1969 — The ‘Bloody Thursday’ protest march is broken up by the police

The People’s Park in Berkeley was first created in 1969. The site was formerly occupied by houses, but those began to be demolished pending redevelopment by the University of California in February 1968. However, the money ran out. Only partially demolished, the site was allowed to sit derelict for more than a year. In April 1969, the site was occupied by a mixed of group of local residents and political activists who declared it the People’s Park. The university was caught off-guard by this, but negotiated with the occupiers, eventually promising to notify and consult them before proceeding with any developments.

Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, regarded this agreement as an outrageous capitulation to people he characterised as “communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.” On Thursday, May 15, 1969, he dispatched officers of the Califorian Highway Patrol and the Berkeley police precinct to clear the park, which they entered at 4:30 in the morning. But the occupiers resisted, and more protestors arrived to aid in the struggle. By midday, more than 3000 people had gathered in an attempt to reclaim the now fenced-off park from the 159 law enforcement personnel assigned to patrol its borders. Protestors threw rocks and bottles at police, police fired pepper gas and tear gas canisters at protestors, and the situation deteriorated.

Both sides were reinforced by new arrivals, bringing the total number of police to 791 and the total of protestors to more than 4000. Police began to fire shotguns into the crowd, causing more than 100 injuries (129 hospital admissions and an unknown number of unreported injuries). One protestor, a UC Berkeley student named James Rector, was killed in the struggle. Undeterred, Reagan sent 2700 National Guard troops to restore order that evening, declaring a curfew throughout Berkeley and arresting large numbers of students, hippies and other ‘suspicious characters’. The following April, Reagan publicly said of the incident “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” He remains a hero of the Republican Party to this day.

Referenced in:

What’s Going On — Marvin Gaye

1969 — The Beckenham Free Festival is held

The Beckenham Free Festival was held at the Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham in August 1969, in parallel with the Woodstock Festival. It was organised by a group of British musicians and artists, the most prominent of whom was David Bowie (quite early in his career).

The festival was a success, with some 3,000 people attending. The atmosphere was generally peaceful, for which Bowie was complimented by Bromley’s mayor and chief of police (who were among the attendees).

Referenced in:
Memory of a Free Festival — David Bowie

1969 — Rupert Murdoch begins publishing “The Sun”

Rupert Murdoch was already a media magnate in his native Australia, and in New Zealand as well, when he entered the British media market in 1968. His initial foray was to purchase the “News of the World”, but the following year, he picked up the struggling daily “The Sun”, which was five years old and in serious trouble. He shifted it to a tabloid format with an emphasis on page three girls and sports – he also saved money by using a single printing press for both papers (they had previously each had their own).

The revamped paper first appeared in its tabloid format on November 17, 1969 – the first headline was “HORSE DOPE SENSATION”, and its redesigned masthead was deliberately in imitation of its main competitor, “The Daily Mirror”. In the years that followed, “The Sun” would become one of the dominant newspapers in the United Kingdom (and its success helped to fund Murdoch’s later expansion into the American market). Along the way, Murdoch has made powerful enemies at every turn – but he’s also made even more powerful friends, especially on the right wing of politics in the countries where his enterprises operate.

Referenced in:
Dear Mr Murdoch — Roger Taylor

1969 – Hồ Chí Minh dies

The first President of Vietnam, who died on the 24th anniversary of his accession to that role, Ho Chi Minh is best known in the west as the leader of North Vietnam during the early parts of the Vietnam War. In particular, he was responsible for the move away from traditional military engagements towards the guerilla tactics that eventually (as he predicted) wore the US down.

Ho Chi Minh was 79 years old when he died, and had lived through French, Japanese and then French occupation again in his life. He was a staunch communist, abandoning his birth name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung in token of his ideals, and a firm believer in an independent Vietnam.

After his death, his body was embalmed, and has been on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi ever since, even though his will requested that he be cremated.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1969 — Brian Jones dies

Brian Jones was the original Rolling Stone. He coined the band’s name and recruited its members in 1960. But as their fame grew, Jagger and Richards outshone him in the media, especially as their songwriting partnership developed. In 1969, he was asked to leave the band by the other members, as his drinking and drug use were taking a toll on his abilities, and on June 9, he did so.

In the last month of his life, he kept writing songs and reached out to other musicians, including John Lennon, about forming a new band. At around midnight on the night of 2–3 July 1969, Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool. The coroner’s verdict was death by misadventure, although he also noted that the condition of Jones’ organs was deteriorated due to his drug and alcohol intake. Two days later, the Rolling Stones dedicated a free concert in Hyde Park to his memory. Conspiracy theories about him being murdered swirl to this day.

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

1969 – The Cuyahoga River catches fire. Again.

Between 1868 and 1969, there were thirteen separate fires on the Cuyahoga River, the worst occurring in 1952. It was one of the most polluted watercourses in all of the United States. But the 1969 fire, although not the most damaging, was the one with the most lasting effects. Public outcry over the fire led to the creation of the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

Water quality on the Cuyahoga has improved, and most of the largest individual sources of pollution have been cleaned up, but the problem remains one that needs guarding against to prevent a recurrence.

Referenced in:
Cuyahoga – R.E.M.
Burn On – Randy Newman
River On Fire – Adam Again

1969 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono marry

One of the most controversial relationships in modern cultural history, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s love began inauspiciously, as an affair (Lennon was already married at the time) characterised by the usual deception and unthinking cruelty of such things, and notable for Ono’s miscarriage in 1968 (a few weeks after Lennon’s divorce). With Ono, Lennon became more activist, protesting the Vietnam War in particular.

The two were married in Gibraltar, and their honeymoon was spent in the Hilton Hotel of Amsterdam, conducting their now-legendary Bed In for Peace. How much influence Ono had over Lennon in the ongoing dissolution of the Beatles in this era remains a matter of dispute. There seems little doubt that she may have exacerbated existing strains, but it is unlikely that she was solely responsible (as some have claimed). Lennon and Ono would remain married until Lennon’s death in 1980.

Referenced in:
The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles

1969 – “In The Year 2525” reaches #1 on the US charts

Proving both that there really were serious amounts of drugs around in the Sixties, and that science fiction is harder to do right than it appears, the 1969 hit “In The Year 2525: Exordium and Terminus” by one hit wonders Zager and Evans is quite possibly the most nonsensical song to ever reach number one on the US charts.

Starting at 2525, each verse jumps another 1000 or so years into the future, and each set of projections is consistently more extreme and less well explained: although the one way in which it is good science fiction is that everything mentioned in the song is a reflection of the social concerns of 1969 rather than anything that likely to actually occur.

Referenced in:

Zager and Evans — Paul Solecki

1969 – Elvis Presley first dubbed the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”

It may seem unbelievable today, but there was a time when he wasn’t ‘the King’. In fact, there was a time when he was barely even Elvis Presley. In the period from the start of 1967 through to May of 1968, he released 8 singles – only 2 of which made the top 40, and none of which reached higher than number 28. That all changed with his “Comeback Special” in June 1968, the first time he had performed live since 1961. Broadcast on tv, it made him a household name once more, and from that point on, there would be no looking back.

Presley parlayed the success of the special into a residency at the newly opened International Hotel, in Las Vegas. On the day of his first concert there, July 31, 1969, Elvis was asked by a journalist how it felt to be the King of Rock’n’Roll. Elvis pointed at Fats Domino, who was also present: “No,” he said, “that’s the real king of rock and roll.”

Referenced in:

Porcelain Monkey — Warren Zevon

1969 — John and Yoko stage their first Bed-In

After getting married on March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono proceeded to have possibly the strangest honeymoon ever.

From their room in the Amsterdam Hilton (room 902, the Presidential Suite), they held a series of press conferences each day from March 25 to March 31. Between 9am and 9pm each day, they invited the press into their room, where the couple discussed peace (especially in regards to Vietnam) while sitting in their bed. The wall above them was decorated with signs reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”.

It’s unclear exactly what effect, if any, this all had on the outcome of the Vietnam War. If nothing else, Lennon’s astute use of his celebrity to get his message out certainly helped to raise the issue’s profile, although it’s arguable he was preaching almost entirely to the converted – by 1969, pretty much everyone already had an opinion about Vietnam…

Referenced in:
The Ballad of John and Yoko — The Beatles

1969 – Shawn Carter, a.k.a. Jay-Z, is born

Born Shawn Corey Carter, the man today known as Jay-Z probably didn’t realise at the time that he would become one of the most financially successful rap artists in the history of the genre, win ten Grammys or marry Beyonce.

Jay-Z was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, in New York City. His was a large family, but his musical talent showed itself early and his mother made sure to encourage him. By the time he was 19, he was well on his way, working with rapper Jaz-O. Twenty years later, he’d be working with Barack Obama to help the latter get elected.

Referenced in:

December 4th — Jay-Z

1969 – Jan Palach commits suicide to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia

Jan Palach was a twenty year old student in Prague when he set himself on fire. His action was intended as a protest of the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring the previous August, when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to put an end to the liberalisaton that was taking place under the government of Alexander Dub?ek.

Palach spent three days in excrutiating pain before he died of his injuries on January 19, 1969. In death, he became a martyr to the cause of Czechoslovakia liberation (and liberation in general). When the Velvet Revolution freed the Czechs and Slovaks from Soviet rule in 1989, Palach was one of those honoured with memorials by the new government.

Referenced in:
Euromess — Jean-Jacques Burnel
Nuuj Helde — The Janse Bagge Bend
Va De Du Jesus — Åge Aleksandersen
Pochodnie (Torches) — Jacek Kaczmarski
The Funeral of Jan Palach — The Zippo Band

1969 – Woodstock

Woodstock Music & Art Fair (informally, Woodstock or The Woodstock Festival) was a music festival, billed as “An Aquarian Exposition”, held from August 15 to August 18, 1969, at a dairy farm belonging to a Max Yasgur in the rural town of Bethel, New York. Bethel, in Sullivan County, is actually 43 miles (69 km) southwest of the town of Woodstock, after being turned down from its original venue.

Thirty-two acts – inlcuding Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Arlo Guthrie, Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead – performed during the sometimes rainy weekend in front of nearly half a million concertgoers – the organisers had expected only 50,000. Woodstock has come to be seen as one of the high water marks of the hippie movement, and it is sometimes regarded as marking the end of the Sixties.

One imagines that the various acts who were invited but did not attend (those still alive, at any rate) – including the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan – probably still regret it.

Referenced in:

Woodstock – Joni Mitchell
My Generation (Part II) – Todd Snider
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel
She Is Always Seventeen – Harry Chapin
Woodstock – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young