NOVEMBER 30: Iz the Wiz is born

Iz_The_WizON THIS DATE in 1958, Michael Martin, aka Iz the Wiz, was born in New York City. In 1972, the fourteen-year-old graffiti artist began leaving his imprint on walls, buildings, and — his speciality — subway buses.

Graffiti artist Iz the Wiz

Graffiti artist Iz the Wiz

“I wanted to do something with myself and be a part of something,” said Martin, who was raised in Queens. “The neighborhood I was in – it was either become a gangster, a drug addict, a musician or – here’s something new. It was creative, it was secretive, it was a secret society.”

Martin picked up his nickname from a poster for the Broadway play The Wiz that featured the slogan, “The Wiz Is a Wow.” “If the Wiz is a Wow, why can’t Iz be the Wiz?” said Martin, according to fellow graffiti artist SAR (real name, Charles Sar).

“Iz the Wiz was a legend among graffiti artists, by almost all accounts,” wrote The New York Times in a 2009 obituary for Martin, who died of kidney failure at age fifty.

The New York Times obituary:

The Telegraph obituary:

NOVEMBER 30: Sweden’s Charles crushes Russia

Karl_(Charles)_XII_of_SwedenON THIS DATE in 1700, eighteen-year-old Charles XII of Sweden made like a Nordic Alexander the Great, using bold military tactics to crush a Russian army three times larger than his at the Battle of Narva. The stunning Swedish triumph, which occurred near Russia’s present-day border with Estonia, made Charles a living legend in early 18th-century Europe.

The death of his father, Charles VI, had given the younger Charles the Swedish crown in 1697. In 1700, Sweden was a mammoth but declining empire that encompassed much of modern-day Poland, Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

Three rival nations — Russia, Denmark, and Saxony-Poland — saw the teenage Charles sitting on the Swedish throne and thought the northern European empire had never been so vulnerable. The Great Northern War (1700-1721) began with attacks on Swedish Holstein-Gottorp, Swedish Livonia, and Swedish Ingria, but the war’s most important early battle took place in a blizzard at Narva, where Charles personally commanded a force that cut up the Russians in just two hours.

One estimate reported 20,000 Russians captured and 10,000 killed, as opposed to 600-some casualties for Sweden.

NOVEMBER 29: “You can’t hang all 190 million of us!”

12383 Above: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya is led to her execution with a tablet on her chest that translates as “arsonist of buildings.”

“YOU CAN’T HANG all 190 million of us!” cried eighteen-year-old Soviet legend Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya on this date in 1941. Supposedly.

While the pronouncement of the soon-to-be-executed World War II resistance fighter smacks of Soviet propaganda, Kosmodemyanskaya appears to have been a worthy heroine. She worked with a band of local guerrillas after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, setting fire to houses and stables used by Nazi officers in Petrishchevo.

Betrayed by a Nazi collaborator, she was hanged on November 29, 1941. In February of 1942 she was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.


I WROTE AT LEAST 10,000 newspaper headlines from 1986 to 1991, which makes me sympathetic to the copywriter responsible for, “Homicide victims rarely talk to police” (below). Working 10-hour shifts at a quantity-over-quality newspaper in Vacaville, California, I slapped many a dull or “duh!” heading on locally written news copy.

My worst headlines probably never got through; we had a “slot” editor who rewrote the really wretched ones. The worst ones I can recall making it into print are “Harness can save your young infant’s life” (there are no old infants, I’ve been informed), and “First lady bounces back from breast surgery” (I didn’t mean it the way it sounds. Really).

So read the following and laugh if you will. Just don’t judge the possibly overworked, bleary eyed headline writers too harshly.

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November 28: “The Leader of the Pack”

The-Shangrilas-MR2087FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY, the Shangri-Las reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Leader of the Pack,” a histrionic song about a bad boy named Jimmy punctuated by the rumblings of a motorcycle.

The Shangri-Las consisted of three sixteen-year-olds and one eighteen-year-old from Queens, New York, with Mary Weiss, the youngest of the four, singing lead vocals. “Leader of the Pack” begins with spoken dialogue from two of the singers and Weiss,

Is she really going out with him?
Well, there she is. Let’s ask her
Betty, is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?
Gee, it must be great riding with him
Is he picking you up after school today?
By the way, where’d you meet him?

Mary Weiss in the foreground

Mary Weiss in the foreground

Betty’s parents disapprove of Jimmy and her dad says, “Find someone new.” She breaks up with the boy and he races off in the rain, crashes, and dies. The song ends with “The leader of the pack — now he’s gone,” repeated over and over.

The Shangri-Las had an earlier hit with “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” which reached number five in July 1964, and another top-10 single with 1965’s “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” but it’s “Leader of the Pack” that influenced a later generation of punk and metal bands.

“The bad guys in leather jackets, that’s metal,” former Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider told the New York Post in May of this year. “And that driving chord structure — there was such a heaviness to that song. It’s a metal song.”

Twisted sister covered “Leader of the Pack” on their 1985 Come Out and Play album.

Mary Weiss said the song was full of pain. “I don’t think teenage years are all that rosy for a lot of people — they certainly weren’t for me,” she told the Telegraph in 2007. “They are the most confusing time of people’s lives and there is a tremendous dark side to the record, which I think teenagers related to. The studio was a great place to let the pain out.”

Later in 1964, a group called the Detergents recorded a parody called “Leader Of The Laundromat.” The lead singer on that song, Ron Dante, would later sing lead on the 1969 Archie’s hit “Sugar Sugar.”

NOVEMBER 28: War hero, age 15

VCThomasFlinnONTHISDATE in 1857, fifteen-year-old Thomas Flinn charged enemy guns and fought hand to hand despite being wounded with two artillerymen during the Indian Mutiny in Cawnpore.

Flinn became the youngest winner of the Victoria Cross, the most prestigious award given to British soldiers. Three years later Andrew Fitzgibbon, also fifteen, received the Victoria Cross for giving medical attention to two wounded soldiers during the Third China War.