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A Short History of Long-Haired Music: The Classical Era, part 2

If you missed our previous installments, check out A Short History of Long-Haired Music archives

As with the beginning of most epochs, two dandies didn’t wake up one morning in London and have the following conversation over breakfast:

Bertram: I’m tired of the same old Baroque rigamarole day in, day out. Let’s call everything from this day forward, The Classical era.

Oswig: I say, that does have a nice ring to it Bertram… Heavens!

Bertram: What is it Oswig?

Oswig: Look at the front page! Another smallpox outbreak.

Bertram: Dreadful, indeed. Kindly pass the salted meat, would you old boy?

Likewise, there was no one event in 1750 that signaled the dawning of a new musical style. The Classical era can’t claim the equivalent of the now famous July 4, 1976 concert by the Ramones at the Roundhouse in London, which put punk rock on the musical map. Perhaps this is because Johann Sebastian Bach never came up with a catchy song title like "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” If he had, maybe things would’ve been different. (Though, to be fair, he did compose a chorale, punkishly entitled, Es ist Genug!—which is German for “It is Enough!” Clearly a man well ahead of his time.)

But like the punk rock movement, the Classical era was rooted in rebellion. In punk rock’s case, artists like The Sex Pistols and The Clash were fed up with songs like “Hotel California,” with their really really long guitar solos and elaborate chord structures. They’d seen enough of Peter Gabriel prancing around stage dressed in a giant sunflower costume, leading Genesis through songs that sometimes occupied the entire side of a record.

Likewise, around 1750, musicians and composers began to move away from the heavily ornamented baroque style made famous by Bach. Young composers, including Bach’s own sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedmann, began to mimic the esthetics of ancient Greece, resurrecting the bygone culture’s clean, uncluttered style.

For the next seventy-five years or so, the music of the day became more about simplicity, beauty, and balance. Composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart considered form and proportion just as important as melody and harmony. The birth of rococo art and architecture, which coincided with the birth of one of the period’s most talented composers, Franz Joseph Haydn, had an influence, as well.

The rococo style began in France under the reign of King Louis XV, who ruled from 1715 until his death in 1774 from smallpox. Louis’s mistress, Madame du Pompadour, had an enormous influence on his aesthetics, as did Philippe, Duc d'Orleans. Between the two of them, the young king was led away from the monumental grandeur of his predecessor, Louis XIV, toward a lighter, more delicate and refined look.

At Versailles, rooms were made smaller and new furniture brought in. This seemed to be the trend at Versailles every time different king took the throne. Each successive Louis felt the need for a complete palace makeover. Had reality TV existed back then, the producers of Queer Eye for the Royal Guy surely wouldn’t have wanted for material.


Louis XV’s new rococo-for-cocoa-pops style was inspired not by the instant chocolate milk it created afterward but by decorative tree branches, flowers, coral, seaweed, and seashells. That’s where the term rococo comes from. In French, rocaille means “rocks and shells.”

In the rococo paintings of French artist Antoine Watteau, there’s a similar return to simplicity. Inspired by Classical Greek and Roman art, Watteau sought a more whimsical look reminiscent of the old wine, women and song days. Scantily clad mythological gods and goddesses pranced through open fields. Rotund ladies lounged along riverbanks, laughing, no doubt, at each other’s thunder thighs. Men cavorted about idyllic country settings in powdered wigs, a sensuality to their expressions that stood out in sharp contrast to the seriousness of the heavy religious subjects fashionable under the previous Louis.

Not unlike a new Banana Republic spring collection, Louis XV’s new look was all about fun and frivolity using soft, muted pastels and light neutral colors. From France, the zippy rococo style spread throughout Europe faster than a smallpox epidemic. When it arrived in Vienna, composers quickly figured out how to translate it into music.

[Be sure to tune in next Wednesday for Part 5 of this series!]

If you missed our previous installments, check out A Short History of Long-Haired Music archives.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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