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00:13

Fifty-Cent Piece

Fifty years ago today, John Glenn circled the Earth three times aboard Friendship 7, the first American in orbit. Fifty years ago yesterday, the New York Mets opened their first spring training with Casey Stengel's stories in St. Petersburg, Florida. And 50 years ago tomorrow, I slipped into this world. My parents had watched Glenn coverage on snowy black and white television the day before, and my grandfather bought a new camera for the occasion of my birth. There was a snowstorm in New York.

Such a round number, fifty. The states of course. The half dollar. The knowledge that within limits of human biology, 50 is often the biggest anniversary most people attain. The Rolling Stones are 50 this year. So is Darryl Strawberry, that meteoric and magical Met, born three weeks after I was. David Foster Wallace would have been 50 tomorrow, born the same day as me in upstate Ithaca.

My father was a newspaperman on the production side, and my mother a school teacher. The American world they brought me into was far smaller and less connected, far more conservative and tribal than the one my children will bring their children into. In 1962, the year that James Meredith sought to enroll as the first black student at the University of Mississippi, much of the South still broiled under legal segregation. Women had little access to the top ranks of the work place, and the Ivy League was all-male. Homosexuals hid their identities away, or faced terrible consequences. The idea that a one-year-old baby born in Hawaii the year before me to mixed race parents would someday occupy the White House was the stuff of pure political fantasy.

Time is a strange phenomenon, particularly when considering generations. The last Civil War veterans died during the decade before I was born, but veterans of the frontier wars against the American Indian and the Spanish-American War were still around when I came on the scene. World War I vets were grandfathers, and World War II vets were the still-young middle-aged managers. The U.S. had a few military advisers in Southeast Asia, and the idea that an American army would someday invade a Middle East nation wasn't even on the radar screen, nor was Islam much of a geo-political factor. The enemy was communism and its spread, personified by 35-year-old Fidel Castro and his patron in Moscow, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev. Winston Churchill still lived, as did Harry Truman, Jawaharlal Nehru, Douglas MacArthur and Charles DeGaulle. Mao ruled China. JFK was President, RFK his Attorney General and Martin Luther King was a young civil rights leader. Marilyn Monroe still had a few months to live.

'Tis strange to be 50, I'll admit. So much still to do, so many projects simmering. The challenges mount (precluding much time on this blog, long-suffering followers). But some things are timeless, and music is one of them. Here then, as a little gift to myself, one of the chart-toppers of 1962 (number one on some charts) - and a true classic of the genre:

Tags: History

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