Filling Gaps

I keep kicking around in 1974 these days. The most interesting book currently on my reading shelf is Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall. The bulk of the book comes from Drew’s reporting for the New Yorker magazine from September 1973 through August 9, 1974, the day President Nixon resigned and left Washington.

The first time I saw the book on the shelves of the local library, I was hesitant. “I lived through that,” I thought, adding to that thought the memory of reading maybe a half-dozen of the other books that arose from the vast swath of illegalities and misdeeds that were eventually clustered under the label of “Watergate.” “Is there more I should know?”

Actually, there is. I told myself that I’d lived through it, and that’s true, but I was out of the country from September 1973 into May 1974, and I didn’t experience Watergate the way folks did here at home. The big pieces came to me in Denmark, including the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, the Saturday Night Massacre and the gaps in the White House tapes, and those big things surprised me and worried me, but there were gaps as well in what I learned, as the flow of news in those days was delayed and diminished by my being overseas in a way that it would not be today. So I’m filling those gaps as I read, and I get the real sense from Drew’s account of how unsettling it was when each new week – at times, each new day – brought new and often multiple revelations and accusations; numerous times, Drew writes that she pretty much thought things were as bad as they could get, and the next day (or week) things got worse.

My reading has so far brought me into the spring of 1974, and soon, I’ll move into reports about things that happened after I got back to the U.S., and it will be interesting to see if my perception of those things is different in any way.

As is often the case, it’s hard to find a way from the reading table to the mp3 shelves. So we’ll just take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 from this week in 1974 – with St. Cloud State’s fall quarter either imminent or already begun – and see what treasure we might find in its lower levels. And we come across “America” by David Essex sitting at No. 109. Sonically, it’s nearly a twin to Essex’ “Rock On,” which went to No. 5 in early 1974, but I have no idea what the lyrics mean or if they mean anything at all. (And that’s appropriate, as that’s kind of how things felt in 1974.) “America” never hit the Hot 100, bubbling under at No. 101.


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