1974 — Mama Cass dies

Ellen Naomi Cohen, better known to the world as Mama Cass, was only 32 years old when she died. Mama Cass was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, best known for their 1965 hit, “California Dreamin'”. Stardom had been good to the band, most of them living among the other musicians and artists of Los Angeles, but bad for Cass in many ways.

She had an addictive personality, and being able to afford basically any drug she wanted had led her to behave like a kid in a candy store. Cass was also known for her appetite, being considered somewhat fat (even by the more generous standards of the Sixties for most of her career). At the time of her death, she was fasting four days a week – the coroner speculated that this may have stressed her heart, leading to her fatal heart attack. No food was found in her windpipe – the story that she choked on a ham sandwich is simply an urban myth.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions
(He’ll Never Be An) Ol’ Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1890 – Vincent Van Gogh commits suicide

While the aphorism that genius is never recognised in its own time predates Van Gogh by centuries, there are few creative geniuses who exemplfy it as much as he does. Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter with a style labelled as post-Impressionist. This is misleading: while Van Gogh’s art shows clear influences of the Impressionists, his style was utterly unique, and in various works anticipated both Cubism and Surrealism.

Van Gogh suffered from mental health problems, notably severe anxiety. The widespread rejection of his art, which was derided as childish for its rough style and bold colours, did nothing to relieve his issues. Although no gun was ever found, it is widely accepted that Van Gogh took his own life at the age of 37, finally losing the war with his personal demons.

Van Gogh’s fame took off after his death, bringing him too late the recognition he had so long desired. Alongside only Pablo Picasso, his works are the most expensive in the world, and his influence on the Expressionist school of painting is incalculable: it literally would not exist without his pioneering works.

Referenced in:

Vincent — Don McLean

1921 – Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of the Nazi Party

Hitler was the 55th person to join the German Worker’s Party – the same party that later re-named itself the National Socialist Party. In less than two years, he rose to a position of such popularity and influence that he was more or less able to blackmail his way into being appointed its leader.

On July 11, 1921, he resigned from the party. Fearing that this would cause a split in the party from which it could not recover, the leadership panicked. Hitler then announced he would only return to the party if made leader (or “Fuhrer”). After some umming and erring, the party gave in to his demand, and on July 29, he was introduced as the party’s Fuhrer for the first time. He would remain Fuhrer for the next 24 years, including his years spent in prison during the Twenties (although a deputy took over some responsibilities in this time).

Referenced in:

To Be Or Not To Be (The Hitler Rap) – Mel Brooks

1976 – The ‘Son of Sam’ killings begin

David Richard Berkowitz was never a well-adjusted man. Born Richard David Falco, he was put up for adoption by his mother and adopted by the Berkowitz’s when he was a week old.

From an early age, he showed above average intelligence – which unfortunately manifested in a loss of interest in learning and a growing tendency towards pyromania. He went to Woodstock in 69, joined the Army in 71 (although he served only in South Korea and the US, never in Vietnam), and upon his discharge in 74, began drifting into cults.

He failed to reconcile with his birth mother that same year, and first attacked another human on Christmas Eve, 1975. His first murder, that of Donna Lauria, took place more than six months later.

As the Son of Sam, Berkowitz terrorised New York City for a little over twelve months until his arrest in August 1976, killing a total of six people and wounding seven others.

Referenced in:

S.O.S. – Camarosmith
I Hear Black – Overkill
Son of Sam – Macabre
Son of Sam – Dead Boys
Son of Sam – Elliott Smith
Son of Sam – Neitherworld
Mr. 44 – Electric Hellfire Club
Jumping at Shadows – Benediction
Ballad to the Son of Sam – Consumers
Son of A Gun (David Berkowitz) – Church of Misery
Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear The Voices) – Hall & Oates