Category Archives: Anniversaries

Saturday Night Video: George Harrison

“Here Comes the Sun,” live, Concert for Bangladesh, 1971.

The tenth anniversary of George Harrison‘s death passed earlier this week.

Harrison may have had the best post-Beatles career. His first few albums after the breakup of the band, All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World especially, arguably surpass anything that Lennon or McCartney managed on their own, even if the momentum of their earlier success seemed to take them further. It’s obvious in retrospect that by the time of Revolver (1966), Harrison was diligently working independently of Lennon and McCartney, whose music redefined the band with every new album; it’s just three years from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “A Day in the Life.” It’s therefore tempting to regard Harrison’s one or two contributions per album as pleasant enough add-ons to the manifest genius of his band mates. But Sgt. Pepper, for instance, would not really be the same album if it didn’t include “Within You, Without You”, around which the rest of the album pivots. In the same way, the increasingly expansive experimentation marked by Magical Mystical Tour cannot be fully appreciated without “Blue Jay Way.” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” meanwhile, is probably the most iconic song from the White Album, and Abbey Road simply could not be the album it is without “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.” Harrison’s songwriting contribution was relatively small, but it provided an often unpredictable twist to the band’s repertoire as a whole. The work that came afterwards, of course, was done on his own terms and in his own time, and the first decade of the post-Beatles world is hard to imagine without it.

Here’s some of Harrison’s later Beatles stuff, as well as selections from his solo career.

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Remembrance Day


Sgt. MacKenzie” by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie

Here’s Frye in “Hart House Rededicated,” delivered on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Hart House, University of Toronto, November 11th, 1969.  As often happens with Frye on public occasions, somehow everything comes together with a resonance that is immediately recognizable.  In this instance, the elements are the anniversary of Hart House, Remembrance Day, and our hard won, and too easily lost, sense of community.

Since 1919, a memorial service at the tower, along with an editorial in the Varsity attacking its hypocrisy and crypto-militarism, has been an annual event of campus life.  Certainly I would not myself participate in such a service if I thought that its purpose was to strengthen our wills to fight another war, instead of to fight against the coming of another war.  That being understood, I think there is a place for the memorial service, apart from the personal reason that many students of mine have their names inscribed on the tower.  It reminds us of something inescapable in the human situation.  Man is a creature of communities, and communities enrich themselves by what they include: the university enriches itself by breaking down the middle-class fences and reaching out to less privileged social areas; the city enriches itself by the variety of ethnical groups it has taken in.  But while communities enrich themselves by what they include, they define themselves by what they exclude.  The more intensely a community feels its identity as a community, the more intensely it feels its difference from what is across its boundary.  In a strong sense of community there is thus always an element that may become hostile and aggressive.

It is significant that our memorial service commemorates two wars, both fought against the same country.  In all wars, including all revolutions, the enemy becomes an imaginary abstraction of evil. Some German who never heard of us becomes a “Hun”; some demonstrator who is really protesting against his mother becomes a “Communist”; some policeman with a wife and a family to support becomes a “fascist pig.”  We know that we are lying when we do this sort of thing, but we say it is tactically necessary and go on doing it.  But because it is lying, it cannot create or accomplish anything, and so all wars, including all revolutions, take us back to square one of frustrated aggression in which they began.  (CW 7, 397)



Today is the fortieth anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, commonly known as Led Zeppelin IV, but more cultishly referred to as “Zoso,” after the stylized runic characters that appeared on the inside jacket of the vinyl release.

The most famous and (over)played song on the album is also the one most identified with the band, “Stairway to Heaven.” I can no longer listen to it: thousands of continuous radio-play exposures over the years are enough. The song I am posting therefore is the album’s opening track, “Black Dog.” Two things in particular make this song. First, the fact that it is so obviously derived from Delta blues, which was always the great engine that drives the band’s music; in this case the song’s call-and-response structure, especially the guitar riff that makes up the response. The second is the way that John Bonham drags the beat in the lead-up to the chorus. How? Why? It doesn’t make any sense other than in some unforeseeable way it works.

Rolling Stone‘s original review of the album here.

Guy Fawkes Day


“Remember, remember the fifth of November.”

It’s Guy Fawkes Day. Fawkes has recently become a ubiquitous symbol of dissent, thanks primarily to V for Vendetta. Here’s the film’s finale, in which Parliament is this time successfully destroyed. It will be interesting to see if Occupy London observes this traditionally celebrated anniversary tonight.

Appropriately, today is also Bank Transfer Day in the U.S.

Earlier post on Fawkes and demonic modulation here.

Wallace Stevens

Stevens reading “Sunday Morning”

Yesterday was the anniversary of Wallace Stevens‘ death (1879-1955).

Frye may have written more extensively on Stevens than any other 20th century poet, except for Yeats and Eliot. Unlike the other two, however, Stevens certainly seemed to be a strongly personal favorite: not just a canonical figure a scholar would have to deal with, but a poet to be read for pleasure.

Here he is in conversation with David Cayley:

Cayley: Another poet about whom you’ve written a good deal is Wallace Stevens. Was he someone who challenged you in some way?

Frye: When I was sixteen working in the Moncton public library, I used to pore over Untermeyer’s anthologies of modern American poets, and all there was of Stevens at the time was Harmonium, but that fascinated me. That had some of the same qualities that Eliot had, even though it was a very different kind of poetry. I found that Stevens was somebody who held up, whereas so many of the others, like the imagists, just dropped out of my sight. I didn’t cease to read them for pleasure, but Wallace Stevens remained something very central. Once the Collected Poems came out, I decided I had to write an essay on Stevens.

Cayley: Was that “The Realistic Oriole”?

Frye: Yes. I find myself quoting Stevens very frequently, so frequently that when The Great Code came out, the people who interviewed me by telephone from Sydney, Australia, wanted to know why the hell I’d put so much Wallace Stevens in, and I couldn’t tell them why, except that he just seemed to fit what I had to say.

Cayley: The reason I asked whether he challenged you was because he seems to me that some of those famous phrases you quote from Stevens — “the weight of primary noon,” “the dominant X,” “one confides in what has no concealed creator” — have a sense of the independent existence of nature and the sense of the imperialism of the imagination and the necessity of there being a struggle with no winner. It seemed to me that this might have challenged your sense of nature’s finally being taken inside the enlightened imagination.

Frye: Well, it was inside in him, too. Description without Place tells you don’t live in a natural environment at all. You live in a coating, the husk of human culture or civilization, and you take nature in through that.

Cayley: So there’s nothing in Stevens that necessarily challenged your view, although it may have extended it or given it a language?

Frye: It extended it, yes. It didn’t set up anything I could not very easily come to terms with.

Cayley: I think of Stevens as an atheist.

Frye: I think of Stevens as a Protestant. I know he turned Catholic on his death bed, but people do funny things on their death beds.

Cayley: A nature with “no concealed author,” the earth as “all of paradise that we shall know,” the idea of a “supreme fiction” — I suppose that as a young man reading Stevens lines like these suggested atheism to me.

Frye: He says “in the new world all men are priests,” and I think that he had a sense of man assigned to recreate the universe, just as Blake had. His attitude toward God was very like Emily Dickinson’s, who didn’t want to repudiate her faith but wanted to fight with it.

Cayley: What about the view of nature as uncreated?

Frye: I think he disliked the thought of God as an artist, because again that writes off the human artist.

Cayley: I know nothing about Stevens personally except that he worked in insurance, and obviously my knowledge of this poetry is sketchy too. Was he in fact a religious man in his own way?

Frye: Oh, I think so, yes. Look at what he says about Easter in Adagia in Opus Posthumous. He doesn’t very often commit himself to a religious statement, but it’s there, all right. (CW 24, 963-5)

Nirvana and Third Wave Feminism

Two of the anarchist cheerleaders from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” between takes

Amanda Marcotte, on the twentieth anniversary of the release of Nevermind, considers Nirvana’s feminist legacy.

Nirvana’s opening salvo in its assault on mainstream rock, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” did more than just wash away any musical relevance of bands like Poison and Winger, but it also laid waste to the sexism that fueled so much hair metal and other dude-centric hard rock. The first human faces you see in the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” belong not to the band members, but to a group of heavily tattooed women dressed like anarchist cheerleaders, a swift but brutal rebuttal to all the images of acceptable femininity that your average suburban teenager lived with at the time. Forget the hair metal groupies or the bubbly beauty queen cheerleaders. For girls watching this video, it was a revelation: You could instead choose to be a badass.

The cheerleaders were just a taste of what Kurt Cobain had up his sleeve when it came to subverting traditional gender roles. It wasn’t just the kick-ass women in this one video. Nirvana baked feminist ideas right into their lyrics and image. Nirvana had songs like “Polly,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” and “Breed,” which dealt directly with gender issues from a pro-feminist perspective, and songs like “About a Girl” and “All Apologies,” which employed a layered, nuanced understanding of love and gender. Alison, 31, who reached out through Twitter, marveled at the gap between Nirvana and the bands like Warrant that came before it, saying, “So much of the music made by men at the time that was popular was all about how women were basically just holes to fuck,” adding that Cobain, “felt like a guy who viewed women as people.”


Nirvana’s feminism stemmed directly from the Northwest rock scene that birthed the band. Even though they were associated with Seattle, NPR’s music critic Ann Powers noted, “They came out of Olympia, a much different scene, more female-dominated.” Riot grrrl—a subgenre of punk rock that focused on empowering girls to speak out on feminist topics such as reproductive rights and sexual violence—sprang from the same circles as Nirvana, and Cobain made friends with famous riot grrrls Tobi Vail and Kathleen Hanna, who inadvertently gave Cobain the title idea for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “From the very beginning, he was aware of the gender issue,” Powers said, arguing that the riot grrrls “were important to him.” Fans of both Nirvana and riot grrrl agree. Kate described Nirvana as “a riot grrrl band, basically.” Tara, who was living in Alabama when she discovered Nirvana, particularly admired the riot grrrl connection, saying, “The thing I really loved about that was it didn’t seem like a stunt. They ran with the riot grrrl crowd out of genuine admiration for them and what they stood for.”


For fans, Nirvana often proved a gateway drug to discovering music that had female musicians to go right along with the feminist sentiments. Tara cited Nirvana as the reason she fell hard for alternative rock, bringing her to Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Hole, and Babes in Toyland. Mickey, a Seattle native, was already a fan of many female-led punk bands, but felt Nirvana broadened her horizons. “I probably became aware of bands like L7, Sleater-Kinney, and of course, Hole, through my love of Nirvana.” Alison, who described herself as growing up in a “basic, bland suburb,” also discovered L7, Hole, and Bikini Kill through Nirvana, but felt that loving Nirvana primed you to listen to feminist musicians outside of their direct sphere of influence. She suggested that the pride Nirvana gave to outcasts and weirdos “eventually led to a more specific validation that being a woman was fine, too,” adding that this shot of feminist pride “made me more inclined to seek out strong women in areas like music, literature, etc.”

Full article here.

(Photo: Shelli Hyrkas and Experience Music Project)

“One might. One might. But time will not relent.”

R.E.M. called it quits this week after 31 years, and today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind.

I’ve posted it before, but the R.E.M. video above is worth posting again, partly because it’s a humbling reminder of how unmerciful changing fashions can be (poor Michael Stipe: look at that hat), but mostly because it’s a joyful song and because Kate Pierson of the B52s is the other half of the duet.

Nirvana’s Nevermind was the grunge movement’s equivalent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. In other words, take your pick of songs, any one will do. But I can’t resist going with the most obvious choice, below. Seeing that the kids in the video look the way kids still do today is a pleasant surprise. The extensive tattooing was still new then.

The post’s title is the last line of Wallace Stevens’ “The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad.”


Frye on memory from the notebooks, courtesy of Bob Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned:

The memory selects, rejects, rearranges, condenses and displaces. In short it mythicizes our history. (LN, 1:38)

But perhaps this is what memory is for, to bring to life past moments. If so, the memory, like the sensory apparatus, is selective & exclusive. Screen memory is the only memory. Nietsczhe says that when memory says “I did that” & pride says, “I didn’t,” the memory gives way. . . But memory is the key to identity. And perhaps (as Coleridge once suggested) the key to resurrection too. (NB 11f.158)

My memory of past experiences becomes more intense all the time, yet much of it never happened, happened otherwise in a different sequence, or with a very different emotional harmonization. (It’s this last that makes the present so much less real than the past: as in art, an imaginative recreation lifts them clear of the dithering of time.) I think the real memory is the habit-energy that is, perhaps, our real selves, that is, perhaps the only thing we could take into another world. (NB 21.605)

(Photo: Rob Howard)



The first ten minutes: although it helped to define youth culture and shape popular music for a solid twenty years, these opening moments are as primitive as ham radio.

MTV launched on this date in 1981 at 12.01 am. The first video was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which, even though it’s not a great song, captured the expectant mood of the early 80s when anything seemed possible in popular music. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. After the jump is the playlist for the first day, and there’s still a lot of the musky recent past hanging in there, such as the crushingly depressing Rod Stewart of the late 70s — and REO Speedwagon; more REO Speedwagon, in fact, than you’d likely want in an entire lifetime.

However, there’s some good stuff in there that made the whole thing seem very new and very promising: Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, David Bowie, The Specials, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, and, uh . . . okay, just those six (sorry, Pat Benetar fans). Sadly, devastatingly, the first appearance by a Canadian band was April Wine. Bryan Adams hadn’t been invented yet.

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More Chagall

Chagall’s “Birthday,” 1915

Further to Michael’s previous post:

It goes without saying that Frye’s encyclopedic range of interest in and knowledge of the variety of art forms that make up a society’s imaginative culture is remarkable, unmatched by anyone I can think of. A good example is his essay “Literature and the Visual Arts” in CW 18, originally published in Myth and Metaphor. Frye’s wife Helen, of course, had a blossoming career as an art historian before Frye became a going concern and all hell broke loose; doubtless her interests, and of course his interest in Blake, helped to awaken his own affinity for the visual arts.

It is worth mentioning that the Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting an exhibit of Chagall’s work (and some Kandinsky), October to January. You can check it out here.

The AGO, by the way, has had a great new face lift, and is really worth visiting. I caught the New York Abstract/Expressionism (Pollock et al) this spring, and it was a real treat. The new CEO of the gallery, Matthew Teitelbaum, seems to have a magic touch.