Elton John and Ally McBeal

My son and I were driving around today, and Elton John’s classic song, “Candle in the Wind” came on the radio.

It immediately brought back memories from almost 20 years ago of Princess Di’s funeral and Elton’s performance of Candle in the Wind in memory of her.

It’s one of my favorite songs, and the video makes it even more special. I remember I used to show it in my Computer Applications class, both as an example of this amazing thing called the Internet and the World Wide Web (remember, this was 1997), and its ability to play video. I also used it as an example to showcase what I think of as passion; as you watch Elton John sing this song it is obvious the words were coming from his heart, and when he looks to the heavens at the end, you can tell he truly missed Princess Di.

This version of the song was a remake of Elton’s 1973 Candle in the Wind from 1973, which was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Elton modified some of the lyrics for the 1997 version, such as the opening lines:

1973 version: “Goodbye Norma Jeane, though I never knew you at all.”
1997 version:  “Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts.”

I also was not aware that the 1997 version is the best selling single of all time, having sold over 33 million copies. The only live performance was at Princess Di’s funeral.

I often think of it as one of the first videos that went viral (thanks in part to my viewing it literally at least one hundred times over the years), and it’s still one of the best, despite the sad overtones.

As I was thinking back on those early days of the Internet and viral videos, I couldn’t help but recall the Dancing Baby phenomenon.

This animation was brought into the public awareness thanks to the Ally McBeal Show. It also became one of the first viral videos, and I used to show this in class as well (that was a fun class to teach!).

Here’s a brief history of this video, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The “Dancing Baby” phenomenon refers to a 3D rendered animation of a baby performing a cha-cha type dance. It originated as a collection of experimental testing data and files, ultimately released in Autumn of 1996 as a product sample source file (sk_baby.max) with the 3D character animation software product “Character Studio”, used with 3D Studio Max (both products from Kinetix/Autodesk).

In late 1996, web developer John Woodell created a highly compressed animated gif from the source movie, as part of a demo of the movie-to-gif process. Woodell later published the gif to his employee web page of the Internet startup where he worked. The animated gif then proliferated to numerous other web sites, and later proceeded to show up in a broad array of mainstream media, including television dramas (e.g. Ally McBeal), commercial advertisements, and music videos between 1997–1998.

The animation was shown on several episodes of Ally McBeal as a recurring hallucination, suggesting a metaphor for the ticking of Ally’s biological clock. On that show, it was curiously accompanied by a Blue Swede cover of the song “Hooked on a Feeling”.

As great as the animation was, I think it was the addition of “Hooked on a Feeling” as a soundtrack that made it such a classic video. As a sign of its popularity, it spawned several stylized versions and parodies including a “drunken baby”, a “rasta baby”, a “samurai baby”.

So thanks for indulging my little trip down memory lane, along with a history lesson to boot.

“I can’t stop this feeling” that if Princess Di were alive today, she would be a voice of reason and compassion in the midst of all the world’s problems, and that she would be excited about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman President of the U.S.

Unfortunately, her candles burned out long before her legend ever will.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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