1955 — Ginsberg’s “Howl” is first performed

The greatest poem of the Beat Generation writers, and one of the finest of the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is a lengthy, stream of consciousness rant with strikingly hallucinatory imagery of drug use, New York City, the back roads of America, and sex of both homosexual and heterosexual varieties. Ginsberg performed it for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco at the behest of Wally Hedrick.

Later, the poem would be published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books (a small press and book shop also located in San Francisco), and become the centre of one the depressingly frequent obscenity trials that dot American judicial history – in this case, the court ruled that the court contained redeeming social value. The greatest minds of a generation rejoiced.

Referenced in:

Bug Powder Dust — Bomb The Bass

1955 – Charges are laid against Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich was a respected psychologist in the 1930s, a contemporary of Jung whose book “The Mass Psychology of Facism” is still considered a foundational text today. But after fleeing the Nazis and moving to America, he began to experience difficulties. His research into human sexuality led him to discover a bio-energetic force that he named orgone, and attracted the attention of a notably censorious and puritanical government.

It remains unclear whether Reich’s later researches were scientifically valid, as the US government came down hard on Reich, arresting him and later convicting him of contempt of court. Reich, a 58 year old man at the time of his arrest, died in prison two years later. His books were burned and his equipment destroyed; his persecutors accused him of delusions of persecution.

Referenced in:
Cloudbusting — Kate Bush

1955 – “Tarantula” premieres

One of a spate of giant animal films produced by Hollywood during the Fifties, “Tarantula” is superior to most of them in two major respects. The first is the acting of Leo G. Carroll, as Professor Deemer, the mad scientist whose good intentions go tragically awry. (Who would have thought that randomly irradiating animals would be a bad idea?)

The second is the quality of its visual effects: the film used real animals shot against reasonably convincing mattes as much as possible. Compared to the giant ants of “Them!”, shot a year earlier, it was a quantum leap in effects quality. Jack Arnold, who directed this film, would use the same technique to even greater impact in “The Incredible Shrinking Man” two years later (although in that case, it would deal with shrinking rather than growing).

Referenced in:

Science Fiction Double Feature — Rocky Horror Picture Show original cast

1955 – Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama

Rosa Parks was 42 years old and on her way home from work on a Thursday evening in Montogomery, Alabama. She was sitting in the front most row of seats for blacks, when the driver directed her to move back so that white passengers could sit there instead. She refused, and was shortly arrested.

Hers was not the first such act of civil disobedience against the racist laws of the United States at that time, but it was perhaps the most significant: from this spark grew the flame of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would lead to the laws that Parks had been arrested under being struck down the following year by the Federal Court. Martin Luther King and others participated in this boycott, and the court decision marked the first major victory of the Civil Rights Movement, setting the stage for both the racial tensions and the legal reforms of the Sixties.

Referenced in:

Rosa Parks — OutKast

1955 – A bomb destroys Flight 629 out of Denver

Jack Gilbert Graham was a disturbed young man, something that he blamed on his mother.

In fact, he was so disturbed, and blamed her so much, that in 1955, he made a bomb from dynamite and hid it in her luggage. His mother flew out of Denver that night, bound for Alaska to visit Jack’s sister.

The bomb blew up shortly after take off. The plan was destroyed, and not one of the 44 passengers and crew survived. Graham was arrested, tried and convicted. He was executed in the gas chamber on January 11, 1957.

Referenced in:

There Was A Young Man Who Blue Up A Plane – Macabre

1955 – James Dean dies in a car accident

No actor has ever had quite the same impact as James Dean. For a man who starred in only three films before his tragic death at the age of 24, he casts a long shadow. Those three films – “Giant“, “East of Eden” and most of all, “Rebel Without a Cause“, made him a symbol of restless youth, and of living fast and dying young.

But the car accident that caused his death was not his fault – the other driver had entered Dean’s lane and collided with him head-on. Contrary to popular legend, Dean was not intoxicated, high or (in any context of the word) speeding at the time of the accident.

According to Dean’s close friend Dennis Hopper, Dean had been planning to quit acting after his next film and take up directing instead.

Referenced in:

James Dean – the Eagles
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1955 — 14 year old Emmett Till is murdered

Emmett Louis Till, known as “Bobo” was an African American boy from Chicago, Illinois, who was murdered after reportedly whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant in Money, Mississippi (a small town in the state’s Delta region).

He was 14 years old.

His assailants – white men Roy Bryant (Carolyn’s husband) and J.W. Milam – beat him and an gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him in the head, and throwing him into the Tallahatchie River with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. It was three days before his corpse was discovered and retrieved by two fishermen.

Till’s mother insisted on a public funeral service, with an open casket so as to show the world the brutality of the killing. Although the culprits were tried, they were acquitted – although years later they admitted to the murder.

Emmett Till’s murder was widely publicised, and became one of the incidents that led to the growth and importance of the American Civil Rights Movement in the Fifties and Sixties.

Referenced in:
The Death Of Emmett Till — Bob Dylan