Well, here we go again-off to find those places where something notable happened. Something monumental . . . something lesser-known but still significant . . . something truly offbeat or shocking or melodramatic or sad or glorious or accidental . . .something.
Just to re-visit the purpose and inspiration of my pop-culture mission: I stated in the Introduction of this book’s predecessor,James Dean Died Here, that I believed that no other country is as fascinated with pop culture as America. I still believe that, which brings me back again to this path of discovery.
In James Dean Died Here, I also shared this definition I had come upon: “Pop Culture: Those series of activities & events that are, more or less, equivalent to national identity.” The simplicity of the statement still holds true, and thus once again provides a context for all of the events you are about to encounter. And finally, beyond researching merely the details of a pop culture event, my primary mission continues to be to locate the precise (or as close to exact as can be had) spot where each one of these events took place. After all, the “where” of an event still seems to be the most elusive detail in our collective consciousness.
Often we know all of the facts of a famous or infamous event-except for that part about how to stand in the place where it happened, whether we want to or not. As a reporter mentioned to me last year, “I may not visit all of these places, but that’s okay-I just love knowing they exist; that they have an address.”
So for me, as a fan of history, the most interesting challenge continues to be trying to put each event in its place. Literally. Once you do that, I think it brings you closer to the event-makes it more real, lets you imagine what it was like that particular day.
This time around, in addition to locating hundreds of familiar pop culture landmarks, I wanted to push the idea further. Many obvious spots were covered in James Dean Died Here, like where the Hindenberg crashed, where Marilyn Monroe’s dress famously billowed up, where the Brady Bunch house is, etc. But in this volume, I wanted to dig deeper and reveal some things that are perhaps not as well known-but still relevant and just as (if not more) compelling.
So that is what this book does-goes the extra mile, so to speak. Oh, there are still many of the ultra-famous events. The big-ticket pop culture events that we all are familiar with: Elvis getting a haircut (and where he got his first guitar). Truman holding up that famous newspaper headline. Where Jesse James was killed (and the wall where the bullet hole is still visible). Where Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. The room where the very first Academy Awards ceremony was held. George Washington’s headquarters. J.F.K.’s birthplace. Seabiscuit’s stable. And hundreds more.
But then there are the places whose magic lies in the fact that, while still pivotal in the scope of pop culture history, are not that well known. Like the place where Lincoln was shot . . . years before Booth killed him. Or where Teddy Roosevelt was also shot (and survived-even gave a speech with the bullet in him!). Where the mythical Johnny Appleseed first planted his famous (and very real) trees. Where the first black NBA player took the court. Where Blackbeard the Pirate met his fate. Where Dylan first performed as “Dylan.” The McDonald’s where the infamous (and expensive) coffee spill occurred. Where a brunette actress named Norma Jeane Baker, soon to be Marilyn Monroe, first became a blonde. And on and on and on. This is where I think you’ll have the most fun with this book-learning the details that are layered in the stuff you didn’t know about before.
Subject-wise, I’ve included some categories that were either not covered in James Dean Died Here, or perhaps only had one entry. For example, in the previous book, I wrote about the famous Crossroads where Robert Johnson may have met the Devil. Now, you’ll learn about the true birthplace of the blues: where W.C. Handy first heard a mysterious slide player at the spot “Where the Southern Meets the Dog” (and many other vital Blues landmarks along the Delta). I originally covered where Martin Luther King was shot, but did you know that, years before, he had actually been stabbed in a Harlem department store while on a book tour? (There are many other M.L.K. sites in this book, along with a section dedicated to Civil Rights landmarks.)
I have included an extensive chapter on many great works of literature. Did you know that you can actually stand in the rooms where Poe, Steinbeck, Cather, Wharton, Faulkner, and Hemingway (among others) penned their classics and lived their lives?
Plus, throughout the book are special sidebar “tours” dedicated to sites relating to Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Bonnie and Clyde and more. All of our country’s famous and infamous-the gifted, the tortured, the visionary . . . our most storied heroes and villains, right where they did what they did.
And once again, everything is organized by topic (with a state-by-state index in the back).
Whether you’re familiar with the specific events or not, I hope you’ll see how (and why) they fit into the American pop culture pantheon. If you don’t find a specific event in this volume, perhaps check James Dean Died Here. If it’s not there, well . . . there’s always the next sequel.
So on that note, I’ll simply thank you for picking up this book and becoming part of the experience. After James Dean Died Here came out, I was put in touch with many like-minded fans of this type of history, which actually helped me decide to do the sequel as soon as possible-hey, when others are enthusiastic about something you’re doing, it’s a great motivator. It’s been wonderful getting to meet and correspond with many of you; the shared experience is a real bonus and I hope that with this book, the fire continues to be fed with your observations, thoughts, and impressions on what I’ve compiled, photographed, and written about.
And whether you pack it in the car when hitting the road . . .
Or you find yourself reading it by the beach or the pool . . .
Whether you’re perusing it at work or on a plane or a train or in a dorm or a library . . .
Or just sinking into the couch or a good easy chair . . .
Wherever, however, whenever . . .
Get ready to cover a lot of ground . . .
And a lot of pop culture history.
PS-The author and publisher kindly request that you respect the sanctity and/or privacy of the locations listed in this book.