At ‘Black Woodstock,’ an All-Star Lineup Delivered Joy and Renewal to 300,000

Woodstock was big and messy, thrilling and stirring — and summed up finally by Jimi Hendrix, whose festival-closing set included his towering, take-a-knee reading of the national anthem. It was an admixture of disaffection and patriotism, bold as love and black as hell. But Hendrix was one of the few black musicians at an event that has become a cultural touchstone for white America. A hundred miles to the south of that sprawling rural rock ’n’ roll assembly, black folks were building their own musical commons. The Harlem Cultural Festival of that year, which would come to be known as ‘Black Woodstock,’ had, on its surface, little in common with the upstate hootenanny. Held in Harlem at Mount Morris (what is now Marcus Garvey) Park, it was a self-consciously urban affair, a concert series rather than a one-off, and already in its third year. Co-sponsored by the New York City Parks Department and Maxwell House, the General Foods subsidiary, that year’s festival consisted of six free Sunday afternoon concerts held between June 29 and August 24. The total attendance was some 300,000 people strong. With the Caribbean singer Tony Lawrence at its helm, the festival was a sustained, communal activity and cultural interaction where enterprising street vendors got what The New York Times referred to as their ‘legitimate hustle’ on. A vibrant cross-section of city folk — brothers in dashikis (like Jesse Jackson, who spoke at one of the concerts), young sisters in smart shifts and older ones in church hats, men in fedoras and well-pressed, button-up shirts — all listened with a combination of focus and ease. ‘The scale and the diversity of the audience’ was a thing to behold, says Neal Ludevig, the curator and co-producer of this year’s 50th anniversary ‘Black Woodstock’ event. Iterations of the Harlem Cultural Festival were held in 1967 and 1968, but the 1969 events were the apex. Atop the rocks and down in the grassy field, they were showing up to watch a roll call of black popular music luminaries move through tight sets covering beloved repertoires. This was Harlem’s sonic playground, and it featured the likes of the gospel crossover sensation Edwin Hawkins, the blues icon B.B. King, the avant-garde jazz activists Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the groovy black pop ambassadors The 5th Dimension, the Motown up-and-comers Gladys Knight and the Pips and the youthful Stevie Wonder. The comic vets Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham supplied the standup relief. And the crowds responded — looking on reverentially, dancing with one another around the edges of the park. …”
NY Times
Rolling Stone: This 1969 Music Fest Has Been Called ‘Black Woodstock.’ Why Doesn’t Anyone Remember?
[PDF] NY Times – Finale in Harlem: 6 Concerts Drew 300,000
W – Harlem Cultural Festival
Smithsonian: Black Woodstock
dailymotion: Sly and the Family – Harlem Cultural Festival (Mount Morris Park)
YouTube: Nina Simone at Black Woodstock

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La Chinoise – Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

La Chinoise (‘The Chinese’) is a 1967 French political film directed by Jean-Luc Godard about young extremists in Paris. La Chinoise is a loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s 1872 novel Demons. In the novel, a group of five disaffected citizens, each representing a different ideological persuasion and personality type, conspire to overthrow the Russian imperial regime through a campaign of sustained revolutionary violence. The film, set in contemporary Paris and largely taking place in a small apartment, is structured as a series of personal and ideological dialogues dramatizing the interactions of five French university students — three young men and two young women — belonging to a radical Maoist group called the ‘Aden Arabie Cell’ (named for the novel, Aden, Arabie, by Paul Nizan). The five members are Véronique (Anne Wiazemsky), Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud), Yvonne (Juliet Berto), Henri (Michel Semeniako) and Kirilov (Lex de Bruijin). A black student named Omar (Omar Diop), ‘Comrade X’, also makes a brief appearance. … Thematically, La Chinoise concerns the 1960s New Left political interest in such historical and ongoing events as the legacy of Lenin‘s October 1917 Russian Revolution, the escalating U.S. military activities in the increasingly unstable region of southeast Asia, and especially the Cultural Revolution brought about by the Red Guards under Mao Zedong in the People’s Republic of China. The film also touches upon the rise of anti-humanist poststructuralism in French intellectual life by the mid-1960s, particularly the anti-empiricist ideas of the influential French Marxist, Louis Althusser. Godard likewise portrays the role that certain objects and organizations — such as Mao’s Little Red Book, the French Communist Party, and other small leftist factions — play in the developing ideology and activities of the Aden Arabie cell. … This paradox is illustrated in the various joke sunglasses that Guillaume wears (with the national flags of the USA, USSR, China, France and Britain each filling the frames) while reading Mao’s Little Red Book, as well as the sight gag of having dozens of copies of the Little Red Book piled in mounds on the floor to literally create a defensive parapet against the forces of capitalist imperialism, and a jaunty satirical pop song, ‘Mao-Mao’ (sung by Claude Channes), heard on the soundtrack. Godard suggests that the students are at the same moment both serious committed revolutionaries intent on bringing about major social change. …”
MUBI – Movie Poster of the Week: Jean-Luc Godard’s “La chinoise”
Not Just Movies
YouTube: La Chinoise – Restoration Trailer

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1963: the beginning of the feminist movement

Sylvia Plath died in 1963.

“‘Is this all?’ That was the question that echoed around a generation of US housewives in the early 1960s. Theirs was the problem with no name, wrote Betty Friedan in her 1963 bestseller, The Feminine Mystique, and the symptoms were legion. They included creeping fatigue, tranquiliser and alcohol abuse, bleeding blisters that appeared suddenly on their arms, which doctors attributed not to the cleaning fluids they used constantly, but a deeper malaise. In the years since the war, women had grown smaller (department store buyers reported they had shrunk three or four dress sizes), more feminine (30% of women dyed their hair blond), and apparently much sadder. That icon of femininity, Marilyn Monroe, had died of an overdose the year before, and Sylvia Plath – just as outwardly feminine, but with a hidden, crackling rage – killed herself in London in 1963. Her death came not long after she published her novel, The Bell Jar. It was the story of Esther Greenwood, who goes to New York to take up an internship at a women’s magazine, as Plath once had, before finding she can never quite match her inner life to the perfect face she has to present. A desperate, exaggerated femininity was being held up as an ideal for all women. In January 1963, Gloria Steinem, then a freelance journalist, packed her leotard in a hat box and auditioned to become a Playboy Bunny in an undercover assignment for Show magazine. Steinem exposed the low pay, sexual harassment and racism – black women were sniggeringly referred to as ‘chocolate bunnies’ – and later, when she had become a feminist leader, wrote that all women were treated as bunnies. A US debate that had started tentatively with President John F Kennedy’s 1961 commission on the status of women blew up with Friedan’s book, and continued, in 1966, with the creation of the National Organisation for Women, which Friedan initially led. These ideas began floating over to the UK – the feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham has said she began hearing arguments for women’s liberation from the US and Germany around 1967. It was an age of early marriage in Britain, and larger families. … In her memoir, Promise of a Dream, Rowbotham writes that as a student in the early 1960s, ‘not only were we all ignorant about contraception, but we had no idea who we could ask for advice … Abortion, an inconceivable horror of gin and screams, was still illegal.’ That changed in 1967, with the passing of the Abortion Act. …”
W – Second-wave feminism

The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
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Jean Genet in Tangier – Mohamed Choukri, Paul Bowles (Translator)

“On a sultry afternoon in the summer of 1973, the American playwright Tennessee Williams stepped into a post office in Tangier to retrieve a package. Like countless other artists and writers – from Mark Twain and Eugène Delacroix in the 19th century to Paul Bowles, Truman Capote, William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Jean Genet and Henri Matisse in the 20th – Williams travelled often to the coastal Moroccan city. With its wild beauty, its jumbled history, its tangle of influences and its peculiar former status as an international zone, Tangier held out to expatriates the promise of adventure and reflection. For some, it was a sleepy, sea-swept city suffused in orange light, a quiet place to live and work. For others, it was dangerous, foreign and exotic, full of spies, tramps and mercenaries. Williams had been frequenting Tangier since at least the early 1950s, when he penned Camino Real there, but this particular trip was his first since 1964. He found the city much changed. When he entered the post office and handed his delivery notice to the clerk, he had to explain why the name on his passport (Thomas) differed from the name of his package (Tennessee). Then he had to fight the confiscation of his copy of a certain men’s magazine, which contained a piece that he himself had written (those were the days when literary heavyweights still contributed to Playboy). And then he had to sit back and watch as the clerk opened and read every single letter in his formidable stack of forwarded mail. ‘The new law insists,’ said the clerk in Arabic, not to Williams but rather to the man accompanying him, the Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri, for whom Tangier was home. The days of the international zone, which had divided Morocco into French and Spanish enclaves and had made Tangier an elusive and eccentric protectorate playground, were over. Morocco had declared independence and reclaimed Tangier from joint French, Spanish, British and Italian rule in the 1950s, reinstalled the monarchy in the 1960s, annexed the Western Sahara in the 1970s and crushed widespread political unrest with authoritarian tools throughout those decades. … This is one of the more illuminating anecdotes in Choukri’s In Tangier, a new omnibus edition of the writer’s reflections on his relations with Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet and Paul Bowles. It exemplifies Choukri’s writing at its best, condensing the grand narratives of a city, a country and an entire cultural milieu undergoing dramatic change into a charming account of a literary encounter. …”
Our man in Tangier
Kirkus Reviews
W – Mohamed Choukri
[PDF] Jean Genet in Tangier
YouTube: Three Stones for Jean Genet / Patti Smith

Through the novels of Paul Bowles and William Burroughs particularly, Tangier exists and persists in the literary imagination – perhaps as an atmosphere rather than a location – as securely as Dublin is identified with James Joyce.
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Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks (1966)

Sunny Afternoon” is a song by the Kinks, written by chief songwriter Ray Davies. The track later featured on the Face to Face album as well as being the title track for their 1967 compilation album. Like its contemporary ‘Taxman‘ by The Beatles, the song references the high levels of progressive tax taken by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson. … ‘Sunny Afternoon’ was first written in Ray Davies’ house when he was sick.
‘I’d bought a white upright piano. I hadn’t written for a time. I’d been ill. I was living in a very 1960s-decorated house. It had orange walls and green furniture. My one-year-old daughter was crawling on the floor and I wrote the opening riff. I remember it vividly. I was wearing a polo-neck sweater.’ Davies said of the song’s lyrics, ‘The only way I could interpret how I felt was through a dusty, fallen aristocrat who had come from old money as opposed to the wealth I had created for myself.’ In order to prevent the listener from sympathizing with the song’s protagonist, Davies said, ‘I turned him into a scoundrel who fought with his girlfriend after a night of drunkenness and cruelty.’ Davies said of the song as well as its recording: ‘Sunny Afternoon was made very quickly, in the morning, it was one of our most atmospheric sessions. I still like to keep tapes of the few minutes before the final take, things that happen before the session. Maybe it’s superstitious, but I believe if I had done things differently—if I had walked around the studio or gone out—it wouldn’t have turned out that way. The bass player went off and started playing funny little classical things on the bass, more like a lead guitar: and Nicky Hopkins, who was playing piano on that session, was playing ‘Liza’—we always used to play that song—little things like that helped us get into the feeling of the song.’ At the time I wrote Sunny Afternoon I couldn’t listen to anything. I was only playing The Greatest Hits of Frank Sinatra and Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm—I just liked its whole presence, I was playing the Bringing It All Back Home LP along with my Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller and Bach—it was a strange time.’ …”
Genius (Audio)
YouTube: Sunny Afternoon

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Steve Allen

Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen (December 26, 1921 – October 30, 2000) was an American television personality, radio personality, musician, composer, actor, comedian, writer, and advocate of scientific skepticism. In 1954, he achieved national fame as the co-creator and first host of The Tonight Show, which was the first late night television talk show. Though he got his start in radio, Allen is best known for his extensive network television career. … The Steve Allen Show. In June 1956, NBC offered Allen a new prime-time, Sunday night variety hour, The Steve Allen Show. NBC’s goal was to dethrone CBS’s top-rated The Ed Sullivan Show. The show included a typical run of star performers, including early television appearances by rock and roll pioneers Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Fats Domino. Many popular television and film personalities were guest stars, including Bob Hope, Kim Novak, Errol Flynn, Abbott and Costello, Esther Williams, Jerry Lewis, Martha Raye, the Three Stooges, and a host of others. The show’s regulars were Tom Poston, Louis Nye, Bill Dana, Don Knotts, Pat Harrington, Jr., Dayton Allen, and Gabriel Dell. All except film veteran Dell, who had appeared in the Bowery Boys movie series (also known as the Dead End Kids and the East Side Kids), were relatively obscure performers prior to their stints with Allen, and all went on to stardom. The comedians in Allen’s gang often were seen in his ‘Man in the Street’ interviews about some topical subject. Poston would appear as a dullard who could not remember his own name. Nye’s character was an effete advertising executive named Gordon Hathaway, known for greeting the host with ‘Hi ho, Steverino!’ … From 1962 to 1964, Allen recreated The Tonight Show on a new late night show, The Steve Allen Show, which was syndicated by Westinghouse TV. The five-nights-a-week taped show was broadcast from an old vaudeville theater at 1228 North Vine Street in Hollywood that was renamed The Steve Allen Playhouse. The show was marked by the same wild, unpredictable stunts, and comedy skits that often extended across the side street to an all-night food outlet known as the Hollywood Ranch Market, where Allen had a hidden camera spying on unsuspecting shoppers. … He also presented Southern California eccentrics, including health food advocate Gypsy Boots, quirky physics professor Dr. Julius Sumner Miller, wacko comic Professor Irwin Corey, and an early musical performance by Frank Zappa. …”
W – List of works by Steve Allen
NY Times: Steve Allen, Comedian Who Pioneered Late-Night TV Talk Shows, Is Dead at 78
Steve Allen
YouTube: Steve Allen “Man on the Street”, LAUGHING FIT – 1959, Sellers on STRANGELOVE (including 1964 interview clips), JACK KEROUAC on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW with Steve Allen 1959, Live from Birdland with Count Basie (7/22/56), Frank Zappa Playing music on a Bicycle 1963
YouTube: Steve Allen Bio 45:24

Jack Kerouac Reads from On the Road on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
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The Enduring Debate Over Khe Sanh

Photos from Operation Pegasus, a joint U.S. and South Vietnamese push by 30,000 troops to lift the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968.

“In early 1968, the siege of the remote Marine combat base at Khe Sanh dominated American news coverage of the war in Vietnam. Gen. William Westmoreland, America’s supreme commander in Saigon, billed the North Vietnamese Army’s move against Khe Sanh as ‘the main event’ of a Communist offensive. News accounts ominously compared the siege to Dien Bien Phu, the remote French garrison surrounded and forced to surrender to Vietnamese Communist forces in 1954. On Feb. 18, even with the so-called Tet offensive raging across the country, The New York Times called the unfolding showdown at Khe Sanh ‘the major battle of the Vietnam War.’ The drama played out over 77 days, with nerve-jangling highlights on nightly news broadcasts. Four weeks into the siege, Americans learned that President Lyndon Johnson and his commanders were contemplating the use of tactical nuclear weapons to save Khe Sanh. The defenders endured artillery barrages, sniper fire, probes and ground assaults. Ultimately, though, Khe Sanh didn’t live up to its early hype of an Alamo-style disaster in the making. Over time, the events that unfolded at Khe Sanh in 1968 were eclipsed by the interpretation of what had occurred. A revisionist historical narrative hardened in the 1980s, and Khe Sanh became a metaphor for General Westmoreland’s mismanagement of the war. More recently, the siege has been written off as a brilliant North Vietnamese ruse that concealed the impending Communist attacks on urban centers — the Tet offensive. This judgment infuses books of contemporary vintage and the recent Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary film on Vietnam. In reality, the evidence on North Vietnamese intentions at Khe Sanh is inconclusive, and the case is far from closed. As 1968 began, the United States and North Vietnam aspired to victory in the year ahead. Khe Sanh figured prominently in the plans of both. The anchor of the American stronghold at Khe Sanh was a Marine combat base perched on a plateau between an old French road, Route 9, and the Rao Quan River, about seven miles east of the border with Laos and 15 miles south of the demilitarized zone dividing North Vietnam from South. A fan-shaped array of outposts, including an American Army Special Forces camp, guarded approaches to the base from the north and west. …”
NY Times
The Atlantic: The Battle of Khe Sanh and Its Retellings (Video)
W – Battle of Khe Sanh
YouTube: The Battle of Khe Sanh – 1968

Map of northern Quảng Trị Province
Posted in Lyn. Johnson, R. McNamara, Tet 1968, Viet Cong, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment