Billions of words are spoken every minute, from casual curses to informal greetings to random mutterings. But every now and then mere words change the very shape of the world and alter all of our lives.
By Kenyon Boltz
Conversations are so abundant in number, diverse in material, and infinite in degree that we as a whole do not look at how these interactions and emotions dictate our life. Some are dramatic, most are mundane and a select few can never be quantified… here are some that shaped the culture in the 20th century…
I specifically avoided political events due to the enormous amount of people involved and the actual representations confined to a classification of conversation. To objectively bring about a lively debate of unique conversations that changed the 20th century culture it was of a larger interest to bypass this arena, but in no way of its omission is it down-played.
The power of one conversation can re-direct someone’s entire being; it was amazing doing the work for this article which shed the light into the multiplication of culture and that’s the real treasure or the beginning to question more.
When Someone Noticed a New Trend
Alan Freed and Leo Mintz had a conversation…
In 1951, a record shop owner in Cleveland, Ohio, Leo Mintz, noticed the building numbers of white teenagers purchasing Rhythm & Blues records. Mr. Mintz mentioned this observation to a local DJ named Alan Freed. On July 11 1951, Alan Freed adopted the on-air name Moondog and became one of the first DJs to program Rhythm & Blues music for a white teenage audience.
By 1951, the terms “rock” and “roll,” used both individually and in conjunction with one another, had been appearing in Rhythm & Blues song lyrics and titles for some time. Alan Freed picked up on these recurring terms of “rock” and “roll” and began referring to the music he was playing as “Rock and Roll” music, supposedly to avoid using the racially charged term Rhythm & Blues. Recall that in the early 1950s issues of race were real and destructive. Moreover, the parents of the teenagers who were listening to this music were well aware that Rhythm & Blues was a silent racist term for race music.
The packaging of this genre was brought by one man and delivered by the other man. In retrospect, taken from www.the-history-of-rock.com, the after-effects in music can be succinctly laid out in the following:
Parents, while relieved that their teenage children were listening to Rock ‘n Roll and not Rhythm & Blues, were oblivious to the street meaning of the term. A meaning that is best illustrated by the 1951 #1 R&B hit and #17 pop charting song “Sixty Minute Man” by The Dominoes, contained lyrics that illustrated the double meaning of the terms “rock” and “roll”:
Look a here girls I’m telling you now
They call me “Lovin’ Dan”
I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long
I’m a sixty-minute man
If you don’t believe I’m all I say
Come up and take my hand
When I let you go you’ll cry “Oh yes,”
He’s a sixty-minute man
There’ll be 15 minutes of kissing
Then you’ll holler “please don’t stop”
There’ll be 15 minutes of teasing
And 15 minutes of squeezing
And 15 minutes of blowing my top
If your man ain’t treating you right
Come up and see ol’ Dan
I rock ‘em, roll ‘em all night long
I’m a sixty-minute man
The site continues on to complete the ripple-effect:
“Between 1952 and 1960 Rock n Roll would continue to flourish and challenge the mainstream popular music enjoyed by older, middle class Americans. Along the way it would be further influenced by the Gospel tradition to produce Rock Ballads and Doo Wop. White man’s blues in the form of Country/Hillbilly music would lead to Rockabilly, a musical form and lifestyle that remains popular today…”
When Someone Felt They Weren’t Appreciated
You have to give A-Rod’s agent credit: who would have thought his contract would mark a milestone: the $252 million dollar contract should still be forever encapsulated in our minds, especially in a time when real recession after-effects rock our nation as a whole.
Had the players, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, a pitcher from LA and a pitcher from Montreal, not taken their demand for better pay in 1975 to third-party arbitrator Peter Seitz, the staggering salaries athletes receive today would never have become reality.
Says Marvin Miller, players’ union president at that time: “I haven’t researched this, but qualified people have told me that decision and the labor agreement which was signed the following summer resulted in more money changing hands from an owners group to an employees group than any decision or negotiation in history.”
Kuhn, commissioner from 1969 to 1984, often has second-guessed himself regarding free agency, but is argued if you read his autobiography, “Hardball…“ he maintained his actions from the out-dated and often unrecognized reserve system, the blueprint leading to free agency. The “reserve system,” in property-context, was a means for a team to “own” the merits of a player.
A quick side-note: Seitz’s decision struck down baseball’s ages-old reserve system. Under it, a player remained the property of the team that originally signed him unless he was released or traded.
However, this “property” wanted a better offer.
“I’m confident had I resolved the Messersmith-McNally grievance, a free-agency system would have been negotiated that would have worked out better for the fans than the one we have today,” Kuhn says. “I didn’t have a specific system, but one should have been created.”
Miller maintained the players no longer were under contract to their teams after the 1975 season and should be declared free agents. The union filed grievances on behalf of Messersmith and McNally, who had retired June 8, and ultimately independent arbitrator Seitz ruled for the union Dec. 23, 1975. Management had tried to stop the arbitration in court before it happened but lost two appeals, and free agency became reality. “That decision was some Christmas present,” Kuhn says.
Richard Moss was general counsel for the Major League Players Association and tried the case. “I knew it would be meaningful to the players, but I wasn’t sure it would be this meaningful,” Moss says. “In terms of economic impact, it was perhaps the biggest labor arbitration case in history. You can express the difference between winning and losing that case in terms of tens of billions of dollars.”
Moss, however, says most of what’s happening now in terms of high salaries “is the product of revenues. They’re so vast in baseball, and salaries reflect that. The industry keeps growing.” Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist, an authority on baseball finances, says “free agency has changed the game entirely.”
Retrospect: In 1930, Babe Ruth, the biggest player of his time, was paid $80,000. In today’s dollars, that would be close to $800,000. It pales in comparison to the $25.2 million/season Rodriguez plays. Free agency is the reason.
When Someone Could Conceptualize Inspiration
In “Made in America: Self-Styled Success from Horatio Alger to Oprah Winfrey” (University of Minnesota Press, 1992) Jeffrey Louis Decker writes of the origin of the term the “American Dream.” He states that “the term was not put into print until 1931, when middle-brow historian James Truslow Adams coined and used it throughout the pages of a book titled “The Epic of America.”
As the author expounds:
“… The American Dream is to be understood as an ethical doctrine that is symptomatic of a crisis in national identity during the thirties. The newly invented dream calls out for a supplement to the outmoded narrative of individual uplift, which had lost its moral capacity to guide the nation during the Depression.” 
Adams was fully aware that the “American Dream” was a new term and had argued that his editor, Ellery Sedgwick, should allow him to use it in the book’s title. Sedgwick refused, allegedly saying “no red-blooded American would pay $3.50 for a dream.” Adams argued that “Red-blooded Americans have always been willing to gamble their last peso on a dream ….” [n.154-155]
Clearly, the notion of such a dream as a core belief, even a guiding principle, predates Adams’ first use of the term in the 1930s [you can go as far as the Puritans escaping religious indignations from England], but an interesting idea to chew on is that it was not until they, the people, had lost something that the term was actually conceptualized. The Depression pushed this absence of the abstract things that passed on generation to generation, historical period to next period, which still are in pursuit by many: the inspiration of equality, the safety of government protecting, the ability for financial independence, and the dream of their children living better.
The current template of this coinage can be readily seen and felt today in reporting. A recent issue of Vanity Fair takes the depth of the re-invention of the American Dream and its timeline. David Kamp, the author, poignantly perceives the term as “a moving target that eluded people’s grasp. It compelled Americans to set unattainable goals for themselves”… and that can be said today. This motivating drive to continue when we have lost a percentage of our dreams will continue and persevere. This is the one national element America is known for and still offers for all non-citizens and families. The power of words and the context it presented can resound for decades… and it was almost scrapped. The complexities of this term are misunderstood but never lost.
When Someone is Told ‘No’
Some characters in film are mentionable, others pass by unnoticed, but, of course, some cannot leave our memories.
It is behind closed doors which make the magic seem almost human error because of simple gut instincts or unfair labeling. This is the conversation that graced Marlon Brando in his role of Don Vito Corleone.
Much of the information is taken from the book “Godfather” by Gene Phillips.
Puzo, the author of “The Godfather” had envisioned the character for Brando, due to “the mystique and charisma… [that] would translate on film into awe for the powerful godfather.” After some time, Robert Evans, production chief of Paramount Pictures, scheduled a meeting with Albert Ruddy, the producer, Stanley Jaffe, 30-yr old president of Paramount Pictures, and Francis Ford Coppola, with Coppola wanting the meeting to start with.
Coppola brought up Brando and Jaffe interjected, “As president, Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture.”
Coppola faked convulsions by clutching his stomach in an attempt to personify the anguish a studio can be so stubborn, short-sighted. The fit led to Jaffe recanting and saying Brando could be considered, but a screen test for the picture was needed, knowing full well that Brando’s antics and adamant past against screen tests.
With shoe polish, a kimono, and Kleenex in his mouth Brando did the screen test leaving no questions left that this role was his. If it wasn’t for Coppola’s passion and Puzo’s inspiration who could have been placed in the role? Who knows, who cares, its Brando’s forever.
It is this similar and oft noted incident inside the biographies of film directors, actors, and producers where a large complication can almost deform a visual masterpiece for undue labeling and lack of trust in the eye of the beholder. Appalling but endearing when you hear the artist wins.
When Someone Gives a Recommendation
JD Salinger and Gus Lobrano, fiction editor for the New Yorker.
A synopsis of The Catcher in the Rye taken from one of his many fan sites:
The teenage Holden Caulfield reflects on the events leading up to and following his departure from a Pennsylvanian boarding school. His rebellious streak and alienation lead him to New York, where his rebellion is sidetracked by an overwhelming and paralyzing struggle to recapture his youth. His younger sister Phoebe becomes the object of his meditation on innocence, and the process of self-rediscovery involves something akin to a “crack up.” Holden’s futility gives way to a renewed sense of hope.
Although this conversation cannot be absolutely pin-pointed plus the lack of information readily available, there is the heavy lean that Gus had spoke with JD Salinger about his emerging character Holden Caulfield. With less and less of Salinger’s short fiction being picked and printed; there was some catalyst to lead Salinger to Westport, his writing haunt, to creating his novel adventure of Caulfield, a prep school boy.
A story written for the Saturday Evening Post (1944) was the first mention of the character Holden Caulfield, but it was “I’m Crazy”-published by Collier’s in its Christmas 1945 issue-that displayed the character in earnest. A forerunner of The Catcher in the Rye, entitled “Slight Rebellion off Madison” was published in the New Yorker in 1946 (its publication was delayed until after the war).
The power of this book is still seen today: a perennial top seller for classics on Amazon, an approximate total sell of 65 million copies and still climbing, and a habitual re-read for many people, including myself; the magic was never re-captured. Due to Salinger being a recluse the sheer magnitude of this author may never be known and possibly future classics, I find JD Salinger and Gus Lobrano had the conversation that led to Holden standing in a field of rye catching the “phony” jumping off the cliff.
When Someone Feels Challenged
At a time of Music Gods, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, there was this moment where Dylan had mentioned that the songs & lyrics of Lennon were “fluffy.” This was a definitive thorn in Lennon’s side due to his admiration for Dylan’s ability to make “message rock.” This monumental meeting has not been properly documented except from word of mouth. This may have been the conversation which led to the Beatles departure in their discography; The Beatles next record was Rubber Soul and it led them to the second age of their music: Sgt Peppers, Abbey Road, the White Album.
The excerpt here has no exact source of where it came from except Robbie & The Hawks blog. I included it as non-critical but also as an aura of “just-maybe.” All that matters was the fact that Lennon admired Dylan for his lyrics and message and Lennon wanted a part of that which was a break from the music he & Paul were making.
“The London Hilton in ’66 after a concert given by Bob…an aide of Bobby Neuwirth had come to the Beatles’ box to inform them that Dylan requested their company at his hotel suite. Lennon and McCartney headed right over. Back in the London Hilton in ’66, after a joint smoking session, fame and the price of it came into the conversation…
“I don’t know if I like it,” Dylan confessed.
“Like what?” a stoned McCartney asked.
“You know. Fame. Fame and fortune.”
“Beats smokey nightclubs all to hell,” Lennon said.
“Yeah, it does,” Dylan agreed. “But I feel like I don’t, you know, deserve it. I feel sort of, ah… guilty about all of it.”
Lennon wouldn’t hear of it. “Why should you feel guilty? You deserve it. All of it. You’re the best fuckin’ songwriter in the world. Your songs are deep. They mean something.”
“That’s just it,” Dylan said. “They don’t mean anything. I just write’ em. I don’t even know what my songs mean, and here I am, people calling me God and everything…”
“Don’t let George hear you say that,” McCartney joked.
Dylan continued, “So here I am, sitting in hotel rooms, banging away these words on a typewriter. Words! Phrases! Words and Phrases! Phrases and Words! And one morning I wake up and Albert tells me I’m a millionaire. Beats me.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Who said I wanted to be a millionaire?”
They were all pretty bombed by this time. Dylan could see that Lennon didn’t believe him, so he suggested that the three of them write a song together and he’d show them how it was done.
“Us write with you?” Lennon was shocked. Also a little scared. “We can’t write like that. We write these little love songs. Little rock & roll love songs. We can’t write Dylan. Only Dylan can do that.”
Dylan laughed, “That’s what everyone thinks. C’mon over here.”
He sat down behind a typewriter at the end of an eight-foot mahogany table. John and Paul sat at either side of the typewriter.
“Okay, now what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” Dylan asked.
“I don’t know. I can’t think of anything,” Lennon said.
“It’s just words we’re looking for,” Dylan said. “Words and phrases. Think of words and phrases.”
Lennon was silent. “Words and phrases, right?” he said weakly.
Dylan couldn’t wait any longer. “Words and phrases right,” he said, then typed it as the first line of the song.
“You’re gonna use that?” Lennon said.
“I can use anything, John. It doesn’t matter. Now you think of something, Paul.”
McCartney looked down at his cigarette. “Cigarette ash”, he said, challenging Dylan.
Dylan seized it gleefully. “That’s it. You’ve got it. Now… ‘Words and phrases right’… ‘Cigarette ash keep me up all night!’ . . . yeah, that’s good.” He quickly entered it into the typewriter, then asked John for another thought.
“Where’d you learn to type so fast?” John asked. He didn’t want to accept the fact that this was how Dylan wrote.
“How come your mama types so fast?” Dylan said, ignoring Lennon. Then McCartney added, “At this rate she’ll be done by a quarter past.” Paul and Dylan laughed hysterically.
They continued on for a while, Lennon and McCartney getting the hang of it as they were working with Dylan on this song…”I picked my nose and I’m glad I did!” Lennon screamed. Then McCartney added, “No one knows my nose ’cause I keep it hid!”
At that moment, the three of them actually fell on the floor, they were laughing so hard.
“Oh, God, it hurts,” Dylan said from the floor. “I can’t stop.”
Lennon and McCartney looked at each other underneath the table. They could write songs with Bob Dylan. It felt terrific. Lennon started another line, but Dylan stopped him.
“Wait a minute now.” Dylan was wiping the tears from his eyes. “Lemme get that last one. Now what was it? I can’t even remember.” They were so stoned that time was standing still.
McCartney started to tell him: “It was … uh …” He couldn’t think of it. “What the hell was the line, John?”
“I don’t remember it, either!” Lennon shrieked.
They all fell on the floor again.
“Greatest fucking line in rock & roll history,” Dylan said, still on his back, “and we can’t remember what it is! I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! …”
In the end, their musings was never finished, never recorded, not even boot-legged. Supposedly known as “Pneumonia Ceilings,” it was thrown into the garbage as soon as John and Paul left, but rescued by a housekeeper at the hotel. She sold it for a mere $5 to Beatle fan.
We’ll let the end rattle as a theory of the meeting.
In all the above examples, if only to be a witness or a fly on the wall, listening to these conversations would not register as culturally definitive, but, nonetheless, just to be there and hear the interaction would have been divine. The impact is still being felt and the questions grow as to how many other events may have had the same beginnings.