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March 2009 Archives

March 5, 2009

1960 LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon

Writer David Pietrusza examines the 1960 presidential campaign in his new book 1960 LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon (The epic campaign that forged three Presidencies). At times scholarly, at times journalistic (harking back to a time when serious journalism was treated seriously), and at times tabloid style; Pietrusza weaves a narrative that concludes with the election of JFK. An otherwise fine book is marred at times with innuendo, gossip, and rumors. For example, Pietrusza uses as one of his sources Frank Sinatra's valet/personal assistant. What did Frank supposedly do? He was used as a courier by the mob to deliver large sums of cash to the Kennedy campaign. Of course we know from a number of reputable sources that this campaign was probably not run cleanly especially when you add Joseph P. Kennedy and his millions into the mix. But Pietrusza's Sinatra allegation is never definitively proven along with other assertions he makes based on dubious sources. Pietrusza is far more successful in analyzing broader political themes such as twice defeated presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson's hold on the democratic party as late as 1960 and the sobering warnings from without and within the Republican party concerning a Richard Nixon presidency. Also the Nixon/Kennedy debates are examined in detail. Everyone remembers the first debate. But what about the other three? Pietrusza fills us in. LBJ is often depicted as a helpless despondent bystander in this great campaign. Pietrusza's final chapter summarizes the fate of each man in spectacular prose which makes me want to forgive him for his previous lapses.

March 13, 2009

The Hardest Working Man (How James Brown Saved The Soul Of America)

An audacious title about an audacious man and a tumultuous time by Boston writer James Sullivan. In fact the title was so compelling, I felt the need to read it almost immediately. But it only took a few pages for me to get bogged down in the minutiae that was 1968 Boston race relations and politics. The book attempts to focus on Brown's Boston Garden concert the day after Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. Along the way we're treated to a meandering bio of the godfather of soul. Nothing wrong with that, but again Sullivan seemingly namechecks every single member of Brown's considerably large and constantly changing retinue along with all the folks who influenced him over the course of his career. I greatly admire Sullivan's knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject but if you read the book don't be surprised if your eyes start to glaze over. While James Brown's dedication and committment to the African-American community is beyond question, he was first and foremost a "capitalist". Everything else was secondary. Even the celebrated '68 Boston Garden concert almost didn't take place because of monetary and contractual concerns. (The concert would be televised live in an effort to keep potential rioters off the streets.) Brown would later be called a sell-out due to his ardent support of Richard Nixon. And Brown's efforts at reaching out to disaffected black youth meant little more than releasing sloganeering preachy songs. That having been said, he will always be remembered as one of the best entertainers of his generation. And his music did help bring the races together. Did James Brown save the soul of America? No, but like countless others he helped to mend it. Unlike Brown's over the top theatrical cape routine which left the audience wanting more, this book unfortunately will not do the same. The hardest working man? Yes. A great entertainer? Yes. The godfather of soul? You bet. However, Sullivan's attempt to transform Brown into this great civil rights icon that he never was creates a disservice not only to the readers but to the godfather himself.

About March 2009

This page contains all entries posted to DR. BYNUM'S SHOW in March 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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