Sunday, May 29, 2022


Continuing a look at the events and people in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Each two lines represent a year.

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, "Bridge on the River Kwai"
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, "Ben Hur", space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U-2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, "Psycho", Belgians in the Congo



Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) published his famous novel Dr Zhivago in 1957. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature for that work in 1958 but the Russian government forced him to recant and refuse the award.

Dr Zhivago, first edition

Some comments about the novel:
  • The novel by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) takes its name from its protagonist, Yuri Zhivago. a man torn between his love for two women while simultaneously attempting to navigate the tumultuous times between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II.
  • Owing to the author's independent-minded stance on the October Revolution, Doctor Zhivago was refused publication in the USSR. At the instigation of Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the manuscript was smuggled to Milan and published in 1957.
By the way:

The Russian Revolution of 1905, also known as the First Russian Revolution, occurred on 22 January 1905, and was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. The mass unrest was directed against the Tsar alongside the nobility and ruling class.

The October Revolution, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution, was the revolution in Russia led by the Bolshevik Party of Vladimir Lenin that was a key moment in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917–1923. It was the second revolutionary change of government in Russia in 1917 and was the precipitating event of the Russian Civil War.
  • Pasternak’s novel was banned in the USSR for more than 30 years. An archive declassified by the CIA in 2015 confirms the CIA’s involvement in publishing this anti-Soviet novel.
  • Having been forced to decline the Nobel Prize in 1958, the prize was presented to Pasternak’s son Yevgeny in 1989.
  • It took until 1988 for Doctor Zhivago to be published in the USSR – in the very same literary magazine, Novy Mir, which had refused to publish the novel when it was first written.
  • The novel was made into a film by David Lean in 1965, and since then has twice been adapted for television, most recently as a miniseries for Russian TV in 2006.
  • The novel Doctor Zhivago has been part of the Russian school curriculum since 2003, where it is read in 11th grade.

Mickey Mantle:

Mickey Mantle (1931-1995) was an American professional baseball player who played his entire Major League Baseball (MLB) career (1951–1968) with the New York Yankees as a centre fielder, right fielder, and first baseman. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and was elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.

Relevance to 1957:

In 1957 he led the league in runs and walks, batted a career-high .365, hit into a league-low five double plays and reached base more times than he made outs, whatever all of that means.


Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) was an American novelist and poet who, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, was a pioneer of the Beat Generation (a term coined by Kerouac).
  • The Beat Generation was a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. 
  • The central elements of Beat culture were:
        the rejection of standard narrative values
        making a spiritual quest
        the exploration of American and Eastern religions
        the rejection of economic materialism
        explicit portrayals of the human condition
        experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and
        sexual liberation and exploration.
  • In the 1950s, a Beatnik subculture formed around the literary movement, although this was often viewed critically by major authors of the Beat movement.
  • In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the hippie and larger counterculture movements.
  • He has had a lasting legacy, greatly influencing many of the cultural icons of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Doors and Tom Waits.
  • In 1969, at age 47, Kerouac died from an abdominal haemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. Since then, his literary prestige has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published.
Relevance to 1957:
  • Kerouac achieved widespread fame and notoriety with his second book, On the Road, in 1957. It made him a beat icon, and he went on to publish 12 more novels and numerous poetry volumes.
On the Road was based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the United States. It is considered a defining work of the postwar Beat and Counterculture generations, with its protagonists living life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry, and drug use.


Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite.

  • It was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957 as part of the Soviet space program and orbited for three weeks before its batteries ran out. The satellite then silently continued to orbit the planet for two months before it fell back into the atmosphere on the 4th of January 1958.
  • It was a polished metal sphere 58 cm (23 in) in diameter with four external radio antennas to broadcast radio pulses. Its radio signal was easily detectable by amateur radio operators, the orbital inclination and duration of its orbit making its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited Earth.
On Friday, 4 October 1957, the Soviets had orbited the world's first artificial satellite. Anyone who doubted its existence could walk into the backyard just after sunset and see it.
— Mike Gray, Angle of Attack
  • The satellite's success triggered the Space Race, part of the Cold War, and was the beginning of a new era of political, military, technological and scientific developments.
  • The word “sputnik” means “satellite” and translates roughly to “fellow traveller”.

Artist's impression of Sputnik 1 in orbit

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