Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.
by Akim Reinhardt
Most people associate the Cold War with several decades of intense political and economic competition between the United States and Soviet Union. A constant back and forth punctuated by dramatic moments such as the Berlin Airlift, the Berlin Wall, the arms race, the space race, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon’s visit to China, the Olympic boycotts, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and eventually the collapse of the Soviet system.
But on the home front, the Cold War was often less about politics and economics and more about culture and society. It was a time of Us vs. Them, of Right vs. Wrong. Certain cows were sacred, others were evil, and woe be unto those who milked the wrong teat. The Cold War was about American society demanding conformity, and persecuting those who did not play along.
The Second Red Scare (ca. 1947–57) was the most dramatic example of persecuting non-conformists. People were hauled in front of Congress and, on national television, subjected to reputation-destroying and career-ending interrogations. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts weren’t just about politics; they also disciplined the society and put dissenters on notice: get in line, or at least shut up, or face dire consequences. And the popular culture followed suit.
Americans reacted strongly to the dominant good guys/bad guys narrative. Fears of a possible World War III and accompanying nuclear holocaust were widespread. The culture was soaked through with an Us vs. Them mentality, with a heavy emphasis on choosing up sides. It could be seen in everything from the ubiquitous white hat/black hat Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s to the Rock vs. Disco antagonism of the 1970s. Everyone had to be on the right side. Picking the wrong side marked you as the enemy. And refusing to pick a side at all? That was so strange as to almost be incomprehensible. Read more »
by Akim Reinhardt
David Bowie was a white Englishman. Prince was a black American. Bowie was deeply rooted in the riffs, major/minor chords, and melody of rock-n-roll. Prince was grounded in the syncopated rhythms and arrangements of funk and R&B.
Prince's and Bowie's careers did overlap to a degree. Their biggest selling albums, Bowie's Let's Dance and Prince's Purple Rain, were released within a year of each other. But of course Let's Dance was Bowie's capstone in many ways, his big pop breakthrough after nearly 15 years of churning out music, whereas Purple Rain came fairly early in Prince's career, establishing him as an international pop icon for decades to come. So despite the kissin' cousin chronology of their biggest albums, the respective heydays of David Bowie and Prince were, in many ways, separated by about a decade. That makes sense since Prince was ten years younger than Bowie.
Despite all these differences, however, their deaths, coming three months apart from each other, produced similar strains of public mourning. In particular, many people confessed how one or the other artist had profoundly affected them during their formative years. And this heartfelt influence, many said, came not just from Bowie's and Prince's music, but especially from their artistic personae.
In between Bowie's and Prince's passing came the death of Glenn Frey, one of the two lead singer/songwriters of the Eagles, one of the most successful bands in the history of recorded music.
I have yet to see anyone write an essay, post a facebook comment, tweet, or make any other public expression of their deep gratitude for the vital role Glenn Frey played in helping them cope during their formative years.
Why? I suspect the answer is the Cold War.
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by Akim Reinhardt
It was 1996. I was 28. I had recently moved to Nebraska to attend graduate school. I was at a party. I didn't know a lot of people. Maybe I didn't know anyone. One woman was talking about palm reading. Apparently she read palms.
Laughable, of course. But I didn't say anything, just drank my beer. There was this other guy though, in his early twenties. He said some things. None of it nice. How stupid. Don't be ridiculous. Duh.
Sure, yeah, I agreed with him. It is stupid. But do you have to be such a dick about it? This woman seems like a perfectly nice person, maybe even nicer than most. What's the point of insulting and belittling her?
I guess it was one of those moments when I recognized a younger version of myself in someone else and I didn't like what I saw. It's good to have those moments, even if they make you uncomfortable. Especially if they make you uncomfortable.
I finally spoke up.
“Why don't you read my palm,” I said, looking to break the tension and succeeding. I offered her my upturned hand. She smiled and took it.
My memory of what she actually said while examining my extremity is virtually extinct. The exact words? I have no idea. But I'll never forget the epiphany I had as she spoke. After a minute or two it dawned on my why this ancient practice, so obviously ripe for charlatanism, had lasted all these years.
She held my hand and said nice things about me.
Who wouldn't like that? Who wouldn't, when feeling a little sad or lonely, pay a few bucks for that?
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