Archive for the ‘1970s’ Category


Roberta Flack’s cover of Kitty White’s 1962 song. An utter classic, what can I say?


The first time, ever I saw your face,
I thought the sun rose in your eyes.
And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave,
To the dark and the endless skies, my love.
To the dark and the endless skies.

And the first time, ever I kissed your mouth,
I felt the earth move in my hand.
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird,
That was there at my command, my love.
That was there at my command, my love.

And the first time, ever I lay with you,
I felt your heart, so close to mine.
And I knew our joy would fill the earth,
And last ’till the end of time, my love.
And it would last ’till the end of time, my love.

The first time ever I saw your face.
Your face.
Your face.
Your face.
Your face.

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I am not quite sure what this song is about, with pimps swinging axes and the lighting of soul flames, but it still sounds good all these years later. It sounded much better back in ancient times, like in the 1980s, when I listened to it on my sister’s record player: you turn over the record and this was the first song on side two of “The Wild, the Innocent and the East Street Shuffle” (1973). After saying “Puerto Rican Jane” a million times (well, twice) and then some good electric guitar playing it all dies away and all that is left is just the piano, playing almost one note at a time. And then right after – right after – that very last note on the piano it bursts into “Rosalita”. It is like Christmas or sex: the anticipation is half the joy.


Spanish Johnny drove in from the underworld last night
With bruised arms and broken rhythm in a beat-up old Buick
But dressed just like dynamite
He tried sellin’ his heart to the hard girls over on Easy Street
But they sighed “Johnny it falls apart so easy and you know hearts these days are cheap”
And the pimps swung their axes and said “Johnny you’re a cheater.”
Well the pimps swung their axes and said “Johnny you’re a liar”
And from out of the shadows came a young girl’s voice said: “Johnny don’t cry”
Puerto Rican Jane, oh won’t you tell me what’s your name.
I want to drive you down to the other side of town where paradise ain’t so crowded, there’ll be action goin’ down on Shanty Lane tonight
All them golden-heeled fairies in a real bitch fight
Pull .38s and kiss the girls good night

Oh good night, it’s alright Jane
Now let them black boys in to light the soul flame
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Well like a cool Romeo he made his moves, oh she looked so fine
Like a late Juliet she knew he’d never be true but then she really didn’t mind
Upstairs a band was playin’, the singer was singin’ something about goin’ home
She whispered, “Spanish Johnny, you can leave me tonight but just don’t leave me alone”

And Johnny cried “Puerto Rican Jane, word is down the cops have found the vein”
Oh them barefoot boys they left their homes for the woods
Them little barefoot street boys they say homes ain’t no good
They left the corners, threw away all their switchblade knives and kissed each other good-bye

Johnny was sittin’ on the fire escape watchin’ the kids playin’ down the street
He called down “Hey little heroes, summer’s long but I guess it ain’t very sweet around here anymore”
Janey sleeps in sheets damp with sweat, Johnny sits up alone and watches her dream on, dream on
And the sister prays for lost souls, then breaks down in the chapel after everyone’s gone

Jane moves over to share her pillow but opens her eyes to see Johnny up and putting his clothes on
She says “Those romantic young boys
All they ever want to do is fight”
Those romantic young boys
They’re callin’ through the window
“Hey Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?”
And Johnny whispered:

Good night, it’s all tight Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
We may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Oh, good night, it’s all right Jane
I’m gonna meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
Oh, we may find it out on the street tonight baby
Or we may walk until the daylight maybe

Good night, it’s all right Jane
I’ll meet you tomorrow night on Lover’s Lane
Now we may find it out on the, on the street tonight baby
Or we may have to walk until the morning light maybe

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AnAutobiographyOfAngelaDavisWritten: 1974
Read: 2009

“An Autobiography” (1974) by Angela Davis tells the story of the first 28 years of her life, from birth to her arrest, imprisonment and trial. It was edited by Toni Morrison, who had already written “The Bluest Eye” and was then working for Random House.

I got it from the library because it was out of print – but now it seems to be back in print again!

It is not as good as, say, the autobiography of Malcolm X, but it is still well worth reading.

Malcolm X was not only more important in history, his story is one of self-discovery, a search for the truth that remakes him. Like St Augustine’s “Confessions”.

Angela Davis’s life was far more straightforward: she saw how unjust American society was growing up and sought to change it by taking part in SNCC, the Black Panthers and the Communist Party. In time this landed her in prison.

The part about the trial was well written: it could have bored you to tears with all the ins and outs that trials have, but she avoided that. Best of all was the ending: even though you already knew she would win, you were still overjoyed when she does win! That is how the book ends.

The book starts two years before with her on the run from the FBI. She is arrested in New York and put in prison. Since she is to stand trial in California, she is sent back. At that point the book jumps back to fill in the first 26 years of her life and then ends with her imprisonment in California and the trial.

She writes at great length about her time in prison. It affected her powerfully, but not me: I expect prison to be terrible, so nothing she said shocked me.

The same goes for what she said about the police in Los Angeles: from living in New York I already knew how they can be. But it is nice to know that I am not just imagining it.

One of the best parts is her account of growing up in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s. It makes you see how some things have changed like night and day (like being able to walk in through the front door) while other things remain the same (like the police).

She won me over when she said she loves reading books but hates going to parties.

Another good part was her account of the Los Angeles police trying to wipe out the Black Panthers.

She lives in Los Angeles in the 1960s. There are no Jim Crow laws  there, yet in some ways the racism is worse: because the whites there know and understand blacks less they seem to regard them more like wild animals to be threatened, shot and put safely behind bars.

She says little about philosophy, which she studied for years, and little about racism in New York, where she lived during part of high school.

It is called “an” autobiography. Is she going to write another one?

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BE021354The trial of Angela Davis, a black American Communist revolutionary, lasted 13 weeks and ended on June 5th 1972. She was found not guilty of all three charges by an all-white jury: kidnapping, conspiracy and murder.

The crime: Her gun had been used by a friend to kidnap a judge in order to free three prisoners. In the shoot-out that followed her friend, the judge and two of the prisoners died.

Under California law at the time she was, strictly speaking, party to murder since it was her gun. But they could not prove she wanted anyone dead or knew what her friend was up to (conspiracy).

A white service station owner said he saw her with her friend on the morning of the shoot-out but it turned out that he had a hard time telling black women apart, even light-skinned ones with Afros.

When they arrested her the state hoped to prove she had political motives to use violence to free the Soledad Brothers and others from prison, thus the shoot-out (though it was not the Soledad Brothers themselves who were being freed in that instance).

Libertad_angelaBut when it came time for the trial they could no longer use that argument: by then she had become world famous as a political prisoner, putting America to shame, a country that prides itself on supposedly not having any political prisoners.

Besides, it would have been a hard thing to prove: while she had given plenty of speeches urging the freedom of the Soledad Brothers and against the police and the prisons, she always pushed for peaceful protests, never violence. She knew blacks were hopelessly outgunned. She was not the violent revolutionary some made her out to be.

So instead the state wound up trying to prove she had fallen in love with one of the Soledad Brothers and was therefore driven by passion to desperate measures to free him. It was sad: while she had written many letters to the Soledad Brothers there was no sign of a love affair in any of them.

She had been in prison a year and a half, having been hunted down and arrested by the FBI after two months on the run across the country. She was denied bail because it was a capital case.  During the trial, however, California overturned capital punishment and she got out on bail.

On the last day of the trial during lunch word came from the FBI that some black men had hijacked a plane in Seattle and, landing in Oakland, were waiting for her. They wanted her to stand at the end of the runway in a white dress with a half million dollars and parachutes enough for them and her. What a great Hollywood ending – I imagine them parachuting into Cuba as their plane crashes into the sea – but none of it was true.

Then the jury gave the verdict. After she heard the third not guilty after the third charge she broke down and cried.

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Purple people (1974?- ) are creatures from the moral universe of white racists – along with Arab traders, black best friends, Rented Negroes and Will Smith. Purple people come up whenever a white person (and on occasion even a black person) wants to show how colour-blind he is, how race does not affect his judgement. You hear about them in statements like this: “I don’t care if you’re black, white, purple or green, it’s the person that counts.” Sometimes polka dots and stripes are thrown in too.

On the face of it, it does sound colour-blind. But then why is it that it comes across as a put-down to people of colour? And why does it seem to be said mostly by the very people who are anything but colour-blind?  Why is it you cannot imagine Tim Wise or Martin Luther King saying something like this?

Take the last question first because it answers the others: an anti-racist like Tim Wise would never bring up purple people (except to talk about them like I am) because he takes colour and race too seriously. It is not something to be made light of by putting it in the same sentence with polka dots and stripes, not something to be compared to science fiction creatures from another world like purple people.

Why it seems that white people do it:

  1. Their colour is not a serious issue because it does not directly affect them in a bad way.
  2. They do not want to talk about colour. They want to wave the whole thing away instead of face it and deal with it seriously – another piece of racist deflection.


  • I don’t care if you’re black, white, purple or green, it’s the person that counts.
  • I don’t care if you’re black or white, it’s the person that counts.

The second statement is more serious and also harder to defend. Even worse, it can lead into uncomfortable talk about race.

Throwing in purple, green, polka dots and stripes makes colour seem less serious than it is. It does that by making it just about physical description and not culture, history, pain, identity, injustice, divided cities, bad schools, unemployment and all the rest.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine just how innocent these statements about purple people are.

Just so you know, I did an Internet search: those who bring up purple people the most these days are Republicans who are against Obama – trying to prove that race has nothing to do with it.

And just so you know, white people are racist against purple people, so even on that level the thing is a lie. How do we know? Because of Second Life, an online world where you can make yourself look anyway you want. One women on Second Life made herself white and people were friendly, but when she made herself purple the very same people would not talk to her, even if she said, “Hi!” first. Even cyborgs got more love.

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Theres a spark of magic in your eyes
Candyland appears each time you smile
Never thought that fairytales came true
But they come true, when Im near you
Youre a genie in disguise
Full of wonder and surprise

And, Betcha by golly Wow!
Youre the one that Ive been waiting for forever
Forever will my love for you keep growing strong, keep growing strong

If I could Id catch a falling star to shine on you so Id know where you are
All the rainbows in your favorite shade to show I love you thinking of you.
Write your name across the sky
Anything you have to try

Betcha by golly Wow!
Youre the one that Ive been waiting for forever
Forever will my love for you keep growing strong, keep growing strong

OOOOOh.Write your name across the sky
Anything you have to try
CauseBetcha by golly Wow!
Youre the one that Ive been waiting for forever
Forever will my love for you keep growing strong, keep growing strong

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Phyllis Hyman (1949-1995) was an American R&B and jazz singer. Nancy Wilson says she is one of the two best singers she has ever known, the other being Sarah Vaughan. Phyllis Hyman had a very unhappy love life and sang about it honestly. She never had a gold record, yet she had a strong following among her fans.

These songs made it into the top 20 on the American R&B charts:

  • 1978: Somewhere in My Lifetime (#12)
  • 1979: You Know How to Love Me (#12)
  • 1981: Can’t We Fall in Love Again (#9)
  • 1986: Old Friend (#14)
  • 1986: Living All Alone (#12)
  • 1991: Don’t Wanna Change the World (#1)
  • 1991: Living in Confusion (#9)
  • 1992: When You Get Right Down to It (#10)

These are the songs she liked best:

  • Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)
  • Somewhere in My Lifetime
  • Meet Me on the Moon
  • When I Give My Love (This Time)

They made her think about the past and the future, about love and pain and happiness.

She was born in Philadelphia but grew up poor in the housing projects of  Pittsburgh, in St Clair Village. Even as a girl her singing talent and stage presence were apparent. She said it was a gift from God: she did not grow up singing in church, she did not even have a record player to listen to music on. She stood 6 foot 1 (1.85 m).

The three singers who had the biggest effect on her:

  • Nancy Wilson, who she modelled herself after and who later helped her;
  • James Brown, whose business sense she liked; and
  • Minnie Riperton, whose way of putting her feelings into her singing she copied.

After performing with some bands in the early 1970s, she came to New York in 1975 to sing in the jazz clubs there. She soon came to the attention of producer Norman Connors. She recorded a cover of the Stylistics song, “Betcha By Golly Wow”. It got to #29 on the R&B charts.

In time she found herself at Arista working with Clive Davis. He favoured Angela Bofill over her and then along came a new girl named Whitney Houston. Arista told her it was over.

She went to sing on Broadway in the Duke Ellington tribute, “Sophisticated Ladies” for a few years and sang on other people’s songs. She even sang on television ads: “Aren’t you hungry for Burger King now?”

In 1985 she joined Gamble & Huff at Philadelphia International Records. They gave her complete freedom to sing the songs she wanted in the way she wanted.

Even though she was loved by a million people and was at the height of her talent, she was sad and alone. She had no man to love her. She also feared losing her beauty as she gained weight. She drank too much and missed concert dates. In 1993 her mother, grandmother and a close friend all died in the same month.

Then on a Friday afternoon, June 30th 1995, she took her life in an apartment in New York just hours before she was to appear at the Apollo Theatre. Her funeral was held on her 46th birthday.

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Not quite as big as “Treat Her Like a Lady”, but I like this one way better.


My Mama told me
She said, Son, please beware
There’s this thing called love
And it’s everywhere
She told me, It can break your heart
And leave you in misery
Since I met this little woman
I feel it’s happened to me
And I’m tellin’ you

It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m fallin’ in love
Oh, it’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m falling in love

I found myself wanting her
At least ten times a day
You know, it’s so unusual for me
To carry on this way
I’m tellin’ you
I can’t sleep at night
Wanting to hold her tight
I’ve tried so hard to convince myself
That this feeling just can’t be right
And I’m tellin’ you

It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m fallin’ in love
It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe I believe
I’m falling in love
It’s too late to turn back now
Ooooh, baby
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m falling in love
It’s too late, baby (to turn back now)
I tell ya
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m falling in love

I wouldn’t mind it
If I knew she really loved me too
But I hate to think that I’m in love alone
And nothing that I can do
Whoa, oh

It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m fallin’ in love
It’s too late, baby (to turn back now)
I tell ya
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m falling in love
It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m fallin’ in love
Oooooh, baby
I tell ya
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m falling in love
It’s too late to turn back now
I believe, I believe, I believe
I’m fallin’ in love

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arrestAngela Davis was arrested in New York by the FBI on Tuesday October 13th 1970. She had been on the run for over two months, crossing the country from Los Angeles to New York.

Her face was on the cover of Life magazine and it was on television. Hiding out in Miami she watched one of those shows on television where the FBI saves the day at the end in some big shoot out. She imagined it was her getting killed. Just then her picture appeared on television and a deep voice said:

Angela Davis is one of the FBI’s ten most wanted criminials. She is wanted for the crimes of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. She is very likely armed so if you see her, do not try to do anything. Contact your local FBI immediately.

Her gun had been used to kill a judge. That made her party to murder. Once she left California and crossed state lines that brought in the FBI.

She says it had little to do with the gun or her flight: the government was looking for an excuse to come after her to weaken black power. Ronald Reagan, the governor, had already fired her from UCLA for being a communist.

When she heard about the judge getting killed she did not return home. She laid low for a few days in Los Angeles and then was driven in the night by a showgirl to Las Vegas. There she caught a flight to Chicago and got to a friend, David Poindexter, before the FBI did. They went to Detroit, New York, Miami and then back to New York.

One by one the FBI found each of her friends and relations, except for Poindexter, and kept a close watch on each one.

lifeIn New York Davis and Poindexter stayed in room 702 at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge at 861 Eighth Avenue at 51st Street. They made a striking couple. Her picture was everywhere. A man noticed her in Times Square even though she was not wearing her trademark Afro and looked kind of Puerto Rican.

That night when they returned to their room the door opposite opened and an arm came out and took hold of her. It was the FBI. The man asked, “Angela Davis? Are you Angela Davis?” She said nothing but soon her fingerprints proved that they had found her at last.

They took her to the Women’s House of Detention at Greenwich Avenue and 10th Street. When she was 15 she had walked passed that prison every day on the way to school, acting like she could not hear the women inside screaming. Now she would be one of those women.

They put her in with the madwomen. They gave her wrinkled hot dogs and cold potatoes to eat. If found guilty of the charges she could be sentenced to death. Yet she felt better than she had in a long time: if she listened carefully she could hear the people outside protesting for her.

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Do you love what you feel
Cause I love what you do to me
Do you love what you feel
Cause I love what you do to me

Babe, when youre holdin me
Somehow you seem to set me free
And when I dance with you, romance with you
Is all I sing


Ive spent so many nights
Just taking fights within myself
Until you came to me
And held me like nobody else


Tell me bout the way you like it
Anything you want is right
You and I are close together
Your lovin gets me feeling better

I wanna dance all
I wanna dance all
I wanna dance all night

Everytime youre holdin me


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American television for the most part is the world according to white men. Because most of the writers and producers are white men. That is why black characters on television are few and are mostly flat or stereotyped.

Some general patterns in American prime time network television:

  • When a network is new it will come out with plenty of black shows, like “Martin” and “Roc” on FOX or “Girlfriends” and “Moesha” on UPN. They do this to get their numbers up quickly in certain key cities. It works because blacks are underserved by the older networks. But they are just using blacks as a stepping stone. Once they get a foothold, white shows drive out black shows.
  • Half of black characters appear on comedies while less than a third of white characters do. That was as true in the 1970s as it was in the early 2000s.
  • Black dramas are rare, particularly middle-class ones. When they do come out they tend to be safe, boring and not given much of a chance to catch on. That means that most dramatic roles for blacks are on white shows where they mostly play safe, boring supporting characters.
  • Many shows have no regular black characters at all, supporting or otherwise. Like “Cheers”, “thirtysomething”, “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Sex in the City” and so on. In fact, it seems like most shows are either almost all white or all black.

These are just general patterns. There are, for example, some white shows with good black characters – who get their own storylines, who have love lives, who are more than just cardboard cut-outs. “ER” is a good example.

But most shows are not like that. If they have black characters at all they turn out to be sidekicks, best friends, judges, doctors, secretaries, police officers, etc. They are there only to serve white characters. Like the doctor on “The Simpsons” or Uhura on “Star Trek”.

The great thing about “The Cosby Show” is that it did not show blacks in a flat or  stereotyped way. And it also showed the black middle-class, something you barely ever see on television.

In 1999 the Screen Actors Guild counted the number of black characters on prime time network television. America is 13% black but its prime time characters were 16% black. But half of those were on comedies on UPN and the WB. Those shows are gone.

To get a rough idea what the number is now, I counted all the black people in the latest issue of TV Guide (July 27th 2009). Not counting the ads, it comes to just 6%.

Cable television is worse: blacks are seen mainly in reruns of old network shows and in rap videos and reality shows that push the worst ghetto stereotypes imaginable. In the 1990s BET, the main black cable channel, was kind of good but now it seems to hate black people. That leaves TV One. Is it any good?

And for news how come Michel Martin does not have her own show on MSNBC? Her and Pat Buchanan would be priceless.

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I would embed “Billie Jean” or “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” but those are not embeddable. But this one is. It is a great song in its own right. Michael Jackson is 13 or 14 here. It makes you understand how amazingly talented he was. Although he is backed up by his brothers here, it was his first single ever.

The second song they do in the video is “Brand New Thing”. I am unfamiliar with it.


Got to be there, got to be there
Be there in the morning
When she says hello to the world
Got to be there, got to be there
Be there, bring her good times
And show her that she’s my girl
Oh, what a feeling there’ll be
The moment I know she loves me
’cause when I look in her eyes I realize
I need her sharing the world beside me

So I’ve got to be there
Got to be there
Be there where love begins
And that’s everywhere she goes
I’ve got to be there so she knows
That when she’s with me, she’s home

Yeah, she’s home

Got to be there to be there
Got to be there oh yeah

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009), the King of Pop, the Gloved One, was an American singer of pop, R&B and rock music. He sold 750 million records worldwide – only Elvis Presley and the Beatles can even hope to match that – and had the number one album of all time, “Thriller” (1982), which sold 65 million. Janet Jackson is his sister.

He was American, he was black, he was universal. Even Imelda Marcos, she of the many shoes, cried at his death.

He was famous also for his dancing, making moves that no one thought possible, like the moonwalk.

His number one songs on the American R&B chart:

  • 1969: I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
  • 1969: Who’s Lovin’ You (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: ABC (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: The Love You Save (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: I’ll Be There (Jackson 5)
  • 1971: Never Can Say Goodbye (Jackson 5)
  • 1974: Dancing Machine (Jackson 5)
  • 1979: Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough
  • 1979: Rock With You
  • 1982: The Girl is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
  • 1983: Billie Jean
  • 1983: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
  • 1983: Somebody’s Watching Me (with Maxwell)
  • 1985: We Are the World (as part of USA for Africa)
  • 1987: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)
  • 1987: Bad
  • 1988: The Way You Make Me Feel
  • 1988: Man in the Mirror
  • 1988: Another Part of Me
  • 1992: Remember the Time
  • 1992: In the Closet
  • 1995: You Are Not Alone

This does not even list the songs that “merely” made it to the top ten, like “Thriller”, “Ben”, “Got to be There” and “Black or White”.

On top of all that he made music videos into an art form in their own right, thus making MTV’s name. The strange thing is, MTV did not want to play him at first because he was black!

He was on stage by age six, on television coast to coast by age 11. Everyone loved his music, even white people, even then.

But growing up so famous meant he never had a proper childhood. That is why Elizabeth Taylor was one of the few who understood him. Even worse, his father was cruel. In some sense he was never a boy and yet always a boy.

He bought a place north of Los Angeles and called it Neverland Ranch, after the Neverland of Peter Pan. He put in a zoo, a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. He invited children over, many of them dying of cancer.

Some of the children stayed over night and, sadly, some parents took advantage of that to spread ugly stories about him to take him to court for his millions, in 1994 and 2005.

Nothing was ever proved, but he had become so strange by the early 1990s – he had a pet llama and doctors were slowly turning him white – that many believed it.

He married, twice, first to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, and then Debbie Rowe. He had two children by Rowe, Prince Michael (1997) and Paris Katherine (1998). They divorced and he had a third child by an unknown woman, Prince Michael II (2002), better known as Blanket.

Hoping to make a comeback, Jackson sold out 50 shows in London for 2009, but then died suddenly just weeks before the first show.

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The fall of the shah

shahThe shah of Iran fell in 1979, overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini, a 76-year-old religious scholar who did not fire a shot.

The shah thought of himself as a king, but he was in fact a dictator of a banana republic. America helped to bring him to power in the Second World War and kept him in power to protect the oil of the Persian Gulf from Russia and as a counterweight to the Arabs.

He was hated by the people, as a dictator, as someone who licked America’s boot. But the shah had a powerful army and a secret service to match, Savak. He crushed his enemies – all except for one: Ayatollah Khomeini.

Khomeini lived in exile, in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq. He had a network of supporters inside Iran. The shah kept an eye on them but never moved against them. Perhaps out of respect for religion. But after crushing everyone else, the religious leaders were the only ones left who could challenge the shah.

Khomeini’s supporters kept asking him to start an uprising to overthrow the shah. But he kept saying, “Not yet.”

Then in January 1978 Savak planted an article accusing Khomeini of being a British agent. Khomeini said: “Now.”

His supporters staged a protest. The army crushed it, killing dozens. Forty days later came the mourning, which became a protest. More violence. And so on.

It seemed strange to the shah that Khomeini would have that much support. He thought America must be behind it, so he blamed foreigners for the unrest.

The protests would not go away. He changed prime ministers, several times. Nothing helped. Khomeini would not give an inch: he did not want to work with the shah – he wanted him gone. He kept up the protests.

In September 1978 the shah tried to crush the protests once and for all by military force. Some say thousands were killed. It failed. Worse still, it gave the military a distaste for shooting on its own people.

He put the country under military rule. But then later he freed a thousand political prisoners on his birthday and arrested some of his past ministers. His enemies saw it as weakness, his friends as betrayal, his wife as confusion.

When people saw that the military would no longer shoot them down, the protests grew. In December 1978, on Ashura, one of the biggest holidays in Iran, millions filled the streets, dressed in black for as far as you could see. It soon became apparent that they were protesting against the shah and for Khomeini.

On January 16th 1979 the shah left the country. He knew he was not coming back: he took his father’s ashes with him. The prime minister now ran the country.

On February 1st Khomeini returned to Iran after 15 years of exile. No one shot down his plane, not even Mossad, the Israeli secret service, despite being asked. Six million came out to greet Khomeini.

By February 11th the military swung behind him. It was over.


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DavidCarradineDavid Carradine (1936-2009) was an American actor best known for playing the lead in the television show “Kung Fu” (1972-1975) and Bill in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1″ (2003) and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004). He is a famous example of Hollywood’s racist practice of yellowface – using white actors to play Asian characters. He was found dead last week in a Bangkok hotel.

Carradine was not one bit Asian. And when he was on “Kung Fu” he knew nothing about kung fu or Eastern philosophies – that came later. He was just an actor making a living. Even the writers on the show were white Americans. The Buddhism, if that is what you call it, was watered down too.

“Kung Fu” was a new twist on the tried-and-true shoot-em-up cowboy Western: the hero was not a cowboy with a gun but a Buddhist monk who knew martial arts. Somehow he always avoids getting shot dead.

Bruce Lee came up with the idea and wanted to play the lead. Hollywood thought he looked too Asian: Asians only played supporting characters. So they gave the part to Carradine, who had played the lead in another television Western, the short-lived “Shane” (1966). They named his character Kwai Chang Caine and said his mother was Chinese and his father was white American. They made up the difference with stereotype and make-up.

White American stereotypes about Asian men were such that it was hard to make one the hero of a television show. That is still true. Yet you could not simply throw out the stereotypes either: then the hero would not seem “Asian enough” to white people.

The answer was to have a white man play the Asian hero: he would play to stereotype to “seem Asian” and yet he could go beyond the stereotype when the story required it without it seeming strange. It is why you have white samurais, like in “Shogun” (1980) and “The Last Samurai” (2003).

The show has entered the American bloodstream: my children know the phrases “young Grasshopper” and “snatch the pebble from my hand” but do not know where they come from.

“Kung Fu” showed the racism that Asians faced in America in the 1800s – while helping to strengthen it in the 1900s.

The yellowface thing still goes on. Carradine himself was still at it in 2006 when he did an ad for Yellow Book.

After “Kung Fu” Carradine appeared in over a hundred films. A few were good but most went straight to video and were beneath even his middling talents. He appeared in the 1990s remake of “Kung Fu” on TNT but his star did not rise again till one of his fans from the 1970s grew up and became a famous Hollywood director: Quentin Tarantino.

To Tarantino’s credit he did not make Carradine play an Asian in “Kill Bill”. He had read Carradine’s autobiography, “Endless Highway”, and wanted him to play himself: an offbeat white man who loved martial arts.

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