Category Archives: Richard Nixon

A Couple Lennon Flicks

Sometimes I see October 9 creeping up on the calendar and have not much to say past “Happy birthday, John.” This year, though, as a result of the 09/09/09 VH1 Classic extravaganza, there were a couple Lennon-related items worthy of noting, neither of which I had ever seen before.

One was a live concert in New York City in 1972, a benefit for the mentally handicapped (the preferred term in the day). It was odd, though. It all SOUNDED particularly familiar, such as him referring to his old group as the Rolling Stones. That’s because I own the album that was released posthumously in 1986; I have it on vinyl, perhaps one of the last LPs I ever bought. A photo of Lennon given to me by my friend Rocco was almost certainly from the same set of concerts. (Yes, the same Rocco who gets a mention in Love & Rockets 40.)

VH1 bleeped a couple words in the concert, one of them a pronoun. One was in the title of Woman Is the N***** of the World, which was excised several times. The other word was from Well Well Well. In the line, “She looked so beautiful, I could eat her,” the “her” was clipped. The interesting thing about the technology is that it didn’t affect the backing track, only the vocal track.

Something that I DIDN’T know until recently is that there were two concerts. And Elephant’s Memory, John and Yoko’s backing band, was reportedly really ticked off with Yoko Ono, believing she should have released the music from the tighter second concert rather than the first. A few of those second show performances appear on the box set Lennon Anthology. John messes up the lyrics to Come Together in both.

Here’s a performance of Instant Karma, followed by Mother.

The other item I saw was the 2006 feature film, the U.S. vs. John Lennon, which chronicled the development of John Lennon’s evolution from moptop to the famous/infamous “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus” comment to John & Yoko on the cover of Two Virgins. But ultimately, he was recognized as a political creature – black activist Angela Davis, e.g., took notice of the Beatles song Revolution. Many may have thought John and Yoko’s bagism and bed-ins were silly; John didn’t seem to care. Yet “Give Peace a Chance”, recorded at the Montreal bed-in, became as much the antiwar anthem as “We Shall Overcome” was the anthem for the civil rights movement.

Post-Beatles, John and Yoko’s activism became more pointed, hanging out with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale (who appears in the film). When John was seemingly successful in freeing activist John Sinclair, the Nixon White House became concerned about the 1972 election, especially given the passage of the 26th Amendment allowing 18-year-olds the right to vote for the first time nationally.

What to do? Based on a suggestion by Senator Strom Thurmond, the Nixon White House decided to try to deport John Lennon. The basis was a marijuana conviction that lots of pop stars in England had been subjected to, all performed by one overzealous officer.

The twists and turns of that four-year journey are fascinating, especially as told by among others, Walter Cronkite, Mario Cuomo, John Dean, Ron Kovic, George McGovern, Gore Vidal, and Geraldo Rivera, who had broken the story of the abuses in the mental health system, and was MC for the One to One concerts. Most interesting, though, was Watergate convict G. Gordon Liddy, who freely confirmed that the Nixon White House WAS out to get John.

October 9, 1975 was not only John’s 35th birthday, it was the date of Sean Lennon’s birth AND the day their immigration lawyer Leon Wildes informs John that he’d won the case. In some ways, I think the movie should have ended there. Instead, we get happy scenes of John, Yoko and Sean for a few minutes, followed by four gunshots. It seemed tacked on, though Yoko’s only complaint was that the bullets should have been louder.

Still I learned a LOT in this film that I did not know. Recommended. Here’s the trailer.


H is for Hate

I started writing this before, but I think I have now found an angle; thanks to Anthony North’s piece about greed and this response to it.

SamuraiFrog is a blogger I visit regularly. (For those of you who do not, he currently has a lovely young woman, nude, seen from the rear, prominently featured on his masthead, in case such things bother or entice you.) Anyway, he won some blogging award, and as part of the acceptance of same, he was supposed to tell something about himself.
I hate people who say things like “Well, I don’t actually hate anything/anyone/whatever you just mentioned hating, because [pick one or more: a. it takes too much energy to hate something, b. hate is too strong an emotion, c. hate is a relationship that places too much importance on something I dislike, d. it takes up too much mental space to hate something, or e. I try not to give in to baser emotional states].” What I really hear is “I’m better than you” and what I really think is “Go f*** yourself.”

Now, as it turns out, I don’t feel that I HATE anyone, and I was just going to say that in his comments and let it go at that. But as I thought more on it, I realized that I needed to examine just WHY.

Life magazine, 1960

As I reach back, I recognize that I DID used to hate. And the primary focus was Richard Milhous Nixon. I hated him for the lies he spread in his very first house campaign, before I was born. I hated him for surviving staying on Eisenhower’s ticket by the use of the 1952 Checkers speech, also before I was born; you should watch the speech, if you can, as it’s brilliant political theater. But mostly, I hated him because he said, after he had lost the 1962 California gubernatorial race, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”, but he lied. He ran for President in 1968 with a “secret” plan to end the Viet Nam war and won a close election over Hubert Humphrey.

Actually most of my bile towards Nixon was over Viet Nam. Though not his war – LBJ had expanded it and JFK (or arguably, Eisenhower) had started it, I wasn’t seeing his positives, as I did with LBJ’s civil rights legislation and Great Society programs. So, when Nixon left as a result of Watergate in August of 1974, my schadenfreude was exceedingly high.

At the same time I was able to hate him, I was able to be easily enraged by others. Think of those people showing up at those American town hall meetings shouting down those who disagree with them. On Election Night in 1972, when Nixon won re-election in a landslide, there was one Nixon supporter named George and I wanted to throttle him over his glee.

I didn’t always DISPLAY the rage, and in fact seldom did; I was brought up too well. But the FEELING of the rage was there. And it was not working for me.

I was like Stanley, the black guy in the American version of the television show The Office. On the Super Bowl episode, he nearly had a heart attack, so deeply was his festering rage. He had to find another way to go.

So when another politician came along who I thought/think was even more contemptible than Nixon came along, while I found him politically anathema to me, it didn’t eat at me the same way Nixon did.

Life magazine, 1990

And a funny thing happened: I stopped hating Nixon. I saw the movie Nixon, starring Anthony Hopkins, and found the guy more tragic than contemptible.

Moreover, I found that in retrospect, despite the war and the dirty tricks, there were some positives there. He formed the Environmental Protection Agency. He went to China; as a staunch anti-Communist, only he, not a liberal Democrat, could have pulled it off.

Moreover, and I did not remember this until after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy last month, one of Teddy’s great regrets was not accepting Nixon’s plan for HEALTH CARE, a fight that continues to this day in the United States.

I’ve deliberately have left out any discussion of how religion or spiritually has affected my feelings about hate, not because it’s not a factor, but because it was something that was already in process when all the faith stuff got infused into it.

So, Mr. Frog, sir, I leave it to you to decide if my reasons for not hating fall into one or more of your “hated” categories.

Note: Nixon pictures © Time Inc. For personal non-commercial use only


Crimes and Misdemeanors QUESTIONS

It’s the dog days of summer when “nothing” happens, except that, of course, it does. In addition to this month being the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, it is the 40th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Charles Manson “family” and the 35th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon. So please answer one or more of these questions.

1. Susan Atkins is “gravely ill with a brain tumor”. Her release would save the cash-strapped state of California thousands of dollars per year. Should she be released? Should Leslie Van Houten be released? Filmmaker John Waters, who has befriended her, says yes: “Leslie has taken responsibility, and she has followed the rules — the rules that they have told her to follow to get parole. … She’s the poster girl for the California prison system.”
In Atkins’ case, I just don’t know enough to say. Is she penitent? But in Van Houten’s case, I agree with Waters: “I do believe in rehabilitation.”

2. When Richard Nixon resigned, it was with such mixed emotions. On one hand, I was glad he was gone. On the other hand, I wanted him to suffer more for his “high crimes and misdemeanors” as “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Watergate mess. I’m STILL not convinced that Gerald Ford should have pardoned him a month later, certainly not without some responsibility taken by Nixon; I suppose I was looking for some sort of contrition over what he put the country through.
But what say you?

3. There were 104 names on this list of baseball players who, in 2003, tested positive for some sort of controlled substance. The list was supposed to be confidential, as the official MLB ban on these products didn’t take hold until 2004. Yet the names drip out: Bonds. Sosa. A-Rod. Ramirez. Big Papi. All the players of that period, including the ones not guilty of anything, are tainted by suspicion. Should the list be released? Should the Players’ Association agree to such a thing? I think the constant drip…drip…drip of names is so harmful that I hope the association agrees to the release. Your thoughts?
Oh that’s a LIFE magazine pic of Paul and Paul. My father had some Les Paul/Mary Ford singles, as I recall.



I’ve been thinking about the notion of friends a lot recently.

There are people who I’ve been friends with for over 50 years, longer than some of you have been alive. I’ve known them since kindergarten. But what happens when one of them has…changed dramatically? Are you still friends, just because he attended your ninth birthday party? Especially if you haven’t been in touch much in for the better part of 30 of those years.

I have a friend, whose birthday was last month, turning 56 (thus just a bit older than I). We’ve been friends with since the first day of college, September 12, 1971 (but who’s counting?) But the vast majority of people from college I have no real interest in seeing; it’s not antipathy, more meh.

I’ve been in Albany 30 years and I’ve made some good friends. On the other hand, there are people one sees at church and work that I can say that I hardly know at all, though I see them often.

Fred Hembeck is an example of a good friend who I lost touch with but got back in contact with via the Internet. (When IS that show in April, Fred?) He has written a moving piece about the loss of his good friend Charlie; I didn’t know Charlie, but the tale has such universality that I think you ought to read it here (March 9, 2009).

I’ve discovered that one can develop a friendship through regular participation in something. For a time it was hearts. For some time, it’s been racquetball.

Somehow, I’ve managed to develop friendships with a couple of my exes.

Then there are those people you haven’t even met, but through their blogs and other communications, you get to know rather well. Greg Burgas, an interesting fellow out of Arizona via Oregon and Pennsylvania, was musing on that aspect too – and mentioned me specifically as a friend. And I feel similarly inclined. I know about his wife, his daughters, the accident one of them had, where he’s lived, how he missed a friend’s wedding, his taste in music. I feel an obligation – well, maybe too strong a word – but a desire to please him if it’s reasonable. Recently he said he wished I wrote more on race, and directly as a result of that, I wrote this post.

Thee was this bilious audio of Richard Nixon talking about All in the Family and homosexuality that I found on Evanier’s page that I knew three people might appreciate; two of them I have never met. So this line of “friend” gets murky.

Here’s something that makes it murkier: Facebook. Just in the past week, I have suddenly discovered that I’m now “friends” with a whole new batch of people. Some of them I’m thinking: weren’t we friends before? Interestingly, I noticed that one of them, who I’ve known for years, wrote “in a relationship – it’s complicated”; I queried about this but received a cryptic “noyb” reply.

Back in 1974, I saw Billy Joel in New Paltz. The opening act was a guy named Buzzy Linhart, who was primarily a songwriter. He told us ad nauseum all the people he had written songs for, including this one by Bette Midler:


Because Richard Nixon was the first President for whom I could have voted for – I didn’t – he has long held a special role in my life and my heart. In the day, it was nothing but anger and revulsion; since then, a more nuanced view. At the time, I thought he was destined to be one of the United States’ worst Presidents; in hindsight, merely one that was fatally flawed.

I saw the Oliver Stone-directed movie Nixon (1995), starring Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen, when it came out, with its warts and all. I enjoyed it well enough, but its quirky narrative style sometimes got in the way.

So last weekend, the wife and I did one of those “split date” things, with me going to the movies on Saturday and her on Sunday to see the more “conventional” filmmaker Ron Howard’s take on an event that took place after the Nixon Presidency, but which was necessarily all about it, Frost/Nixon.

I’ve found that a great number of people no longer remember David Frost, the “British satirist, writer, journalist and television presenter” who interviewed Nixon in 1977. There’s no current comparison who fully encapsulates it, but it’d be like Jay Leno or Larry King doing a hard-hitting interview of George W. Bush.

Most people who disliked Nixon wanted the interviews to be the mea culpa that Nixon never gave after the resignation, but felt that Frost was a lightweight who was was not up to the task. So it was that each participant had something to prove. Frost/Nixon turns out to be an intriguing film, not just the one-on-one, but the whole backstory leading up to the main event, including the need to secure the $600,000 for the interview, the slams of “checkbook journalism” and the desire to get the interview right.

Frost/Nixon is another play that was made into a movie. But unlike Doubt, it didn’t feel as stagy. One would not expect a historically-based movie about two guys talking to be so tense and yet so revealing of both men. Frank Langella, who is rightly nominated for best actor, “does” Nixon without being a caricature. In fact, the most revealing scene has Langella saying nothing. But look at his eyes! They spoke volumes about what was going on in Nixon’s mind. But the movie would collapse if Michael Sheen as Frost was not up to the task. Sheen, who played Tony Blair in 2006’s The Queen, ends up being as worthy an acting partner for Langella as Frost was an adversary for Nixon.

Some critics inevitably kvetched about historic inaccuracies here and there, which almost always happens. I wondered if the last scene – which is REALLY funny – actually happened; it matters not. I was entertaned and I learned a few things.


Frost, who has interviewed the last seven U.S. Presidents and six British Prime Ministers (excluding, so far, the current ones) now works for Al Jazeera English.

See part of the Frost/Nixon interviews here (97 minutes) and here (10 minutes).



On August 7, 1974, Phillipe Petit spent 45 minutes walking, dancing and lying on a cable that connected the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. How he does it is the story of Man on Wire.

That the outcome is known makes the fact that James Marsh’s documentary, enhanced greatly by home movies that were made by those planning the caper, works so well as a suspense film. The best comparison I can think of is the movie Apollo 13, when I waited impatiently to see if we’d hear the astronauts’ voices again, EVEN THOUGH I KNEW THE OUTCOME! It’s that kind of story.

The core of the saga, of course, is Petit himself, who, at 5’8″ and 135 pounds, was as small as his surname suggests. That he dreamed of doing the crossing before the buildings were even constructed was just one glimpse into the mind of a man who could inspire others to do his bidding by the sheer force of his outsize personality. We get to see Petit and many of his co-conspirators as they have what are essentially dry runs in Australia and France.

The heart of the tale was getting teams up each building to set up the proper equipment to keep Petit from falling 110 stories to his death. The film does not touch on 9/11, though seeing the construction site of the WTC looks eerily like the hole after the cleanup. There is one shot of Petit on the cable as a plane flies by that’s momentarily jarring. Petit himself has said that he doesn’t want to talk about 9/11 because he has his own memories of the Towers.

If you had forgotten, or never knew this story, it’s probably because it took place only two days before Richard Nixon resigned as President – only obliquely referred to in the film – and that DC news took over the news cycle for several days.

This movie, as of October 11, 2008, had a score of 100% on the Tomatometer. Carol and I saw the movie last Sunday at our favorite cinema, the Spectrum 8, and while we both liked the film very much, we didn’t love it, though I’m definitely recommending it.

This movie was rated R at my theater (though PG-13 on IMDB and in most references) largely because of one scene near the very end of the film and for drug references.

There's a lozenge for that

W. Mark Felt? What a disappointment.

If you were of a certain age (and a certain political persuasion), you might have spent hours trying to figure out just who was Deep Throat, Bob Woodward’s secret source during the investigation of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration. The existence of DT came out in Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s best-selling book “All The President’s Men.” In the hit movie based on the book, Hal Holbrook played the mysterious character.

Felt, who was second-in-command at the FBI in the early 1970s, was on the short list of most Watergate observers. According to a Vanity Fair article, Felt felt that disclosures about his past somehow dishonorable, but at the age of 91 found it desirable to clear the air, if only for his family’s sake. Conversely, his family believes he should receive praise for his role in exposing the Watergate scandal before he dies.
There were always a number of people suspected of being the background informant for the reporter: Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson, deputy White House counsel Fred Fielding, White House press officer Diane Sawyer (yes, the one now on ABC News), Nixon press secretary Ron Zeigler, White House aide Steven Bull, speechwriters Ray Price and Pat Buchanan, White House counsel John Dean, FBI director L. Patrick Gray, Nixon advisor Alexander Haig, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and even former U.N. ambassador (and later president) George H. W. Bush.
I never believed it was Zeigler (too loyal), Buchanan (too verbose) or Dean (too obvious). Haig, Kissinger and Bush weren’t on my consideration list, either. Gray probably had the most to gain, being squeezed out of power by Nixon’s loyalists. My pick, though, was none of these. It was current Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The increased recent interest in Deep Throat, Woodward’s renewed promise to reveal the source only after DT’s death, and Rehnquist’s failing health obviously led me in the wrong direction. Glad I didn’t have money on it.

But pardon my political naiveté: I had no idea that there would be a debate 30 years after the fact over the propriety of the leaks – “Was it criminal?” I read recently. Clearly, Felt was a reluctant hero, but a hero nonetheless. What were his options? Tell Attorney General John Mitchell? A criminal. How about White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman? Also, a criminal. So the chief law enforcement person for the country, and the head political operative, not to mention their many minions, could not be trusted. And President Nixon himself? My favorite Watergate term: “unindicted co-conspirator.” I believe Mark Felt did the right thing, and I hope he lives out his remaining years in peace.