Wonderful Redwood Tree

On October 2, 1968, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act that established Redwood National Park in California.  The law put 58,000 acres in the control of the National Park Service.  And in 1978, the government added an additional 42,000 acres to the park.

The law making the area into a national park was a culmination of decades of work by preservationists.  In the late 1850s, loggers were harvesting many of the redwoods.  But by the early 1900’s, a Save-the-Redwoods League started buying up land to preserve the trees, and California began designating areas as state parks.

Fortunately, we can still enjoy the massive trees at Redwood National Park, as well as see other giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national park (one of my favorite national parks).  Sequoia and redwood trees have many similarities, but they also have many differences, such that sequoias are the largest trees by volume while redwoods are the tallest.

Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree”

The greatest song about redwood trees would have to be Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree.”  The song first appeared on his 1972 album, Saint Dominic’s Preview, which is probably my favorite Van Morrison album.

“Redwood Tree” begins with a boy and his dog looking for a rainbow.  And the song ends with a boy and his father looking for a lost dog, who is never found. But the song is really about memories of youth and what we learn as we age.  The redwood tree of the title provides a protective force.

And it smells like rain,
Maybe even thunder;
Won’t you keep us from all harm,
Wonderful redwood tree.

Although “Redwood Tree” was released as a single, it only barely broke into the Billboard Top 100.  At the time, reviewer Stewart Parker in The Irish Times called the song a “simple but tuneful ditty.” Rolling Stone referred to the song as a “beautiful, sensuous cut.”

Over time, many defenders have praised the song.  The Telegraph lists “Redwood Tree” as one of thirty Essential Van Morrison Songs.  It notes that this three-minute song about childhood is “perfection.”

Decide for your self as you celebrate the protection of these wonderful trees with a listen to Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree.” For a bonus, below is a demo version of the song that appeared on The Genuine Philosopher’s Stone collection.

What do you think “Redwood Tree” is about? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Scene in “The Right Stuff” That Makes You Love John Glenn

    John Glenn passed away today on December 8, 2016 at the age of 95.  The former NASA astronaut and Senator is one of the few people who could accurately be described as an American hero.

    An American Hero

    Glenn served his country well in a number of ways.  He left college to join the service after Pearl Harbor, eventually serving in the Navy and then the Marines. He served in the Korean War and later as a test pilot and as an astronaut.

    As a Marine Corps pilot, he broke the transcontinental flight speed record.  In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth.  In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man in space as part of the crew of the shuttle Discovery.

    In politics, Glenn represented Ohio in the U.S. Senate for 25 years.  During that period, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and was often considered for a place on the ticket as vice president.

    The Right Stuff

    But of all his accomplishments, one scene about his life stands out for me.  In the movie The Right Stuff (1983) about the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Ed Harris plays Glenn as a somewhat moralizing goody two shoes, who still comes across as admirable.

    One scene in the film centers on events from January 27, 1962 after Glenn’s flight is postponed due to weather conditions.  Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and the press are outside Glenn’s house wanting to talk to Glenn’s wife, Annie.  Annie, upset and not wanting to meet with the press or the vice president, talks to Glenn on the phone.

    In the scene, Glenn is aware of the political and media pressure on the space program.  And he is pressured to tell his wife to talk to the vice president.  But instead, he backs his wife “100%.”  The other astronauts also come off well in the scene, putting aside any diffenences to back up Glenn.

    The incident and Glenn’s response is a true story, even if a bit stylized with a humorous take on LBJ for the big screen. Johnson and the media were pressuring Annie, and Glenn backed up his wife all the way.

    Glenn later explained, “She said she was tired, she had a headache, and she just wasn’t going to allow all those people in her house … I told her whatever she wanted to do, I would back her up 100 percent.”

    There would be a few more delays due to a fuel leak and weather problems.  But of course, Glenn did get off the ground on February 20, 1962 in Friendship 7, becoming the first American to orbit the earth. But he was already a hero to those who knew him.

    Godspeed John Glenn.

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    Bryan Cranston As LBJ in “All the Way” (Short Review)

    HBO’s movie adaptation of Robert Schenkkan’s play about the early presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson is worthwhile viewing for largely one reason, Bryan Cranston in the lead role. With some help from make-up designer Bill Corso, Cranston gives the viewer what it might have felt like to have been around Johnson while he struggled with the major issues of those years.

    The movie begins with Johnson’s rise to the presidency when John F. Kennedy is killed, focusing on Johnson’s advocacy for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the escalating war in Vietnam amidst his worries about the next election. As Johnson, Cranston captures the brilliance, vulnerability, insecurities, compassion, and vulgarity of Johnson, one of the most complex people to have ever lived in the White House.

    All the Way features a number of outstanding performances, such as Frank Langella as Senator Richard Russell, Antony Mackie as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover, Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson, and Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey. One criticism, which others have noted too, is that there is too much material and too many interesting characters for one 132-minute movie. Other important people come and go in the story, but director Jay Roach remains focused on LBJ while viewers may also want more.

    Ultimately, it is not Roach’s fault that this era was rich in important events and people. As in the case of Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal in Lincoln (2012), Cranston’s portrayal of Johnson is so compelling that it made me wish for a much-longer mini-series that revealed more details of events and more layers to the former president.

    Yet, for a one-shot movie that tries to convey the essence of the time and LBJ’s years between Kennedy’s assassination and Johnson’s election as president in his own right, All the Way is worth your time, even if sometimes it deviates from the historical record for dramatic effect. Cranston’s portrayal of Johnson will be remembered as one of the great presidential roles, and the movie does an excellent job at making Johnson a three-dimensional character with the mix of both majestic strengths and deep flaws.

    What did you think of “All the Way”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and “We Shall Overcome”

    On July 2 in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The important act, which had survived heated discussion in the Senate and the House of Representatives, made racial segregation in public places illegal.

    The law had an even broader impact.  It also prohibited discrimination on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in schools and in employment.

    The Signing

    President Johnson, who worked hard to push through the legislation after President John F. Kennedy’s death, used more than 75 pens to sign the legislation. He gave out the pens to many people who helped with the bill, including Martin Luther King, Jr. King later said the pen was one of his most cherished possessions.

    The video below features President Johnson giving the pen to King. It also includes some of Johnson’s speech before the signing.

    “We Shall Overcome”

    One of the songs that played a significant role in the civil rights movement was “We Shall Overcome.” The song developed from an African-American hymn first used as a protest song by striking tobacco workers in 1945.

    “We Shall Overcome” grew to help inspire changes that shook the world. Many continue to recognize its importance. In recognition of the song’s role in the civil rights movement, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, members of Congress joined hands and sang the song.

    The video below is from a recording by a number of artists — including John Legend, Joss Stone and The Blind Boys of Alabama — for Soundtrack for a Revolution (2011), an album of songs from the civil rights movement.

    One of the artists who helped popularize the song was folksinger Pete Seeger.  In this video, Seeger explains the history behind the song.

    Of course, the Civil Rights Act did not end racial discrimination.  But it was an important step in the ongoing process.

    One of the reasons “We Shall Overcome” is a great song is its timelessness. It is not a song of “we have overcome” about past accomplishments.  It is a song that reminds us that there are always more struggles ahead of us to overcome. And we shall.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Oh Oh Domino (Theory)

    During a news conference on April 7, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower first invoked the use of “dominoes” in a phrase that would be used by four presidents for justifying United States involvement in Vietnam. Thus, was born the domino theory.

    During the press conference, Robert Richards of Copley Press asked Pres. Eisenhower to comment “on the strategic importance of Indochina to the free world.” Eisenhower first discussed the situation’s impact on production of materials for the world and on humans being under a dictatorship. Then, he considered the broader implications:

    “Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

    Eisenhower continued that the impact could spread to Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. Other questions about Indochina followed, as well as questions on other topics, such as the possible statehood of Hawaii and Alaska. But it was his comment about pieces used in a tile game that would have lasting significance. Presidents after him — John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon — would continue to grapple with the fear of not wanting to be the president who let the dominoes fall.

    Sixteen years after Pres. Eisenhower’s comments, while the U.S. was still embroiled in Vietnam and while Pres. Eisenhower’s vice-president Richard Nixon now served as president, America had “Domino” on its mind in a completely different context. They were singing along with a hit song by Van Morrison.

    Van Morrison’s “Domino” appeared as the opening song on his album His Band and the Street Choir. After being released as a single, it became a top-10 hit and Van Morrison’s highest charting single ever. The album is a “valentine to the R&B” music that inspired the Northern Irish singer.

    The song’s title had nothing to do with fears of Communists; it was a tribute to singer Fats Domino. Instead of the “dominoes” behind the nation’s war, the Van Morrison song was an uplifting song of renewal as the singer thinks “it’s time for a change” and only asks for some rhythm and blues music.

    The U.S.’s military involvement in Vietnam continued for several more years after “Domino” appeared on the charts. Pres. Eisenhower’s fears of the dominoes falling across the world, though, did not come to fruition. Fortunately, politicians no longer use dominoes to justify military force, and most kids only know “dominoes” as a game or a place to buy pizza. And we still listen to Van Morrison’s “Domino.” Lord have mercy.

    What is your favorite Van Morrison song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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