Friday, April 18, 2014

She Loves You by BJ Neblett

Hello again and happy spring! I have been keeping busy with new stories appearing in Romance Magazine as well as on line at Short Story Me. Thanks to all who have made my work both publications so popular! Once again I offer up another random chapter from my follow up historical memoir A Change Is Gonna Come, which should be out this winter. As you know, like Ice Cream Camelot it not only follows my life, it traces what was going on in the country and the world at the time. So here is a quick and entertaining history lesson from the mid '60's. Enjoy, and be sure to like, link, comment and spread the love.

She Loves You
BJ Neblett
© 2004, 2013

            January, 1964. Emerging folk singer Bob Dylan said it first, and best: The Times They Are A-Changin’. In an ironic twist, it was Dylan’s songs that were helping to bring about dramatic changes to popular music. Folk music had always been about real things, real people; real occurrences. Dylan sang about the things that he saw happening around him; around all of us. What Dylan and the rest of us witnessed in the ‘60’s were social, political, economical and cultural changes. Unlike the personal changes controlling my own young life, thanks to my interest in President Kennedy I had begun to appreciate and agree with most of the changes taking place in the world. They seemed obvious and natural. What I didn’t get was why so many adults didn’t seem to understand. It was frustrating. Most of the changes were clearly necessary and overdue, but the struggle and methodology wasn’t pretty.
            The Civil Rights movement was a perfect example; a large part of the irony I saw all around me. In Lawrence Park, the development where we’d moved after leaving South Philadelphia, there were no blacks. In school we were taught God created everyone equally. That tenant was part of the American Constitution. And yet, at St. Pius X Grade School there were no blacks. Furthermore, in class the girls sat behind the boys; and for the most part women in general were treated like second class citizens. Ever since Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955, we’d witness protests and demonstrations against segregation, nightly on the TV news. In the last couple of years those demonstrations had turned ugly and violent. My fallen hero, John F. Kennedy had repeatedly urged Congress to pass legislation directed at ending segregation. On January 23, 1964 the 24th Amendment eliminated the Poll Tax in federal elections. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B Johnson continued his predecessor’s efforts, eventually signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yet, the often violent practice of segregation, and the demonstrations to end it, continued.
            In May, black youths Charles Moore and Henry Dee were beaten and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Although suspects were identified, the murders would go down as unsolved. The same month, the NAACP and the Motor Car Dealers Association reached an agreement on the hiring of blacks. The agreement was the direct result of sit-ins in new car showrooms in San Francisco and fifty other American cities. In June, legislatures from southern states led a successful filibuster in Congress, forcing the Senate to limit debate on a purposed civil rights bill. On the 21st of June, violence once again flared up in Mississippi as three young civil rights workers were murdered. It would take four decades before a suspect was brought to justice. At the same time some 700 young people, mostly from the north, descended on Mississippi to teach in “freedom schools” and register black voters. The violence in the south and growing discontent in America’s black neighborhoods resulted in riots breaking out in several cities including New York City, Rochester, Chicago, Patterson, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Later in the year, The Reverend Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful efforts to end segregation. In a statement that punctuated the growing rift in the struggle for equality, J Edger Hoover called King, “The most notorious liar in the country.” The comment resulted from King’s harsh criticism of the FBI’s handling of racial issues in the south. In 1965 the protests grew as did the violence, with demonstrations and confrontations spreading throughout the south. As Kennedy had done before, President Johnson was forced to send in troops to protect protesters marching peacefully from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
            Political and social leader Malcolm X had left the Nation of Islam in 1964. An outspoken proponent of Civil Rights, he believed the group’s policies towards integration to be too soft. Openly criticizing both the Nation of Islam and Reverend King for their non-violence stance, Malcolm X called upon blacks to rise up against what he termed the white man’s rule. On February 21, 1965, as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan, Malcolm X was shot and killed by three members of the Nation of Islam. By the summer of 1965, race riots had again erupted in Chicago, Los Angeles and other US Cities.
            Watching live coverage of the Philadelphia riots on TV, I bitterly vowed to ignore the ongoing struggles for equality. Camelot was dead. The powers now firmly in charge, the older establishment America, had killed Kennedy. And it seemed they would soon squash his dreams of a racially balanced country. There was nothing I could do about it. I retreated back into my comfortable personal existence, and the world once again receded into its role as background players in my life’s story. Soon, though, a new school and some new, caring teachers would reignite my interest in social issues.
            Bob Dylan’s songs, along with other folk tunes of the decade, sharply reminded America of the many short falls and inequities that still needed to be overcome. At the same time, that very same music helped to polarize the nation, drawing defining lines between the older establishment and the younger generation. As the decade progress, the gap between generations would only widen. And music would be at the core.
            On January 18, 1964, the Beatles made their first appearance on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, placing I Wanna Hold Your Hand at the number thirty five position. Following a taped segment on the Jack Parr Show, and the groups’ first live American TV performance on Ed Sullivan, the song shot to number one, remaining at the top for seven weeks, eventually being replaced by their own She Loves You. It was nearly impossible to take a breath during 1964 without hearing about the group of mop tops from Britain. On February 3 their LP Meet The Beatles went gold. The same month they began their first American tour with a concert at Washington, DC’s Coliseum, followed by two performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall and a second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. They visited Cassius Clay as he trained for his heavy weight bout with Sonny Liston. Then filming of the band’s first movie, A Hard Day’s Night began in March. The film was released in the US in August to widespread acclaim.
            On the heels of their countrymen, on June 1 the Rolling Stones arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York to begin their own American tour. By year’s end, the music charts had been taken over by the numerous bands of the British invasion. But American music wasn’t quite dead yet. It had been ten years since the first stirrings of rock ‘n’ roll, and a new generation of young enthusiasts had grown up. The new American rock held its own against the onslaught from across the Atlantic with timeless hits like Louie Louie, I Get Around, Where Did Our Love Go, Rag Doll, Baby I Need Your Lovin’, and Pretty Woman. In 1965 a new electrified genre called Folk Rock, led by the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas would claim the air waves. The same year, Bob Dylan would electrify himself and his music, to the condemnation of folk purists and the overwhelming approval of the new rockers. But by 1966 Dylan had silenced his detractors, even winning over the support of music critics. Once again, the pioneering musician had changed the face of pop music.
            I had retired my old trusted transistor radio, partly because of the changes coming out of it. The Beatles weren’t bad; I didn’t care much for the Rolling Stones or the other British Invasion bands at the time. Having recently mastered playing the guitar, I clung to what was left of the old rock ‘n’ roll and slowly gravitated towards folk music. It would be another year before I fully accepted what was now passing as popular music. The new friends I encountered at my new school, especially the girls, would have a strong influence on my musical taste.
            While the British were boisterously invading America, America was quietly and secretly invading Southeast Asia. The struggle between North and South Vietnam wasn’t a new one. Since the end of the Second World War when the country was divided, the south had been fighting for its independence while northern forces were intent on unifying the tiny country under communist rule. The French gave up its defense of South Vietnam, and the political mess ended up in the lap of our new young president. Reluctant to bring the US into another war, Kennedy approved sending non-combatant advisers to aid the South Vietnam forces. The buildup of US aid continued, culminating in the Gulf Of Tonkin.
            On August 2, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox engaged three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats in the Gulf Of Tonkin. The three torpedo boats were heavily damaged and four North Vietnamese sailors were killed. One US aircraft carrier and the Maddox were slightly damaged. Two days later, the US National Security Agency claimed that a second encounter between the two forces had taken place. This incident was later proven to be false. However, the result of the two incidents was the passage by Congress of the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution. This gave President Johnson the authority to assist any Southeast Asian country whose government was considered to be threatened by communist aggression. The resolution gave the president legal justification for the deployment of conventional forces and the start of open warfare against the North. By September, US destroyers were regularly firing on targets in North Vietnam.
            As Russia and Communist China continued to supply the northern forces of Ho Chi Minh, President Johnson steadily increased the number of American troops supporting the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), through his policy of “graduated pressure”. In March of 1965 more than 150 US and South Vietnamese planes bombed two bases in North Vietnam in the first of the Rolling Thunder raids. On April 6 Johnson authorized the use of ground troops in combat operations. By year’s end American troops in Vietnam numbered nearly 185,000. Within a year that number would more than double. Meanwhile, the Joint Chief of Staff organized a war game code named Sigma II. The secret operation tried to gauge reaction to continued conflict with Hanoi and the Viet Cong. Ironically it predicted that continued escalation would result in diminished public support for the president’s policies. They were right. In 1965, a new type of demonstration began to appear on college campuses along side of those supporting desegregation. The college students were now protesting America’s growing involvement in Southeast Asia. In Washington DC, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held its first anti-Vietnam war rally.
            President Johnson’s State of the Union address in January of 1965 highlighted his goals for his Great Society. The agenda called for extensive programs including combating diseases; doubling the war on poverty; stricter and more extensive enforcement of Civil Rights Laws; reforming immigration laws, and support for better education. The program attracted support for a time, but Johnson’s Great Society would soon fall victim to the escalating, undeclared war in Vietnam.
            While tensions in the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union had eased, a different conflict between the two countries continued in the atmosphere above the earth. By the time Ed White became the first American to walk in space on June 3, 1965, testing of nuclear devices underwater, in the atmosphere and in space had been banned by a 1963 agreement between the US, the Soviets and the UK. Nuclear testing continued above and underground on a limited bases, eventually giving rise to more college protests. But the Soviets had caught America and the world by surprise with their successful launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the earth, in 1957. Since then the US space program had been playing a game of catch up. Having successfully concluded its pioneering Mercury Program, NASA set its sights on fulfilling President Kennedy’s mandate of reaching the moon. The manned Gemini Program, begun in 1965 placed two astronauts in a single craft. Its successful rendezvous in space with a second capsule in December of that year, and the eventual docking of the two crafts in 1966, paved the way for the more ambitious Apollo Program.
            My interest in the race for space continued as I faithfully watched each launch live on our 19” black and white TV. Slim, attractive color televisions, along with remote controls were rapidly replacing the old boxy sets of the fifties. My practical, thrifty father stubbornly stuck with our old square Emerson.  Dad had been promoted to chief plant electrician at his work, receiving a commensurate raise in pay. But modern conveniences were slow to arrive at the Neblett household. It would be 1970 before Dad bought an air conditioned car, and Mom received a dishwasher and a color TV. The summer of 1965 central air conditioning was finally installed in our house. The same year my second car, a 1957 Chevy, lost its home as the recreation room was expanded into the garage. Still not old enough to drive, and under the surveillance of some nosy neighbors, it became more difficult to sneak away for a night of joy riding.
            Modern conveniences took a hit on November 9, 1965, when a major power failure hit the East Coast of the US. Just after 5:30 PM, New York City experienced a blackout that quickly spread, eventually encompassing nine Northeastern states and parts of Canada. The outage, which lasted for up to thirteen and a half hours in places, was blamed on a malfunctioning switch at a station near Niagara Falls.
            After blowing a shot at the National League Pennant in 1964, my Phillies ended the ‘65 season in sixth place, eleven and a half games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. LA would go on to defeat the Minnesota Twins four games to three to clench the World Series title. Minnesota had won their first pennant since 1933 when the team was based in DC as the Washington Senators. But the Dodgers had plenty to celebrate as well during their 97 game winning season. Pitching aces Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax had won 23 and 26 games respectively. Koufax also pitched a perfect game on September 9, becoming the first left hander to do so since 1880. The overpowering southpaw won the Cy Young award in 1963, 1965 and 1966, retiring in 1966 at the age of 36 due to arthritis in his left elbow. Elsewhere, San Francisco’s Willie Mays hit his 512th home run on May 4, surpassing Mel Ott’s longstanding record.
             My own stuttering career as a pitcher would have a brief resurgence as I fumbled my way through my first encounter with public school.

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