Monday, November 22, 2010

What Happened in Big D -- Forty Seven Years Later

It's hard to explain that everything changed that afternoon just before Thanksgiving forty-seven years ago. The world would not be, could not be, the same again. In some ways, what happened in Dallas 47 years ago knocked the world off its axis, and it has been spinning wildly ever since.

Of course, the video above only relates to this post and what happened 47 years ago because of "Dallas" -- Big D, Little A Double L A. Those who know American musicals know that the song is from Frank Loesser's "Most Happy Fella," which takes place in the Napa Valley of California, not all that far from where I am typing this post. I've only been involved in one production of "Fella" -- not the one in the video, but it was one that felt very much like it. It was 10 years after the events in Dallas. I remember the set designer (who was barely out of UT -- ie: University of Texas, Austin) was so captivated with the notion of recreating vinyards in the Napa Valley onstage he came up with a means of producing the intermittent glow of fireflies in the air all over the stage during twilight scenes. Some of us -- like me -- took him aside and said, "Um, Bob. You know there are no fireflies in California?" He didn't. No. "But isn't it a wonderful effect?" he asked with this huge smile and twinkling eyes. Well, yes. Yes it was. It was lovely. But it wasn't Napa. "Don't you think we can get away with it? Willing suspension of disbelief?" I and others thought we should try it and see what happened. Sure enough, the audience loved it. Despite the ostensible setting of the play in the Napa Valley, where there are no fireflies, I don't think anybody in the audience even considered the factual discrepancy. Nor did they fret over how it seemed that nobody connected with the book had actually ever been there. So what? It was a delightful semi-opera, performed with extraordinary vigor by a young and enthusiastic cast, on a beautiful set, so who cared, really?

True story.

And somehow we do get back to what happened in Dallas that awful afternoon 47 years ago when the world changed forever.

I was in high school when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the President had been shot. Some time later, the announcement came that he had apparently died of his wounds in Dallas and we would be sent home for the day. It was all a complete shock to the students and teachers. We could not imagine in our wildest fantasies that such a thing could happen. This is why I say the world was knocked off its axis. Most of the faculty had been around when Roosevelt had died in office -- my chemistry teacher had been in an internment camp, for heaven's sake.

But this was different, entirely different. It was as if a thunderbolt had come from the Heavens and struck down President Kennedy just in his prime. Roosevelt was old and frail in 1945, and the War was almost over. Kennedy had survived some nasty scrapes and even the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was gearing up for more challenges to come. Struck down suddenly by a murder most foul. The concept of it was unbelievable.

And then to witness the assassination of his assassin live on the television tube... no. This was not even supposed to be real in fiction.

From that moment on, nothing would be the same again.

Rebellion would be the watchword of the next decade. Distrust. Disaster. Despair. Bloody violence. And yet, despite events, the Fear that had enforced conformity during the 50's and the early 60's was absent. Who was afraid of anything any more?

Keep in mind, Kennedy's death led to the advent of Lyndon Johnson in the White House -- a very strange situation for most of us. Johnson was driven from office by the revolt against his escalation of the Vietnam War, a crazy undertaking that seemed more about proving the size of his dick than anything else. He was replaced by Nixon -- who was also driven from office, in part for continuing, intensifying, and then losing the Vietnam War. And Ford? Who even remembers him? He was proof that presidents could be appointed, and nobody would blink an eye. He presided over the American evacuation of Saigon, a spectacle that no one who witnessed it can ever forget.

Carter, Blessed Jimmy Carter, so intent on doing the Right thing, got hoist by his own petard when the Tehran embassy was seized by Iranian revolutionaries and American hostages were held there through the rest of his reign.

Reagan. Save us all. After suffering one disastrous presidency after another, Reagan promised Morning In American and the People bought it. Those who tried to warn them -- like the Californians who had already experienced Reaganism -- were shushed and shunted to the sidelines. Reaganism ruled.

It was slick but amateurish, filled with corruption and suffering, but so what?

And the attempt on Reagan's life did not succeed.

Nevertheless, shenanigans under the Reagan presidency were outrageous and obvious, and the man himself was at best a shell.

George the Old? The less said the better. And no, I don't know -- at this point don't much care -- if he had anything to do with the events in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963. The theories of what was really going on are interesting, but we are not going to be privy to a definitive answer any time soon. It's like life on Mars. Maybe. Maybe not.

Clinton came next, and that didn't turn out well.

George the Lesser ruled over a blood-soaked criminal conspiracy.

And Obama was sent to the White House as a form of Redemption. For all of it. All the sin and error of the past, all the suffering of the future. That's what was in so many people's minds.

There was a similar sensation around the advent of John F. Kennedy, another President who could not be President -- because he was Catholic.

So many of us wonder if we are about to go through a similar situation with Obama. Will the earth be knocked off its axis again? I think we're very close.

And who knows, fireflies may show up in the Napa Valley.

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