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November 23, 2003: Forty Years Ago - Kennedy, Huxley, Lewis

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Jello Biafra (not his real name, of course), led a punk rock band two decades ago called Dead Kennedys.  I guess that was the late seventies or early eighties.  I believe their first single was "California Über Alles," in 1979 (Alternative Tentacles Records) - an attack of sorts on the governor of California back then, Jerry Brown.  And who can forget "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Nazi Punks"? 

In 1985, Biafra was singled out by Tipper Gore's Parents Music Resource Center for including a copy of artist H.R. Giger's work, in poster form, with the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist.  The images weren't nice and led to police raiding Biafra's home and Alternative Tentacles' offices.  Biafra was charged with disseminating obscene material.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees later, the case was dismissed after a jury deadlocked. 

Jello Biafra is still around.  He lives in San Francisco; in fact, he made a half-hearted attempt to run for mayor in 1979.   I believe he ran on a platform requiring businessmen to wear clown suits, among other things - and that only resulted in a law forbidding people to run under anything but their Christian names.  He now fronts a group called Lard.  Oh, and his real name is Eric Reed Boucher.

All this coverage of the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy got me thinking about that first band.  I wonder what Jello/Eric makes of this all.

I found all the retrospectives disheartening.  Maybe that's the wrong word.

Forty years ago this weekend, November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated.  How can one not remember that, given the "specials" on all the news channels, on the History Channel, and on all the "talking head" shows on television - not to mention what you hear on the radio?
Forty years ago on the same day, November 22, 1963, the British writer Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World, died out here in Los Angeles.
Forty years ago on the same day, November 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis died at his home in Oxford.
In the magazine I discussed Aldous Huxley and Los Angeles - see November 9, 2003 OpinionIn Defense of Los Angeles.
As for Lewis, I recent read through the "Peralandra Trilogy" again - an odd mixture of science fiction, conservative Christian theology and a few references to Tolkien and the Middle-Earth.  A science fiction thriller with a philologist as the mythic "fisher-king" hero, but a Christian warrior?  It's good, in spite of my summary.
I guess this is the anniversary of one of those days when things somehow shifted.
Now we actually have our "Brave New World," pretty much as Huxley imagined it.
And Christianity has turned sour and combative - with evangelical "end timers" calling for holy war to bring on Armageddon and The Rapture for which they so long. 
And a charismatic opportunist from a family of opportunists, who surprisingly did some good and made it so many other people did the right thing and thought about our community here, was taken out forty years ago this weekend, followed a few years later by Martin and then Bobby.
Change the world for the better?  That got harder over these long years since.
Of course there's always another side to things.
In the Wall Street Journal this weekend Christopher Hitchens takes the opposite view of the late president.
Heres his main point:
The Kennedy interlude was a flight from responsibility, and ought to be openly criticized and exorcised rather than be left to die the death that sentimentality brings upon itself.
Of those who thought Kennedy was such hot stuff:
The biographers and archivists have done most of the relevant job of reporting and disclosing, and what they have reported and disclosed is a president frantically "high" on pills of all kinds (that's when he was not alarmingly "low" for the same reason), a president quick on the draw and willing to solicit Mafia hit men for his foreign policy, a president willing to risk nuclear war to save his own face; a president who bugged his own Oval Office, a president who used the executive mansion as a bordello, and a president whose name we might never have learned if not for the fanatical determination of his father to purchase him a political career.  If a tithe of these things were really true of George W. Bush, Howard Dean might claim he was on to something.  As it is, "the mantle of JFK" is a garment that no serious Democrat can apparently afford to discard.  The last time it was plucked from the wardrobe of central casting, it made Bill Clinton look - at least to the credulous - like a potential statesman. Which turned out to be about right.
On Kennedy's legacy:
Having tried assassination and "deniable" invasion in Cuba, and having helped provoke a missile crisis on which he gambled all of us, he meekly acceded to the removal of American missiles from Turkey and to a pledge that Fidel Castro's regime would be considered permanent.  He and his brother did not completely hold to the terms of the latter agreement, it is true, but as a result the United States became indelibly associated with mob tactics in the Caribbean, and Castro became in effect the president for life.  In this sense, we may say that the legacy of JFK is with us still.
You can read the whole, detailed argument here: Where's the Aura? Forty years later, the JFK cult has faded. It's about time. - Christopher Hitchens - The Wall Street Journal - Saturday, November 22, 2003
Well, perhaps all the "specials' on the assassination this weekend do give rise to maudlin sentimentality.  Perhaps Kennedy wasn't that good a president. 
But we were that good, from the bleeding hearts that joined the newly formed Peace Corps back then and fanned out across the world to make things a little better, to the tens of thousands of geeks and nerds who actually met the new challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and bring him back safely. 
Kennedy may have not done a great job, but somehow we felt we could do great jobs.  Perhaps the only legacy is optimism. 
And assassination after assassination hammered away at that optimism. 
Now optimism takes really hard work.