Gainsborough’s most famous work is probably The Blue Boy, painted around 1770. It’s believed that the panting is a portrait of Jonathan Buttall, the son of a wealthy hardware merchant, although that’s still a matter of some debate. It is a known fact that Buttall owned the painting until he filed for bankruptcy in 1796 and sold The Blue Boy to pay some of his debts.
So, if The Blue Boy is a late 18th century painting, why is the boy in question depicted in a historical costume? Some art historians believe that the painting is a tribute to 17th century painter Anthony van Dyck, and is a reference to van Dyck’s 1637 portrait The Children of King Charles I of England in which the boy who would grow up to become King Charles II is depicted wearing a similar costume and striking a similar pose. Young Charles II is wearing red, so why is The Blue Boy wearing, well, blue? Well, Gainsborough’s rival Sir Joshua Reynolds’ had recently made the following declaration about the use of light and color in paintings:
It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed, that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm, mellow colour, yellow, red, or a yellowish white, and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support or set off these warm colours; and for this purpose, a small proportion of cold colour will be sufficient.
So, it seems that Gainsborough didn’t particularly care for Reynolds’ opinion about color because he didn’t just include “the blue, the grey, or the green colours”, he made blue the entire focus of the painting!
There’s a cocktail called Blue Boy, but its name is a bit of a mystery because the drink isn’t actually blue. If anything, this drink’s color is closer to that of the dark shades used by Gainsborough in the background of the painting. Interestingly, it’s essentially a Little Princess that has been given two drops of different kinds of bitters.
- 1 ounce Light Rum
- 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: A mouse makes his film debut.
Prior to the mutiny, the crew had spent five months in Tahiti collecting breadfruit plants and allowing them to ripen before transporting the thousand-odd plants onto the ship. Captain Bligh permitted the crew to live on the island during this time and the crew became accustomed to life in Tahiti: getting tattooed and becoming involved with the island’s women.
However, while the scenery might have been that of a tropical paradise, Captain Bligh kept the crew from enjoying the Edenic atmosphere. Bligh regularly berated and flogged crew members for perceived slights, often imagined. As first mate, Christian was a frequent target of Bligh’s abuse. Conditions got worse as time on the island went by, and a few members of the Bounty‘s crew even attempted to desert the ship. When the ship set sail on April 5, the crew learned that Bligh intended to sail through the dangerous and as yet uncharted Endeavour Strait. Christian and some loyal members of the crew began to quietly discuss mutiny.
In the early morning hours of April 28, Christian considered making a raft and abandoning the ship, but changed his mind. So, under cover of darkness, Christian and a group of followers entered Bligh’s cabin, which he foolishly always kept unlocked, and told him to surrender. The mutineers quickly and bloodlessly took hold of the ship, parading Bligh out onto the deck at bayonet point, wearing only his nightshirt.
Bligh and 18 loyal crew members were then sent adrift in a boat, eventually landing on the island of Tofu before making a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies without a compass or map. Amazingly, only one of Bligh’s crewmen died on the journey (He was stoned to death by Tofuan natives.), although five crew members did die after arriving on Timor. Bligh eventually returned to England and remained in the Navy. Fascinatingly, in 1808, while Bligh was Governor of New South Wales, Australia he suffered another insurrection, when the troops he commanded had him overthrown and arrested in an act that became known as the Rum Rebellion.
The mutineers first headed to the island of Tubuai, where they were frequently attacked by the native population. They then headed back to Tahiti where 12 of the mutineers decided to remain, until they were eventually captured by the HMS Pandora and brought back to England to face a court-martial. Christian left Tahiti with eight other mutineers, six Tahitian men, and 18 women; most of whom had been kidnapped by the mutineers. In an effort to escape the Royal Navy, the Bounty headed to the deserted Pitcairn Island. Although the early days at Pitcairn were fine, with plenty of supplies and room for everyone; but when the the American trading ship Topaz arrived on Pitcairn in 1808, only one of the original mutineers was still living on the island, the de facto leader of the few remaining Pitcairn residents. The lone mutineer, John Adams, explained that infighting and disease had decimated the colony, but did not provide further elaboration. Reports on Fletcher Christian’s final fate are mixed. Some say he was killed by his companions, while others say he committed suicide.
Fletcher Christian has been honored with a cocktail simply called Mr. Christian. It’s a tropical cocktail that utilizes brandy, rum and citrus juices.
- 1 1/2 ounces Dark Rum
- 1/2 ounce Brandy
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1/4 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1 teaspoon grenadine
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: “We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”
It’s Earth Day! This annual ecological holiday started in 1970, although its roots go back a year earlier. At a 1969 UNESCO Conference held in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to promote peace and good stewardship of the Earth. The idea was well received, and McConnell and United Nations Secretary General U Thant signed a proclamation declaring March 21, 1970 Earth Day.
So, why is Earth Day celebrated on April 22? Well, it all started with United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, who organized an environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970 as a tie-in to Earth Day. The way Nelson saw it, it was a perfect day for such an event. It didn’t conflict with any religious holidays and it was a late spring day that would most likely not have terrible weather.
There was just one small problem with April 22, 1970. That was also the 100th anniversary of Vladmir Lenin’s birth. Time Magazine quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution who claimed that Earth Day was clearly a Communist plot and that “subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.” Despite all that, Earth Day went off without a hitch and continues to be marked to this day.
This Earth Day, enjoy a cocktail called Blue Planet. It’s a refreshing blue cocktail that features vodka and rum. Just don’t use Russian vodka or Cuban rum if you want to keep the Communist elements at bay.
- 1 ounce Vodka
- 1 ounce Rum
- 1 ounce Blue Curacao
Pour the vodka and rum into an ice filled highball glass. Fill almost to the top with lemonade and then add the blue curacao.
Tomorrow: The Bard
4/20’s origins have been much debated, but the generally agreed upon story begins with a group of teenagers in San Rafael, California back in 1971. The story goes that a group of San Rafael High School students who called themselves the Waldos heard about a rumor about an abandoned cannabis crop and decided to go hunting for the stoner equivalent of El Dorado. Before their initial search, the Waldos agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur on the San Rafael High School campus a 4:20 in the afternoon. From that point on, any attempt to locate the fabled cannabis crop gained the shorthand “4:20 Louis”.
Unfortunately, the Waldos never found the cannabis mother lode, but they soon adapted the code word “4:20″ to reference anytime they wanted to get together and smoke pot. Allegedly, the Grateful Dead knew either a parent or sibling of one or more of the Waldo and they, along with the magazine High Times, helped spread knowledge of the 420 code.
Nowadays 4/20 is marked with celebrations both public and private. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and the campuses of the University of Colorado in Boulder and UC Santa Cruz are amongst some of the better known gathering spot for informal smoke outs. This year, celebrations are expected to be especially joyous in Colorado now that recreational marijuana use has been legalized.
So, let’s extend an olive branch, nay a marijuana leaf, to our pot smoking brothers and sisters today in the form of a drink. Now you could sip on one of Mt. Shasta Brewing Company’s Weed Ales, which contain no pot but have the delightful phrase “Try Legal Weed” written on their bottle caps, or if you’re in Washington you could drink Red Hook’s hemp brewed beer Joint Effort. However this is a cocktail blog, so we’re going to mix a Liquid Marijuana Shot. This green shooter obviously includes no weed, but it does have a calming effect similar to that of a good strain of weed.
Liquid Marijuana Shot
- 1/4 ounces Blue Curacao
- 1/4 ounce Midori
- 1/4 ounce Coconut Rum
- 1/4 ounce Spiced Rum
- 1 splash pineapple juice
- 1 splash sweet and sour mix
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a shot glass.
Tomorrow: We go hunting for Nessie.
The word “superhero” allegedly first appeared in print in 1918 to refer to a person who was especially heroic and for the first twenty years of its life, “superhero” didn’t get much use in normal conversation, but on April 18, 1938 the word superhero gained a whole new meaning when the publication of the first issue of Action Comics (advance cover dated June, 1938) introduced the world to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman.
Let’s talk about the origin of Superman. No, not the fictional origin story that writer Grant Morrison once perfectly summed up in eight words (Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.), I’m talking about how Siegel and Shuster conceived of the character. When Siegel and Shuster first created Superman, he was a bald telepathic villain (Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Superman would be associated with a follicly challenge villain.) who appeared in a short story called “The Reign of the Superman”, written while the duo were high school students and published in 1933 in the third issue of the pulp magazine Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of Future Civilization.
This “Superman” story was inspired by Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermenschen and told the story of a mad scientist who picks a man off a bread line and says he will give him “a real meal and a new suit” if he participates in the scientist’s experiment. The man agrees and the scientist gives him an experimental elixir that gives the man telepathic powers. The man goes mad, kills the scientist and then begins to use his new abilities for evil in the hope that he can take over the world. However, he soon discovers that the abilities are only temporary and with the professor dead, there is no way to create the super power formula anew. The story ends with the man’s powers fading as he realizes that he must now return to the breadlines.
Later that same year, Siegel began tinkering with the Superman character and re-imagined him as a hero with a thick head of hair. Together Siegel and Shuster drew from many different cultural influences to shape the new Superman. Shuster based Superman’s appearance off of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., while his alter ego Clark Kent was partially influenced by Harold Lloyd. The name Clark Kent, incidentally was a tribute to silver screen stars Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. The city of Metropolis got its name from the classic Fritz Lang film of the same name which was a favorite of both men. As for the characters powers, Siegel and Shuster envisioned him as a modern take on mythic strongmen like Samson and Hercules. The strongman idea was reflected in the trunks-over-tights look of the Superman costume, which at the time was the traditional outfit of a circus strongman. Shockingly, Superman was rejected by several comic publishers before National Comics picked it up for publication in the first issue of Action Comics. Superman was an instant success and it was just a little under a year before he got his own eponymous comic book and the Last Son of Krypton still holds a prominent position in popular culture to this day.
Superman’s powers were a bit ill defined in the early years, and it wasn’t until 1943 that Superman’s famed weakness Kryptonite first appeared on the Adventures Of Superman radio program. The drink called Kryptonite is a highly potent, bright green cocktail that will make you weak.
- 3/4 ounce Spiced Rum
- 3/4 ounce Coconut Rum
- 3/4 ounce Midori
- 3/4 ounce pineapple juice
- 1 splash 151-proof Rum
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: We take a flight in a lawn chair.
By 1959, the young songwriter Berry Gordy, Jr. had established himself as a talented composer. In fact, “Lonely Teardrops”, a song he wrote for Jackie Wilson, had gone to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Gordy was not satisfied and believed that he deserved better royalties than he was currently getting. After realizing that he could make more money producing and publishing records, he created two small record labels, Tamla Records and Motown Records. On this day in 1960, Gordy combined the two labels into the Motown Record Corporation. A year later Motown would score its first number one hit with the Marvellettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” and the rest was history.
Chances are that if you’ve listened to the radio anytime over the last fifty years, you probably know the hits from Motown’s biggest acts (The Supremes, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and many many more). So, rather than look at the hits, I’m going to share with you five of my favorite lesser known Motown records.
Frank Wilson, “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”
Wilson was a songwriter at Motown when he cut this record and Gordy forced him to choose between being a songwriter or performer. Wilson decided to remain a songwriter, and very few copies of this single were ever pressed. However, a few copies wound up in England where it became popular in the Northern Soul club scene. Although it was never a charting hit, “Do I Love You” eventually received a special edition re-issue (actually it’s first real release) in 1979. It’s my opinion that if this infectious song had been given a proper release in the mid-60s it would be one of Motown’s most famous hits.
The Wright Specials, “Ninety-Nine And A Half Won’t Do”
There were actually a few gospel groups signed to Motown, including The Wright Specials, whose catalog included this hot gospel rave up.
The Supremes, “Nathan Jones”
Contrary to popular belief, the Supremes actually had eight Top 40 hits after the departure of longtime lead singer Diana Ross in 1970. 1971’s “Nathan Jones” peaked at number 16 on the Billboard chart and has a slight reggae groove.
The Messengers, “That’s The Way A Woman Is”
The Messengers were the first white act signed to Motown and released records on Motown’s rock sub-label Rare Earth. “That’s The Way A Woman Is” from 1971 is delicious bubblegum power pop.
Marvin Gaye, “Yesterday”
On their second record, With The Beatles, the Beatles covered two Motown hits, “Please Mr. Postman” and Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got A Hold on Me“. The Motown stars would reciprocate many times, although Stevie Wonder’s take on “We Can Work It Out” was the only Motown Beatles cover to make it as a hit. With all that said, the best Motown take on a Beatles composition is probably Marvin Gaye’s rendition of “Yesterday”, from his 1970 album That’s The Way Love Is.
Today when you’re spinning these and other Motown records, sip on a Motown Smash. It’s a sweet little cocktail of unknown provenance.
- 1 1/2 ounces Spiced Rum
- 1/2 ounce Raspberry Liqueur
- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- lemon-lime soda
Pour all ingredients into an ice filled highball glass, fill with lemon-lime soda.
Tomorrow: And the band played on?
Yes, contrary to popular belief, it is not the tower but actually the clock’s Great Bell that is called Big Ben. Interestingly, the Palace of Westminster’s clock went unnamed for 154 years until it was christened the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
So, why is the bell called Big Ben? There’s no definitive answer, but the commonly accepted belief is that it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the politician and civil engineer who oversaw the construction of the tower. Hall’s name is inscribed on the bell, so it’s highly possible that the bell was named in tribute to him. Amusingly, the bell known as Big Ben was not the original bell for the tower. The original bell cracked beyond repair while being tested in 1856, so a new bell was forged by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the same foundry that made the Liberty Bell.
Of course there’s a cocktail called Big Ben. This tropical rum drink is not the most impressive cocktail, but it’s a perfectly serviceable and delicious libation.
- 1 ounce White Rum
- 1/2 ounce Cointreau
- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 1/2 ounce lime cordial
Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled rocks glass.
Tomorrow: Hamlet’s friends.
It’s hard to believe, but at the height of the Golden Age Of Pop, the English could not easily find the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other top pop acts of the day on the radio dial. You see, the BBC only played one hour a week of pop music at the time, and the major record labels severely limited what could be played on air. That’s why the launch of Radio Caroline today in 1964 is so important.
Radio Caroline was the first true “pirate” radio station. However, there had been earlier illegal boat based stations like Radio Luxembourgh which broadcast pre-recorded programs created by the larger record labels. Irish musician manager Ronan O’Rahilly didn’t like the policies of Radio Luxembourgh, as he felt it kept smaller labels from getting attention. So, he launched Radio Caroline, broadcasting from 6AM to 6PM from a ship anchored in international waters off the coast of England. What made this station different and exciting was that the ship’s DJs got to play whatever they wanted, and the public loved it; with millions tuning into the pirate station. Eventually, the BBC was forced to create the pop focused BBC1 in order to compete. Radio Caroline continued to broadcast from several different boats until 1989. Currently, it is an online only station based out of Kent.
Let’s raise a glass to the pirate radio DJs of Radio Caroline with a Pirate Daiquiri. Created in 2004 by Simon Difford, founder of English drinks magazine CLASS Magazine, this is a clever twist on the Daiquiri that adds two colorful, appropriately piratical twists: Goldschläger and grenadine. Why? According to Difford’s magazine, “the liqueur contains gold and the syrup is red as blood.”
- 3/4 ounce Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
- 3/4 ounce Pusser’s Navy Rum
- 1/2 ounce Goldschläger Cinnamon Schnapps
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce grenadine
- 3/4 ounce chilled water
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Tomorrow: Mayflowers leave Baltimore, taking several Colts with them.
The corkscrew, where would we be without it? If not for this wonderful little device, we’d have to keep our wine in barrels. Thankfully, several people came along to create that wonderful device. One of these was M. L. Byrne, who patented his corkscrew on March 27, 1860.
Honestly, Byrne was not the first person to patent a corkscrew. In 1795, Samual Henshall received a patent in England for a corkscrew, although it’s unlikely that he was the first person to invent such a device. It’s said that 17th century blacksmiths were said to use screws to place corks in barrels. Henshall’s design was based on the gun worm, a spiral tool that was used to clear out guns and rifles. In fact, most modern corkscrews look more like Henshall’s design. So, why are we highlighting Byrn’s design. Well, honestly, I just love that Byrn’s corkscrew design was literally a large screw.
Anyway, to celebrate Byrne’s device, let’s drink a Corkscrew. Surprisingly, this drink isn’t a variation on the classic Screwdriver. Instead, it’s an unusual mix of rum, peach schnapps and dry vermouth.
- 1 1/2 ounces Light Rum
- 3/4 ounce Peach Schnapps
- 1/2 ounces Dry Vermouth
Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon slice.
Tomorrow: Pirate radio.
On this day in 1910, one of the greatest film directors of all time, Akira Kurosawa was born. Over a 57 year career, Kurosawa directed 30 films, and greatly influenced Hollywood movie making without ever making a film in the U. S.
Most people know Kurosawa for his amazing samurai films which in many ways set the template for many American blockbusters. Any movie in which a ragtag bunch of heroes team up to fight the forces of evil owes a debt to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. George Lucas has cited The Hidden Fortress (in which a wise general must help a rebel princess, while being followed by two bumbling
robots peasants) as a key influence on the first Star Wars film. Perhaps Kurosawa’s most entertaining film is Yojimbo, in which frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune stars as a crafty lone samurai, trying to rid a small village of two rival criminal syndicates by pitting them against each other using only his wits and occasionally his blade. Additionally, Kurosawa made two masterful Shakespearean adaptations, Throne Of Blood (based on Macbeth) and Ran (based on King Lear). The latter is one of the most artfully filmed war movies ever made and earned Kurosawa an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, a rarity for a director of a foreign language film.
However, Kurosawa did more than just samurai epics. Many critics, including the late Roger Ebert, believe Ikiru (To Live) to be Kurosawa’s masterpiece. It’s the simple story of a government bureaucrat who discovers he has an incurable stomach cancer. While looking back on his career, he realizes that he hasn’t done anything with his life. So, he sets out to do one good deed with the rest of his life and takes up the cause of a group of mothers who want to turn a mosquito ridden cesspool into a playground. It’s a beautiful, humanistic work anchored by a stunning performance by Takashi Shimura and featuring one of cinema’s most iconic closing scenes.
On what would have been Kurosawa’s birthday, why not watch one of his many classic films and enjoy a Samurai cocktail? This citrusy cocktail comes to us from Bar 190 at London’s Gore Hotel. It’s a nice warming drink that utilizes chilled tea and sake.
- Half a squeezed orange
- 1 ounce White Rum
- 1/2 ounce Sake
- 1/3 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 2/3 ounce Japanese mandarin tea
- 1 dash lemon juice
Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange zest.
Tomorrow: The great escape artist.