Sunday, October 21, 2007

Artistic Politicians

I came across this Life magazine in a Pasadena antique store Saturday. I showed it to Leslie who literally gasped at the picture. Yep, Richard Milhouse Nixon, age 14, holding a violin.

The Young Nixon - cover of Life Magazine November 6 1970
Click to enlarge the picture. Curiously, he seems to be wearing a wedding ring. Here's the text of the cover for Mr. Google's robots:

November 6, 1970 50 cents
  • His career as an actor
  • The steady girl he didn't marry
  • Breaking into the dean's office
  • Poker champ of Green Island atoll
and the caption of the picture:
"At 14, Nixon played second violin in his high school orchestra"

Inside the magazine, which contains actual cigarette advertisements, the article about pre-political Nixon (who was of course POTUS in November 1970) is set off with these call-outs:
  • 'He wasn't a boy that you wanted to hug'
  • He ran for student body president - and lost
  • The symbol of his club was a wild boar.
  • 'He was a brute for discipline. He couldn't get enough of it.'
  • 'He sounded like he was close to quitting law school'
  • He helped break into the dean's office
  • He asked Pat to marry him the night they met
  • 'He was the finest poker player I ever played against'

Meanwhile, one or two of my three readers may remember that I've been reading The Third Reich In Power by Richard J. Evans. Here are a couple passages that caught my eye about another young artist who became a wildly successful politician whose career ended in disgrace:
Hitler toured the [Degenerate Art] exhibition before it opened to the public, and devoted a major part of a speech on the eve of its inauguration to a ferocious denunciation of the works it showed. ... He even instructed the Reich Interior Ministry to investigate the defective visual capacities he thought had partly led to such distortion. They were, he thought, inherited. Cubists and others who did not stick to slavishly accurate representations of their human subjects were to be sterilized.
This is on page 172. The footnote to this passage, which also includes a bit of Hitler's speech, is as follows:
142. Merker, Die bildenden Kunste, 148-52. The instruction does not appear to have been carried out.
Hitler was, of course, a failed artist. (Just like I'm a failed composer.) Here and here you can see Hitler's own work. This not entirely agreeable site has more pictures including the Hitler drawing above.

On page 298 of Evans' book we read:
In November 1938 Hitler launched a furious attack on intellectuals, amongst whom there was little doubt that he included university teachers and professors. He declared that intellectuals were fundamentally unreliable, useless and even dangerous, and contrasted their irreducible individualism and their constant critical carping with the instinctive and unquestioning solidarity of the masses. 'When I take a look at the intellectual classes we have - unfortunately, I suppose, they are necessary; otherwise one could one day, I don't know, exterminate them or something - but unfortunately they're necessary.'
What a different world we live in - where cigarettes are not sold in magazines and artists need not fear for their reproductive abilities. And teachers need not fear for their lives except when a student brings a gun to class.

Click here for a previous MM post about cigarettes, another artistic Republican president and my mother.

Here's another Mixed Meters' post about republicans and Hitler.

Here's where Mixed Meters asks who is giving the Nazi Salute.

Click here to hear two songs sung by another mass murderer.

I confess that George II makes me nostalgic for Richard Nixon. Hitler makes me thankful for George Bush. Here's one of the cigarette ads from Life which may awaken your own feelings of nostalgia if you're of a certain age. (Note that the cigarettes and the steam from the cups all point towards the girl. I'm sure that's some sort of graphical accident not subliminal manipulation. Yeah.)

L&M Cigarette advertisement November 1970

2nd Violin Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Mark Gresham said...

I knew about Richard Nixon's ability to play piano a bit; I recall hearing him play "Happy Birthday" on TV once. Didn't know about the violin. I'd love to read the entire article!

(Today, Nixon is best remembered by the younger generation as a character in an opera. Other than Lincoln, how many other presidents have gained that status?)

Although there are numerous examples of worthy cautions against mixing politics and art, the American assumption that politicians must be universally "unartistic" (and our subsequent astonishment when one demonstrates any artistic capability, even limited) may well be a huge factor in the general (and increasing) absence of "gumment" funding of the arts in the US-of-A. And where it does exist, the current trend seems to be not to fund artists directly, but only "organizations" (especially those top-heavy in "administrative" activity or "non-musical agenda" rather than the creation of music/art itself).

Of course the steam from the coffee and smoke from the cigarettes is intentionally manipulative and subliminally suggestive; it could also be that the art is oriented to draw the eye away from the outer edge of the page toward the gutter (judging by telltale line on the right of the scan, it appears to be a left-hand page) and a general cultural proclivity to observe from upper left to lower right in this kind of context. (In Japan, would the image be flopped and appear on a right-hand page?)

One of the things Hitler noted himself was the impact on "the masses" when the Nazi's took the traditional square swastika and stood it on its edge to give it movement: "It was like we had dropped a bomb." Somehow, giving a 1/8-turn crank to what had been an ancient "wheel of life" symbol did something remarkable in terms of subliminal motivation. So be careful which way you send your own steam and smoke.

(BTW, my coffee comes before morning shopping or anything else, not afterwards, and certainly without tobacco.)

--Mark Gresham, Atlanta, GA (USA)

docker said...

Thanks for the extensive comment Mark. I wonder if you'd really want to read the whole article about Nixon - I've only skimmed sections. It's a puff piece intended to make us like this way too intense overachiever.

Presidents in operas: my first thought was the musical 1776 in which there must be several characters who would eventually become Pres.

The cig. ad - it's actually a right hand page. Sorry that my imperfect cropping destroys your brilliant deconstructive analysis. I didn't mention that they're both wearing wedding rings (like 14-year old Nixon). Cigarette guy is either lost in thought or looking at her chest. She's looking right at him very intently - I would say she wants him. The subliminal message: "smoking L&M will get you laid!". I couldn't find the word "sex" or a death mask hidden in the picture anywhere. Darn!

Apparently L&Ms are still made and they come in six flavors! (Click here)

Here's an article about George Bush's iPod.

And Here's an article about Hitler's record collection - maybe.

Mark Gresham said...

Well, since it is a right-hand page, at least the smoke is blowing away so it won't bother the people on the left page. They're both clearly wearing the wedding ring on the left hand, so the picture's not flopped. (Unless the picture was shot in Norway, Russia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, or another country where it's worn on the right hand.) Nixon's ring is on the left hand too, it seems; he's holding the neck of the violin with that hand.

I might like to read the Nixon article, even if it's fluff. (It's always amazing how media can make nearly anyone seem cute and cuddly.) The only other President who I can think of as a potentially credible violinist would have been Jefferson, now that you mention 1776 (and I've seen his violin).

But imagine if there were actually a U.S. President that was a crowd-wowing musical virtuoso, whether violin or electric guitar. Imagine the annual "State of the Nation" played on a '70s Stratocaster instead of given as a pedantic speech. It also might be a far more on-target statement than could be expressed in words. :-)

--Mark Gresham