Wednesday, April 23, 2008

40 Years Ago

(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)

On April 11 Defense Secretary Clark Clifford announced Gen. Westmoreland's request for 206,000 additional soldiers would not be granted. He set a ceiling of 549,500 troops in Vietnam, and a plan for Vietnamese military to take over responsibility for the war effort.

Also that day, president Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which added fair housing provisions to the previous civil rights legislation of 1964: it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.

In Germany, student leader Rudi Dutschke was shot in an attempted assassination. Riots broke out on the news.

The Prague Spring was under way, since Alexander Dubcek had become first secretary of the Central Committee of Czechoslovakia in January. Novotny resigned as president the end of March and in April, Dubcek's reforms were launched.

On April 20, Pierre Trudeau became prime minister of Canada, replacing Lester Pearson.

On April 23, at Columbia University in New York, students angry over recently revealed university involvement with a weapons-research think tank, and a planned gymnasium in Morningside Park, took over a classroom and administration building. Over the next few days students, led by the SDS's Mark Rudd, occupied other buildings including the university president's office in Low Library. The protest would be broken up by NYC police on April 30.

April 29, Hair opened on Broadway, after a six-month off-Broadway run. The cast album would become one of our favorites of that year.

On the 30th, Nelson Rockefeller defeated Nixon in the Massachusetts primary and announced he would actively seek the Republican nomination. Eugene McCarthy, the only name on the Democratic ballot, got 49 percent of the votes, but Bobby Kennedy write-ins totaled about 25 percent.

Also in April, The Boys in the Band debuted on Broadway, called one of the first 'looks into the closet'. Books of the month: Gypsy Moth Circles the World, Francis Chichester; French Chef Cookbook, Julia Child; The French Lieutenant's Woman. For more on who was important in the book world that year, here's a wonderful gallery of 1968 illustrations from The New York Review of Books, by David Levine.

Simon and Garfinkel released their Bookends album in the beginning of April. They already had two albums in the top ten that month, The Graduate soundtrack, and Sounds of Silence (Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme). Cream's Disraeli Gears was also in the top ten, along with Dylan's John Wesley Harding. The Beatles started their own management firm and record company, Apple Corps. Sly and the Family Stone released Dance to the Music. Another album I was listening to then: Love's Forever Changes, released the previous year.

London Bridge was sold to Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City, AZ, who submitted the winning bid for $2,460,000; it would be shipped to Arizona at a cost of $7 million.

We were visiting some local galleries like the Corcoran, near the White House. We fell in love with the Washington Color School artists, particularly the work of Gene Davis, whose simple color stripes reminded us of 'Op Art' but had a whole new feel. Back in the apartment, we started making our own color striped paintings.

We must have seen 2001: Space Odyssey that month, too. It had premiered in DC just before the riots. The Uptown Theater was up Connecticut Avenue so would have been fairly easy to get to from our place. I re-read the book this month and was blown away by parts of it: it's been a long time since I've seen the movie. But I was particularly struck by the section about how the two astronauts got their news: On a paper-thin flat computer screen called a 'Newspad'. It was nearly (but not quite) hypertext, nearly 25 years before the World Wide Web:

...he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.
...One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers; he knew the codes of the more important ones by heart, and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad.
...Each (headline) had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort.

More on 1968: From BBC Radio; and Project 1968, "blog docu-novel about the lives of two young women on their way to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago."

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:40 PM  

  • Thanks for a great post about a pivotal year in American history. I recently posted an excerpt from my book about Sly Stone on my blog to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the single "Dance to the Music" hitting the top ten and the album being released. I write about this album and about Sly's place in history in my book Sly: the Lives of Sylvester Stewart and Sly Stone. Check it out at or Barnes and

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:42 PM  

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