One of the nicest things about living to be 75 is you get to relive events that happened a half-century ago as their golden anniversaries appear in the papers. This year we’re remembering events of 1969, away back when this writer was a 25-year-old news director of a small radio station on the island of Kauai. So it happened that my first impressions of 1969 were provided by the clattering of an Associated Press teletype.
January: Joe Willie Namath’s brash “guarantee” of a win over heavily favored Baltimore in the Super Bowl is met with derision until it happens, and Broadway Joe becomes America’s loveable rogue.
February: Boris Karloff, aka Frankenstein, dies … we think.
March: The last Beatle bachelor, Paul McCartney marries photographer Linda Eastman. Paul gives us five words that ring true half a century later, “All you need is love.”
April: For the first time, an artificial heart is implanted in the chest of a human, and that fake heart keeps that human alive for 65 hours, until a human donor is found. I remember thinking at the time, “Heck, by the time I’m 75, they will have parts for nearly everything below the neck.” Today I have to wonder who the last human might be to die with all of his or her original parts, and will there be a statue erected to remember that person?
May: Spring break. Zap, N.D., is invaded by 2,000 college students for the town’s first and last three-day beer-bust. The National Guard is called in to clear out the students, who, according to the sheriff, “… wrecked the whole damn town.”
June: A 22-year-old Cuban astonishes the aeronautics world, the medical world and everybody else in the world, by surviving a nine-hour flight from Havana to Madrid in the wheel well of a DC-8. At 29,000 feet, Armando Ramirez had next to no oxygen and endured -40 degree temperatures, a testament to human endurance. I don’t do Facebook, but I see Armando has a Facebook page, so I’m assuming he is alive and well, and able to talk about it 50 years later.
July: In the most amazing event of my lifetime, Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon. As one of 600 million people watching on TV, I never could have imagined that 30 years later, Neil Armstrong would shake the hand of a man in a white suit pretending to be Mark Twain, me. The moon was full that night, and along the walk back to my hotel, I held my right hand up alongside the moon, and got chicken skin all over.
August: Remember that blanketed couple on the cover of the “Woodstock” album? They’re happily married today, and are still slow dancing to Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby.”
September: During the trial of the Chicago Eight, antiwar activists use the courtroom as a platform to disparage President Nixon and the Vietnam War. Bobby Seale is gagged and strapped to his chair. Nobody does time.
October: After dwelling in the cellar for several years, the Amazin’ Mets surprise everybody, including themselves, and win the World Series. Winning pitcher Tom Seaver proffers, “If the Mets can win the World Series, the Unites States can get out of Vietnam.”
November: One almost forgotten significant event of 1969 was President Nixon’s announcement that U.S. production of biological weapons for germ warfare would cease. We then put our efforts into killing germs instead of people.
December: We say goodbye to the ’60s with Steam’s No. 1 song from December of 1969, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” An appropriate ending to a most memorable year of the Jets, the Mets and the moon.
McAvoy Layne is a 30-year impressionist of Mark Twain who can be reached at GhostofTwain.com.