HISTORY OF THE WHO’s TOMMY
Fifty-three years ago today, on May 23, 1969, the British rock group The Who released the double-album rock opera, Tommy. Commercially the record went Gold in the UK and Double Platinum in the US.
Several of the songs were released as singles that charted in the Top 20 in both the UK and US. Its success signified a breakthrough for the band and elevated The Who to a world-class touring and studio band. The album has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, representing about a fifth of their total records sold.
The rock opera tells the disturbing story about an apparently “deaf, dumb, and blind boy” who following a childhood trauma becomes the Pinball Wizard. Despite several attempts to cure him, he has a spiritual awakening and becomes a sensational religious leader. “Tommy” is a common English name as well as a nickname for British soldiers during World War I.
The late 1960s was a time of spiritual enlightenment and revival. In addition to the counterculture rock and hippie scene at that time — especially in New York’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury, and Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue — we saw the rise of the Jesus Movement with its attendant Jesus Music, as well as the secular rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
Peter Townsend, the lead guitarist, and writer of Tommy claims that the rock opera came out of his exposure in 1968 to Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba. The 1971 song “Baba O’Riley” was named in part after the leader. Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was also inspired by a popular quote from Baba. (more…)
HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13TH
If you’re reading this article to learn the history of Friday the 13th, you’re in luck.
Or perhaps bad luck.
No one knows, with any certainty, when it began or why it’s to be feared. However, there are lots of entertaining speculative theories about the topic.
What is the Fear of Friday the 13th?
- Paraskevidekatriaphobia — is the name of the superstition. The word is constructed from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή) meaning “Friday”, and dekatreís (δεκατρείς) meaning “thirteen.”
- Friggatriskaidekaphobia — is the fear of Friday the 13th. The word is made of both Norse and Greek roots: Frigg or Frigga, the name of the wife of the Norse god Odin. Friday gets its name from Frigg. Triskadeka is “thirteen” in Greek (literally: “three” “and” “ten”), and phobia means “fear.”
The person who initially was most active in opposing the celebration of Mother’s Day is the very person who started this holiday in the US.
How did that happen?
Anna Jarvis’ mother died in 1905, and in her honor, Anna held a memorial in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia. She continued to campaign for national recognition of this day for all mothers through the assistance of John Wanamaker and the efforts of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The first state to recognize Mother’s Day was her own West Virginia in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the “second Sunday in May” as Mother’s Day in 1914.
The spelling was significant: Anna Jarvis did not spell it “Mothers’ Day” because she intended, as she said, it should “be singular possessive, for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” Nevertheless, in more modern times, both “Mothers’ Day” and “Mother’s Day” appear as names for this holiday.
HISTORY OF VE-DAY
Seventy-seven years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on VE-Day.
Or did it?
May 7, 1945, VE-Day
Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker a week earlier on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article on the liberation of Dachau.
At 2:41 AM on May 7, Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day on May 8, 1945.
Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over two millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.
HISTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO
Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect: it is the equivalent of the “5th of May” in the Spanish language.
Another misconception is that this has something to do with Mayonnaise. That too is a bum spread, as the condiment had its origin with the French, who will come into our story later.
Nor does it have to do with County Mayo in Ireland, though we’ll make sure the Irish get into this story at some point. Instead, the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo,” or specifically the Battle of Puebla, occurred on May 5, 1862.
Background of Cinco de Mayo
President Benito Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian Minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez‘s cabinet in the 1850s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861, and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate and members of the episcopate.
Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859, dis-endowing and disestablishing the church. He could not have known then that “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary almost a century later.
Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress, on July 17, 1861, decreed the suspension for two years of interest payments on the external national debt, and three months later, a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.
HISTORY OF MAY THE FOURTH
May 4th or May the Fourth is a geek holiday that has gained popularity in recent years due to a popular film franchise.
But where did it begin?
History of May the Fourth
“May the Fourth” is taken from the benediction “May the Force be with you” made famous in the Star Wars film series. This pun intended holiday seems to have first been celebrated in the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. However, the use of this phrase predates this, going back to the day in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister was elected. The Conservative party, upon the occasion of her officially becoming Prime Minister on May 4th, took out a half-page newspaper ad in the London Evening News that said:
“May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations.”
HISTORY OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE
Four hundred eleven years ago marked the publishing, at the request of the Anglican clergy, of what would become the Authorized Version of the Bible to wide acclaim.
But there are three problems with that statement.
While it is true that the King James Bible was published in 1611 and eventually became the most influential Bible in the English-speaking world — if not the most printed book of all time:
- It was not requested by the Anglican clergy, at least not by the conformist Episcopalian ministers.
- Nor did it subsequently become officially Authorized by the King.
- Finally, those who initially requested it, the Puritans, refused to read it but used the English language Geneva Bible instead.
The details of how the King James Bible came to be are a bit different. And while May 2 is the date that the publication is celebrated, the actual printing date is not known with certainty.
Origin of the King James Bible
It was the heyday of William Shakespeare and good manners. The Tudor dynasty ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Following this, the Scottish King James VI, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was brought to the throne as James I of England. As James made his way from Scotland to London, the Puritans intercepted him to present to him the Millenary Petition in 1603, signed by 1,000 Puritan ministers (1,000 = millenary, representing some 10% of all English clergy).
They requested some modest changes to the Church of England. James ignored almost all of their requests. One that interested him and which he believed would ultimately placate the Puritans was their request to create a new English translation of the Bible.
Who were the Puritans, and from where did they come?
May Day is many things to many people. Etymologically, it is a homophone (same sounding word) for the international call for help. It is a corruption of the French imperative “M’aidez,” meaning “Help me!” It is a holiday claimed by many.
May Day as a Pagan Holiday
It is known in the pagan world as Beltane, a fertility celebration, one of the four high holidays in the pagan and neo-pagan calendar; Samhain on October 31 is another. Beltane is the day of fire commemorating Bel or Belenos, the Celtic sun god. Indeed, in the modern Irish language, Bealtaine is the name for May.
The early Anglo-Saxons began their celebration on the eve before, feasting the end of winter and the first planting. It was a time of revelry and abandon with the selection of a “May Queen” and the ribbons of the Maypole.
HISTORY OF WORLD TAI CHI DAY
Today is World Tai Chi and Qigong Day, celebrated at 10 am local time in cities around the world. This is held the last Saturday of April each year.
History behind World Tai Chi Day
While this global celebration has been going on since 1999, now there are hundreds of cities across 80 countries and six continents around the world. Historically, it was started in Kansas City in 1998 by Bill Douglas and Angela Wong Douglas, co-authors of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to T’ai Chi and Qigong” who went on to found the international part of the event.
This event involves exhibitions in local parks and public areas of Tai Chi forms and Qigong exercises. Details of this can be found at WorldTaiChi.org.
HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU: APRIL 29, 1945
I remember what my father had told me of his involvement in the liberation of Dachau shortly before he died in 1976. Some of his war buddies discovered the tribute site I’d created for him and called or emailed me to recount stories I’d not known previously, or only in part.
In 2001 before HBO premiered their miniseries Band of Brothers, they asked for historical background for their website to introduce each episode. My father’s story was featured on their website to introduce Episode 9, “Why We Fight,” when Easy Company liberated one of the Dachau sub-camps.
Over the two decades since, scores of people have contacted me:
- The son of a liberated inmate had seen the pictures on the site, pictured above, and identified his father, Stephen Ross (Rozenthal) — 14 at the time, an orphan from Poland who had survived ten concentration camps in five years — as
“the first striped pajama in the left foreground… your Dad saved my Dad’s life.”
- An 89-year old former inmate emailed me saying,
“Yes for me it will be always The American Army who did it.”
They’re almost all gone now, but not forgotten.
On April 29, 1945, three divisions of the U.S. Army liberated Dachau Concentration Camp outside Munich, Germany. My father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, was one of the liberators with the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division of the 232nd Infantry. I have told his story elsewhere. Here is the historical background.
HISTORY OF THE GODFATHER: 50 YEARS AGO
In March of 1972, fifty years ago, the Francis Ford Coppola film, The Godfather premiered. Based on a screenplay by Coppola and the author of the original novel, Mario Puzo (who together won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay), it had been optioned by Paramount executive Peter Bart when Puzo had written only a twenty-page outline of the novel. In less than four weeks of national distribution, Paramount Pictures touted,
“It was the twelfth highest-grossing film, domestically, of all time. No motion picture had grossed so much in such a short period of time.”
It became a critical success and a commercial blockbuster, the highest-grossing film of 1972. Adjusted for inflation, it is still among the top 25 highest-grossing films in American history.
HISTORY OF ST. MARK
Mark the Evangelist is the author of the earliest written gospel, the Gospel of Mark, which appeared about 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus in the late AD ’60s. His feast day is April 25 for Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. He is significant historically both as the writer of the earliest Gospel and as the patron saint of Venice.
The name Mark also appears elsewhere in the New Testament. One is John Mark, mentioned in The Book of Acts chapters 12, 13, and 15. The Pauline epistles of Colossians and Philemon mention Mark as the cousin of the evangelist Barnabus, who was an early traveling companion of St. Paul. The early Christian theologian Hippolytus of Rome of the early 3rd century believed that these are three different Marks.
But your friendly neighborhood historian humbly disagrees, as the only existing copy of this treatise on this topic appeared in Greece less than 200 years ago and is considered by most scholars to be pseudepigraphical. I believe all three Marks were the same man: the writer of the Gospel, John Mark, and the cousin of Barnabus.