October 5, 1968 Magic Carpet Ride

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

Joachim Fritz Krauledat was born in Tilsit, East Prussia on April 12, 1944, a region later absorbed into Soviet Russia. The boy never met his father.  A German soldier on the Eastern Front of WWII, Fritz Krauledat would be killed months before the birth of his son.

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

“Pack your rucksack Joachim. We’re going on a trip.’ That was all my mother told me the night we escaped from East Germany” ….. We crossed near the Hartz Mountains south of Brunswick and Hannover. I remember seeing search lights moving, ……… As the women passed under the wire, one of our guides took me by the hand and led me through, As I crouched I could hear a commotion, then gunfire, maybe a machine gun burst. Hurry, hurry, hurry just keep running implored our guide.” *

JohnKayYoungThe family settled for a time in Hannover, West Germany, barely avoiding the communist noose as it closed around their former home in the East.

Krauledat was an indifferent student, possibly due to poor eyesight. He’s legally blind, afflicted since birth with achromatopsia, a condition which left him totally colorblind and severely averse to light.  Even as a child, he was rarely seen without the dark glasses which would later become his trademark.

The boy became interested in music, listening over the British Forces Broadcasting Service and US Armed Forces Radio.  Listening to his transistor radio, Little Richard singing in a language he didn’t understand, Joachim Krauledat knew.  He was going to become a rock ‘n roll singer.

The family moved to Canada in 1958, where the Canadian National Institute for the Blind offered him a Wollensach reel-to-reel tape recorder.   The “Talking Book Program” was intended to bring the spoken word to visually impaired students.  This 14-year old was more interested in the “record” button.

The gym teacher called him “John”, while his mother became “Mrs. K,” to the other kids.  The name stuck.  Years later, Joachim Krauledat legally changed his name to John Kay.

“ From as far back as I remember, I always liked music.”

– John Kay

The family moved to Buffalo in 1963, where the young musician found his possibilities limited.  At age 20 he and his buddy Klaus packed up the ’62 Chevy, and headed west.  The “Mother Road”.  Route 66.

The next several years were spent honing and developing his music, a folk and blues singer performing throughout North America. Kay joined a blues rock and folk group called “The Sparrow” in 1965, becoming part of the rock music scene in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

johnkay66
Heading West, Route 66

The band added a couple new members in 1967, changing their name to a character from a Herman Hesse novel. They called themselves Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf became one of the world’s foremost rock bands, with standards like “The Pusher”, and “Monster”, releasing “Magic Carpet Ride” on this day in 1968. They gave us the term “Heavy Metal” with the rock anthem “Born to Be Wild”, but that didn’t refer to the music. “Heavy Metal Thunder” referred to large, loud, motorcycles.

Steppenwolf toured for over 40 years. There isn’t a Baby Boomer alive who wouldn’t read this and come away with one of their songs in his head. They’ve sold over 25 million records and licensed their songs in over 50 motion pictures. The music is iconic, from the sound track of the 1969 “Easy Rider” film to their last performance on July 24, 2010, at the three day HullabaLOU music festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

John KaySteppenwolf gave us 22 albums.  We all know them in one way or another. Yet, the lead singer’s escape from the horrors of the Iron Curtain, not once but twice, is all but unknown. That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the Rest, of the Story.

 

  •  John Kay from his autobiography, Magic Carpet Ride
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September 14, 2004  Fake but Accurate

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose in the aftermath, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies” uncovered in hours what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

It was September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 Presidential election.  CBS News aired a 60 Minutes™ broadcast hosted by News Anchor Dan Rather, centered on four documents critical of President George W. Bush’s National Guard service in 1972-‘73.  The documents were supposed to have been written by Bush’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who’d passed away in 1984.

GW-Bush-in-uniformThe documents came from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former Texas Army National Guard officer who had received publicity back in 2000, when he claimed to have been transferred to Panama after refusing to falsify then-Governor Bush’s personnel records.  He later retracted the claim, but popped up again during the 2004 election cycle.  Many considered Burkett to be an “anti-Bush zealot”.

Within hours of the broadcast, the documents were criticized as forgeries.  Internet forums and blogs challenged the terminology and typography of the memos.  Within days it came out that the font used in the memos didn’t exist at the time the documents were supposed to have been written.

That didn’t stop the Boston Globe from running a story entitled “Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents”, a story they later had to retract.

Criticism of the 60 Minutes’ piece intensified, as CBS News and Dan Rather dug in and defended their story.   Within the week, Rather was talking to a Daily Kos contributor and former typewriter repairman who claimed that the documents could have been written in the 70s.  Meanwhile, the four “experts” used in the original story were publicly repudiating the 60 Minutes piece.

Other aspects of the documents were difficult to authenticate without access to the originals.  CBS had nothing but faxes and photocopies, and Burkett claimed to have burned the originals after faxing them to the network.

Fake but AccurateThe New York Times interviewed Marian Carr Knox who’d been secretary to the squadron in 1972, running a story dated September 14 under the bylines of Maureen Balleza and Kate Zernike.  The headline read “Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says“.

The story went on to describe the 86 year-old Carr’s recollections that she never typed the memos, but they accurately reflected the feelings of Lt. Col. Killian.  “I think he was writing the memos”, she said, “so there would be some record that he was aware of what was going on and what he (Bush) had done.”

Yet Killian’s wife and son had cleared out his office after his death, and they didn’t find anything even hinting at the existence of such documents.  Others who claimed to know Carr well described her as a “sweet old lady”, but said they had “no idea” where her statements had come from.

CBS News would ultimately retract the story, as it came out that Producer Mary Mapes collaborated on it with the Kerry campaign.  Several network news people lost their jobs, including Rather and Mapes.

dan-rather-cnnPublic confidence in the “Mainstream Media” plummeted.  Many saw the episode as a news network lying, and the “Newspaper of Record” swearing to it.

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose in the aftermath, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies”, uncovered in hours what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

Such news media bias is nothing new.  In 1932-33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported on Josef Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, known as “Holodomor”.  “Extermination by hunger”.   With 25,000 starving to death every day, Duranty won a Pulitzer with such gems as:  “There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” – (Nov. 15, 1931), and,  “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” – (Aug. 23, 1933).

Walter Duranty

The 1993 NBC Dateline “Exploding Truck” edition didn’t get the desired effect when they crash tested that pickup truck, so they rigged another one with a pyrotechnic device.  Sure enough, that one exploded on cue.  The “Exposé” was fiction masquerading as “News”, but hey.  The explosion made good television.

In a transparent attack on an administration with which it had political disagreements, the New York Times ran the Abu Ghraib story on the front page, above the fold, for 32 days straight.  Just in case anyone missed the first 31.

And who can forget that edited audio from George Zimmermann’s 911 call.  Thank you, NBC.

If the point requires further proof, watch ABC News Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interview with Sarah Palin, then read the transcript.  Whether you like or don’t like Ms. Palin is irrelevant to the point.  The transcript and the interview as broadcast, are two different things.

The political process is afflicted when news agencies act as advocates in the stories they cover.  Our system of self-government cannot long survive without an informed electorate.  That may be the worst part of this whole sorry story.

Bill Clintons Cat
Press photographers, in search of the perfect image. Of Bill Clinton’s cat.

September 13, 1501 David

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he said, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

The Renaissance has been variously described as an advance beyond the dark ages, andMasters of Italian Art a nostalgic period looking back to the Classical age. Whatever it was, the 15th and 16th centuries produced some of the most spectacularly gifted artists, in history.

None more so, than the Italian Masters.

There was Leonardo and Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, but only one of them would have his biography written while he was still alive. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, had two. Only one of these men would have his home town renamed after himself.  Today, the Tuscan village of Caprese is known as Caprese Michelangelo.

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he would say, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

He was “Il Divino”, “The Divine One”, literally growing up with the hammer and chisel. He had a “Terribilità”, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur about him that made him difficult to work with, but he was widely admired and imitated. Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging, because he could deliver.

Michelangelo-David-rearThe massive block of Carrara marble was quarried in 1466, nine years before Michelangelo was born. The “David” commission was given to artist Agostino di Duccio that same year. So difficult was this particular marble block that he never got beyond roughing out the legs and draperies. Antonio Rossellino took a shot at it 10 years later, but he didn’t get much farther.

25 years later, the Guild of Wool Merchants wanted to revive the abandoned project, and went looking for an artist. The now infamously difficult marble slab had deteriorated for years in the elements, when Michelangelo stepped forward at the age of 26.  The prevailing attitude seems to have been yeah, give it to him.  That will take him down a few pegs.

Michelangelo began work on September 13th, 1501. His master work would take him three years to complete.

The 17′, six-ton David was originally intended for the roof of the FlorenceDavid, Michelangelo Cathedral, but it wasn’t feasible to raise such an object that high. A committee including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli was formed to decide on an appropriate site for the statue. The commitee chose the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

It took four days on a specially constructed cart to move the David statue into position, the unveiling taking place on September 8, 1504. Among the dignitaries gathered for the occasion was the Mayor of Florence, Vasari Pier Soderini, who complained that David’s nose was “too thick”.

Michelangelo climbed the statue with a handful of marble dust, sending down a shower of the stuff as he pretended to work on the nose. After several minutes, he stepped back and asked Soderini if it was improved. “Yes”, replied the Mayor, now satisfied. “I like it better. You have given it life”.Michelangelo at Work

August 8, 1969 Paul is Dead

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.

In January 1967, a car belonging to singer/songwriter and Beatles’ band member Paul McCartney, was involved in an accident.  He wasn’t driving at the time, but no matter.

The story was told and retold.  Before long, not only had McCartney himself been involved in the crash.  He’d been killed in it.

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.Paul is dead

The February issue of “The Beatles Book” fanzine tried to put the issue to rest, but some stories die hard.  A cottage industry grew up around finding “clues” to McCartney’s “death”.  Hundreds were reported by fans and followers of the legend. John Lennon’s final line in the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounded like “I buried Paul”.  (McCartney later said the words were “cranberry sauce”).  When “Revolution 9” from the White Album is played backwards, some said they could hear “turn me on, dead man”.

Photographer Iain MacMillan shot the cover photo for the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road, on this day in 1969. The ten-minute photo shoot produced six images, from which McCartney himself picked the cover photo. It shows the band crossing the street, walking away from the studio.

As soon as the Abby Road album hit the streets, the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, couldn’t anybody see that? Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black.  He was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a shirt.  Of course he was the gravedigger.Paul is dead, news

And then there was McCartney, barefoot and out of step with the other members of the band. Clearly, he symbolized the corpse. McCartney later explained that he’d been barefoot that day, because it was hot.

No one ever satisfactorily explained, nor did anyone ask, to my knowledge, how Paul McCartney got to march in his own funeral procession.  No matter, the Abby Road cover put the rumor mill over the top.

On October 12, a caller to Detroit radio station WKNR-FM told DJ Russ Gibb about the rumor and its clues. Gibb and his callers then discussed the rumor on the air for the next hour. Roby Yonge did the early AM shift at the powerhouse WABC out of New York. Yonge spent a full hour discussing the rumor, before he was pulled off-air for breaking format. WABC’s signal could be heard in 38 states at that time of night, and at times, other countries. The Beatles’ press office issued a statement denying the rumor, but it had already been reported by national and international media.

Paul is still with us-Life_magazine_nov_69The November 7, 1969, Life magazine interview with McCartney and his wife Linda finally put the story to rest. “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately“, he said. “I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days“.

If they’d had Photoshop in those days, we’d probably still be hearing the rumors, today.

July 27, 1940 Bugs Bunny

A Utah celery grower once offered a lifetime supply of their product to everyone at the studio, if they switched Bugs over to a celery diet.  But carrots it was.  For fifty years, production had to stop as Mel Blanc, the real-life voice of Bugs Bunny, stopped to spit out the raw carrot he ate to make the sound of his character eating a carrot.

The earliest version of the Bugs Bunny cartoon character had something of his later personality, though he was smaller, with a voice sounded more like Woody Woodpecker.  He first appeared in “Porky’s Hare Hunt”, released on April 30, 1938, a little white wisecracking rabbit, entering the scene with the odd expression “Jiggers, fellers”.  Hare Hunt was the first to introduce the Elmer Fudd character, and first to use the Groucho Marx line, “Of course you realize, this means war!”

According to his 1990 “biography”, Bugs Bunny was born in Brooklyn New York on July 27, 1940, in a warren under Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  A Utah celery grower once offered a lifetime supply of their product to everyone at the studio, if they switched Bugs over to a celery diet.  But carrots it was.  For fifty years, production had to stop as Mel Blanc, the real-life voice of Bugs Bunny, stopped to spit out the raw carrot he ate to make the sound of his character eating a carrot.

Bugs evolution“A Wild Hare”, directed by Tex Avery and released on this day in 1940, was the first recognizable Bugs Bunny cartoon.  For the first time Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny are cast as hunter and tormentor, the first time Mel Blanc used that trademark Flatbush accent, and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, “Ehhh, What’s up, Doc?” A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film and ensuring Bugs Bunny’s future as a stock character.

AWildHareIn 1941, “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” became the second Bugs Bunny cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.  It didn’t win the award, and Bugs later made fun of the award in “What’s Cookin’ Doc?”.  In 1944 he demands a recount, claiming to be the victim of “sa-bo-TAH-gee”.

Bugs Bunny was receiving star billing by World War II, helping to make Warner Bros. the most profitable cartoon studio in America.   He appeared along with Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd in a 1942 US war bond commercial, going toe to toe with a group of Japanese soldiers in “Bunny Nips the Nips” in 1944.  The cartoon was later pulled due to the racially stereotypical manner in which it treated the Japanese.  Bugs went to “Joimany” to face off against Göring and Hitler in “Herr Meets Hare” in 1945, the first time he “musta made a wrong toin at Albaquoique”.

Bugs even showed up in rival studio Paramount Pictures’ “Jasper goes hunting”, once.  He popped out of his rabbit hole and said “What’s up Doc”, realizing his mistake only when he hears the orchestra play the wrong theme. “Hey, I’m in the wrong picture!” he says, and there he went, down the rabbit hole.Thats all folks

It was usually Porky Pig who brought Looney Tunes films to a close, with his trademark “Uh-b-dee, uh-b-dee, uh-b-dee, that’s all, folks!”, but Bugs replaced him at the end of “Hare Tonic” and “Baseball Bugs”.  He busted out of a drum, same as Porky, munching on a carrot and saying in that Brooklyn accent, “And that’s the end!”.

Bugs Bunny has appeared in more films, both short and feature length, than any other cartoon character in history.  He’s the ninth most portrayed film personality in the world.

Here ends this day’s Today in History.  Now, “shhh.  Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.  Huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh”.

June 22, 1918 Showmen’s Rest

The Michigan Central locomotive smashed into the rear of the stalled circus train at 60mph.  Strong men, bareback riders, trapeze performers and acrobats were killed instantly and others horribly maimed, as wooden circus cars telescoped into one another. 

In the circus world, the term “First of May” describes the first season when an employee comes to work with the circus.

There’s an oft-repeated but mistaken notion, that the circus goes back to Roman antiquity.  The panem et circenses, “bread and circuses” of Juvenal (circa A.D. 100), refers more to the ancient precursor of the modern racetrack, than to the modern circus. The only common denominator is the word itself, as the Latin root ‘circus’, translates into English, as “circle”.

Astleys_royal_amphitheatreThe father of the modern circus is the British Sergeant-Major turned showman, Philip Astley.  A talented horseman, Astley opened a riding school near the River Thames in 1768, where he taught in the morning and performed ‘feats of horsemanship’ in the afternoon.

Astley’s afternoon shows had gained overwhelming popularity by 1770, and he hired acrobats, rope-dancers, and jugglers to fill the spaces between equestrian events.  The modern circus, was born.

Equestrian and trick riding shows were gaining popularity all over Europe at this time, performers riding in circles to keep their balance while standing on the backs of galloping horses.  It didn’t hurt matters, that the “ring” made it easier for spectators to view the event.

In 1825, Joshuah Purdy Brown of Somers New York replaced the wooden structure common to European circuses with a canvas tent, around the time when a cattle dealer named Hachaliah Bailey bought a young African elephant, which he exhibited all over the country.  The exotic animal angle was a great success.  Other animals were added and soon farmers were leaving their fields, to get into the traveling menagerie business.

The unique character of the American traveling circus emerged in 1835, when 135 such farmers and menagerie owners combined with three affiliated circuses to form the American Zoological Institute.

Phineas Taylor Barnum and William Cameron Coup launched P.T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie & Circus in 1871, where the “museum” part was a separate exhibition of human and animal oddities.  It wouldn’t be long, before the ‘sideshow” became a standard feature of the American circus.

There have been no fewer than 81 major circuses in American history, and countless smaller ones.  ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ broke down its tent for the last time last month, when the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus ended a 146-year run.  There was a time though, when the circus really Was, the greatest show on earth.

The American war machine was spinning up to peak operational capacity in 1918, as the industrial might of the nation pursued the end to the war ‘over there’.hagenbeck-wallace-circus

At 3:56 on the morning of June 22, 1918, an engineer with the Michigan Central Railroad was at the controls of an empty 21-car troop train.  Automatic signals and flares should have warned him that there was a stalled train on the track ahead.  A frantic flag man tried and failed to get him to stop.  Alonzo Sargent had been fired before, for sleeping on the job.  Tonight, Sargent was once again, asleep at the wheel.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace circus was a big deal in those days.  The famous lion tamer Clyde Beatty was a member, as was a young Red Skelton, on this night tagging along with his father, who worked as a clown.

The 26-car Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train was enroute from Hammond Indiana to Monroe Wisconsin, when an overheated axle box required them to make an unscheduled stop.

Most of the 400 circus employees were asleep at that early hour, in one of four rear sleeping cars.  The Michigan Central locomotive smashed into the rear of the stalled train at 60mph.  Strong men, bareback riders, trapeze performers and acrobats were killed instantly.  Others were horribly maimed, as wooden sleeping cars telescoped into one another.  Confused and bleeding survivors struggled to emerge from the wreckage, as gas-fed lanterns began to set all that wood on fire.

hammond-circus-train-wreck

Those lucky enough to escape looked on in horror, as friends and family members were burned alive.  Some had to be physically restrained from rushing back into the inferno.

127 were injured and an estimated 86 crushed or burned to death in the wreck.  Hours afterward a clown, his name was Joe Coyle, could be seen weeping inconsolably, beside the mangled bodies of his wife and two children.

The rumor mill went berserk.  Wild lions and tigers had escaped and were roaming the streets and back yards of Gary, Indiana.  Elephants died in the heroic attempt to put out the flames, spraying water on the burning wreckage with their trunks.  None of the stories were true.  The animals had passed through hours earlier, on one of two additional trains, and were now waiting for the train that would never come.

showmans-rest-circus-mass-grave

The Showmen’s League of America was formed in 1913, with Buffalo Bill Cody its first President.  The group had  purchased a 750-plot parcel at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois only a year earlier, calling it “Showmen’s Rest”.  They had no idea their investment would be used so soon.

Only thirteen were ever identified.  A mass grave was dug for the unidentified and unidentifiable.  Most of the dead were roustabouts or temporary workers, hired just recently and known only by nicknames.  Some performers were known only by stage names, their gravestones inscribed with names like “Baldy,” “4-Horse Driver”, “Smiley,” and “Unknown Female #43.

Only one show had to be canceled, as erstwhile ‘competitors’ Barnum & Bailey, Ringling brothers and others lent workers, performers and equipment.  The show would go on.

Today, the International Circus Hall of Fame is located in the former Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus winter headquarters in Peru, Indiana.

In the elephant world, an upraised trunk symbolizes joy.  Five elephant statues circumscribe the Showmen’s Rest section of Woodlawn cemetery.  Each has a foot raised with a ball underneath.  Their trunks hang low, a symbol of mourning.  The largest of the five bears the inscription, “Showmen’s League of America.”  On the other four, appear these words.  “Showmen’s Rest”.

June 16, 1980 Blues Brothers

Eric Idle of Monty Python was once a Saturday Night Live guest host. He paid a great compliment to Aykroyd’s comedic ability, saying he was “the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python”.

Dan Aykroyd developed his musical talents during the late fifties and early sixties at an Ottowa club called Le Hibou, (French for ‘the owl’), saying “I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters. S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said ‘anybody out there play drums? I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said ‘keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’

Eric Idle of Monty Python was once a Saturday Night Live guest host. He paid a great compliment to Aykroyd’s comedic ability, saying he was “the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python”.

John Belushi joined The Second City comedy troupe in 1971, playing off-Broadway in “National Lampoon’s Lemmings”. He played The National Lampoon Radio Hour from 1973 to 1975, a half-hour comedy program syndicated on over 600 stations.SNL

Belushi appeared from 1973 to 1975 on The National Lampoon Radio Hour, along with future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. A number of their radio segments went on to become SNL sketches in the show’s first couple of seasons.

Dan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food and then falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Lead vocalist “Joliet Jake” Blues (John Belushi) and harmonica player/backing vocalist Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) had their musical debut on January 17, 1976 in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live. “The Blues Brothers” appeared twice more on SNL sketches, both in 1978, before releasing their first album that same year: Briefcase Full of Blues.BluesBrothers

The Blues Brothers film premiered in Chicago on this day in 1980, four days before its general relase. Set in that city and sprawling across the Midwest, the musical/comedy film tells the story of a paroled convict and his brother, and their mission to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from foreclosure. Their “Mission from God” needs to raise $5,000 to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. To do so, the pair sets out to reignite their R&B band, pursued by the police and wrecking 103 cars along the way, a world record for that time.

While filming one of the night scenes, John Belushi disappeared and couldn’t be found. Looking around, Ackroyd found a single house with its lights on, and knocked on the door. Before he could ask, the homeowner smiled and said “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The man told Ackroyd that Belushi had entered the house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and then crashed on their couch. To some, he may have been a real-life Thing that Wouldn’t Leave. To Dan Ackroyd, John Belushi would always be “America’s Guest”.

John Belushi died in his hotel room on March 5, 1982, of a “Speedball”, a combined injection of heroin and cocaine. The cause of death was originally considered to be an accidental overdose, but Catherine Evelyn Smith was extradited and tried on first degree murder charges after her National Enquirer interview, in which she admitted giving Belushi the shot. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter.  She served fifteen months in prison.Bluesbrothersjail

Belushi’s wife Judith arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral in which he was interred, twice. The first was in Abel’s Hill Cemetery, in the Chilmark section of Martha’s Vineyard.  A classic New England slate tombstone complete with skull and crossbones, marks the location. The inscription reads, “I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on.”

“Fans” repeatedly felt the need to desecrate the grave.  The body was later removed at the request of Belushi’s wife, and reburied in an undisclosed location.  An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location, where the man can finally Rest in Peace.

John Belushi is remembered on the family marker at his mother’s grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. This stone reads, “HE GAVE US LAUGHTER”.

Jake and Elwood