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Tyrants' top 10, with a bullet

August 16, 2007|John Kenney | John Kenney is a writer in New York.

"Hitler's outward hatred for Jews and Russians may have belied a secret passion for some of their greatest musical works, if a recently discovered cache of records proves to be the remains of his private music collection. The nearly 100 records, now worn and scratched, were stored in the attic of a former Soviet intelligence agent, who left a note saying he took them from the Reich Chancellery after the fall of Berlin in 1945."

-- The New York Times


For Pol Pot, it was Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," the single from the album of the same name. They say that when he was in an especially good mood, Pot (Polly-O to his friends) would phone colleagues -- sometimes total strangers -- saying only, in a high-pitched whisper, "Tonight, gotta leave the 9 to 5 up on a shelf and just enjoy yourself . Groove. Let the madness and the music get to you. Life ain't so bad at all if you live it off the wall." Then hang up.

It was said of Pot that he had almost no sense of humor and passionately detested professional hockey. Yet not long after his death, one of the four people who attended his burial discovered three Bob Newhart albums, Woody Allen's "The Nightclub Years" and "Orr on Ice: A play-by-play reenactment of the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals."

The enigma extends to Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili -- known to the world as Stalin. He claimed to hate homosexuality, though he admitted later in life "to trying it and kind of liking it but not loving it." His name translates literally as "man of steel," but that was belied by a nicer side, in the way a person who executes 20 million people can have a nicer side -- listening, far from the Politburo, to the recordings of the late Bobby Short.

According to Short's biographer, the cabaret singer and the mass murderer met once, at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris. Stalin requested Cole Porter's "Rap Tap on Wood," which Short played, but not to Stalin's satisfaction. According to witnesses, Stalin produced a sickle and tried to behead Short, who managed to duck. Of the incident, Short said only, "Stalin was a very gentle lover but he smelled like a goat."

And what of newly dead former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who once said, "The only thing I despise more than goats or a person who smells like a goat is a Latvian"? Yet how to explain the 4-by-6-foot poster Pinochet kept at his country home of Latvian composer Imants Kalnins?

A Chilean daily, not long after Pinochet's death, ran a story that quoted an unidentified aide to the dictator. "A typical day involved going up in a plane with, say, 25 political prisoners. We'd play a game called 'Who can fly?' We'd push them out the door -- at about 20,000 feet -- and to my recollection not one of them ever flew. Later, we'd go back, make a pitcher of wine coolers and listen to some Latvian folk music."

Oddly, Muslim extremist and unpopular cave-dweller Osama bin Laden also has an unnatural fondness for wine coolers yet is known to loathe the Captain & Tennille. He claims, on poorly produced videos, to wonder "why a grown man not associated with naval operations wears such a hat. What is he captain of?" So imagine the surprise of American forces when they found a treasure trove of what appear to be Bin Laden's DVDs in caves throughout the Afghan mountains, including all of the duo's albums. A hand-written note on the single "Muskrat Love" says, "It makes me both happy and sad and tingly. What magic true artists possess."

And then there's Henry Kissinger, who some say died four years ago but remains "alive" by remote control. He is said to fear for his life in the company of Belgians and anyone who says the word "sommelier." Kissinger discovered music in April or May of 1998, on a car radio. According to an aide, he appeared confused but intrigued and asked what the "melodic noise" was. Informed that it was a band called the Commodores, he requested a copy of the song and soon amassed the entire oeuvre of Lionel Ritchie. He denies it to this day.

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