But in the personal memory of many of us who read here, June 6 fifty springtimes ago was significant for another and likely darker reason - as the day in the early morning hours on which Robert F Kennedy died, a little more than twenty four hours after he had been gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. I say darker because the risks and sacrifices of the Normandy Invasion justified themselves in less that a year with the total triumph over the evil that seemed totally destroyed, but the murder of RFK was a blow to the integrity of our political process from which many will argue we have never fully recovered. Kennedy had just won the California primary for the Democratic Party's nomination for president in 1968 and emerged as the clear frontrunner going into the party's convention.
It is, of course, impossible to say what might have happened had our election that year not been subverted by an assassin's bullet. What is clear, though, is that that act alienated absolute droves of younger Americans from politics, and those few who returned to it often did so with the cynical nanny-statism of the '70s New Left and the barely concealed racism of the George Wallace crowd and an increasingly and aggressively far right Republican Party. Politics as usually practiced - with at least a modicum of civility and respect, with discourse that focused on issues and not personality and celebrity - that seemed to lie bleeding and mortally wounded on that hotel floor with Kennedy on that dark day half a century ago.
The relevance of all this is that one of our own, John Stewart, was among those who had been imbued with the spirit of the New Frontier and hoped for its rebirth in the RFK campaign - "the last campaign" as Stewart came to regard it, on an album and in a song of the same name and in dozens of other songs that he wrote that touched on those years and on that single tragic climax - because Stewart never again involved himself in politics to any significant extent - never again wrote stirring and optimistic anthems like "Road To Freedom" and "New Frontier." His songs grew darker, with many of the best of them dealing with survival in a hostile world and coming to terms with suffering and loss.
Of those latter songs, one that Stewart fans voted their favorite of his was 1984's "Dreamers On The Rise," a composition that obliquely refers to both Kennedy assassinations and may in its third verse actually be addressing Bobby himself, 16 years dead at the time. It is a quiet and reflective song, one that deserves a far wider audience than it has acquired.
My CV101 essay on it written five years ago on the 45th June 6th following Kennedy's death has rather more to say on Kennedy, Stewart, their connection, and this song -
RFK And The Poetry Of Memory: "Dreamers On The Rise"
and I think it's a pretty solid effort.
Still, because reading such articles isn't everyone's cup of tea but music is, I think it important enough to embed the song here. It's one of Stewart's best, it's appropriate to this day, and in this premier recording on a Stewart EP called Revenge of the Budgie, that's Nick Reynolds singing high harmony. As I point out in my CV101 piece, to the end of his days, Nick always said that "Dreamers" was his single favorite of the more than 400 tunes that John wrote and recorded. That says something very significant to me.
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