Sometime back I had started off on an exercise to decode Billy Joel’s epic, if I may call it so. I completed two stanzas. Since they were all published quite some time back, you can quickly view them here

Stanza 1
Stanza 2

Today, I’ll decode stanza three.

“Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, “Ben-Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo”

The approximate period quoted in this stanza is 1957 – 1960

Little Rock: Place
Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas was the center of American Civil Rights movement. In September 1957, nine Negro children were denied entry into the school in spite of US Supreme Court ruling in favour of racial integration. President Eisenhower ordered US Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the students to school.

Pasternak: Personality
Russian writer
Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960), author of the classic Doctor Zhivago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 and did not accept it under pressure of the Soviets.

Mickey Mantle: Personality
US Baseball star
Michey Mantle (1931 – 1995) is considered to be among the greatest baseball players ever playing for the New York Yankees, In 1961, he became the highest paid baseball player of that time.

Kerouac: Personality
US writer
Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) was one of the leading lights of the Beat Literature movement in the fifties

Sputnik: Space Program
Sputnik, Russian for satellite, was a Soviet space programme where unmanned space ships were launched with the objective of collecting data for studies. Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957.

Chou En-Lai: Personality
Chinese Premier
Zhou Enlai (1898 – 1976) was the premier of China from 1949 till his death.

Bridge on the River Kwai: Film
David Lean’s 1957 film based on the novel by Pierre Boulle picked up seven Oscars including Best Actor, Best Script, Best Director and Best Picture.

Lebanon: Place
Country in southwest Asia, capital Beirut, there was a brief Civil War in 1958 (resolved with intervention by the US) between the Christians and the Muslims which later surfaced again in 1975 and dragged on till 1990.

Charles de Gaulle: Personality
French president
Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) was leader of the Free French Forces in the second world war and head of the provisional government. After the war, he became president of France, now called the Fifth Republic from 1958 till 1969

California baseball: Event
In 1958, two top baseball teams Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved west to California. Brooklyn became LA Dodgers while New York Giants became San Francisco Giants

Starkweather homicide: Event
Charles Starkweather (1938 – 1959) was a serial killer who was executed by electric chair in 1957. Bruce Springsteen’s song Nebraska is based on the life of Charles Starkweather

children of thalidomide: Event
Thalidomide was a drug introduced by German company Grunenthal in 1953 as a sleeping aid and an anti-emetic for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. It was launched in over fifty countries. Later, Thalidomide was found to be destructive to fetal development. Around 18,000 fetuses were damaged. Off the 12,000 born with defects, 8000 survived the first year. Further these defects became genetic and were inherited by the survivors descendents.

Buddy Holly: Personality
US Singer
Charles Holly (1936 – 1959) was the pioneer of rock and roll and inspiration for an entire generation. He formed his own band The Crickets. He died in an airplane crash in 1959 (The Day the Music died) and is immortalised in Don McLean’s son American Pie.

Ben-Hur: Film
1959 William Wyler film, always features in the top 10 films of all time, still holds the record for most number of Oscars with 11.

space monkey: Event
Between 1948 to 1961, the United States experimented with monkeys as passengers in unmanned space flights.

Mafia: Organisation
Probably refers to the growing Mafia influence in labour unions, government policies, casinos, etc., in mid fifties and sixties

Hula Hoops: Fad
The hula hoop, a traditional toy over 3000 years old, was introduced in the United States as a commercial toy by the Wham-O corporation selling over 100 million in 2 years.

Castro: Personality
Cuban Dictator
Fidel Castro overthrew American backed Batista and till date is not recognised by the US.

Edsel is a no go: Event
Ford Edsel was a special division building what Ford called experimental cars. It became a big marketing failure and the word Edsel is synonymous with any marketing or business fiascos. There were various reasons including mechanical faults, bad name and also bad looking grille “like a Merc sucking a lemon“. Between 1958 and 1960, 100,000 cars were sold compared to a sales target of 200,000. The division was later merged with Mercury.

U2: Spyplane
The Lockheed U2 was a high altitude spyplane with the US Airfroce. In 1960, a U2 plane with pilot Gary Powers flying from Peshawar was shot down by the Soviet Union leading to the U2 crisis. In 1962, a U2 flight took photographs of the movement of missiles in Cuba.

Syngman Rhee: Personality
President of South Korea
First president of South Korea, he was forced to resign after student-led protests and demonstrations.

Payola versus Kennedy: Event
Payola is the payment of money by music companies to radio stations to play their songs as part of the normal schedule and not as a sponsored programme. In the late fifties and sixties, the FTC authorised by Robert Kennedy launched a series of investigations into Payola

Chubby Checker: Personality
US singer
Ernest Evans (born 1941) launched the song The Twist which popularised this dance-music form.

Psycho: Film
1960 Hitchcock film, scared the shit out of America. After the film’s release Alfred Hitchcock received an angry letter from the father of a girl who refused to have a bath after seeing Diaboliques, Les (1955) and now refused to shower after seeing this film. Hitchcock sent a note back simply saying, “Send her to the dry cleaners“.

Belgians in the Congo: Event
Congo, later called Zaire and now known as Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, was a Belgian colony which got independence in 1960.

There are three more stanzas which shall be decoded in due course.

One thought on “20th Century Post War History in Five Minutes – III

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