Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Day John Kennedy Died

I was only two when John Kennedy was assassinated. I obviously have no recollection of it happening or the time around it. I do know though that it deeply affected my parents and most other people who were around then.

In 1983, I was a senior at Eastern Illinois finishing up my Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. My parents were still living here in Illinois, so I drove up to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.

One of the things I remember about the 180 mile drive back to Chicago from my school was that around Kankakee, about 50 miles south of Chicago, we could start picking up WXRT, the FM "progressive rock" station I'd grown up listening to. On that trip, not long after 'XRT came up on the car radio of my green Volkswagon Beetle, Lou Reed's song "The Day John Kennedy Died" was played. I realized that it was November 22, the twentieth anniversary of President Kennedy's death.

I've never forgotten that moment and that song. Reed's recollections of hearing of Kennedy's death while in college are sad and moving.

Later, when I discovered the music of Phil Ochs, I heard a couple more great songs about it, "That Was The President," and "Crucifixion." I found the Lou Reed song on Youtube. I was able to find someone doing a nice cover of "That Was The President," and a clip of Phil Ochs himself doing part of "Crucifixion" in Stockholm in 1969. I think that part of the despair that drove Ochs to suicide was seeing so many of his heroes-- Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy-- murdered.

We don't live in a perfect society, but it's a hell of a lot better than it was in 1963. In 1960, John Kennedy's Catholicism was a big deal. 20 years later, in 1983, if someone had told me that we'd have a black president in my lifetime, I wouldn't have believed it. A lot of people paid the price to get to a place where a black President, a female Secretary of State, a latino governor, or an openly gay Chicago Alderman could happen. Today is as good a day as any to remember that.


SkylersDad said...

Very nice JY, good stuff!

Erik Donald France said...

I was *just* old enough to remember my mother's drastic responses on the day John Kennedy died. One of my first -- maybe even the first -- memory that stuck outside of dreams. John John was just a few weeks older.

BeckEye said...

Interesting...I just posted a song yesterday that is supposedly loosely based on the Kennedy assassination and his bizarre love life.

Mnmom said...

I was a toddler, but I know it affected my parents quite a bit. I felt something similar when Paul Wellstone died. I was sad and depressed for weeks.

Churlita said...

i wasn't born when Kennedy died, but my parents were super into him. I agree with you about how much better things are. Who would ever have thought that gay marriage would be legal in Iowa when I was in high school?

dmarks said...

"A lot of people paid the price to get to a place where a black President, a female Secretary of State, a latino governor, or an openly gay Chicago Alderman could happen."

And some of those advances , unthinkable in the 1960s, have happened multiple times, and go way back now.

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