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  • Now you remember from last week that we're in the

  • moment of phasing out of the 1960s,

  • moving into the 1970s, but of course,

  • human actions, inactions, chronology,

  • is not simply as neat as dates on a,

  • on a calendar as a timeline.  A lot of the

  • social confusion, violence, and cultural excitement

  • actually, of this era, of the late sixties,

  • is right there in the 1970s.  And this lecture's

  • actually trying to canvass some of the political

  • turmoil and its, its marriage to popular culture

  • in the early 1970s.  By way of context though,

  • let me start in the spring of 1970.  On April 30th--and

  • actually, let me focus--it's,

  • frankly, just focus on two weeks in 1970.  On April

  • 30th, President Nixon announces the invasion of

  • Cambodia, escalation of the war in Southeast Asia in

  • general, and the need for one hundred and fifty

  • thousand more troops to find a lasting peace.

  • In response, the campus at Kent State in Ohio,

  • the ROTC building is set on fireThe Ohio governor

  • dispatches National Guard to make sure that the campus

  • remains peacefulOn to May 4th,

  • this attempt to keep the peace on Kent State

  • evaporates, when twenty-eight Guardsmen open

  • fire on Kent State students, killing four and wounding

  • nineImmediately--immediately

  • being a day--five hundred colleges are shut down

  • across the country, or they're disrupted from

  • protestsOur country, according to college

  • protestors, our country is now attacking usIt makes

  • tremendous headlinesOn May 14th,

  • ten days--[student sneezes] bless you--ten days after

  • Kent State, at Jackson State University,

  • a historically black university,

  • during a student protest, state and highway patrolmen

  • open fire with automatic weapons into dormitories

  • Allegations are that someone was sniping at themNo

  • evidence was ever found to that,

  • to that endThey opened fire without any warning,

  • killed two students and wounded nineThe scale of

  • national attention is not commensurate with what

  • happens at Kent StateSo for,

  • in the African American community,

  • there is a sense that the police state,

  • in this case, state and highway patrolmen,

  • could kill our college students without anybody

  • worrying too much, but at Kent State,

  • also inexcusable, that if you kill the students,

  • it becomes a national catastropheMeanwhile,

  • in New Haven, just about two blocks from here--well,

  • actually, all throughout New Haven--the Black Panther

  • Party and the FBI are at a standoffBlack Panther

  • Party and fellow travelers had come to New Haven,

  • essentially to protest the murder trial of Bobby Seale,

  • who's accused of authorizing the murder of Alex Rackley,

  • member of the Black Panther Party,

  • people believed to have been an informant to the FBI

  • Fifteen thousand people descend upon the Green,

  • Panthers, Panther supporters,

  • sort of anarchist hippies, called the Yippies,

  • by--led by Abbie Hoffman, fellow travel--travelers of

  • all sortsAnd there was a real fear that the city is

  • going to be collapsed into a race riotThe university,

  • under the leadership of Kingman Brewster,

  • the president at the time, does something that people

  • never expected, and actually opened its doors to the

  • Black PanthersIt created a mechanism,

  • it felt--Brewster felt, that would relieve some of the

  • pent-up anxiety and tension over what's happening around

  • the country and then locallyClasses are

  • canceled; there's student strikes.  I think two or

  • three pipe bombs go off at Ingalls RinkIt's a level

  • of chaos that you, that you are not familiar with

  • Kingman Brewster declares that he actually doubts--and

  • I'm paraphrasing here--whether a black person

  • can get a fair trial anywhere in America

  • Immediately, the alums start phoning in,

  • calling for his resignation, for his outlandish

  • statementIt's a national event,

  • student unrest; it's a local story as wellIn this

  • spirit of what's going on in the country on the college

  • campuses, and the nation, the call for federal

  • troops--excuse me, for more military troops,

  • the invasion of Cambodia, you have an astonishing,

  • almost sort of a call and response by a lot of

  • cultural artistsMost famous in this regard--well,

  • most famous to me at least, in this regard--is Marvin

  • GayeMarvin Gaye, who had made a career at Motown by

  • piecing together and performing love songs,

  • branches out a year later in May of 1971 with something

  • really quite differentSo he's known for,

  • for this: [Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell,

  • "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" excerpt plays.]

  • Listen, baby Ain't no mountain high Ain't no valley low

  • Aint no river wide enough,

  • baby If you need me, call me No matter where you are

  • No matter how far Don't worry,

  • baby I mean, really catchy love songs,

  • really quite--you know, they're actually important

  • in the history of the evolution of rock music and

  • the Motown soundBut by--when we get into 1970,

  • Gaye is wrestling with, well,

  • partly exhaustion from churning out these

  • saccharine-laden songs, but also he's wrestling with

  • what's going on in the country,

  • and he wants to aspire to do something quite different

  • And he earns, secures himself a new contract with

  • Motown and he's given creative license,

  • which is astonishingThis is the big sort of rupture

  • in MotownHe's given creative license,

  • and he turns--and he generates a concept album

  • The album's called What's Going OnIt's dealing with

  • Vietnam, it's dealing with economic despair,

  • with incredible inflation going on in the country

  • It's dealing with ecological despair,

  • and this is a few years before Earth Day would

  • actually take effect, when people are wondering what

  • we're doing to this particular planetIn fact,

  • I've often, when I've given this lecture--and I wanted,

  • I hadn't given a, a cultural politics lecture for years,

  • and I finally realized it was time to do soAnd I

  • listened to What's Going On?

  • Just to see if I wanted to play a clip,

  • and I realized, I could actually just put the CD on,

  • leave the room, have you guys understand the

  • nineteen, early 1970s by the time the album was over

  • But, well, I have to get up and say somethingSo you

  • have a moment of escalating war in Vietnam,

  • fear of, of destruction of the planet,

  • ecologically speaking, environmentally speaking,

  • hyperinflation in the United States,

  • poverty, urban decayAnd Marvin Gaye starts writing

  • these pieces, or produces these songsThey merge one

  • into another in What's Going On?

  • and, in fact, if you do want to learn about the 1970s,

  • just go out and--I used to say buy the album at the

  • record store, then you could buy the CD,

  • and now it's just, you know, go to iTunes,

  • I supposeAlthough you should patronize Cutler's,

  • the local record store.  [Students laughOne of his

  • signature songs from the album,

  • "What's Happening, Brother?"  It's the story of

  • a returning vet, comes back from Vietnam,

  • trying to figure out what is happening on the street,

  • really trying to get back into the mundane routine

  • of life.

  • I'll play a clip of it.

  • Hey baby, what you know good I'm just getting back,

  • but you knew I would War is hell,

  • when will it end, When will people start getting

  • together again, Are things really getting better,

  • like the newspaper said Whatelse is new my friend,

  • besides what I read, Can't find no work,

  • can't find no job my friend, Money is tighter than

  • it's ever been Say man, I just don't understand

  • What's going on across this land Ah what's happening brother,

  • Oh yeah, what's happening, what's happening my man?

  • If you have the lyrics sheet in front of you,

  • it's self-evidentFor those of you who don't,

  • the guy's just come back from warHe's wondering,

  • if he's reading the newspaper,

  • if what he's reading is true,

  • and he's talking about civil rights here,

  • of things actually getting betterCan't find a job

  • though, money is tight.  "I don't understand what's

  • going on around here."  And then just wondering,

  • you know, are they still doing stuff they used to do,

  • going to the dancesDo you think anybody has a chance

  • to succeed, in this case, a ball club?  "I want to know

  • what's going on, what's happening."  Someone who's

  • lost and trying to find his wayVery soon,

  • you get an answer in the same album,

  • in the song "Inner City Blues."  Harkening back to

  • Gil Scott-Heron, "Whitey on the Moon."

  • Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah

  • Rockets, moon shots Spend it on the have nots.

  • Money, we make it;

  • 'Fore we see it you take it.

  • Oh, make me wanna holler The way they do my life.

  • Make me wanna holler, The way they do my life.This ain't

  • living, This ain't living No,no baby,

  • this ain't living No,no, no. Inflation,

  • no chance, To increase finance. Bills pile up sky high.

  • Send that boy off to die. Make me wanna holler.

  • The way they do my life Make me wanna holler

  • The way they do my life.

  • Sending people to the moonSpend it on people who don't

  • have anything, please, insteadPeople taking all

  • of our moneyThis is exactly Gil Scott-Heron's

  • lament from the same eraHe closes the song,

  • throwing up both my hands in a lamentNow if you think

  • I'm stretching this just a little bit,

  • I mean, this is just one album,

  • after all, let me share with you a personal storyIt's

  • happening in 1971, '72, and '73.  I was too young to

  • remember it, actually, but in 1990--let me think,

  • when would this have been--1997 or so,

  • I was living in Los AngelesMy father and

  • mother had come to visit me and my wife,

  • and we're drivingWe go out to--he'd lived in L.A.

  • for a while when--during this era--we drive out to

  • visit some old friends of his in Los Angeles,

  • have a great nightCome back,

  • we're driving back and I happen just to put on this

  • album.  I listen to it all the timeHe and my mother

  • riding in the back seat and after a while,

  • I realize what--something doesn't sound quite right

  • And then I realize, what I'm hearing in the back seat is

  • weeping, I mean, flat out weeping.  I turn down the

  • music, ask what's going on, and my father just says,

  • "I can't--you know, I just can't talk,

  • can't talk about it."  Get back to the house.  I've

  • never seen this guy cry in my entire life.  I don't

  • know what, what has actually happened.  I sit down with

  • him and my mother says, "Wendell,

  • just tell him what's going--what happened

  • there."  And my father essentially had a

  • flashbackHe was a Vietnam vet himself,

  • fought--flew in the Air ForceAnd he's saying that

  • album just brought everything back.  I mean,

  • "You just don't, you just don't understand,

  • he tells me, "what it was like."  People going off and

  • trying to--risking their lives for their country,

  • and being treated the way they were treated upon their

  • returnAnd Marvin Gaye really understood the sense

  • of confusion that many people,

  • not just the vets, but certainly in his case,

  • the vets come back trying to figure out what is going on

  • in this country, what do they actually fight for

  • Feeling a sense of moral confusion as wellMy

  • father even talked about the,

  • you know, the economy and the ecological landscape,

  • all in that same momentHe goes,

  • "That album really captured it allMarvin Gaye

  • understood what was going on."  Now this album,

  • What's Going On?, fluctuates between the international

  • critique and also things happening in U.S.

  • cities, again, this economic despair,

  • I keep coming back to itIt's really one of the

  • defining elements of the timeYou also have,

  • during this moment, this rise of,

  • in, in line with the Black Panther Party,

  • certainly, this rise of a celebration of black

  • masculinity, black virility, and also black cultural

  • celebrationQuite a different one than the

  • Harlem Renaissance, certainly,

  • but a black cultural celebration all the same

  • Take these elements together,

  • sort of this culturally rich moment,

  • the notion of abiding economic troubles,

  • and also determination that we,

  • in this case the black man--and I use that phrase

  • quite intentionally--are going to turn the system

  • overWe're going to be something different.

  • You end up with an incredibly popular movie and