Tag: JFK

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

November 29th, 2019 — 1:02pm

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian who has written about Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, FDR, George Bush, and many more. Tim McGraw is Grammy Award winning musician who has sold more than 50 million records and he is the most played country artist as well as being an author. While this is obviously a joint project, Meacham wrote the narrative text whereas McGraw offered his take on selected songs in a framed presentation which probably just as well could have been blended into the book.

Nevertheless, the final product is an amazing presentation of the songs and music that have been part of the American fabric since its birth. The context of various musical pieces often including the actual circumstances in which the words and music were created, are frequently very familiar to the reader.

There will be some pieces that most of us never heard of such as the “Liberty Song” which was created in 1768. There is also “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, an American Revolutionary War song that which will probably be familiar to most children. The book winds its way through American history with a background of American music. Many of the readers will know the story of Francis Scott Key who eagerly looked to see if the American flag was still flying as the British and Americans battled in the war of 1812. The book also includes the words and songs that came from the oppressed slaves in America and not only accompanied them on the road to freedom but also became part of the fabric of American music especially jazz and beyond.

This book is much more than a recital of songs and music. It is an in-depth look at American history while at the same time using music and song to reflect the history that is being made. The journey includes the assassinations of Lincoln, Martin Luther King and JFK and much more. We are presented with a combination of a music and history journey through the great world wars, Korean, Vietnam wars as well as the cold war and American political wars. Intertwined in this wonderful historical piece are many of the words of songs, which have left their indelible mark on all of us who have experienced some small part of history and read about so much more.

As I read this excellent book, I could almost hear much of the familiar music and words in my head. I also could not help but think what a tremendous accomplishment it would be if the author could have created an audio book with much of the music described. I checked and found out that while there is an audio version read by the two authors, much of it only has the authors reading the words of the songs while the music and singing was largely excluded. Should the authors be able to obtain the rights to all or most of the songs described in the book and blend them with the narrative, it would surely be a classic that people might very well pay the extra cost for the royalty payments which would be necessary. I would hope that such a project would come to fruition.

As always your comments are welcome below

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The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

July 25th, 2012 — 1:52pm

The President’s Club- by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

After a United States President leaves office he is invited into a secret club of former U.S. presidents where he is inducted into the group in an elaborate ceremony where allegiance to the current President is sworn with a special blood oath…Nope, actually there is no such thing. This is  just my fantasy. However the actual relationships of former US Presidents to each other and to the person in office is one of most fascinating stories that any political junkie could ever read. The documentation at the end of the book confirms that it is meticulously researched   and based on the reports of the people who were there including quite frequently the words of the Presidents themselves in their memoirs and other papers. Even when there were different recollections of interactions, both point of views were presented, making the study of the relationship even more interesting .

The authors are two seasoned political reporters, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy both editors at Time Magazine frequently describe these often very personal interactions of these larger than life people as it were an official organization.  They have chosen to describe the “club activities” starting when Herbert Hoover left office. Hoover had received a humiliating defeat by FDR who had little use for Hoover after he took office. However when Harry Truman was faced with the problems of post WWII Europe, where there were millions of starving people and the US was sensing great competition with the Soviet Union, he felt he desperately needed help. He turned to Hoover who had great experience after WWI in organizing food distribution to a starving Europe. Hoover who had felt marginalized since he left office was nearly brought to tears when Truman brought him to the While house and asked for his help.

When a President has served the maximum two terms and a person of the opposing party wins the White House, it still means that the old President has to welcome the new guy into the White House usually following a bitter campaign. When the new guy has defeated the old guy, that can even be more difficult. All these variations were described in much detail as they took place.

When Truman stepped down, he had to welcome a Republican, whom he had campaigned against, into his new home. Of course Eisenhower, (Ike) was one of the most popular people in America. In fact, before Ike  identified himself as a Republican, Truman was hoping he would run as a Democrat. Harry even played with idea of running as his Vice- President. They subsequently didn’t get along so great all the time. These are some of the fascinating tidbits that emerge from each chapter of this book.

Although JFK died two years into his presidency, he of course interacted with a future president, Richard Nixon who was his bitter opponent in the 1960 election. Their personal feelings about each other are also reviewed in this book . Despite being of opposite parties, when JFK had to deal with a  proposed invasion of Cuba and then the failure of this invasion, who did he turn to as an adviser?  It was Eisenhower (not that he always listened to him).

Obviously when sitting Presidents phone ex- Presidents and ask for advice, it often is not for pubic consumption. When Lyndon Johnson found himself suddenly the President of the US after the assassination of JFK   he called the club members for advice, Hoover, Truman and Ike. So many behind the scene stories emerge which concern interactions as well as battles between Presidents, former presidents and even future presidents. While Johnson was finishing his  one and only elected term as President, peace talks were off and on in Viet Nam. Nixon was running against Humphrey and if peace looked good, it would be helpful for Humphrey and the Democrats.  Whereas if peace talks seem to be failing or were delayed it would be good for Nixon. It turns out that Nixon actually was doing a lot of behind the scenes shenanigans to cause the peace talks to be held up, much to Johnson and the Democrat’s disadvantage. This book tells it all.

Johnson when he left office was quite hurt that he hadn’t ended the war and that of course was the reason he decided not to seek a second term. Despite some of his personal negative feeling for the actions of Nixon, they had a great deal of respect for each other and it was quite meaningful when Nixon called upon LBJ for advice and some help. There was no doubt that when Nixon left office he was disgraced and humiliated after the Watergate scandal caused him to resign. His relationship with his successor Gerald Ford and Ford’s decision to offer Nixon a Presidential Pardon provides interesting insights into the thinking that goes into presidential decisions and how they are often made, despite the opinions of their advisers.

Nixon, once out of office spent the next 25 years attempting to rehabilitate his image. Which of the subsequent Presidents would you imagine treated him with the most respect and listened to his advice? It wasn’t Ford, Carter or senior Bush. It was Bill Clinton who early on  took the advice  of Nixon how to support Boris Yelsin in Russia and frequently discussed with him everything from foreign policy to the how he raised his daughter in the White House. This book supplies so many inside details about these relationships culled from numerous memoirs of the actual participants and their aides.

Reagan didn’t seem to utilize former Presidents as much as others did. However when Reagan went to visit a newly elected President Clinton he did offer an important piece of advice. He taught Clinton how to salute so he could respond properly to military salutes.. Also when Reagan had completed his second term and his protégé Vice President George H. Bush was running for President, he asked the advice of Richard Nixon how he could help his VP in the race against the Democrat Dukakis. Nixon of course had served as VP to Eisenhower and experienced how Ike hadn’t helped him enough in his run against JFK in 1960. Nixon gave Reagan detailed advice of what he should do and the he predicted that Bush will ask Reagan to campaign in California in the last two weeks of the election and that would make the difference. That is exactly what happened and Bush nosed out his opponent with the last minute undecided votes from California going to him to make the difference. Many observers believe that it  was  based on Reagan’s finest speech in the closing moments of  that campaign.

Carter was always a renegade of the club. When Clinton would call upon him to carry out a mission in North Korea, he would do a great job but then “go rogue” and call a press conference that would steam the current President. In the end, everyone  of the Presidents felt a great respect for the Presidency and the person holding the office. They all shared a unique experience  and the felt great empathy for the person in the job.

There were many surprising moments described in this book about the relationships between the Presidents. Perhaps the two most touching stories were between Father and son – George W President and his father. When George H visited his son George W in the oval office of the White House for the first time as President,  they were both speechless and cried.. Later on when the younger Bush sent a message to his father to tell him that he had committed the US to war, the elder Bush wrote him a personal note quoting the words of his daughter, the younger Bushes sister  who died of leukemia as a child ,“ I love you more than tongue can tell.”

Finally, there is the ongoing relationship that exists to day between the 2 Bushes and their formerly arch-enemy Bill Clinton. The elder Bush and Bill are particularly close and have worked together at Obama’s request to raise money and distribute it as well as food and supplies for several world wide humanitarian projects.  The three Bushes call each other by their presidential number. So when hanging out at a “Club” gathering perhaps at the Bush ranch in Texas, “43” would say “41 put some hot dogs on the fire, #42 is hungry.” That is how it really goes at the President’s Club. (2012)


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I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

February 22nd, 2012 — 3:50pm


I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank” the Irishman”  Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa- by Charles Brandt (2005 edition)

When his friend and mafia boss Russell Bufalino introduced a young Frank Sheeran to Jimmy Hoffa, Hoffa’s first words were, I heard you paint houses.” These are code words for “ I heard you do killings.” Little did any of these men imagine that many years later the last person who Hoffa would ever speak to would be Sheernan who killed Hoffa at the bequest of Bufalino. Not only did Sheeran “paint houses” but when required he could also do his “own carpentry” which means he could get rid of the body.

This book is the story of Frank Sheeran as told to Charles Brandt , a former homicide investigator, prosecutor and Chief Deputy Attorney General of the State of Delaware who had prosecuted many homicides in his day. For nearly five years, Brandt gained the confidence of an older Sheernan who was in his twilight years and knew that he was dying. These interviews occurred over numerous visits, many were video or audio recorded. There also were a few trips that were taken by the author, some with Sheernan to locations where “things had happened.” In the 2005 edition of this book there was an epilog with statements by some of the key players including Sheeran’s daughter which gives further authenticity to some the amazing stories in this book.

Sheeran grew up with a tough father in a tough Irish neighborhood. He relates an incident where he knocked out his school principal, breaking his jaw, after he  was pushed around by him. He served overseas in  Europe during World War II. He became a “sniper” which entailed killing lots of enemy troops. He also related that it was not an uncommon practice to kill prisoners of war in cold blood when it was not convenient to them bring them back for detention. He became a family man after the war, getting married and having children. He worked as a truck driver among other jobs and became involved in the union movement. The reader learns how it was quite common for him and his co-workers to steal merchandise that they were transporting and then sell it to increase their earnings. Such activities are presented as “ just making a living”.

Sheeran has a chance meeting with Russell Bufalino who turns out to be one of higher up Mafia bosses. Despite not being Italian he gains the trust of his new friend and meets many other mob connected people.  When a reliable person is needed to “paint a house” Sheeran is someone who would handle the job. There were at least 20-30 such jobs including the famous hit of Joey Gallo and of course Jimmy Hoffa . The reason for the Hoffa hit, the consequences to Sheeran if he didn’t do it to one of his best friends, the details of it,  and his subsequent feelings about it are all described in great detail.

While not described in as much detail, there is also information about another well known hit and that is the “whacking of JFK.”  It is suggested that the mob needed to take some of the power away from Bobby Kennedy who as Attorney General under his brother was after the mob. Sheeran describes how he delivered the high powered rifles that were to be used for this shooting. As is often the case, the unsuspecting triggerman  is killed after a big time hit. Jack Ruby is described as a well known member of the mob who was suppose to arrange for Lee Harvey Oswald to be eliminated after he killed Kennedy. When those plans were botched, Ruby had to do it himself.

In the end so many of the perpetrators of the big time mob activities described in this book ended up in federal prison. Some were turned against each other to get time off so they wouldn’t die in prison.  Sheeran served his time and apparently never turned into “ a rat” …except in this book in a more less final confession before he died.

This book feels like a genuine window into the under belly of this world of crime and killings. If most of the participants were not already gone, you might  almost feel that your life was in danger after reading this book for knowing all this information.

Postscript: There is a rumor that Robert DiNero is on board for playing the Irishman  for a film project that will make of movie of this book with Martin Scorsese directing  and also  starring Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.

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