heard on the wire

Don’t forget what your good book said

1970 is the first year from which I take a clear and solitary memory, standing in a frosty back garden on my fourth birthday. I wasn’t aware of Brazil’s masterclass as they beat Italy 4-1 to win the World Cup for the third time; nor do I recall the Conservative election victory that ultimately led to the rise of Thatcher. But if there’s one event in 1970 I wish I had been witness to, it was the launch of Doonesbury, the greatest comic strip ever drawn.

When I first started reading The Guardian in the mid-80s, Doonesbury was a complete mystery, I just didn’t get it. But, for reasons I forget, I persevered. It was worth it. Doonesbury is at the same time funny and sad, satirical and juvenile, vicious and deeply touching. Artist and writer Garry Trudeau can often say more in four frames than most politicians and commentators could manage in four hours.

That the strip frequently annoys conservatives only adds to its reputation, as do the unlikely awards it has garnered: the US Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service in 2006 for his series of strips about one character’s recovery following the loss of his leg in Iraq; and, in 2008, the Mental Health Research Advocacy Award from the Yale School of Medicine for his depiction of the mental-health issues facing soldiers upon returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sadly 1970 was short in similarly resonant musical landmarks, if extant contemporary lists are any guide. That said, rules beget exceptions: the year’s highlights included Curtis Mayfield’s solo debut, Curtis, and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded. But no list of a song-from-every-year-of-my-life, if you’re as old as me, should exclude Neil Young who wrote two “protest” songs that year that must number among the best ever.

The first is Ohio, Young’s response to the shooting of student protestors by the US National Guard at Kent State University. The other is Southern Man, a condemnation of racism in the American South.

Neil Young :: Southern Man

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