Politics, Pop Culture

Tricky Dick Nixon and the Hook Up.

TRicia Nixon and Prince CharlesOriginal publish date:  July 8, 2015

Last week I tried, perhaps in vain, to make President Richard Nixon’s eldest daughter Tricia seem cool. Her musical choice for a July 17th, 1970 party in honor of Britain’s Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne was a Canadian band known as “The Guess Who.” The band was scheduled to play live on the White House lawn for the Royal fete despite the fact that their most popular song was an Anti-American war anthem; “American Woman”. The possibility of an International Incident was avoided when first lady Pat Nixon, through her press secretary, asked the band not to perform that song as a “matter of taste.”
Asking the Guess Who to play a party? Trendy to be sure. Cool? Possibly. But what was going on behind the scenes was the real story. Seems that Richard Nixon, President of the United States, was scheming to play matchmaker by marrying his daughter Tricia off to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, heir to the throne of England.
In the summer of 1970 Nixon was securely in the White House, miniskirts were popular, and 21-year-old Prince Charles and his 20-year-old sister, Princess Anne, arrived in Washington, D.C. It was their first trip to the United States and temperatures had reached the mid-nineties. Keep in mind that if the U.K. hits 80, it’s a heatwave. The White House garden party was on the second day of a whirlwind three-day visit for Britain’s royal pair. The day before, America’s first family welcomed them on the South Lawn of the White House where Prince Charles told the press that he and his sister had always longed to come to America.
The Nixon’s had a tightly packed schedule planned for the Royals, starting with a visit to Camp David for a picnic, skeet shooting, and a swim. That evening the couple visited the Washington Monument and young Charles walked down all 898 steps. On day two of their visit, the Prince and his sister met with Senate and House leaders in their chambers, where 28 Senate pages shook hands with the royal couple. Next came a tour of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Frank Borman served as their guides, a luncheon sail on the Presidential yacht Sequoia to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon followed by tea at the British Embassy.
The Press reported that the usually bubbly Princess Anne seemed to be “in a mood”. It was discovered that she had hoped to visit a horse farm, a discotheque, and go shopping, none of which were on the Nixon schedule. That evening was the dance on the White House lawn hosted by Nixon’s two daughters, Tricia and Julie, and his son-in-law, David Eisenhower. The Canadian band Guess Who and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap provided the music.

Soon after the Prince’s arrival it became embarrassingly clear that President Nixon was trying to pair him off with his daughter Tricia, who was three years older at 24. According to royal biographer Anthony Holden: “Seating plans constantly had Charles and Tricia side by side while the programme had them spending all of each day together, even to being left alone with each other in various parts of the White House.” Prince Charles noted that Nixon famously told him: “My wife and I will keep out of the way so you can feel at home.”
Any matchmaking hopes were doomed from the start. Charles was “distinctly annoyed” because of “his sense of his position not receiving its accustomed deference” and told insiders that he found Tricia “plastic and artificial”. After all, it was barely a year earlier that Prince Charles officially received his crown from his mother the Queen on July 1, 1969. Cupid never got a shot as the distracted bachelor prince and the “American Princess” danced awkwardly together at the party then parted ways. The Royal couple left town the next day. Prince Charles would not return for 11 years.
For her part, Tricia reported the she felt the Prince was too young for her. She told a London newspaper interviewer, “Well, let me just say that Prince Charles is my sister’s age. I think he’s going to make an outstanding king. He’s got considerable poise for his age.” When asked if age would be a barrier to love, she replied “if you’re in love with someone, I suppose age would not matter.” Tricia then admitted that newspaper reports attempting to marry her off had embarrassed her. “It would make life simpler if they would not do that, because it is most embarrassing to both parties concerned because they say you’re in love and everything,” she said.
But wait, there’s more. That same year Tricia Nixon was involved in a romantic hook-up that turned out to be a Presidential threesome! Now that got your attention don’t I? President Nixon and future President George H.W. Bush were trying to play matchmaker to Tricia with future-future President George W. Bush. Tricky Dicky, George and W. Now THERE is a threesome!
In 1970, George H.W. Bush was a second term Congressman and a favorite pet of the President. That year, Nixon convinced Bush to give up his Congressional seat and run for US Senator from the longhorn state (he lost to Lloyd Bentsen). No one knows for sure who came up with the idea, but somehow it was decided that the Junior Bush, then training to be a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, would escort Tricia Nixon on a date. The occasion was a party at the Alibi Club not far from the White House honoring NASA astronaut Frank Borman. His father thought his young pilot-in-training son would get a kick out of rubbing elbows with some astronauts with Tricia on his arm.

George arrived in his mom and dad’s brand new 1970 Purple Gremlin equipped with snazzy denim seats (Yes, blue jean covered seats were standard in 1970 Gremlins). He took the elevator to the second floor and met Tricia in the family quarters. From there, the couple climbed into the back of a secret service car, leaving the stylish Gremlin behind, for the short ride to the party. It had the potential to be the start of a new American political dynasty: unfortunately, the date did not go well.
Years later, George W. Bush recalled the date, “During dinner, I reached for some butter, knocked over a glass, and watched in horror as the stain of red wine crept across the table…Then I fired up a cigarette, prompting a polite suggestion from Tricia that I not smoke,” he continued. “The date came to an end when she asked me to take her back to the White House immediately after dinner.” Thirty years later, as he drove through the gates of the White House as president, “I thought back to my first visit and had a good chuckle,” Mr Bush writes.
Within a year, Richard Nixon got his wish when Tricia married Harvard law student Edward Finch Cox on June 12, 1971 becoming the only child of a U.S. President to be married in the White House Rose Garden. It was an all too predictable end to a bumpy ride that, for a brief moment, offered so much potential for political intrigue.

Music, Politics, Pop Culture

Guess Who’s coming to Richard Nixon’s White House?

Tricia Nixon and the Guess WhoOriginal publish date:  July 12, 2015

If you were born after 1970, this story probably won’t mean a thing to you. But if you’re a baby boomer (like me) you might get a giggle out of it. First families seem boring nowadays compared to the sixties and seventies. Caroline, John-John, those strung out Ford kids, Amy & Billy Carter and even the dissenting Reagan siblings, they always made for good copy. True Roger Clinton had his moments and the Bush twins had some hi-jinx, but for the most part…BORING! But those Nixon girls, now THEY were some rebels!
Okay, maybe not. Julie Nixon (Eisenhower) was America’s sweetheart and her sister Tricia Nixon (Cox) was not far behind. But for a time, Tricia gave “wild and crazy” a run, even if was in a very WASPish sort of way. For our generation, finding out that Tricia might have been edgy and cool is like watching The Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Lady Gaga sing with Tony Bennett. Might be hip, but it ain’t very cool.
45 years ago this Friday (July 17, 1970) Tricia Nixon’s favorite band, The Guess Who, played the White House. The Guess Who, a Canadian rock band from Winnipeg, Manitoba led by Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman (of Bachman–Turner Overdrive), had a string of hit singles, including “Laughing”, “Undun”, “These Eyes” and “Share the Land”. So I suppose the Guess Who were about as cool as Tricia could get. By the time the band hit the White House, they were in the midst of a transformation from AM radio popstars to a louder, sharper Underground Rock Band for FM radio. With songs like “No Time”, “No Sugar Tonight” and “American Woman” (which would hit # 1 on the charts), the band was changing it’s image. That change in tone did not go unnoticed by Tricia’s mom. Pat Nixon.
maxresdefaultDespite it’s popularity and Patriotic sounding title, “American Woman” posed a problem for the Nixon family and more importantly, the Nixon White House. The song was viewed, rightly or wrongly, as as war protest anthem and this was not your ordinary White House garden party. It was a royal reception for England’s Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who were guests at the White House. No doubt the fact that the band was from Canada, a British territory ruled by the Royal guest’s mother, made perfect sense and sealed the deal.
In the summer of 1970, America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam, still struggling with Civil Rights, the Cold War, Inflation and global instability. America was a target, and here was this ubiquitous song, heard everyday on radio stations across the country, casting further aspersions on the United States. And worse, the band that sang that song was invited to play on the White House lawn. This could get complicated.
Canada’s official diplomatic position during the Vietnam War was that of a non-belligerent. Although our neighbors to the north imposed a ban on the export of war-related items to the combat areas, they weren’t necessarily against supplying equipment and supplies to the American forces, as long as those goods weren’t sent directly to South Vietnam. Those goods included relatively benign items like boots and gear, but also aircraft, munitions, napalm and commercial defoliants, the latter of which were fiercely opposed by anti-war protesters at the time. Between 1965 and 1973, Canadian companies sold $2.47 billion in materiel to the United States. Canada, in accordance with existing treaties, also allowed their NATO ally to use facilities and bases in Canada for training exercises and weapons testing. A sticky wicket to be sure.
But what about THAT song, “American Woman”? Let me refresh your memory. Although the band denies it, critics and wags alike claim the song is a “Thanks, but no thanks” anthem about the Vietnam War. Rightly or wrongly, Canadians believed that America was trying to get Canada to adapt nuclear missiles and join them in their Cold War jungle conflict. When the song warns the American Woman to “Don’t come hangin’ around my door, I don’t wanna see your face no more, I got more important things to do, then spendin my time growin old with you” he’s basically saying that Canada has its own troubles and that the USA burned the blister, now they must sit on it.
The rest is pretty self-explanatory: “I don’t need your war machine” refers to nuclear weapons. “I don’t need your ghetto scenes” refers to the after math of the explosives. “Colored lights can hypnotize” refers to explosions of the bombs. “Sparkle someone else’s eyes” means, well, get lost. Despite the fact that the song was a huge hit at the time, it wasn’t the type of song Tricia would play for the folks. The Guess Who didn’t perform “American Woman” that day because they were asked not to “as a matter of taste.” That request came from first lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Fits right into the “clean hands doctrine” of the Nixon White House that would end a President’s tenure a couple of years later, huh?
Burton Cummings, who wrote and sang the song, insists it has nothing to do with politics but is a song about, what else, girls. “What was on my mind was that girls in the States seemed to get older quicker than our girls and that made them, well, dangerous,” he told the Toronto Star in 2014. “When I said ‘American woman, stay away from me,’ I really meant ‘Canadian woman, I prefer you.’ It was all a happy accident.” Yeah I know, that excuse doesn’t wash with me either.
In John Einarson’s book, “American Woman-The Story Of The Guess Who”, Cummings offered a more plausible explanation: “People read their own meanings into that song. They thought the American woman I alluded to was the Statue of Liberty and RCA contributed to that image with the ad campaigns. It came from looking out over a Canadian audience after touring through the southern U.S.A. and just thinking how the Canadian girls looked so much fresher and more alive. As opposed to an anti-American statement, it was more of a positive Canadian statement. ”
45758d0412b1a49eae642d00c598e257--the-guess-who-electric-warriorCummings went on to say this about about playing The White House: “It was strange. All the guests were white, all the military aides were white in full military dress, and all the people serving food were black. And the way the White House was landscaped it kind of looked like Alabama …before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It was terribly racist and this was 1970. I remember sitting with Edward Lear, heir to the Lear Jet fortune, and Billy Graham’s daughter was there. It was really the so-called upper crust aristocracy of America, very stuffy, boring people…We were told not to play “American Woman” but we did “Hand Me Down World.” We thought we were just as cool for doing it. But we did get a great tour of The White House, though, and (band mate) Leskiw and I spent an hour going through all these rooms and corridors seeing stuff most people don’t get to see.”
The 68-year-old Cummings now has no doubt the band was brought in to impress the royal guests. “It left a bad taste in my mouth,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press recently. “They wanted a Commonwealth act when Charles and Anne went there. We were the token Commonwealthers.”
Even though he had left the band by the time of The White House gig, guitarist Randy Bachman remembers the song having a much more spontaneous genesis: it was written on stage with no thought given to deeper meaning or politics.The Guess Who was playing a show at a curling rink in Ontario when he broke a string on his guitar. In those days, that meant stopping the show until he could replace it. His bandmates left the stage, and Bachman put a new string on his ’59 Les Paul. The next challenge was getting it in tune (he didn’t have a tech or even a tuner in those days), so he went in front of Cummings’ electric piano and hit the E and B notes to give him reference. As he tuned his guitar a riff developed, then something magical happened.
“I started to play that riff on stage, and I look at the audience, who are now milling about and talking amongst themselves,” Bachman said. “And all their heads snapped back. Suddenly I realize I’m playing a riff I don’t want to forget, and I have to keep playing it. So I stand up and I’m playing this riff. I’m alone on stage.” The band’s drummer Garry Peterson, who had made his way to the audience, jumped on stage and started playing. Bassist Jim Kale heard the ruckus and joined them, and finally Burton Cummings came up and grabbed the microphone. “Sing something!” Bachman implored him. Burton obliged: the first words out of his mouth were, “American woman, stay away from me.” The crowd, which included a fair number of draft dodgers and war protesters, loved it. And the rest was history.
Tricia Nixon cool? Well, maybe not by today’s standards. But maybe you’ll see that Guess Who gig in a different light when you learn what else was going on at that party. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’ll get a kick out of next week’s article when we explore Tricky Dick Nixon and the hook-up.

Next Week: Part II: Tricky Dick Nixon and the Hook Up.