HARLEM — 2004 — It was “Showtime at the Apollo” and every act was on edge. Please the tough audience and you got applause, a chance to go further in the competition. Suck and you got booed off stage. Waiting their turn, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, fresh off a plane from Florida, listened in dismay as act after act drew resounding boos.
NORTH ADAMS, MA — On another steambath August afternoon, the Berkshires’ summer crowd wonders what next. Beethoven and Bach at Tanglewood? The Norman Rockwell Museum — again? Well, we could always drop by Edith Wharton’s Victorian home. But wait! Here’s something slightly different.
A century ago, talk was cheap. A movie cost 15 cents, a phonograph record 75¢. Magazines went for a nickel, newspapers a penny. Books, however, were no bargain.
A new hardback of The Great Gatsby sold for two bucks, half a worker’s daily wage. Wait for the paperback? Forget it, there were no paperbacks. Used book stores did not exist, and libraries were for urbanites. How could the common American, home from a hard day’s work, afford a book? The answer came from that hotbed of American publishing — Kansas.
MILFORD CEMETERY, MILFORD, CT — For Pilgrims and Puritans, life was a “vale of tears” and death a “grim porter.” Old New England graveyards are sobering places, their headstones sinking or askew, their dates suggesting lives suddenly shortened. But these somber old Yankees started a tradition, very American, of having the last word and making it a mockery.
THE COUNTRY OF TELEVISION — JANUARY, 23, 1977 — Another night in Prime Time. ABC leads with “The Brady Bunch.” CBS has “Rhoda” and “Phyllis.” NBC serves up “McMillan and Wife.” But at 9 p.m., the revolution — in the country of TV, at least — is about to be televised.
CAMBRIDGE, MA, 1952 — In a padded room deep in the bowels of a Harvard lab, the composer steps into silence.
He expects to hear. . . nothing, and for a few moments, he does. But then his own body — the beating of his heart, the rush of his flowing blood — becomes the music.
SOUTH CHICAGO — Like Harlem before it, Chicago had its Black Renaissance. During decades of Depression and war, the neighborhood folks called Bronzeville blossomed with art, literature, and music. Louis Armstrong was blowing his horn. Richard Wright was writing Black Boy and Native Son. Community art centers welcomed young talent. Poetry and prose boosted pride.
YANKEE STADIUM, JULY 4, 1939 — Throughout this cathedral of baseball, patriotic bunting suggests a World Series, but it’s just a routine doubleheader. Until the first game ends and the crowd stirs.
Dignitaries and former player fill the infield. Mayor LaGuardia speaks, then Babe Ruth. But the crowd chants “We want Lou! We want Lou!”
Wiping away tears, Gehrig begins. “For the past two weeks you’ve been reading about a bad break. . .”
GREENSBORO, NC, FEB 1960 — Four black men sat at the all-white lunch counter, refusing to move until served. When Woolworth’s closed, they left, then returned the next day with a dozen friends. Within a week, “sit-ins” started in Atlanta, Nashville, Durham, Raleigh. . . The Movement was galvanized. But one woman knew that freedom meant “more than a hamburger.”