1961 — Kennedy pledges to put a man on the Moon by the decade’s end

It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.

As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.

Referenced in:

Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde

1977 – “Star Wars” premieres

It all started out pretty humbly: George Lucas, a filmmaker with one hit and one interesting failure (American Graffitti and THX-1138, respectively), was able to leverage his success into a reasonably large budget for the time (about $8 million in 1976 dollars), and make a fantasy with scifi trappings inspired by his love of action movies and serials from the past.

Star Wars (as it was originally titled – both the Episode IV and the A New Hope are later additions) riffed off classic Westerns (the cantina sequence), World War Two dogfight movies (the Death Star assault), martial arts movies (the Force training sequence), Flash Gordon serials (in general) and, of course, Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

It would go on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time, second only to Gone With The Wind (in inflation-adjusted figures), spawn five sequels and any number of spin-offs, and make scifi mainstream in a way it had never been before. Along with Jaws, it also helped to create the blockbuster-obsessed culture of Hollywood’s last three and a half decades.

Referenced in:

Bicycle Race — Queen
Californication — Red Hot Chili Peppers

1928 — Claude Debussy dies

One of the most popular and influential of all French composers, Claude Achille Debussy was on August 22, 1862. Debussy was a tireless experimenter who was not satisfied to stay within the bounds of what his teachers taught, and this quality informs the majority of his compositions. For instance, he was the first European composer to show the influence of gamelan. By the turn of the century, he was not merely seen as one of the greatest living composers in France, but in most of Central Europe.

Debussy’s death from cancer occurred during the final months of World War One. He died in Paris while that city was being bombarded by the German Spring Offensive. As such, despite being one of the nation’s most honoured sons, he was buried with a minimum of ceremony. After the war concluded, he was reinterred in a style more fitting his influence and status.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1808 – Asturias declares war on Napoleon

Although Napoleon’s forces had originally met with considerable success in this war, conquering and subjugating several provinces, it was on this day that the Peninsular War started to go badly for Napoleon, at least symbolically.

The tiny province of Asturias, located on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, declared war on Napoleon and cast out its French governor. Within weeks, it had been joined by every other Spanish province. By August, French forces withdrew by Portugal, by October, they controlled only the two northernmost provinces of Spain, those closest to France. But here the tide turned once more, as Napoleon had fresh armies to draw upon and the Spanish none.

Referenced in:

Mark Knopfler – Done With Bonaparte