the Lisp programming language. He was 84.
Dennis M. Ritchie (better known, as many of the ancients were, by his UNIX login, in this case, dmr) has reportedly passed away in Murray Hill, New Jersey, after a long illness. Ritchie was, of course, co-inventor (with Brian Kernighan) of the C programming language (in which a huge proportion of the world's software is written, and which influenced a lot of other languages, from direct descendants like C++ and Objective C to every language which uses C-like syntax), and co-creator (with Ken Thompson) of the UNIX operating system (originally started as a personal project, and now the architectural template for everything from the internet server which is sending you this web page to, quite probably, your mobile phone). Ritchie's influence on the technologies on which our world is built is huge.
Steve Jobs has passed away today, shortly after resigning from the post of CEO of Apple due to failing health. Jobs had battled pancreatic cancer, and had received a liver transplant, a combination which didn't do much for his odds. He was 56.
It's hard to overestimate Jobs' influence on the world; the timeline of his life is liberally scattered with world-changing achievements. The Apple II helped popularise home computing, and was responsible for a lot of people learning to program. The Mac popularised graphical interfaces. (It was neither the first GUI—that was Xerox PARC's Alto prototype—nor the most popular one—that was Microsoft's Windows, which to no small extent imitated the Mac—though it was the one which popularised the concept.) After Jobs was ousted from Apple, his next project, NeXT, was daring and beautiful, though commercially unsuccessful; however, Sir Tim Berners-Lee did create what became the World-Wide Web on one. Years later, Apple's reinvigorated Macintosh line, infused with the technical DNA of NeXT, helped to break Microsoft's stranglehold over computer standards and the leaden years of stagnation that had ensued. Meanwhile, the iPod—also not the first MP3 player by a long shot—displaced the Sony Walkman as the iconic personal audio player, and iTunes forced the hand of the recording industry. The iPhone, meanwhile, transformed mobile phones, both in industrial design (one only has to compare early Android prototypes, with their square screens and BlackBerry-esque QWERTY keypads, to the plethora of touchscreen phones which followed) and the degree of control phone carriers had over phones (which, before the iPhone, were routinely locked down to do only what the carrier saw as profitable to let its users do) and the availability of mobile internet access (which, once again, followed a walled-garden model, preserving the carrier oligopolists' profits, again at the price of stagnation). Then came along the iPad, succeeding spectacularly where tablet-shaped computers had failed for decades. And, outside of that, Jobs helmed Pixar, which produced computer-animated feature films which were not only massively popular and technologically innovative but critically acclaimed. It beggars belief to think of one human being as having had that much impact on the world, over and over again; had he had a few more decades of life, there would doubtlessly have been more.
Poly Styrene, the frontwoman of seminal 1970s teenage punk band X-Ray Specs, has passed away, aged 53. Styrene (real name: Marianne Elliot-Said) turned to punk rock in 1976, and managed to not only question the norms of bourgeois society and the modern condition but to subvert the macho orthodoxies of punk rock, and inspired a few generations of outspoken female rock'n'roll artists; were it not for her, punk would have been a less interesting phenomenon.
Styrene had finished a solo album, Generation Indigo, last year when she was diagnosed with cancer. There is an interview she did with the Guardian a month ago here.
News of the untimely death of Trish Keenan, frontwoman of experimental library-pop band Broadcast, has sent shockwaves through the music community. The Line Of Best Fit has a thoughtful tribute:
If it was Stereolab who coined the term “space age bachelor pad music”, Broadcast were rewiring the room’s electrics to match the lush mood. The sumptuous elegance of Keenan’s coolly delivered vocals were key to installing the mood, sometimes gentle and wistful, fragile without being slight, at other times somnambulent, haunting and bold. Her lyrics could be cryptic, partly due to her occasional utilisation of automatic writing, but often bore weight as snapshots of love and society.
In the last few years Broadcast have been increasingly cited as an influence by pop-minded sonic adventurers. Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox recorded and toured with them in his Atlas Sound guise, of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes listed Haha Sound as his favourite album of the 00s when asked by Ragged Words, and Animal Collective booked them for their curation of All Tomorrow’s Parties this coming May after they played a stand-out set at the Matt Groening curated weekend last year.And here is a roundup of some illustrious indie musicians' responses to the news.
Meanwhile, someone has posted a music mix in tribute here, consisting of 17 tracks in a sympathetic direction. Alas, there is no track listing, but it's largely in a psychedelic direction.
The world will be a poorer place without her.
Malcolm McLaren is dead. A committed Situationist and/or Frommian marketing character, McLaren (who grew up in Stoke Newington and dropped out of St. Martin's College) managed proto-punk glam rockers the New York Dolls, was instrumental in the creation of the Sex Pistols phenomenon (and the transformation of punk rock into a mass-media phenomenon), before going on to create Bow Wow Wow, toy with the idea of paedophilia as a pop-music marketing shtick, and bring electro-hip-hop out of the New York ghetto and into the mainstream in the form of Buffalo Gals, and then unsuccessfully trying to do the same for Puccini and equally unsuccessfully running for Mayor of London. I last heard of him talking about getting some chiptune artists together to work on an album organised by him, to be titled Fashionbeast. He may or may not have been a good bloke, depending on whom you ask, but one cannot say that he wasn't an interesting character.
McLaren is reported to have died in either Switzerland or New York, depending on which report you believe, this morning after a long struggle with cancer. He was 64.
Here is Alexis Petridis' eulogy for McLaren.
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Australian post-punk guitarist Rowland S. Howard passed away today, after a battle with liver cancer. He was 50.
And bound for Valhalla today: gonzo music journalist Steven Wells (who wrote for the NME back when it was more interesting), actress Farrah Fawcett (who was most famous in the 1970s) and fairytale prince and self-styled "King of Pop" Michael Jackson.
Cult author JG Ballard has passed away, aged 78. Ballard is best known for his novels of utopian modernism spawning postmodern dystopias, and extreme and bizarre behaviours arising from the modern, technologically-enhanced human condition, so much to the point that the adjective "Ballardian" emerged to denote those sorts of things.
American soul singer Isaac Hayes has died at 65. He was once best known for the Theme From Shaft, though now most people would know him primarily for playing the Chef on South Park (a husky-voiced black lothario whose characterisation undoubtedly owes a good deal to his contemporary Barry White) and quitting this show after it made fun of his religion, Scientology. Most people probably won't remember him for having been a Ghanaian king with the title Nene Katey Ocansey, though he was.
Tony Wilson, founder of groundbreaking independent label Factory Records, has passed away at the age of 57. Wilson was responsible for bringing Joy Division/New Order to the world's attention, and arguably kickstarted dance/club culture in Manchester by opening the Hacienda nightclub (the first US-style superclub in Britain). Obituaries at the BBC, The Guardian (written by Paul Morley, no less), and Pitchfork.
Update: Momus has a tribute to Tony Wilson; he, of course, is full of praise for the great man, and also reveals that "Hairstyle Of The Devil" was about a (bizarre) love triangle involving himself and Peter Saville's ex-girlfriend Nicki Kefalas, who was handling Factory's promotions.
Keith Girdler, frontman of Sarah Records band Blueboy and subsequent bands Lovejoy and Beaumont, has apparently passed away recently. From an email circulating:
It is with immense sadness that I have to inform you that my dearest friend Keith Girdler died on May 15th 2007. Keith passed away peacefully after a recent deterioration in his condition - he was diagnosed with cancer in July 2004. Keith was a truly special person and I know that many people will hold very fond memories of their time spent in his company. Keith is survived by his partner, his siblings and their families. We are all devastated at the tragic loss of Keith and we will miss him enormously.
Keith was known to many as the singer in Blueboy - a brilliant band who are still seen as influential many years since they last released a record. He was a gifted songwriter and he had a beautiful voice. I considered Keith to be not only my best friend but an amazingly talented person. It was a huge privilege to know him. Despite continuing to release records with his other groups Arabesque, Beaumont, Lovejoy and The Snowdrops, Keith's focus shifted away from music in recent years. He enjoyed a successful career, first by training as a qualified social worker and then developing a skilled role as Volunteer Services Manager for Age Concern Eastbourne. He was passionate about his work and the need to stand up for some of the most vulnerable elderly people in our society. Keith was exteremly brave and he continued in his work for as long as possible during his illness. I know that Keith was very highly regarded by his colleagues and the people for whom he provided care and support in his work. He was a selfless and gentle person who genuinely affected everyone he knew with his warmth, kindness, humility and humour.
Keith wanted to be remembered, to use his own words, with 'happiness and smiles' - which for those of us fortunate enough to have known him, will come all too easily despite our grief.
Words cannot really come close to describing the feelings we have about Keith. However, I know that many people will want to express their sorrow at this news and their sympathy to his family and friends. If you would like to send a message of condolence, or share your memories of Keith, please send an email to snowboundipc (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk.
Messages and tributes to Keith will be published online in the near future, when a suitable web location has been established.
Richard Preece May 22 2007
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And another one exits this world; Kurt Vonnegut, author of Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five and chronicler of the absurd, has died, a year after coming out of retirement to write a book, A Man Without A Country, bitterly denouncing the state of America under Bush.
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