1793 – Jean-Paul Marat is killed in his bathtub

Jean-Paul Marat was a fiery republican journalist who was an important figure in the French revolutionary movement. A scientist (he translated Newton’s “Opticks” into French, among other accomplishments), after the revolution, he devoted himself to politics and propaganda. He was heavily involved in the factional struggles surrounding the revolution.

It was this latter that led to his death. Charlotte Corday was a member of a rival political faction, the Girondists, who believed that Marat was largely responsible for the fall of the Girondists – and that the outcome of that factional struggle might well lead to outright civil war in France. And so it was that Corday surprised Marat in his bathtub one night, stabbing him once in the carotid artery, which killed him in very short order. Later that year, he was immortalised in a painting, “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, which has become an iconic image of revolutionary martyrdom.

Referenced in:

We Walk — REM

1990 – Kurt Cobain commits suicide

To his fans, and most other people for that matter, he must have seemed on top of the world. Why wouldn’t he? He was the lead singer and songwriter of Nirvana, the leader and figurehead of the Grunge movement (the reigning style of music and fashion), and considered as important culturally as Lennon or McCartney had been.

But Lennon and McCartney didn’t suffer from depression. Stardom seemed an unwanted distraction for Cobain – it was certainly an unwanted pressure. We may never know exactly what pushed him over the edge into absolute despair, but something did. Likely factors – most of which were exacerbated by his depression and its other symptoms, even while they too were symptoms – include Cobain’s drug use, his physical weariness after a long tour and bouts of illness, the sad state of his marriage to Courtney Love, and his long term depression.

His body was discovered on April 8, 1990. He had shot himself after taking a large dose of heroin (and possibly some diazepam) and writing a suicide note. The coroner later estimated that he had died on April 5. He was survived by his wife and daughter, his bandmates in Nirvana, the Grunge movement, and a number of urban myths that he had been murdered.

Referenced in:

Let Me In — REM
About a Boy — Patti Smith
Mighty K.C. — For Squirrels
Innocent — Our Lady Peace
Sleeps with Angels — Neil Young
You Were Right — Badly Drawn Boy
Too Cool Queenie — Stone Temple Pilots
Californication — Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1969 – Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the Moon

Really, what needs to be said?

Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off from the Kennedy Space Center, near Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 16. Four days later, the lunar landing module, carrying Armstrong and Aldrin, landed on the Moon. They were supposed to take a sleep break, but Armstrong was impatient to walk on the moon – and who could blame him?

It was July 21 (UTC) by the time they began the EVA. They stayed on the lunar surface for about 150 minutes (15 minutes longer than was originally a plan). During this time, the two spoke to President Nixon in the White House, planted an American flag on the Moon, performed a number of scientific experiments and took numerous photographs, all of them now iconic images.

Despite what you may have heard, it is highly unlikely that the landings were faked. I do not believe that they were, and neither does Buzz Aldrin.

Referenced in:

I Was Only 19 — Redgum
Man On The Moon — REM
Shrink — Dead Kennedys
Saturn 5 — Inspiral Carpets
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins — The Byrds
For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and me — Jethro Tull

1954 – Joseph Welch stops Joseph McCarthy in his tracks

Joseph McCarthy had been hunting the Reds under America’s beds for years when he turned his attention to the Army in 1953. But this time, it went badly for him. At the end of the Korean War, the Army was popular. And McCarthy’s own fortunes were fading, which fed his alcoholism and led to displays of arrogance as he tried to recapture the power he had once had.

In 1954, McCarthy was confronted by Joseph Welch, the Army’s head attorney. In a memorable exchange, he was repeatedly rebuked by Welch for trying to tar a young man in Welch’s office with his slurs. The part the Welch is most remembered for is these words:

“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Referenced in:

Exhuming McCarthy – REM

Listen to the song – the actual sample appears in it.