CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

Music History #9: "Watergate Blues"

Getty Images
Getty Images

“Watergate Blues”
Written and performed by Tom T. Hall (1973)

The Music

Back in the early days of country music, songs were often like newspaper articles, written and sung to spread the news of some topical event. In 1973, country storyteller-songwriter Tom T. Hall revisited this idea with “Watergate Blues.” In three minutes, Hall sums up the entire 1972 election, and the subsequent break-in and wire-tapping of the Democratic National Committee that exploded into the political scandal of the century. Hall’s song was never a big hit, but it was a concert favorite during the time. (You can hear it here.)

The History

The run-up to the presidential election of 1972 was typically nasty. Democratic candidate George McGovern’s first choice running mate, Thomas Eagleton, was forced off the ticket when it was discovered that he’d had a history of depression. Republicans suggested there had been “shock therapy” involved and that was the end of Eagleton. Conservative pundits also pinned a damaging slogan on McGovern, claiming he was for “amnesty, abortion and acid” (McGovern had suggested that possession of small amounts of marijuana be treated as a misdemeanor, and that was twisted into his supposed support for “acid”).

On June 17, 1972, in Washington, D.C., five men were arrested for trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. (Watergate, often remembered as a hotel, actually included an odd variety of businesses, from a museum of paleontology to an armor repair center.) The idea for the break-in came from one of Nixon’s underlings, G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy was the type of guy who, at a party, would hold his hand directly into a candle flame for laughs. For him, burglarizing and wire-tapping were a necessary means to an end – namely, driving the Democratic party into shambles.

Though a GOP security aide was among the burglars, the Nixon camp initially denied any link to the Watergate break-in. But after a $25,000 cashier’s check, earmarked for the Nixon campaign, ended up in the account of one of the burglars, the hunt was on.

None of this affected Nixon in the voting booths, and he trounced McGovern in November 1972.

But Watergate didn’t go away. Over the next two years, relentless investigation by the FBI, a grand jury, a senate committee, a special prosecutor and two newspaper reporters revealed an undercover operation that brought down the Nixon administration.

Deep Throat

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had a secret informant on Capitol Hill. Their editor dubbed this source “Deep Throat,” as a nod to a porn movie that was controversial at the time. The reporters met Deep Throat several times in an underground parking garage in Washington, D.C., at 2 am, and got leads for their investigation. What did Deep Throat get in return? The satisfaction of protecting the justice system from presidential abuse, according to Woodward. But thirty years later, when Deep Throat’s identity was revealed as William Mark Felt, a former Deputy Director of the FBI, several books speculated that he was angling for the FBI Director’s job. The leaks did hurt Director L. Patrick Gray, a friend of Nixon’s who’d been chosen over Felt, but Felt never got the coveted position.

Whatever his motivation, Deep Throat’s tips helped Woodward and Bernstein piece together the convoluted puzzle of the Watergate break-in.

By early 1973, heads were rolling. In January, two former Nixon aides, Liddy and James McCord, were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. Two months later, top White House staffers H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, all resigned.

“I Am Not A Crook”

The summer of 1973 featured the televised Senate Watergate hearings, a political cultural spectacle the likes of which had never been seen in America. The star of the show was folksy Democratic senator Sam Ervin. Grilling all the President’s men, and spouting lines like, “I think this is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered,” Ervin became the mouthpiece for America’s growing disillusionment over a corrupt government.

If Nixon never knew about the initial break-in (in one of his famous televised denials, he said, “I am not a crook”), he was actively involved in both the cover-up and trying to plug the continuous leaks of information coming from his administration. Especially after a damning testimony by White House aide Alexander Butterfield, who revealed that all of Nixon’s conversations with his staff were tape-recorded, and those tapes still existed.

From then on, Nixon’s daily life became, like Tom T. Hall’s song title, a non-stop Watergate Blues.

Nixon Resigns

Suddenly, everyone was after those tapes. Nixon didn’t want to give them up. His solution, which he presented to the American people in a televised news conference, was to release transcripts of the tapes. It was a stall that only worked for a while. In a Supreme Court ruling, Nixon was forced to hand over all the tapes to investigators. The tapes revealed in no uncertain terms the corruption of the administration.

Pressure against Nixon grew. Even staunch supporters abandoned him. The House of Representatives were poised to recommend Impeachment proceedings. Then on August 9th, 1974, Nixon resigned the presidency.

Many of his top aides went to prison. Nixon was pardoned by the next president, Gerald Ford.

http://youtu.be/lzXL7C0JQDM

The Legacy

Forty years later, some believe that Watergate marks a turning point when America lost its innocence and became cynical (though the same was said of JFK’s assassination). It helped usher in the bitter, angry, polarized politics we see now, the cause of all the paralysis in government, along with a new, aggressive attitude of the media.

But there was a positive side to Watergate. It proved that our system can work. As nasty as the whole affair became, the Constitution and the law ultimately prevailed over the excesses of corrupt politicians (despite Nixon’s pardon, 69 government officials were charged, and 48 were found guilty).

To the day he died in 1994, Nixon claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing in Watergate.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
holidays
40 Years Later: Watch The Johnny Cash Christmas Show
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over the course of his career, Johnny Cash made a series of Christmas TV specials and recorded a string of Christmas records. In this 1977 TV performance, Cash is in great form. He brings special guests Roy Clark, June Carter Cash, The Carter Family, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison ("Pretty Woman" starts around 23:50), Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers. Tune in for Christmas as we celebrated it 40 years ago—with gigantic shirt collars, wavy hair, and bow ties. So many bow ties.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Chloe Efforn
arrow
Animals
John Lennon Was a Crazy Cat Lady
Chloe Efforn
Chloe Efforn

John Lennon was crazy about cats, and though he owned a couple of dogs (Sally and Bernard) over the years, he was better known for getting by with a little help from his feline friends.

1. ELVIS

Growing up, Lennon's beloved mother, Julia, had a named cat after Elvis Presley, whom Julia and John were both crazy about. The Lennons later realized they had misnamed Elvis when "he" gave birth to a litter of kittens in the cupboard, but they didn't change the cat's name based on that small mistake.

2. AND 3. TICH AND SAM

He had two other cats as a boy growing up in Liverpool: Tich and Sam. Tich passed away while Lennon was away at art school (which he attended from 1957 to 1960), and Sam was named after famous British diarist Samuel Pepys

4. TIM

One day, John Lennon found a stray cat in the snow, which his Aunt Mimi allowed him to keep. (John's Aunt Mimi raised him from a young boy through his late teenage years, and he affectionately referred to her as the Cat Woman.) He named the marmalade-colored half-Persian cat Tim.

Tim remained a special favorite of John's. Every day, he would hop on his Raleigh bicycle and ride to Mr. Smith's, the local fishmonger, where he would buy a few pieces of fish for Tim and his other cats. Even after John became famous as a Beatle, he would often call and check in on how Tim was doing. Tim lived a happy life and survived to celebrate his 20th birthday.

5. AND 6. MIMI AND BABAGHI

John and his first wife, Cynthia, had a cat named Mimi who was, of course, named after his Aunt Mimi. They soon got another cat, a tabby who they dubbed Babaghi. John and Cynthia continued acquiring more cats, eventually owning around 10 of them.

7. JESUS

As a Beatle, John had a cat named Jesus. The name was most likely John's sarcastic response to his "the Beatles are bigger than Jesus" controversy of 1966. But he wasn't the only band member with a cat named Jesus: Paul McCartney once had a trio of kittens named Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

8. AND 9. MAJOR AND MINOR

In the mid-1970s, John had an affair with his secretary, May Pang. One day, the studio receptionist brought a box of kittens into the recording studio where John and May were. "No," John immediately told May, "we can't, we're traveling too much." But she picked up one of the kittens and put it over her shoulder. Then John started stroking the kitten and decided to keep it. At the end of the day, the only other kitten left was a little white one that was so loud no one else wanted it. So they adopted it as well and named the pair Major and Minor.

10. AND 11. SALT AND PEPPER

John owned a pair of black and white cats with his wife Yoko Ono. As befitting John's offbeat sense of humor, many places report he christened the white cat Pepper and the black one Salt.

12. AND 13. GERTRUDE AND ALICE

John and Yoko also had two Russian Blue cats named Gertrude and Alice, who each met tragic ends. After a series of sicknesses, Gertrude was diagnosed with a virus that could become dangerous to their young son, Sean. John later said that he held Gertrude and wept as she was euthanized. 

Later, Alice jumped out of an open window in the Lennons' high-rise apartment at the Dakota and plunged to her death. Sean was present at the time of the accident, and he remembers it as the only time he ever saw his father cry.

14., 15. AND 16. MISHA, SASHA, AND CHARO

In later years, John also owned three cats he named Misha, Sasha, and Charo. Always an artist at heart, John loved to sketch his many cats, and he used some of these pictures as illustrations in his books.

This piece originally ran in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios