Still Life: American Concert 1981

In 1981, the Rolling Stones were at the top of their game. They had a No. 1 album, “Tattoo You,” from which the first single, Start Me Up, was a smash hit on the radio. They also had videos running constantly on a brand new cable station called MTV. The band’s tour that year was arguably the biggest any rock band ever done to date, filling large outdoor stadiums and sports arenas, including the Pontiac Silverdome. (I happened to be just starting high school at the time, and was therefore too young to go to the show.) Opening acts for the Stones that tour included Journey and George Thorogood. With the exception of bass player Bill Wyman, the lads were all still in their 30s. Mick Jagger, trim and fit and with long hair, wore football pants and performed shirtless through much of the show. Then for the encore (usually the song Satisfaction, some nights Street Fighting Man), he would come out on stage wearing a colorful cape made of the British and American flags sewn together. He sang into a cordless microphone, which he stuffed into his crotch while running about the stage during the instrumental bits.

Documenting this tour was a live album, released the following year, called “Still Life: American Concert 1981.” This is not considered one of the best Rolling Stones albums, but it was the first one that I ever bought. I got it at Meijer Thrifty Acres. I remember the DJ Allison Harte talking about the album on WLAV when it came out and playing songs from it. I also remember that at first I was not hugely impressed. My biggest complaint was the album’s length. It was just 10 songs! For some reason I thought this was a recording of a complete concert. I wondered what kind of band would only play for 45 minutes? It was not until years later that I learned that the Stones played 25 or more songs on that tour, for close to three hours each night.

At some point I was in my room playing the record with all the lights off (as I did back then) and it was one specific moment in the song Twenty Flight Rock, where the other members of the band give a brief pause while Mick sings a line, that got me. I can’t explain it. It was something about the band’s ability to do that, to be so precise, so tight, that got me hooked. I learned later that Twenty Flight Rock was an Eddie Cochran song that the Stones were doing a cover version of. They also did a cover of the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song Going to a Go-Go, which got airplay on the radio and on MTV. But it was the song Twenty Flight Rock, all one minute and 45 seconds of it, that initiated my love for the Rolling Stones.

Here are a few additional notes about the 1981 Stones tour and the “Still Life” album:

  • The album contains an “intro” of Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train and an “outro” of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. Both the intro and outro were played at the concerts, the latter as fireworks exploded over the crowd.
  • The album artwork is by the Japanese artist Kazuhide Yamazaki, based on his colorful stage backdrops used on the tour.
  • In addition to the album, there was also a concert movie, directed by Hal Ashby, called “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” which was filmed at the 1981 Stones shows at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., and at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. The movie came out in 1983 and was shown in movie theaters.
  • There was also a televised pay-per-view special with radio simulcast for the final show of the tour, at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. In 2014, this concert was released as a CD/DVD set, titled “From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Live in 1981).”
  • Following the 1981 tour of the USA, the Stones went on a big tour of Europe in 1982. They did not tour again until 1989.

If you get the “Still Life” album, listen to the song Twenty Flight Rock and let me know what you think. Also listen to the song Let Me Go (from their 1980 album Emotional Rescue, which opens Side 2) and tell me if you can count the number of different ways Mick sings the word “hey” and how he turns that one word into a whole sentence just about every time he sings it. You might also get hooked on the opening song, Under My Thumb, or by Shattered, or by Let’s Spend the Night Together, which is played with guitars rather than on piano.

And then there’s their live rendition of Time Is On My Side, which is played and sung with such emotion. By this time the Stones had been performing so long together that his song had real meaning for them and their fans, yet I was just starting to get to know them.

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Warren G. Harding

Our nation’s 29th President was Warren G. Harding, a Republican. He was the immediate successor to Woodrow Wilson. Harding died in office, and Vice President Calvin Coolidge succeeded him. A number of scandals engulfed Harding’s presidency, most of which did not come to light until after his death. One of the scandals involved the Veterans Bureau, but the most notorious came to be known as the Teapot Dome affair.

John Dean biogaphy of Warren G. HardingTeapot Dome was an oil well in Wyoming. Harding’s Interior Secretary, Albert B. Fall, was convicted of accepting bribes and ultimately served a year behind bars. Fall became the first cabinet secretary to do time after being convicted of wrongdoing. As a result of the Teapot Dome scandal, a number of Congressional oversight norms were established, including the ability of House and Senate committees to issue subpoenas compelling members of an administration to testify, and the ability of Congress to have access to any person’s tax returns. It should be noted that these oversight functions remained in place for the better part of a century — until the current administration began to openly defy them. It remains to be seen whether the courts will ultimately uphold these oversight functions of Congress or defer to the executive branch.

Anyway, let’s go back to the 1920s for a moment, and to the Harding presidency. Warren G. Harding was among a long line of presidents to come from Ohio. Before Harding got started in politics, he was a successful editor and publisher who owned his own newspaper, The Marion Star. He served as a state Senator in Ohio and later as lieutenant governor. In 1910 he ran for Governor of Ohio but lost. In 1914 he was elected to the United States Senate, where he served throughout World War I while Wilson was president. In 1920 he was elected President, defeating the Democratic candidate James M. Cox, also of Ohio. Franklin D. Roosevelt was Cox’s running mate!

Warren G. Harding teapot dome
Warren G. Harding portrait by Harris & Ewing (public domain)


As president, Harding kept the United States out of the League of Nations and negotiated separate postwar peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary. He presided over a global disarmament conference in Washington, which at the time meant building fewer warships. On the domestic front, Harding sought lower taxes, higher tariffs, and budget cuts. He vetoed a cash bonus to World War I veterans because he felt it would balloon the federal budget deficit. There was also widespread labor unrest during this era. Harding largely sided with management over labor, although the eight-hour workday became standard under his watch.

On civil rights, Harding was less than heroic. He had been elected with the support of many blacks in the South and as president he spoke out against lynchings, but beyond that he did not do much. He signed legislation that imposed quota restrictions on immigration. Harding pardoned about two dozen political prisoners, including Eugene V. Debs, a former Socialist candidate for President whom Wilson had thrown in jail for speaking out against the war.

Harding was on a trip to the West Coast in 1923 when he died of a heart attack in a hotel room in San Francisco. At the time of his death, Harding was popular. His body was returned to Washington, where he received a large funeral. He was buried in an elaborate tomb in Ohio.

Here are some additional details about Harding:

  • He was the sixth president to die in office and the third to die of natural causes. Three others had previously been assassinated.
  • The G is for Gamaliel.
  • Some of Harding’s political opponents spread rumors that he was black.
  • He had at least one extramarital affair, and after his death a woman wrote a book in which she claimed to be Harding’s illegitimate daughter.
  • Harding is the first president elected in an election in which women were allowed to vote.
  • Harding appointed former President William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the United States.
  • At the 1912 Republican national convention, Harding delivered the nominating speech for Taft.
  • Harding was the first sitting U.S. Senator to be elected President. Kennedy and Obama were the only others to be elected to the presidency while serving as Senators.
  • Future president Herbert Hoover was Harding’s Commerce Secretary.
  • Harding gave long-winded speeches with complex language that was heavy on alliteration. He self-deprecatingly referred to this speaking style as “bloviating.”
  • Harding was president when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30, 1922.

According to John W. Dean, author of the biography “Warren G. Harding,” part of the American Presidents series, Harding was unfairly tarnished after his death for scandals that he was not responsible for. Yes, this is the same John W. Dean who was Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, the guy who famously told the Watergate committee that he had told his former boss that there was “a cancer growing on the presidency.” I am open to Dean’s interpretation, but I feel he did not make a very strong case.

If I were to give Dean’s book a letter grade, I would give it a C-minus. In my view, if Dean wants to rehabilitate Harding’s image, he needs to make a stronger argument. A skimming of the bibliography lists mostly previously published biographies and very few references to original source material. Dean also uses imprecise language. For example, Dean writes that in 1919 President Wilson “lay in a coma, partially paralyzed.” While Wilson had indeed been incapacitated while still in office, there is no evidence that he was ever in a coma, and if he had been in a coma he would have been completely paralyzed, not partially.

Further, Dean speculates that Harding was largely blameless not only for the Teapot Dome but also for a Veterans Bureau scandal, but he overlooks the fact that Harding allowed the perpetrator of that outrage, Charles R. Forbes, to flee to Europe before he could be held accountable. Forbes later returned to the United States, where he was convicted of conspiracy and sent to prison! Toward the end of the book, Dean also speculates that Harding probably did not father the illegitimate child, but according to the Wikipedia page for Harding, DNA testing later confirmed that he had. Or as Maury would have said to the president: “You ARE the father!”

Taft Harding and Lincoln
Chief Justice William Howard Taft, President Warren G. Harding and Robert Todd Lincoln, at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922. (National Photo Company, public domain)

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson was our nation’s 28th president. He was in office through all of World War I. He devoted the final years of his presidency — and his life, essentially — to fight for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, which included the establishment of his League of Nations, a global body that Wilson hoped would prevent future war. Wilson’s fight for the treaty and U.S. entry into the League would ultimately prove to be unsuccessful.

Woodrow Wilson book review
The photo on the book cover is of Wilson returning from the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. (Photo: Associated Press, public domain)

His life story is told in “Wilson,” a biography by A. Scott Berg. (Thanks to cousin Traveler Blue for the gift!) At nearly 750 pages of text it’s quite a lot to get through. But it was an easy read. Photographs from the era enhanced the narrative. I enjoyed Berg’s writing style, and I appreciated that he expounded not only upon the subject’s many successes but also his many contradictions as a person and shortcomings as a politician. If there is one gripe I have about Berg’s “Wilson,” it’s that the author spent little time explaining how this wartime president interacted with the military during the war itself.

As the author explains, Wilson was a Southerner by birth and by disposition. He was born in Virginia, the son of a Presbyterian minister who moved the family frequently from congregation to congregation. Wilson grew up in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. He worked as a college professor and later became president of Princeton University. In 1910 New Jersey’s Democratic Party bosses got Wilson to run for governor, thinking he would be their puppet. After winning the governors race, Wilson defied the party bosses by passing a number of reforms aimed at rooting out government corruption. Against long odds he also pushed through a bold progressive agenda for the state that included labor protections and educational reform. But this would all prove to be just a brief springboard to the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912.

This was the election in which Theodore Roosevelt challenged his Republican successor, William Howard Taft, for the GOP nomination and when he failed ran as a third party “Bull Moose” candidate. TR turned out to be a spoiler for the Republicans. Despite receiving less than 42 percent of the popular vote, Wilson won the election in an electoral-college landslide. He became the first southerner elected president since before the Civil War.

Woodrow Wilson Fred MIchmershuizen
Wilson giving his first State of the Union address, the first such address since 1801. (Photo: Library of Congress, public domain)


As president, Wilson’s domestic agenda was sweeping and progressive. It included a reduction of high tariffs, a personal income tax on the rich, an estate tax, antitrust legislation, labor protections, and farm subsidies. Wilson also signed into law legislation establishing the Federal Reserve. But Wilson’s record on civil rights for blacks was poor. He packed his Cabinet with southerners who sympathized with the Confederacy of old, and when these department heads decided to segregate the federal work force, Wilson went along with it. Wilson also allowed a screening of D.W. Griffith’s racist film “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, to take place in the White House.

During Wilson’s first term, World War I broke out in Europe. Wilson managed to keep the United States neutral for several years, despite Germany’s sinking of a number of ships carrying American passengers, including most famously the Lusitania.

In the election of 1916, Wilson faced off against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, narrowly defeating him by a handful of electoral-college votes. The popular vote was 49 percent for Wilson and 46 percent for his republican opponent. The outcome was in dispute for about a week after election day.

Wilson won re-election in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war,” but by early the next year the Germans had escalated their attacks on transatlantic shipping. In April 1917 Wilson went to Congress and asked for a war declaration, stating famously, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” It would take the United States many months to mobilize for war, but when the Americans did finally enter the war it was in a big way. A draft was established, bringing close to 3 million men into the military! Black soldiers were drafted as well as whites, but they were segregated into different units for training and combat. Under the command of General Pershing, the United States turned the tide of the war in Europe, and by the end of 1918 an armistice was declared. But not before untold millions of soldiers had died, including more than 100,000 Americans. Countless millions more died in a deadly global influenza epidemic.

Woodrow Wilson book review
Official presidential portrait of Woodrow Wilson, 1913. (Photo: Frank Graham Cootes, public domain)


After the war Wilson traveled overseas to negotiate the peace treaty. Before talks started, he was welcomed by masses of people lining the streets to catch a glimpse of him. In Paris, he negotiated personally with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and others, for what would become the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson had brought with him as the basis for negotiations his “Fourteen Points,” which was his vision of how the world should be organized. The final and most important of these points was Wilson’s desire to form a League of Nations, which he got the others to agree to, a bit reluctantly. The French and British were more interested in punishing and humiliating the Germans for the war and wanted harsh remedies, including making the Germans pay reparations. Wilson wanted a more balanced approach, but having expended so much of his own political capital on getting them to agree to the League, he ultimately went with the plan. They also re-drew the map of the world, changing boundaries of many countries and creating new nations, mostly out of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

When Wilson returned to the United States with the Treaty of Versailles — which included the League of Nations — the Republicans in the Senate, led by Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, refused to ratify it. They might have approved a modified version had Wilson agreed to let them make changes, but instead Wilson went on a tour of the country, in which he intended to take his case directly to the American people. This would prove to be futile. He barnstormed via train, in which he gave dozens of speeches, mainly in the Western states. But on this trip his health deteriorated, and after a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, in September 1919, he suffered a complete physical breakdown. He was brought back to the White House, where several days later he had a debilitating stroke that left half his body paralyzed. He remained incapacitated for the rest of his presidency. Congress and the general public were not informed about the true extent of his condition.

Here are some additional facts about Wilson and his presidency:

  • Wilson was the first two-term Democrat since Andrew Jackson.
  • He went by Tommy Wilson until adulthood, when he decided Woodrow sounded more academic.
  • He had three daughters, one of whom was married in the White House. Another daughter married his Treasury Secretary!
  • Wilson is the first president to hold White House press conferences, in which assembled reporters could ask questions on any topic, on the record.
  • He was also the first president since John Adams to present his State of the Union address in person, to a joint session of Congress. In addition to his annual message, Wilson also addressed Congress in person dozens of other times, on a wide range of topics.
  • Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died during his first term. He remarried shortly thereafter, to Edith Bolling Galt, a widow whose first husband had died and left her a jewelry store.
  • After Wilson’s debilitating stroke, Edith ran interference for her husband and liaised on his behalf with members of his Cabinet. Some have even gone so far as to call Edith our nation’s first woman president!
  • His first wide, Ellen, was a talented impressionist painter.
  • Wilson also had an “other woman” in his life — Mrs. Peck — with whom Wilson had some sort of illicit relationship earlier in his life. This never turned into a full-fledged scandal, in part because Teddy Roosevelt thought exposing it might actually help Wilson in the election of 1912.
  • Wilson is the only president with a PhD.
  • He authored a number of books on government and political science.
  • He was an excellent orator. According to the author, he wrote all of his own speeches, often using shorthand for early drafts.
  • Physically, he was tall and slender.
  • He played golf almost every day, on the advice of his physician, Dr. Grayson.
  • He also went on lots of automobile rides.
  • He was stubborn, and he tended to carry grudges. If someone crossed him, he would often eliminate that person from his life forever.
  • Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, in recognition for his peace-making efforts after the war.

Also during Wilson’s presidency, FOUR amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified:

  • The 16th Amendment allowed Congress to impose income taxes.
  • The 17th Amendment established direct election of U.S. Senators by popular vote. Before this time, legislatures of each state selected their Senators.
  • The 18th Amendment was the Prohibition amendment. Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition, but Wilson vetoed it and Congress overrode the veto. The federal ban on alcohol thus began in January 1920.
  • The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. At first Wilson was opposed to the amendment, but during his presidency he “evolved” on the issue. The 1920 presidential election thus became the first in which women could vote in every state.

Wilson left office in 1921, but he and his wife remained in the nation’s capital. He opened a law office with a partner but never had any paying clients. One of his last public appearances was to attend the funeral of his successor, Warren G. Harding. Wilson died in 1924 and was entombed in Washington National Cathedral.

Taft: President and Chief Justice

William Howard Taft, our country’s 27th President and its 10th Chief Justice, believed in the Constitution and its system of checks and balances. He is most often remembered for being fat, which is a shame because his advocacy for the judicial branch of government was his real legacy. Taft is also responsible for a number of long-lasting physical changes to our nation’s capital, including the construction of the Supreme Court Building (more on that in a moment).

William Howard Taft book reviewBefore he became President, Taft served as a state judge in his home state of Ohio, as Solicitor General of the United States, and as a federal judge. In 1900 President William McKinley persuaded Taft to step down from the bench to oversee the United States occupation of the Philippines, where he became civil governor a year later. After McKinley was assassinated, Taft continued to serve in the Philippines under President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904 Roosevelt named Taft Secretary of War. Taft visited Panama during the construction of the canal and later served as temporary provisional governor of Cuba.

In 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt declined to seek another term, Taft received the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, and — with TR’s full blessing and support — he went on to defeat the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan, by a wide margin. As President, Taft focused on revising the nation’s complicated system of tariffs and breaking up large trusts. He also dealt with foreign policy crises with Mexico, Cuba, Santo Domingo and Nicaragua.

But Taft’s conduct in office was not to the liking of Theodore Roosevelt, whose criticism of his successor became more and more vituperative. In an unprecedented move, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican nomination in 1912. When TR lost the nomination, he claimed that the system was rigged and formed a third political party, which became known as the Bull Moose Party. Roosevelt ran against both Taft and the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, who would go on to win the presidency in an electoral college landslide despite capturing only 41.8 percent of the popular vote. Roosevelt got 27.4 percent and Taft 23.2 percent. After leaving the Presidency, Taft taught law at Yale and authored several books. During World War I he served as co-chairman of the National War Labor Board.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Taft Chief Justice of the United States, where he would serve for nine years. As Chief Justice Taft sought consensus, and he wrote and participated in many important decisions. Taft stepped down from the Supreme Court in February 1930 for health reasons, and he died a month later.

While serving as Chief Justice Taft also successfully persuaded Congress to allocate funds for the Supreme Court to have its own building, as up until this time the justices had been meeting in the basement of the Capitol. Taft selected Cass Gilbert as architect for the building. It was completed in 1935, five years after Taft’s death.

U.S. Supreme Court Building William Howard Taft
The Supreme Court Building of the United States. Photo by Joe Ravi, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Taft’s career and his many significant contributions to our nation are summarized in the short and concise “William Howard Taft” by Jeffrey Rosen, part of the American Presidents Series. According to the author, President Taft protected more land and was more successful in breaking up trusts and monopolies than his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt. And as Chief Justice, the author says, Taft’s greatest accomplishment was to solidify the federal judiciary as a coequal branch of government.

Here are some additional facts about William Howard Taft:

  • He was one of many presidents to hail from Ohio. Others included Hayes, Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley and Harding.
  • His wife, Helen, who went by “Nellie,” suffered a stroke when he was President.
  • As mentioned, Taft was heavy. He gained and lost weight over the years. According to the book, he was at his heaviest — and his unhappiest — during his presidency.
  • His heroes were George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall (fourth Chief Justice of the United States).
  • President Taft appointed six justices to the Supreme Court, the most of any president except George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt! He would later serve alongside some of the justices he had appointed.

In addition to being responsible for the construction of the United States Supreme Court Building, Taft was also president of the Lincoln Memorial Commission and presided over the monument’s dedication in 1922. Taft also had the first Oval Office built in the West Wing of the White House. And we can also thank Taft for the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., as first lady Nellie Taft planted the very first cherry blossom trees, which were a gift from Japan.

cherry blossoms in Washington DC
Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., USDA photo by Scott Bauer – United States Department of Agriculture, Public Domain,

Theodore Roosevelt’s South American adventure

Before moving on to Taft, here’s another book about Teddy. This one is about his perilous journey with a group of explorers down an unmapped river in Brazil. “River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” takes place in 1913, a year after the bespectacled former president had lost his insurgent third-party run for what would have been an unprecedented third term.

Fred MichmershuizenRoosevelt teamed up with a number of naturalists and explorers for a trip that lasted several months, through an unknown section of the Brazilian rainforest. Roosevelt’s second oldest son, Kermit, was part of the expedition. Along the way, there were many hardships. It took the men more than a month just to get to the river, and once they got started downstream in their canoes they were not exactly sure where they were going. They were hoping to eventually reach the Amazon. Once on the River of Doubt — that was the name of the river, but it was later renamed after Roosevelt himself — there were dangerous fish and snakes. Food was scarce, and the mosquitoes, ants and termites made everyone miserable. When rapids or waterfalls made navigating the river impossible, they had to portage all their supplies around the obstacles, causing excruciating delays that often took many extra days.

At one point before a difficult portage one of the men was swept down the river to his death, in an incident that was Kermit’s fault. Later another of the men committed murder by shooting one of his compatriots, then vanishing into the forest. Roosevelt himself came close to death after succumbing to an infection resulting from cutting his leg on a rock.

The co-leader of the expedition was a legendary native Brazilian explorer named Colonel Candido Rondon, who had dedicated his life to mapping the Amazon and who was a fierce defender of the native Indians. He had famously instructed his men who might encounter the Indians, “Die if you must, but never kill.”

This book is by Candice Millard, who is also author of a similarly gripping book called “Destiny of the Republic,” about the assassination of President James Garfield. “River of Doubt” is skimpy on maps but has plenty of helpful pictures. For me, the most interesting sections were Millard’s descriptions of the animal and plant life of the Amazon rain forests. She describes how South America was formed over millions of years and how living things evolved by carving out specialized niches. She also describes the various native Indian tribes, who were largely unseen. They could have killed the intruders at any time but chose not to.


Update on reading biographies of all the presidents

Here’s an update on the goal of reading at least one biography of each president, in order. It all started in 2017 with George Washington, and the most recent is a three-volume series on Theodore Roosevelt.

Biographies of Presidents Washington through Theodore Roosevelt are on the shelf. Some of the biographies are longer than others — and not all the books I’ve read are shown here!

Three recently completed books on Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris cover his early years, his presidency and his post-presidency, respectively.

Fred Michmershuizen presidenttial biographies

The top row (those serving from 1789 to 1877) are Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Grant.

The bottom row on the bookshelf of presidents (in the featured image above) includes biographies of those who served as president from 1877 through 1909. From left: Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

The latest greatest hits collection from the Stones

If you know me well you know that I will always stop a conversation to point out when a Stones song like “Tumbling Dice,” “Hot Stuff” or “Emotional Rescue” is playing, and I will never leave a car or bar when one of these songs is still playing. Therefore — although I already have all the songs included on “Honk” on other albums and in other collections — I still got this on the first day it came out. I love it.

The lads usually put these compilations out before they go on tour, if they have not released a new studio album. So this is one of their many “best of” albums. Others include “Made in the Shade,” “Hot Rocks,” “Rewind,” “Jump Back,” “The Singles Collection,” “GRRR!” and “40 Licks.”

Rolling Stones Honk Fred MichmershuizenI got the three-CD edition of “Honk,” which includes two discs of “greatest hits” plus a bonus CD of songs recorded live, including several with special guests. What I like about this latest collection is its blend of big hits with some of their lesser-known songs. So, for example, on CD1 you get “Rocks Off” sandwiched between “Brown Sugar” and “Miss You.” CD2 includes some of their more recent but notable songs, including “Rough Justice,” “Rain Fall Down” and “Out of Control.” On CD3, the special guests on songs recorded live include Ed Sheeran on “Beast of Burden,” Dave Grohl on “Bitch” and Brad Paisley on “Dead Flowers.”

One song you won’t get on “Honk,” though, is “Honky Tonk Women.” That’s apparently because they are focusing on their studio albums released in 1971 and after. So, this is basically highlights from “Sticky Fingers” and thereafter.

If you don’t have any Stones albums and want to get just one, consider this one. The way I roll when I get a CD like this is stick it in and hit play, without looking at the packaging first to see what song is up next.

The post-presidency of Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt left office in 1909 and lived another 10 years. It was a momentous decade for the former President, as well as for the nation and for the world. Today’s book report is about “Colonel Roosevelt,” the third and final installment in an excellent, three-volume biography by Edmund Morris. After I write about the events described in the book, I am going to make two general observations and then share a personal reflection. But first, here’s what I learned about the third and final phase of Theodore Roosevelt’s life:

review of “Colonel Roosevelt” by Edmund MorrisImmediately after leaving office Roosevelt departed for a hunting safari in Africa, followed by a grand tour of Europe in which he visited several major cities and gave scholarly speeches at universities. On the safari Roosevelt was accompanied by a large hunting expedition that included his second oldest son, Kermit. They covered many hundreds of miles and shot so much wildlife that it was considered excessive even back then. He killed hundreds of animals, including lions, elephants, zebras, antelope, giraffes, hippos and rhinos.

The trip lasted more than a year. While Roosevelt was still overseas King Edward VII of England died, and President Taft asked Theodore Roosevelt to represent the United States at the funeral. It was a momentous occasion in which the crowned heads gathered for the last time before World War I changed everything. At the time, the United States and France were the only countries that did not have royalty. During the events leading up to and after the funeral, which was the most elaborate event anyone could remember, Roosevelt met with pretty much all the various emperors, kings and queens of Europe — and for the rest of his life he would regale listeners with funny stories of what he would jokingly refer to as “the wake.”

By the time Roosevelt returned to the United States in 1910 he was perceived as an elder statesman (he was in his early 50s) and was greeted by large crowds of supporters. He received a ticker tape parade in New York City. He had been displeased with his anointed successor’s conduct in office and had an eye on running for President again. But by this time President William Howard Taft had strengthened himself within the Republican Party. Nevertheless, Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 1912. At the convention that summer in Chicago, Roosevelt came close but lost the nomination to the incumbent president. When Roosevelt was defeated for the nomination, he did not accept defeat graciously but instead claimed that Taft’s men had “stolen” the nomination from him (tell me if this sounds familiar?) and he allowed his own supporters to literally storm out of the convention and form a third political party, the Progressive Party, which later became known as the Bull Moose Party.

As head of the Bull Moosers, Roosevelt campaigned extensively on a third-party platform of government oversight of big business, the breaking up of trusts and monopolies, the enactment of child labor laws, primary elections for party nominations and statewide elections for the selection of senators, and women’s suffrage. He also supported (unwisely) recall elections for judges and unpopular judicial decisions.

Toward the end of the campaign, while on his way to give a speech in Milwaukee, Theodore Roosevelt was shot! The would-be assassin was angered that someone would try for an unprecedented third term in office and decided to take matters into his own hands. The bullet went through Roosevelt’s folded-up speech and his eyeglasses case and lodged in his chest. But instead of going immediately to the hospital, as he should have, Roosevelt instead insisted that he be taken to the campaign rally, where he delivered his speech as scheduled, with blood seeping into his shirt. When he was finally taken to the hospital, later that night, doctors determined that it was too dangerous to remove the bullet, and Roosevelt walked around with it inside his body for the rest of his life.

The assassination attempt took place just weeks before the general election. Roosevelt came in second, losing to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who was New Jersey Governor and former president of Princeton University. Wilson had campaigned on a similarly progressive but much less radical platform than Roosevelt’s. Wilson received 42 percent of the popular vote, while Roosevelt got 27 percent and Taft 23 percent. In the Electoral College, it was a landslide for Wilson, who received 435 electoral votes, to Roosevelt’s 88 and Taft’s 8. After the election Roosevelt became something of a pariah among Republicans, because he opened a giant rift in the party that would take many years to heal. It was many years before Roosevelt and Taft would again be on speaking terms with each other.

In 1913 Roosevelt embarked on a tour of South America. He visited Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, then back to Brazil. The purpose of the trip was a scientific expedition sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, in which Roosevelt and his team of scientists and adventurers were to collect specimens. But before embarking on the predetermined itinerary, Roosevelt decided he wanted to do something more challenging. So he teamed up with a Brazilian explorer to travel down a then-unmapped river located in a remote section of Brazil. Kermit also was part of the expedition. The river was known as the Duvida, or River of Doubt. It would later be named after Roosevelt. It turned out to be a perilous and deadly journey. It took months for the expedition to even reach the river, it was that remote. The waters were filled with piranhas, and the jungle was inhabited by hostile natives who shot poisoned arrows. Many times they had to carry their boats over long stretches where the rapids were too rough to navigate, and there were many hardships. They lost their boats and had to carve canoes out of logs. There was a drowning and a murder among the crew. At one point Roosevelt injured his leg and was stricken with malaria, and he almost died. When he returned to the United States he published a book about the expedition, and he also presented lectures.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, at first Roosevelt was careful not to criticize President Wilson but that did not last. Roosevelt thought that Wilson had not responded forcefully enough when Germany invaded Belgium, and his exasperation grew even more after the sinking of the Lusitania. He also felt that Wilson had not engaged in “preparedness” for war. When the United States finally entered the global conflict in 1917, Roosevelt asked Wilson and his secretary of war to grant him permission to raise a volunteer regiment. Wisely and correctly, Wilson denied Roosevelt’s request. The United States was instituting a draft and was amassing a modern, professional military. While Roosevelt was not able to serve as he so desperately wanted, all four of his sons enlisted in the war in various capacities. Sadly, in 1918 Roosevelt lost his youngest son, Quentin, a fighter pilot, who was shot down by German forces.

Theodore Roosevelt died in January 1919, shortly after World War I ended, at Sagamore Hill on the north shore of Long Island. Today the home is a national historic site, open to the public.

Here are a few more notes about Theodore Roosevelt:

  • After Roosevelt left office his pen was his primary source of income. He wrote books, magazine articles and newspaper columns on a wide range of topics.
  • Roosevelt was involved in two high-profile libel lawsuits that were decided by jury trials, one in which he was the plaintiff and one in which he was the defendant. He won both cases.
  • Theodore Roosevelt had six children in all. His eldest was a daughter, Alice, named after his first wife, who died. Roosevelt had five more children with his second wife, Edith Kermit Carow. They were Theodore Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archie and Quentin.
  • Theodore Jr. married an Eleanor — not to be confused with Roosevelt’s own niece Eleanor, who married his distant cousin Franklin!
  • The title of the book, “Colonel Roosevelt,” is so named because that is the way the former President was addressed after he left office. It was in recognition of the former president’s service in Cuba as leader of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

As presidential biographies go, I thoroughly enjoyed all three of the volumes by Edmund Morris. My favorite of the trilogy was the first book, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” but all three were page-turners, complete with helpful maps and photographs. I felt that the author did a good job of presenting his subject as a complete human, with not only his triumphs getting attention but also his many faults and contradictions. One of the best things presented by Morris, in my view, is an epilogue to the final book, in which he describes all of the major biographies written about Theodore Roosevelt since his death and how these works influenced the general public’s perception of our nation’s 26th President over the decades.

Three volumes on Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Now for my two general observations. First is that presidential assassinations at this time had, sadly, become rather frequent. There is not one American alive today who has lived through the assassination of more than one president, and many more who were not alive for even one. But at the time Theodore Roosevelt was alive, many Americans had experienced three! Theodore Roosevelt was six years old when Lincoln was killed in 1865 (he and his brother had watched Lincoln’s funeral procession through Manhattan from a window), he was in his early 20s when Garfield was killed in 1881, and then he was vice president in 1901 when McKinley was killed and he became president. In Europe, there were additional assassinations, including that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose killing in 1914 sparked the onset of war, and then the execution in 1918 of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and his family as part of the Russian Revolution. So when Theodore Roosevelt was shot while campaigning for president in 1912, it must have been sad but not completely shocking.

My second observation is about the makeup of the American voting public. Up until this time, it had been all men. Mostly all white men at that. Theodore Roosevelt lived until 1919, but women were not allowed to vote until 1920! Think about that. Theodore Roosevelt was our nation’s 26th President, and he lived to see a 27th and a 28th elected. Yet each and every one of them was elected by men only. We are currently on our 45th President, so in all of our nation’s history women have been allowed to vote for less than half of our presidents. And if you combine that with the fact that in large parts of our country African-Americans did not get the right to vote until the 1960s, one thing is quite evident if you ask me: White male privilege is definitely a thing, and it’s been practically ingrained in our history!

And finally, I want to share a personal reflection, upon having read about the first century and a half (approximately) of our nation’s history, via these presidential biographies. I am grateful to have been born at a time in which going off to war was not expected of me. I’ve now read about the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and now World War I. Still to come will be World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I am so very glad that I was not a young man for any of these wars, and that we no longer have compulsory military service for the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not getting killed in war is something I am most grateful for.

The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” is one of many Theodore Roosevelt-isms that became part of the American vernacular. The way he saw things, the best way to keep our country out of war was to build up military strength, particularly naval forces. Theodore Roosevelt was a naval historian and had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. As president he added lots of warships to the U.S. fleet. He used this strength on the seas to help enforce the Monroe Doctrine, the longstanding U.S. policy that had been articulated by our fifth president, which said in essence that European powers had no business meddling in the affairs of the Americas.

When a dispute over unpaid debts owed by Venezuela caused England and Germany to set up a blockade, Theodore Roosevelt added his own twist to the Monroe Doctrine, what became known as the “Roosevelt Corollary.” Now, the United States would itself intervene in affairs of Latin American countries, to enforce legitimate claims by Europeans and to keep European forces out. This new policy kept Germany out of Venezuela, and it was used as justification for our own country’s intervention in what would become the country of Panama, which had been part of Colombia.

Oh, and one more thing: The often-overlooked “speak softly” part of the phrase was key to the equation, too. Theodore Roosevelt believed in subtle diplomacy. He did not want to antagonize or humiliate foreign powers or their leaders, especially the Kaiser of Germany or the Tsar of Russia. When Japan waged war against Russia, Theodore Roosevelt helped negotiate a peace settlement, which he did largely in secret.

Another Roosevelt-ism was the “Square Deal,” which was a phrase he used in calling both sides of a nasty coal miners strike to Washington to negotiate. Roosevelt was not necessarily on the side of the workers over management, but he did want them to have the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions. Roosevelt also sought to rein in the power of large market-stifling trusts, especially those controlling the nation’s railroads. He felt that big business was getting too large and powerful, and he wanted reasonable government oversight.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris book reviewAlso during this time Upton Sinclair wrote his famous book, “The Jungle,” which exposed unsanitary conditions in the nation’s meat processing plants. Theodore Roosevelt wanted federal legislation to bring in inspectors. He also called for worker protections, including an eight-hour workday.

One other famous phrase coined by Theodore Roosevelt, still used today, is that the presidency gives the officeholder a “bully pulpit.” But interestingly, the phrase might not have meant to Roosevelt what it means to modern ears. That’s because the word “bully” back then meant “nifty.” But Theodore Roosevelt could also be a bully, especially to get what he wanted. He knew how to pull all the levers of power to get more warships added to the budget, to get the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection acts passed — and to get that long-anticipated canal built through Central America! The Panama Canal was not finished during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, but he got it started. (Never mind if some strings had to be pulled behind the scenes to facilitate Panama declaring independence from Colombia.) He visited the construction zone in person before he left office.

Theodore Roosevelt’s biggest legacy of all, though, was the conservation of our nation’s national resources. In creating more than 20 new national monuments and parks, he preserved 230 million acres of forests, lakes and canyons — including the Grand Canyon itself! Toward the end of his presidency, he summoned the governors of all states to Washington for a conservation conference.

Here are some additional facts about Theodore Roosevelt:

  • He’s on Mount Rushmore! Along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, of course.
  • He was a voracious reader.
  • He traveled extensively as President.
  • He was physically active. He engaged in swimming, tennis, hiking, horseback riding and hunting.
  • His home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, became known as his “Summer White House.”
  • One his first acts as president was to have Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner. This caused a huge uproar from both north and south. Sadly, the country just was not ready for such a gesture.
  • Perhaps one of his most egregious acts as President was to unfairly discharge a contingent of black soldiers who had been stationed in Brownsville, Texas, after they had been wrongly accused of attacking locals.
  • Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of his mediation between Japan and Russia. Apparently the committee overlooked all those new warships Roosevelt had built! Toward the end of his presidency, in a bellicose display, Theodore Roosevelt sent the “Great White Fleet” on a grand voyage around the world.
  • More than once during his presidency there was financial panic. There was a problem with the nation’s money supply, and big financiers like J.P. Morgan stepped in to avert catastrophe.
  • Because of his spectacles and his prominent front teeth, Theodore Roosevelt was easily caricatured.
  • The Teddy bear was invented during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency and is named after him!
  • During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt participated in two significant weddings. His eldest daughter, Alice, married a congressman in a ceremony that took place in the White House. And he gave away his niece Eleanor Roosevelt, in her wedding to his distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a ceremony that took place in New York City.

Theodore Roosevelt became our 26th president in September 1901, taking office after the assassination of William McKinley. He was a Republican from New York. In 1904 he defeated Democrat Alton B. Parker, also of New York, to win a full term in his own right. By 1908 he was at the height of his powers, but he decided not to seek another term. He instead threw his support to William Howard Taft, assuming his designated successor would carry on just the way he wanted him to.

“Theodore Rex” is the second in a three-volume biography by Edmund Morris. This book covers his presidency. The title derives from a quote from the novelist Henry James, who noted that the president had become something of an autocrat. I enjoyed “Theodore Rex” and thought it was very well written and certainly very comprehensive. But with all the names and places to remember it was a bit more challenging for me to get through than the first book in the series, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”

I’ve since moved on to the third and final installment by Morris, “Colonel Roosevelt,” which takes place after the spectacled one leaves office. That will be a book report for another day.

Theodore Rooevelt book review by Fred Michmershuizen
Official White House portrait of Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent, 1903 (public domain).