Got Revolution? Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Summer of Love, and Hippie Commercialism

Don’t underestimate the Airplane, even if it’s easy to do. Sure, none of their other music exceeds the concise psychedelia of their best-known songs. Yes, they morphed into progressively lame versions of themselves throughout the seventies and eighties. And yes, their final iteration, Starship, inflicted the world with “We Built This City”, which might objectively be one of the worst songs of all time. Added together, these parts might as well make Jefferson Airplane just another relic. Yet their sum is so much more. Forget the Airplane, and you not only miss out on some fine music, but you also commit a minor act of historical amnesia. If you want to know how sixties music morphed from a … [Read more...]

Reagan’s 1966 Gubernatorial Campaign Turns 50: California, Conservatism, and Donald Trump

On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan, in an attempt to right a flagging Barry Goldwater campaign, stepped up to a Los Angeles podium and proceeded to address a national television audience. The speech, “A Time for Choosing,” thrust Reagan into the national spotlight. As a spokesperson for General Electric, he’d given the speech hundreds of times to receptive audiences around the country, yet, as historian H.W. Brands argues, no oration in U.S. history “ever did more…to launch a national political career.” Never an office holder, Reagan had never even campaigned for an elected position. He had only been a Republican for two years, having identified with liberal causes for much of his life as a … [Read more...]

Making Miranda: What the Famous Warning Tells Us about Police Reform Fifty Years Later

Near the end of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, New Zealand social worker Paula, hot on the trail of the wayward and infamous Ricky Baker, finally captures her ward. “You have the right to remain silent,” she tells Baker, repeating the American police procedural standard to the boy. “That’s more an American thing,” the local constable tells her, demonstrating both Paula’s delusions of law enforcement grandeur and the pervasiveness of American culture, a sub-theme of the film. Over the past fifty years since Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Miranda Warning has become embedded in the American subconscious and apparently abroad. Paula’s deployment of it in New Zealand only underscores its influence … [Read more...]

Sexual Equality: Los Angeles, the Military Industrial Complex, and the Gay Liberation Movement

When we talk about advances in civil and gay rights, we often talk in terms of famous firsts: Los Angeles' first Black Mayor Tom Bradley or the state's first openly gay elected official, San Francisco's Harvey Milk. Yet, the struggles of average folk lay the groundwork for these larger victories and it is their stories that rarely get told. In 1975, one obscure Southern California gay man fought the good fight and in doing so achieved a triumph that would bring new rights and job opportunities for homosexual men and women across the U.S. Forty years ago, Rancho Palos Verdes resident and computer defense systems analyst Otis Francis Tabler challenged both the federal government's security … [Read more...]

Going to California: RFK, the 1968 Democratic Primary, and the 2016 Election

According to Democratic advance man and speechwriter John B. Martin, Robert F. Kennedy “had a fatalistic view that if he was going to get killed he was going to get killed and there was nothing to be done about it.”[1] Under President John F. Kennedy, Martin had served as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, but he had been a longtime Democratic operative working on the Stevenson campaign in 1952 and JFK’s in 1960. Martin advised RFK in his insurgent 1968 campaign for the nomination of the Democratic Party, thereby witnessing the ups and downs of Kennedy’s politicking in Indiana and California. On the anniversary of RFK’s death, Martin’s unpublished campaign journal provides insight into … [Read more...]

“Even Richard Nixon has got soul”: Evan Thomas’s take on the late President in “Being Nixon”

In 1976, Pat Nixon, wife of the former President, suffered a stroke. Television cameras caught a distraught Richard Nixon propelling himself through a set of hospital revolving doors. Musician Neil Young watched the scene unfold from afar and took pity on the disgraced president, penning what would become the song “Campaigner” and offering Nixon a slice of humanity: Hospitals have made him cry But there’s always a freeway in his eye Though his beach got too crowded for a stroll. Roads stretch out like healthy veins And wild gift horses strain the reins Where even Richard Nixon has got soul. The Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young member and solo artist proved an unlikely source of … [Read more...]

Nixonian Trump?: The Similarities and Differences between The Donald and Tricky Dick

In a satirical take on the 1968 election, Jose Perez and Robert F. Patton produced The Nixon-Agnew Coloring Book, in which Hubert Humphrey in the form of a bird named “Hubird” narrated events and instructed readers on how to decorate the characters therein. Having lost to Dick Nixon in the ’68 race, Hubird admitted the new president had worked for it: “This is President Nixon. See him run, And run, and run, and run. He finally made it. Color him Patient.” Later in the book, Hubird basically calls Nixon a used car salesman, but you get the idea.[1] Nixon secured victory—301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191 and George Wallace’s 45, with less than 45 percent of the popular vote. In … [Read more...]

Doc Sportello and the Dude: Separated at Birth?

When I heard that Paul Thomas Anderson would be translating a Thomas Pynchon novel for the the screen, I could not help but be excited. Here was one of today’s most ambitious and talented filmmakers interpreting an author of such dazzling obscurantism that his novels were generally considered by critics to be the acme of unfilmable.  It was like the unstoppable force finally met the immovable object.  Who would prevail? The answer was probably not Anderson.  The film adaptation of Inherent Vice only made back $14.7 million on its $20 million budget, though it earned a respectable 74% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.  The movie was universally ignored by the award shows and seemed … [Read more...]

Los Angeles Black Worker Center Pushes for Inclusion

LeDaya Epps grew up in foster care until adolescence. When she finished high school, bouncing from job to job with no real career path, she struggled to land steady employment. By 2010, she had three children to care for as well and prospects looked tough. Then in 2013, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center along with a coalition of partners including LA County Federation of Labor and LA/OC Building and Construction Trades and LAANE, successfully negotiated an employment agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA,) her life changed. For years, the city had been expanding its subway and light rail systems; the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Train that runs through several … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part III: Race, Taxes and Schools in Compton, CA

“To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his recent work, Between the World and Me. “Educated children walked in single file and on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route. Educated children never offered excuses – certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls. How could the schools?”[1] Coates’ work, amounts to a long rueful, cautionary love letter to his son, describing his own upbringing in West Baltimore, coming of age at The Mecca (aka Howard University in Washington, … [Read more...]