Saturday, January 29, 2011


1969. The zenith of US troops in Vietnam, with a conniving and paranoid Richard Nixon at the helm, and massive anti-war moratoriums in the streets. The My Lai Massacre is exposed, and Life Magazine runs a full-color spread of bloody bodies, shocking photographs of more than three hundred unarmed women and children killed by Lt. James Calley and the men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, United States Army. The Chicago Eight conspiracy trial begins with Black Panther Bobby Seale chained to his chair, and across town fellow Panther Fred Hampton is murdered in his sleep by Chicago police.

1969. The Beatles give their last public performance, and are busted on the Apple rooftop by London police, but they manage to release Abbey Road, and "Come Together" and "Something" fill the the airwaves. James Earl Ray pleads guilty to assassinating Martin Luther King. The war rages on, and the The USA is divided between a liberal, anti-war peace camp of youth and minorities, and a flag-waving Republican "Silent Majority" who support the war, Nixon and "law and order." The conservatives see the civil rights movement as a threat, and Nixon speaks in code about "welfare mothers" abusing the system, infuriating his base, firing up the angry hardhats to bust some heads, stirring up his ground troops much in the way of today's Tea Party. Not to be outdone by the Black Power movement, AIM Indians occupy abandoned Alcatraz to draw attention to the plight of Native Americans. In another world, Joe Namath and the NY Jets win the Super Bowl after Broadway Joe's brazen prediction. "Easy Rider" is in the theaters, and "Midnight Cowboy" will win Best Picture. Apollo astronauts walk on the moon, and half a million people go to Woodstock to celebrate peace, love and music where Jimi Hendrix plays an incendiary "Star-Spangled Banner" replete with bomb blasts and feedback missiles.

1969. Pianist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris take the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival and capture the turbulent times in a song that becomes a classic. The songs starts innocently enough with just a drummer and piano--and, as if tipping his hand, Less McCann quotes a little "Aquarius"--then launches into a fiery jazz diatribe expressing anger and militancy, loss and disillusionment, the war, the Movement, and a painfully divided nation. More than any phony speech from Tricky Dick that year, this is really the State of the Union Address.

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