erik lundegaard

U.S. History posts

Friday February 07, 2014

'The Beatles Invade, Complete with Long Hair and Screaming Fans'

The Beatles arrive in America: Feb. 7, 1964

The Beatles, and Arthur, arrive at Kennedy airport: February 7, 1964. Photo by Bill Eppridge

Certain dates mean something to me. Some are birthdates: Jan. 11, 19, 23. February 25. April 28. July 4, 7, 8 and 13. October 30.

Some are assassination dates: April 4, June 6, November 22, September 11.

Then there's a date that doesn't have any contemporaries: February 7. That's the day the Beatles arrived. I'll always think of it as the day the Beatles arrived. Fifty years ago today.

I was always a bit backward-looking. I grew up with “Sgt. Pepper” and the White Album, and in the summer of '73, when I was 10, we got the red and blue albums, their greatest hits, and later, in junior high and high school, I picked up the remainder. I got them all. By college I was digging after scraps: “The Beatles Talk Downunder,” which is just that, recordings of press conferences from their 1964 trip to Australia. I read and re-read Philip Norman's biography “Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation.” I was collecting what articles I could. Some of them I stole from the college library. Awful, really. But I had this need.

I remember my father having to explain to me that the Beatles were always considered long-haired. I think we were looking at the blue and red albums in the summer of '73 and I mentioned I liked the Beatles better short-haired, and he said, “Actually that was considered long hair back then.” I couldn't comprehend it. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. That's how much influence they had. Would hair have exploded that way without them? Would rock 'n' roll?

Our family friend Lynn likes to tell a story from about 1969 when her son Ben and I were both 6 years old. I had traveled with them from Minneapolis to their summer place in Charlevoix, Michigan, and Lynn was in the kitchen, and Ben and I were down the hall in the bedroom where she could hear us talking. Apparently it went something like this:

Me: Mine's longer.
Ben: No, mine's longer.
Me: How can you say that? See?
Ben: [Pause] Well, if I pull on mine, mine's longer.

At which point she hurried to the bedroom to end the game ... and saw us kneeling in front of the mirror and pulling our hair down our foreheads towards our eyes. We wanted to be Beatles.

The foreignness of the Beatles when they first arrived is the thing that's hard to grasp for people like Ben and I who came later. When they arrived they were the freak show to the establishment. But then they became the standard and it was the establishment—skinny ties and greasy hair and overall squareness—that became the freak show. You pick up intimations of how they were viewed from contemporary pop cultural artifacts. The Way Outs from “The Flintstones.” The Mosquitos from “Gilligan's Island.” The articles of the day, with their references to long hair and “buginess.” The title of this blog post was the title of the New York Times article from Feb. 8, 1964 by Paul Gardner. It began:

Multiply Elvis Presley by four, subtract six years from his age, add British accents and a sharp sense of humor. The answer: It's the Beatles (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah).

In college I wanted to write a story about February 1964. I thought of a kid in New York devastated by November 22, 1963, and fearful, looking up at the tall buildings and thinking an assassin could be in any of them. Then the Beatles arrived and swept it all away with their energy and yeah-yeah-yeah music. They arrived and he was part of that mad rush at them. He wandered New York looking up at the buildings and thinking the Beatles could be in any of them.

It was supposed to be a microcosm of the way historians wrote about the Beatles and our early interest in the Beatles. They swept away scandal and tragedy. In Britain, the Profumo scandal in the summer of '63 led to Beatlemania that fall. In the U.S., November 22 led to February 7. We needed to think about something else.

But it would've been nothing without the music to go with it. Everyone still likes the music. My nephews, the kids of friends, they all like the Beatles. The Beatles swept away 1950s rock 'n' roll but nothing's really swept them away: not punk, not grunge, not rap. It's still here after 50 years. Fifty years. Shit, you know how long that is? Fifty years before I was born, World War I hadn't even started. It was that world. But 50 years later we're still living in the world the Beatles created.

Posted at 07:57 AM on Feb 07, 2014 in category U.S. History
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Monday December 30, 2013

The 10 Most Outstanding People in the World, According to Students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in 1927

Here's the list:

  1. Charles Lindbergh
  2. Richard Byrd
  3. Benito Mussolini
  4. Henry Ford
  5. Herbert Hoover
  6. Albert Einstein
  7. Mahatma Gandhi
  8. George Bernard Shaw
  9. Bobby Jones
  10. Al Capone

I came across the list near the end of Bill Bryson's much-recommended book, “One Summer: America, 1927,” during his section on Al Capone. But it's worth running down the whole list.

The top two are both aviators in a year famous for aviation. Lindbergh's fame, of course, survives; Byrd's doesn't, even though, at the beginning of that year, Byrd was the better-known of the two. But according to Bryson, Byrd's fame deserves to have faded since he was something of a charlatan.

Two politicians make the list, Mussolini and Hoover, both known for making trains (real or metaphoric) run on time. Neither fared well with history. Wait, I guess Gandhi was a politican, too. So three. Gandhi has fared best of all. He still makes an impact as example rather than negative example.

Only one businessman: Ford. Two if you count Capone—which Bryson does—and in some ways Capone has fared better historically than Ford. Bryson isn't much of a fan of the automaker, either. He gives credit where it's due but sees him mostly as a crank and anti-Semite. Capone? He simply saw a need and filled it. With a Tommy gun in hand.

Rounding out the list: one scientist, one athlete, one writer. Interestingly, Bobby Jones trumped both Jack Dempsey (in the year he lost to Gene Tunney) and Babe Ruth (in the year he hit 60 homeruns). In his book, Bryson writes often of Ruth, often of Dempsey, but never of Jones. I wonder why.

Worth noting, too, who's not on the list: President Calvin Coolidge, famously taciturn. He'd probably approve.

I'd be curious if such lists today ever include writers and scientists. Or gangsters and fascists.

10 outstanding people of 1927

The great men of 1927: Lindbergh, Einstein, Capone.

Posted at 10:16 AM on Dec 30, 2013 in category U.S. History
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Friday November 22, 2013

'From Dallas, Texas, the Flash Apparently Official ...'

Fifty years ago today, my mother (of two children then) met my father, a young reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune, for a Friday lunch at a downtown restaurant. Apparently they heard the news from their waiter, but I don't know if the news they heard was “shot” or “dead.” My father didn't even know what the waiter was talking about. The president? The president of the restaurant? What president? “President Kennedy,” he was told.  Thus they knew before everyone else in the restaurant. For the rest, it was still an ordinary Friday lunch, and there was talk and laughter and clinking of glasses and silverware. In the tellings since, this always feels like the worst part. Tragedy has already enveloped my mother and father, yet all around them is chatter and laughter.

Eventually, someone came out and made an official announcement and my father rushed back to the Tribune to see if he could be of use. He helped put together a photo essay on Pres. Kennedy. He remembers tears welling up in his eyes when he came across the famous White House photo of John-John playing beneath the presidential desk.

John John in the oval office

ADDENDUM: Comments from my father: You nailed it — the surreal horror of knowing of tragedy before anyone else in the room. No one made an announcement, though. What happened was that the background music was suddenly interrupted by the voice of Walter Cronkite as the people around us gradually understood what had happened.

The waiter told us as he brought my beef stroganoff. I didn't eat beef stroganoff again for a dozen years.

Posted at 08:15 AM on Nov 22, 2013 in category U.S. History
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Tuesday October 15, 2013

Heading Into Nut Country: From Dealey Plaza to the Tea Party

JFK assassination

George Packer has a good piece in The New Yorker called “Leaving Dealey Plaza,” about the Kennedy assassination, whose 50th anniversary is upon us and Dallas. He opens in this haunting fashion:

Ever since the age of seven, I’ve been obsessed with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It took place when I was three, and though I have no memory of hearing the news, the President’s murder, in Dallas, hung over my childhood with the vivid and riveting terror of a dream. On my parents’ bookshelf, there was a slender, crimson-jacketed pictorial account of November 22, 1963—fifty years ago next month—and the days that followed, by the photographers of the Associated Press, called “The Torch Is Passed.” I would sit by myself for what felt like hours and stare at the black-and-white stills—the roses in Jackie’s arms at Love Field; the open Presidential limousine gleaming in the sunlight; the waving, unknowing crowds; Kennedy’s smile in the images just before the first shot; Jackie’s face turning toward him as his fists jerk up to his throat; the black shoe hanging over the back of the seat as the limo speeds away toward the underpass.

Recently he visited Dallas for the first time, so he went, like I went, to Dealey Plaza. He found it much like he'd always imagined it whereas I'd always thought it was located in the center of the city. Not sure why. Because it's central to our history? Instead it's on the edge of the downtown area. It's on the extreme edge. It's the road you take before leaving the center forever. 

Packer's article is about the extremism in Dallas at the time, and the hatred—“We're heading into Nut Country,” Jack apparently told Jackie on the flight down—and the difficulty Dallas has dealing with the crime. It's the city that killed the president. Then Packer makes the inevitable update, the inevitable warning, the plus ca change warning. That hatred of Kennedy isn't gone, it's just been transferred. In 50 years, as the rest of us have progressed, the extreme right has managed to change one letter: they've gone from Birchers to Birthers. Nut Country is more diffuse now. It's also in the halls of power. Packer concludes:

Last week, as part of the anniversary build up, the Morning News ran a brutally honest article about the city fifty years ago. The piece quotes Darwin Payne, a historian and former Dallas newspaperman: “You could feel it in the air. When I hear some people express hatred for Obama, it feels the same. But I never have felt we are on the verge of anything like the events I witnessed back then.”

American politics today isn’t haunted by the same fear of sudden, shattering violence. But, as for nut country, it’s migrated from the John Birch Society bookstores to the halls of Congress, where angry talk of socialism and impeachment is almost routine. Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Louie Gohmert are the spiritual descendants of Walker and Hunt. Fifty years later, Dallas would like to move on from Dealey Plaza. This is normal and right. What’s holding it back is the Republican Party.

Right-wing WANTED posters for JFK and Obama

Posted at 08:05 AM on Oct 15, 2013 in category U.S. History
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Tuesday September 17, 2013

Woodrow Wilson, With a Message for the Originalists

Here's Woodrow Wilson in 1908 in his book, “Constitutional Government in the United States,” arguing against, of all ideas, checks and balances:

The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.

I came across it while reading Jill Lepore's article, “The Tug of War: Woodrow Wilson and the power of the Presidency,” which is ostensibly a book review, or books review (“Wilson” by A. Scott Berg; “Woodrow Wilson” by John Milton Cooper, Jr.), but which ranges more into the life, and into the office, than into the books. That link to the article, by the way, is just to a snyopsis. For the full thing you need the magazine. Which you should get. Sept. 9, 2013.

Helluva rise for Wilson. Named president of Princeton in 1902. Elected governor of New Jersey in 1910. Elected president of the United States in 1912 and again in 1916. Helluva fall as well: illness and incapaciation. The elections, meanwhile, required help: Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party splitting the Republican vote in the first; winning 10 of the 12 states where women could vote in 1916. I hadn't realized suffrage had been a state by state thing before the 19th amendment.

He was the first Southerner since the Civil War to be president. James Weldon Johnson said he “openly condoned and vindicated prejudice against the Negro.” His wife died in office; he remarried in office; his second wife ran things during his incapacitation.

Lepore also reminds us of the swift change of things: “During Wilson's Adminstration, Congress lowered the tariff, reformed banking and currency laws, passed a new antitrust act, instituted a graduate income tax and the first federal inheritance tax, passed the first private-sector-eight-hour-workday legislation and the first federal aid to farmers, abolished child labor, and established the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve. Wilson believed  that it was the obligation of the federal government to regulate the economy to protect ordinary Americans 'from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control, or singly cope with.'”

Are Democrats more likely than Republicans to be academics? From this list it seems so: Wilson, LBJ, Clinton, Obama. Also, look at all the Navy boys.

Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States

Posted at 06:35 AM on Sep 17, 2013 in category U.S. History
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