Sunday, August 09, 2009


For a while, it looked like 2009 was going to be remembered as the year of celebrity deaths. I won't rattle off the whole list, but just to refresh your memory, I'll provide a brief recap of the highlights.

Patrick McGoohan started the year off when he died in January. John Updike and Lux Interior were both dead less than a month later. Not too long after that, Natasha Richardson, Marilyn Chambers, J.G. Ballard, and Bea Arthur were dead.

David Carradine started off the summer season with his death in June, but the apex wasn't until later in the month when Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Sky Saxon, and Billy Mays all died within a five-day span.

Things have tapered down since then. Karl Malden died, as did Robert McNamara, Walter Cronkite, Corazon Aquino, and John Hughes, but that was over a five-week span.

That's not the entire list -- there are a lot of celebrities I didn't mention, and it's early August, so there are almost five months left in the year. But barring some sort of catastrophe -- such as a bomb going off at some awards ceremony -- I think the celebrity death syndrome is pretty much behind us.

But I don't think 2009 will necessarily be remembered as the year of celebrity deaths. I think it may be remembered as the year of 40-year anniversaries.

You're undoubtedly aware that 2009 is the 40-year anniversary of the Apollo moon landing (or moon landing hoax, as some people still insist on calling it). That's been all over the news ever since about July 20, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, walked around a little, planted a flag, collected some rocks, and then flew back home.

The other big 40-year anniversary this year is for the Woodstock festival (which most people just refer to as "Woodstock"), which will turn 40 a little later this month. What started off as a concert turned into an event that was just as historically significant as the moon landing, if not more so.

And then, of course, there are the Tate-LaBianca murders (which are also know as the Manson murders). Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the Tate murders, and tomorrow marks the anniversary of the LaBianca murders.

Those are the big three 40-year anniversaries, and they all took place with a month of each other, but those aren't the only 40-year anniversaries we're commemorating this year. Here's a short and incomplete list of other notable events that took place in 1969: the Stonewall Riots, the birth of TV's Sesame St., the publication of the first edition of Penthouse magazine, the Ted Kennedy incident at Chappaquiddick, and the Cuyahoga River catching fire due to all the toxins and pollutants it contained. That last one might not be so famous to people outside of Ohio, and the only reason I know about it is because Randy Newman immortalized it in his 1972 song "Burn On."

So here's another one for you: The Unix operating system is 40 years old this year. According to what I found on the web, the first version of Unix was completed in August 1969 (although it was unnamed at the time and wasn't named "Unix" until the following year). Even if you've never heard of Unix, you've probably used it, or at least you've used some software that runs on top of Unix. If you've used a Mac in the past few years, you've used Unix software. If you've ever connected to a web server, mail server, or file server, the chances are extremely good that you've used Unix software.

But the list doesn't end there. As it turns out, on August 8, 1969 -- exactly 40 years and one day ago -- the famous photograph that became the cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road album was taken. To be honest, I don't know why this is such a big deal, probably because I don't understand why that picture is so famous. Abbey Road was the last album the Beatles recorded together, and the photograph is visually compelling, but that's not enough to make it famous. There was also the whole "Paul is Dead" theory, but that was only marginally associated with that album cover.

If there's any Beatles album photograph that deserves to be famous, I think it should be the original cover for the Yesterday and Today album. That photograph was so controversial that it had to be replaced by a completely different one. If you're a die-hard Beatles fan, you already know about that, but if you're a die-hard Beatles fan, you probably also understand why the Abbey Road photograph is so popular. And while I'm on the subject, the Beatles were great, and they were a cultural phenomenon unlike any other, and their influence on popular music is immense and undeniable, but why are there still die-hard Beatles fans in 2009? And by die-hard Beatles fans, I mean people like the ones who swarmed Abbey Road yesterday in commemoration of the anniversary of the Abbey Road photograph.

In closing, whether 2009 is remembered more for its celebrity deaths or its 40-year anniversaries is probably anyone's guess. Maybe it'll be both. But here's a thought that just crossed my mind. It's sort of stupid, so I shouldn't even mention it, but here it is anyway. If two astronauts hadn't landed on the moon 40 years ago, would the dance move that Michael Jackson popularized in 1983 still be called the moon walk?

I wouldn't bother pondering that question for too long if I were you -- as I said, it's a pretty stupid thought. And I don't really like ending my blog posts with stupid thoughts, but I couldn't think of a better way to end this one. I couldn't think of a very good title either.