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5 Awkward Meetings Between Presidents and Rock Stars

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Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Frank Sinatra to the White House for tea, presidents have regularly hobnobbed with pop stars. Sometimes, they click immediately. Members of The Allman Brothers Band, for example, have an extensive friendship with fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter and played his campaign stops. Other times, the collisions of these two high-profile worlds—one defined by youth and coolness, the other by decorum and authority—have been a little uncomfortable. Here are five encounters between presidents and music stars that were somewhat awkward.

1. ELVIS BADGERS NIXON FOR A NARC BADGE.

No one in Elvis Presley’s entourage dared questioned the King in his later, more indulgent years. So, in 1970, when Elvis, listless and sullen in his Los Angeles mansion, announced he wanted to go to Washington, D.C., his personal assistant Jerry Schilling hopped on a red-eye flight with him.

Elvis was a collector of honorary police badges, gifts from law enforcement agencies with whom he was friendly. Schilling soon discovered the reason for the trip was to get a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the precursor to the DEA).

Elvis appealed to the president directly, presenting a handwritten note at the White House gate on the morning of December 21, 1970. He pledged his help fighting anti-establishment sects from the inside. “The drug culture, the hippie elements, the [Students for a Democratic Society], Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy,” he wrote to Nixon. “I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large,” he insisted. The note included his hotel and room number. It made its way to aide Egil “Bud” Krogh, a fan, and by noon, Elvis had an appointment in the Oval Office.

According to Krogh’s notes, Elvis restated his support for Nixon and indicated The Beatles as a “force for anti-Americanism.” (They were actually on the same page: Two years later, the Nixon administration tried to deport John Lennon.) Nixon nodded along and stated his concern that Elvis “retain his credibility.”

The meeting ended with a spontaneous hug. Although Nixon never called on Elvis’ services, he did arrange for him to get a narc badge. An aide presented it to him after Presley and his associates ate lunch in the White House cafeteria.

2. GERALD FORD AND GEORGE HARRISON EXCHANGE LAPEL PINS.

In 1974, George Harrison embarked on his first post-Beatles U.S. tour. Attending the November 16 show in Salt Lake City was 22-year-old Jack Ford, whose father assumed the presidency three months earlier following Nixon’s resignation.

On December 13, the Fords welcomed Harrison and his tour mates, including Ravi Shankar and Billy Preston, to the White House. At the time, one of Ford’s major focuses was the WIN (“whip inflation now”) campaign, which encouraged savings and moderate spending habits. Many criticized it for putting the onus on citizens to correct the economy. Alan Greenspan later dubbed WIN “unbelievably stupid.”

Harrison’s saxophonist, Tom Scott, told Rolling Stone in the January 30, 1975 issue (as reprinted in a 2011 issue of Beatlefan) that the president “took us into this little side room where he had all this WIN paraphernalia—posters, watches, sweaters, T-shirts.” It “looked just like the back room at [Harrison’s label] Dark Horse Records, which is loaded with T-shirts and bags and towels.”

Ford took the opportunity to stick a WIN button on Harrison’s lapel. Harrison gave Ford a button of his own, reading “om,” a sacred sound in Indian religions. Harrison also jammed on the White House piano and posed for a picture in Ford’s seat in the Cabinet Room.

3. REAGAN GIVES MICHAEL JACKSON A PUN-TASTIC INTRODUCTION.

The face of music in the ’80s was Michael Jackson. The defining figure of politics that decade was Ronald Reagan. For one afternoon, the two were side-by-side.

On May 14, 1984, Reagan invited Jackson to the White House to present him with the Presidential Public Safety Communication Award for allowing “Beat It” to be used in a public service announcement against drinking and driving.

Always the joker, the 73-year-old president’s introduction included repeated references to Jackson’s work, no doubt the work of a young speechwriter:

“I hope you'll forgive me, but we have quite a few young folks in the White House who all wanted me to give you the same message. They said to tell Michael, ‘Please give some TLC to the PYTs.’ Now I know that sounds a little ‘off the wall,’ but you know what I mean. And, Michael, I have another message from our fans in the Washington, D.C., area. They said, ‘We want you back.’ So when you begin your greatly awaited cross-country tour, will you please be sure to drop off here in the nation's capital?”

Of meeting Jackson, Reagan wrote in his diary that he “was surprised at how shy he is.”

4. GEORGE W. BUSH MISTAKES U2's BONO FOR CHER'S EX-HUSBAND.

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When George W. Bush came into office, Bono, the lead singer of U2, had been advocating the elimination of third-world debt. According to the Guardian, he racked up meetings with officials from the newly installed Bush administration, including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He also recruited to the cause evangelical leaders, like Rev. Billy Graham, who were allied with Bush. In fact, it was 80-year-old conservative Senator Jesse Helms who convinced Bush himself to meet with Bono.

Before the singer’s March 2002 appointment in the Oval office, an aide told the president, “Bono’s coming. You do know who he is?’” Bush recalled in a 2015 documentary.

Bush retorted, “Sure, he’s married to Cher.”

Of course, Bono of U2 was not Sonny Bono, the American singer/songwriter who was half of Sonny and Cher, a couple who had been divorced since 1975. Also, though he was politically active, having been elected three times to Congress, Sonny Bono had been dead for four years at the time of the meeting.

Nonetheless, the U2 frontman won him over. Soon, Bush was pushing for a $5 billion aid package, with the singer’s active support. Bono met with Bush on several other occasions and accepted his invitation to speak at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast.

Hopefully, at some point, someone lent Bush a copy of Achtung Baby.

5. BOB DYLAN IS TOO COOL TO HANG OUT WITH OBAMA.

On February 9, 2010, the White House staged a concert to celebrate the civil rights movement. On the bill were Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson, John Mellencamp, Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, and Bob Dylan.

Dylan didn’t show up for rehearsal or the meet-and-greet before the show.

“He didn't want to take a picture with me,” Obama told Rolling Stone in 2010. “Usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that.”

Organizers had asked Dylan to play a song, but they were not sure which he would play. When showtime came, Dylan, with a bassist and pianist, went on and performed “The Times They Are A-Changin’." Obama’s first encounter with the musical icon came after the song was finished.

“[He] steps off the stage—I'm sitting right in the front row—comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves," Obama told Rolling Stone. "And that was it—then he left. That was our only interaction with him.”

The president, a fan, was OK with it. “That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you.”

Two years later, Dylan returned to the White House and tolerated Obama pinning the Medal of Freedom on him.

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The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
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Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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