Posts Tagged ‘David Ackles’

First Wednesday: November 1968

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

In this space ten years ago, I put up a series of monthly posts looking at the year of 1968, then forty years gone. I thought it would be interesting to rerun those posts this year as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of that remarkable and often horrifying year. We’ll correct errors or update information as necessary, but the historic portion of the posts will otherwise be unchanged. As to music, we’ll also update our examination of charts from fifty years ago if necessary and then, when possible, share the same full albums from 1968 as we did ten years ago, but this time – as is our habit now – as YouTube videos. The posts will appear on the first Wednesday of each month.

One of the television pundits in the past few days – I do not recall which one it was – told us that the revival of the presidential campaign of John McCain from its doldrums of the summer of 2007 was the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history.

That depends on how you define “recent,” of course.

But to me, the most remarkable political resurrection in recent American history culminated with the election of Richard Nixon as president in 1968. Eight years earlier, as a sitting vice-president, Nixon had been defeated for the presidency by Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy. Two years after that, he’d lost a bid for the governorship of California. As Wikipedia notes, “in an impromptu concession speech the morning after the [California] election, Nixon famously blamed the media for favoring his opponent, saying, ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.’”

Six years later, on November 5, 1968, Nixon was elected president of the United States in a three-way race. The election was not only the culmination of Nixon’s retreat, rehabilitation and resurrection (covered in detail by Wikipedia here), but the culmination of an arc of stunning and tragic events that have come to define the entire American year of 1968:

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which showed Americans at home that the path to victory in that Southeast Asian nation was not as smoothly laid as politicians and military officials had told them.

The near-defeat of a sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, a result that spurred Johnson to withdraw from the Democratic presidential campaign, a decision that threw the race into chaos.

The assassinations – in April and June respectively – of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. The horror and sorrow of the two murders – coming two months and two days apart – increased the sense of a nation crumbling under the strain of blow after blow, grief after grief.

The upheaval during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August. As millions watched on television, the Democrats wrangled inside the convention hall, unable to unite, while outside, police and demonstrators fought in what was later judged to be “a police riot.” The sight of counter-cultural demonstrators battling police was certainly one of the factors that doomed the chances of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey in November’s election.

In that election, Humphrey and his running mate, Edmund Muskie of Maine, were facing Republicans Nixon and Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland. In addition, the campaign included one of the few viable third-party candidacies ever in United States’ history, with former Alabama Governor George Wallace and his running mate Gen. Curtis LeMay heading the American Independent Party, running on a generally anti-Washington platform, especially where it concerned civil rights and the federal government’s efforts toward desegregation.

According to Wikipedia (and this echoes what I recall hearing as a fifteen-year-old at the time), Wallace’s hope for the election was to win enough states and their electoral votes to deny both Nixon and Humphrey the presidency and move the presidential decision into the U.S. House of Representatives (where each state would cast one vote as determined by its delegation of representatives). Presumably, the delegations of the states Wallace had won in the election would follow his lead there and allow him the role of power broker as the House decided the election.

That was Wallace’s goal. The reality was that he won five states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – with a total of forty-five electoral votes. But those weren’t enough to forestall Nixon’s victory, as the Republican ticket accumulated 301 electoral votes to 191 for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket. Richard Nixon, six years after proclaiming that he was done with politics, won the presidency.

Folks who play the sometimes fascinating game of Couldabeen have long noted that according to the polls of the time – not nearly as many as there are today – the race between Nixon and Humphrey had tightened in the week before the election. That has prompted some to conclude that had the campaign been one week longer, Humphrey would have overtaken Nixon and won the election. Perhaps. Maybe the movement would have been just enough to throw the election into the House of Representatives (something that has happened only twice before, from what I can tell, in 1800 and 1824).

[Note from 2018: In late October, a plan negotiated in Paris to bring the war in Vietnam to an end was sabotaged by the Nixon campaign, which, through intermediaries, told the government of South Vietnam that a Nixon administration could get South Vietnam a better deal than the one that the U.S. had negotiated for it with North Vietnam. (According to Wikipedia, the South Vietnamese government refused to negotiate directly with the revolutionary guerilla movement known as the Viet Cong, and the government of North Vietnam refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government of South Vietnam. Thus, the U.S. and North Vietnam negotiated for themselves and for their partners.) Whether a peace agreement in late October would have lifted the Humphrey-Muskie ticket to victory is another game of Couldabeen, but revelations over the past fifty years – as reported here in this 2017 piece at the website of the Smithsonian Institution – have confirmed the interference by the Nixon campaign and seem to imply strongly that the candidate directed the interference.]

In any event, the presidential election in November 1968 was when Richard Nixon’s revival peaked (it would move on a downward arc – a seeming inevitability, seen historically – soon enough) and the sad story of 1968 in the United States reached its climax. There was still a good chunk of time left in the year come November 6, the day after the election, but for most of those eight weeks, the nation, I think, was simply exhaling in exhaustion. The list of November events at Wikipedia includes a couple of things happening in Vietnam; one of them is the start of Operation Commando Hunt, a less-than-successful attempt to block the movement by guerillas of men and supplies along the Ho Chi Mihn trail in the supposedly neutral national of Laos.

But looking at the list of November’s events, once past the election, the month seems tranquil, which is not a word that could be used often during 1968. There was one other important event, in retrospect: On November 14, Yale University announced it would admit women. And there was one not-so-important event that nevertheless has an impact today: On November 17, NBC cut away from the last 1:05 of a football game between the New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders to begin its special broadcast of a movie version of the tale Heidi. The Raiders scored two late touchdowns to win 43-32. Thousands of outraged fans protested, and NBC and other networks that air sports programming have since then stayed with sporting events to the very end regardless of the dislocation of the following schedule.

So what was it we were listening to as the votes were being counted on Election Day? Here’s the Billboard Top Fifteen for November 2, 1968:

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles
“Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Little Green Apples” by O.C Smith
“Fire” by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
“Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots
“Elenore” by the Turtles
“Over You” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hold Me Tight” by Johnny Nash
“Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes
“White Room” by Cream
“Suzie Q.” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf
“Piece of My Heart” by Big Brother and the Holding Company
“Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
“Girl Watcher” by the O’Kaysions

That’s a pretty good mix. I have to admit I’m not familiar with the Johnny Nash single. Maybe it didn’t get airplay here. I dunno. I know the rest well and like most of them. The Gary Puckett single is a little slight. On the other hand, “Fire” is about as powerful a song as you can find in the Top Fifteen, and “Love Child,” “White Room,” “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Piece of My Heart” are top-line singles. I also have a fond spot for “Midnight Confessions.” So when others had the radio on, I was beginning my slow modulation into pop/rock fandom and enjoying much of what I heard.

(I am a bit bothered by never having heard the Johnny Nash track, as far as I know.)

[Note from 2018: I now know the single, and it’s just okay.]

Here’s what Billboard listed as the Top Ten albums on Election Day:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company
Feliciano! by José Feliciano
Time Peace/The Rascal’s Greatest Hits by the Rascals
The Time Has Come by the Chambers Brothers
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly
Crown of Creation by Jefferson Airplane
Wheels of Fire by Cream
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Gentle On My Mind by Glen Campbell
Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

This was a pretty good week: It was the fourth week in a row that Big Brother and the Holding Company had held the top spot, buoyed by Janis Joplin’s vocals. The Chambers Brothers’ mix of funk and psychedelia had re-entered the album chart on the strength of a single edited from the album’s title track; the single had peaked at No. 11 in mid-October. And beyond those, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this Top Ten: Some pop country, some Latin influence, some bluesy psychedelia, some blue-eyed soul, some folk-rock in the quieter moments of the Jefferson Airplane album, and a freak-out or two.

The album I’m sharing today from 1968 is a fairly somber affair. David Ackles’ self-titled debut is one of those records that slowly insinuates itself. It’s subtle, and I’m not sure that consciously listening to it is the way to get into it. I’m probably wandering off into hippie stream of the universe territory here, but David Ackles is an album that – to the extent I know it (and I need to know it better) – I’ve begun to appreciate by having it play when I’m not aware of it.

The next time it plays, the increasing familiarity is pleasing, and even when only one track at a time pops up, a subtle learning of the album brings moments of unexpected recognition.

I dunno. Maybe that’s just the way I need to listen to it. Maybe focusing on 1968 for all these months has tipped me over the edge of perception. [That’s intended to be funny. You can chuckle.] I guess what I’m saying is that conscious listening – as in ‘Oh, what’s he doing with the guitar part and the parallel melody there?” – seems not to get me close to the center of whatever it is Ackles is aiming for. Osmosis seems to work better, and that may be because Ackles’ album is somber.

Here’s what Richie Unterberger of All-Music Guide had to say about David Ackles:

Ackles’ self-titled debut LP introduced a singer/songwriter quirky even by the standards of Elektra records, possibly the most adventurous independent label of the 1960s. Ackles was a pretty anomalous artist of his time, with a low, grumbling voice that was uncommercial but expressive, and similar to Randy Newman’s. As a composer, Ackles bore some similarities to Newman, as well in his downbeat eccentricity and mixture of elements from pop, folk, and theatrical music. All the same, this impressive maiden outing stands on its own, though comparisons to Brecht/Weill (in the songwriting and occasional circus-like tunes) and Tim Buckley (in the arrangements and phrasing) hold to some degree too. This is certainly his most rock-oriented record, courtesy of the typically tasteful, imaginative Elektra arrangements, particularly with Michael Fonfara’s celestial organ and the ethereal guitar riffs (which, again, recall those heard on Buckley’s early albums). As a songwriter, Ackles was among the darkest princes of his time, though the lyrics were delivered with a subdued resignation that kept them from crossing the line to hysterical gloom. “The Road to Cairo,” covered by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, and the Trinity is probably the most famous song here. But the others are quality efforts as well, whether the epics tell of religious trial, as in “His Name Is Andrew,” or the mini-horror tale of revisiting an old home in “Sonny Come Home.”

Beyond the tracks mentioned there, I’d also recommend “Blue Ribbon,” “Laissez-Faire” and “Be My Friend.” And keep an ear out for the organ/piano interplay. Without having the same sonic results, the pairing of those instruments seems to have drawn on similar approaches by Procol Harum and The Band.

Tracks:
The Road To Cairo
When Love Is Gone
Sonny Come Home
Blue Ribbons
What A Happy Day
Down River
Laissez-Faire
Lotus Man
His Name Is Andrew
Be My Friend

David Ackles – David Ackles (1968)

The link above is to a YouTube playlist of the entire album.

Twelve Presidential Votes

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

It’s still early here on the East Side, and the fellow heading up the polling place at the city public works building says he expects a busy day. The Texas Gal and I got there about ten minutes after the doors opened at seven o’clock, and there were about ten people ahead of us. We checked in and marked our ballots, and I cast vote No. 15 in the precinct. Hers was either No. 16 or No. 17. (I didn’t notice; I was waiting in the lobby, chatting with the greeter.)

This is the twelfth presidential election in which I’ve cast a vote. In the previous eleven elections, I’ve voted for the winner five times. And yes, I’m a Democrat. Actually, here in Minnesota, I’m a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, a name that reminds us of a 1944 merger between Minnesota’s Democrats and the state’s Farmer-Labor party. That bit of historical resonance pleases me.

(As Wikipedia notes, Minnesota’s DFL is one of only two state Democratic party affiliates that has a different name; the other one is the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. I wasn’t active in the DNPL when I lived in Minot, but I voted for its candidates in 1988.)

That 1988 election was the fifth presidential election I voted in, and my fifth voting location. As I’ve noted here other times, I’ve moved around a lot over the years. Here’s a synopsis of my residences for the twelve presidential elections in which I’ve voted.

1972: Folks’ place on Kilian Boulevard, St. Cloud
1976: Drafty house on St. Cloud’s North Side
1980: Mobile home just outside Monticello, Minn.
1984: Mobile home on south edge of Columbia, Mo.
1988: Apartment near downtown Minot, N.D.
1992: Apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.
1996: Apartment on Pleasant Avenue in south Minneapolis.
2000: Apartment on Bossen Terrace in south Minneapolis.
2004: Apartment on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2008: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2012: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.
2016: House on Thirteenth Avenue Southeast in St. Cloud.

I’m not certain that listing proves anything except that my life has become far more stable since a certain February evening in 2000, when I met the Texas Gal. And the first half of that list reminds me of a remark my pal Rob made not long ago while we were sipping beers at the Lincoln Depot just down the road from here. We’d struck up conversations with a couple of other music fans, and I’d noted that until I’d moved back to St. Cloud in 2002, my life had been “somewhat nomadic.”

Rob snorted. “Take out the adjective,” he said. “You were just nomadic.”

I was. And this morning, I look back at that first presidential election, when I was a sophomore in college, before I did any of that wandering. I cast my ballot for George McGovern at the Faith Lutheran Church, about five blocks away from home, drove over to school for an afternoon class and came home looking forward to an evening of watching election returns.

There wasn’t much suspense, of course, although in my youthful optimism, I’d hoped for a competitive race. McGovern, as you might recall, carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, and Richard Nixon was elected to a second term as president (a term he did not complete). After a brief time, I turned off the television and went elsewhere for diversion, probably up to my room and the radio, an AM/FM model Mom had won in a drawing – something I’d not recalled until writing this sentence – that I had recently claimed as my own.

I probably had the radio tuned that evening to KVSC-FM, St. Cloud State’s student-run station. What did I hear? I have no idea. But during the evening of that quintessential American day, it might very well have been the odd and disturbing title track from David Ackles’ third album, American Gothic, released that summer on the equally quintessential American day of July 4:

Mrs. Molly Jenkins sells her wares in town
Saturdays in the evening when the farmhands come around
And she sews all their names in her gown
Ah, but is she happy?
No no no
She wants a better home and a better kind of life
But how is she going to get the things she wants,
The things she needs as some poor wretch of a farmer’s wife?
He trades the milk for booze
And Molly wants new shoes
And as she snuggles down
With a stranger in some back of the barroom bed
It’s much too dark to the see the stranger
So she thinks of shoes instead

Old Man Horace Jenkins stays at home to tend his schemes
Sends for pictures of black stockings on paper legs with paper seams
And he drinks ’til he drowns in his dreams
Ah, but is he happy?
No, no, no
He wants to be reborn to lead the pious life
But how’s he going to shed his boozy dreams
When he has to bear the cross of a wicked wife?
She claims to visit shows
And he pretends that’s where she goes
And as he snuggles down to his reading in a half-filled marriage bed
He’s so ashamed of what he’s reading that he gets blind drunk instead

Sunday breakfast with the Jenkins
They break the bread and cannot speak
She reads the rustling of his paper
He reads the way her new shoes squeak
And pray God to survive one more week
Ah, but are they happy?
You’d be surprised between the bed and the booze and the shoes
They suffer least who suffer what they choose