Monday, February 25, 2008

Big boomer birthday, of sorts

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2008 at 9:05 AM

There's a big Baby Boomer cultural anniversary today. It's doubtful that many members of my overhyped, and increasingly memory-challenged, generation will take note, but

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they should. For those of us who were around at the time and have a sense of history, just mentioning "February 1964" can elicit a smile or a fond shake of the head. During that one month, life seemed to pick up speed as two pivotal cultural events happened within three weeks. On Feb. 7 of that year, the Beatles arrived in New York for three consecutive weekly appearances on American TV. Within a couple of months, they had completely upended popular music, and by 1966, they had raised popular music's cultural importance to new, dizzying heights.

Just 18 days after their arrival here, on Feb. 25, another cultural bombshell hit when the 22-year-old boxer/braggart/poet/showman Cassius Clay, a 7-1 underdog, beat the seemingly invincible heavyweight champion Sonny Liston like an old rug. Everything Clay did afterward was equally new and unexpected. After the fight, while still in the ring, he greeted his friend, singer/producer Sam Cooke, another pioneering figure who paved the way for black musicians to take control of their careers. Within days, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and announced his membership in the Nation of Islam. Later, his epochal fights with the U.S. Army — not to mention Joe Frazier and George Foreman — would cement his status as a legendary figure. A quick aside: the day Clay defeated Liston was Beatle George Harrison's 21st birthday. So, fellow pre-geezers — and, really, anyone interested in cultural history — hoist a glass today and celebrate two of the best things that ever happened to American culture.

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