July 15, 1960 — John F. Kennedy delivers the “New Frontier” speech

The 1960 Democratic Convention was still a fairly competitive contest when it opened on July 11 at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Kennedy was the obvious front-runner, but Lyndon Johnson was still in the game. However, after Kennedy defeated him in a televised debate, Johnson’s fortunes began to fade. Kennedy was elected with an absolute (if narrow) majority on the first ballot of the convention, becoming the nominee. After some backroom negotiations, Johnson agreed to be Kennedy’s Vice-Presidential running mate.

And so it was that on the final day of the convention, Kennedy gave a speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party as their candidate for President of the United States. The speech he gave, widely known as the ‘New Frontier’ speech after the metaphor that drove most of it, was a high water mark of progressive rhetoric, and remains so even today:

We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats. … Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.

As President, Kennedy would be quite successful in progressing towards these policy aims, and Johnson would continue with them when he succeeded to the office.

1960 — The Beatles arrive in Hamburg

At the time of their arrival in Hamburg, the Beatles were a five piece ensemble, with a line up consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. When the Beatles left, two years later, Stuart Sutcliffe stayed behind to be with the girl he had met there, Astrid Kircherr. (It was Astrid who helped to popularise the distinctive Beatles mop-top.)

The Beatles’ time in Hamburg saw them gigging extensively in clubs around the city, indulging in copious amounts of Preludin (a prescription amphetemine) and learning a lot about sex (almost all the women they met in Hamburg were strippers or prostitutes). It also lead, eventually, to their first recording. This single, “My Bonnie”, was what eventually attracted the attention of Brian Epstein to the boys, leading to him becoming the manager of the band for many years.

The Beatles would leave Hamburg in 1962, returning briefly in 1966, after they had become superstars.

Referenced in:
No More Fun — Roger Taylor

1960 — Eddie Cochran dies

Eddie Cochran was one of the classic Fifties rockers – young, rebellious and male, he sang one of the iconic early rock tunes: “Summertime Blues”. Cochran was a good friend of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, and was deeply shaken by their deaths in 1959. He became consumed by a conviction that he too would die young.

A year later, he was proved right, when he was killed in a single car accident while on tour in the UK. Cochran, sitting in the back seat with his girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, and fellow musician Gene Vincent, threw himself in front of Sheeley to protect her, and was thrown from the car in the accident. He died in hospital later that day from the head injuries he sustained. Sheeley and Vincent were both injured by survived the accident – the driver was convicted of dangerous driving.

Referenced in:
Rock And Roll Hall Of Death — Mitch Benn And The Distractions

1960 – Caryl Chessman is executed

The execution of Caryl Chessman was one of the most controversial in American history. Convicted of 17 assorted counts of rape, robbery and kidnapping in 1948, Chessman was sentenced to death by the state of California. (Kidnapping at that time was punished by execution in California). But there were irregularities in his case and Chessman asserted his innocence from the very beginning. After his conviction, there were many appeals, and Chessman would wind up spending a then-record 11 years and ten months on Death Row, with no fewer than 8 stays of execution.

He was finally executed in the gas chamber in 1960, but his death had become a cause célèbre for those who opposed the death penalty. It was largely as a result of Chessman’s case that California made the death penalty more restrictive in application, removing kidnapping as a charge attracting that penalty.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond
The Ballad of Caryl Chessman — Ronnie Hawkins

1960 — The NAB announces fines for DJs found accepting payola

While there had been rumours about payola in the music industry for years, the practice became more prevalent in the 1950s as radio overtook jukeboxes as the primary way music was listened to. In 1959, the US Senate began to investigate these claims, dragging the whole sordid practice of pay for play into the light. DJs testified to taking payments of as much as $22,000 to play songs, and careers were ruined and reputations tarnished.

In an effort to combat the public reaction to the scandal, the National Association of Broadcasters announced heavy fines for DJs caught accepting such bribes. Later, they restructured the industry to make programme directors at each station instead responsible for deciding what to play – a decision that actually made payola easier for the record labels. It is widely believed that the practice of payola continues to this day with little change other than that the DJs no longer see a dime from it.

Referenced in:
Payola Blues — Neil Young
Pull My Strings — Dead Kennedys
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1960 – Jane Goodall arrives at the Gombe Stream Reserve

In 1960, no one knew who Jane Goodall was, or how she would revolutionise our ideas about chimpanzee behaviour and intelligence, and by extension, about human behaviour. When she arrived at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, she was 26 year old best known as a protege of Louis Leakey who had worked with him at Olduvai Gorge in the late Fifties.

Over the course of more than five decades now, Goodall has devoted herself to scientific research and to ecological activism, but in 1960, no one could have imagined the important figure that Jane Goodall would become. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine the field of chimpanzee studies without her.

Referenced in:

Jane — Stevie Nicks

1960 – Albert Camus dies

Albert Camus was not an existentialist. He’d have been the first one to tell you that. He was mates with quite a few members of that tribe, but he never considered himself one of their number. Nevertheless, his works – especially “The Stranger”,”The Plague” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” – are often considered to parts of the existentialist canon (insofar as such a thing can be considered to exist).

Camus was only 46 when he died, in an unfortunate car accident that also claimed the life of his publisher, Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car at the time. His death was a great loss to the development of philosophy in the twentieth century.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1960 – The Pill is first approved for use as a contraceptive in the USA

One of the world’s most popular forms of birth control, the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill – or more commonly, The Pill – is a combination of oestrogen and progestogen in tablet form, which is swallowed daily by the user. It prevents unwanted pregnancies, and is perhaps the single most controversial legal drug in history.

Approved for use in the United States in 1960, the long term effects of the Pill were not well understood at the time. Some versions of the Pill later turned out to have unhealthy side-effects, including increased risks of cancer and birth control. But more important were the social effects. While there would still have been a Feminist movement in the Western world without the Pill, it would have been quite different in many ways, and very likely would have made less progress without the freedom that widely available contraception gave women.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1960 – Khrushchev demands that Eisenhower apologise for U-2 spy flights

On May 1, American pilot Gary Powers was shot down while flying a Lockheed U-2 over the USSR on a covert surveillance mission, photographing military and other targets. Four days later, the American government released disinformation stating that Powers had gone missing and was presumed dead while flying over Northern Turkey. On May 7, Khrushchev released information demonstrating that the Americans had lied, causing a massive loss of face to the Eisenhower administration, and heightening Cold War tensions. Not only was Powers still alive, but his plain had been captured mostly intact. Indeed, the Soviets were even able to develop some of the photos Powers had taken.

This was unfortunate timing, to say the least, as the Four Powers summit in Paris was due to begin on May 14. Krushchev demanded an apology from the UNited States, and when Eisenhower proved recalcitrant, he walked out of the summit. Soviet-American relations deteriorated notably as a result of these incidents.

Powers was tried for espionage, pleaded guilty and was convicted on August 19, Although his sentence called for 3 years’ imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor, he served only one and three-quarter years of the sentence before returning to the West in a hostage swap deal.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel