WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE
FROM A TO Z
On September 27, 1989, the iconic song by Billy Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire hit the airwaves. It was a history lesson set to music. When you first heard the song, did you know or remember all the people places, things and events mentioned in the lyrics? I sure didn’t. Back in 1989 before the internet was something everyone had access to, my boyfriend (now husband) and I headed to the local public library and looked up all the historical references. This month, for the A to Z Challenge, I am writing about that history.
1951 – The King and I
The King and I is the fifth musical by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II. It is based on Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944), which is in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. The musical’s plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King’s drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love to which neither can admit. The musical premiered on March 29, 1951, at Broadway’s St. James Theatre. It ran for nearly three years, making it the fourth longest-running Broadway musical in history at the time, and has had many tours and revivals.
1956 – Khrushchev
“On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” was a report by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956. Khrushchev’s speech was sharply critical of the reign of deceased General Secretary and Premier Joseph Stalin, particularly with respect to the purges which had especially marked the last years of the 1930s. Khrushchev charged Stalin with having fostered a leadership personality cult despite ostensibly maintaining support for the ideals of communism.
The speech was a milestone in the “Khrushchev Thaw”. Ostensibly, the speech was an attempt to draw the Soviet Communist Party closer to Leninism. However it possibly served Khrushchev’s ulterior motives to legitimize and consolidate his control of the Communist party and government, after political struggles with Georgy Malenkov and firm Stalin loyalists such as Vyacheslav Molotov, who were involved to varying degrees in the purges. The Khrushchev report was known as the “Secret Speech” because it was delivered at an unpublicized closed session of Communist Party delegates, with guests and members of the press excluded. The text of the Khrushchev report was widely discussed in party cells already in early March, often with participation of non-party members; however the official Russian text was openly published only in 1989 during the glasnost campaign of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
1957 – Kerouac
Jack Kerouac was an American writer best known for the novel On the Road, which became an American classic, pioneering the Beat Generation in the 1950s. On the Road is a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across America. It is considered a defining work of the postwar Beat and Counterculture generations, with its protagonists living life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry, and drug use. The novel, published in 1957, is a roman à clef, with many key figures in the Beat movement, such as William S. Burroughs (Old Bull Lee), Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx) and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty) represented by characters in the book, including Kerouac himself as the narrator Sal Paradise. It was released as a film in 2012. The trailer is rated R so I chose not to include it in my post. I never saw it but apparently the film doesn’t capture the energy of the novel.
1960 – Kennedy
Much has been written about this President. I think something of note for today’s post would be the effect of television on the election. You see 1960 was the first Presidential election that the debate was televised. Richard M. Nixon was not prepared for being visually seen by the American public. According to CBS News, if you were watching television on the night of Sept. 26, 1960, you probably thought that the young Sen. John F. Kennedy had won that night’s presidential debate. Yet if you heard the event on radio, Vice President Richard M. Nixon was the clear winner. The lesson is that when professional television people ask you if you want your makeup applied by professionals, take them up on it. They know best.