The culture and fabric of American life is changing rapidly in the late 1960s. A rock band called Refraction becomes bigger than the Beatles, and helps launch a popular movie, based on a classic of Beat literature, that becomes a cultural sensation. A host of new religious movements begin to challenge the orthodoxy of conservative American religious life; one of them, Scientology, benefits from the involvement of one of the highest-profile celebrities in the world. Meanwhile the Soviets beat the U.S. to the moon, which becomes just one more disillusionment in a confusing decade whose promise of change and renewal seems to be continually thwarted by depressing events.
This episode temporarily takes the focus off political history and casts a light on the cultural changes that are occurring in our alternate timeline. While Michael Soames and his band Refraction are pure fiction, it’s somewhat surprising that in real life America had no single answer to the phenomenon of the Beatles. The performance that inspires Soames in the story, where the Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, is accurate to history. The movie version of On the Road is also fiction, but the director who creates it in the story, Frank Perry, was a real person. In his real-life career he went on to direct Diary of a Mad Housewife and the bizarre camp classic Mommie Dearest.
Here is the real Frank Perry. He died in 1995, age 65.
The Equal Rights Amendment was originally proposed in the 1920s and came within a hair’s breadth of ratification, before an artificial time limit–added to the amendment by Congress in 1972–expired in 1982. In this version of the timeline, the ERA passes without that time limit. The story also conjectures what the issue of abortion might have turned out like if Roe v. Wade had not been decided in 1973. This may come to pass in our future, if Roe is reversed, as it may well be in the 2020s.
In real life Elvis Presley did not become a Scientologist and, so far as we know, never actually met L. Ron Hubbard (the header photo for this image is Photoshopped from public domain images). But Hubbard was seeking high-level celebrities to join Scientology in the late 1960s. Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Elvis’s widow, did become a Scientologist, though not until after his unexpected death in August 1977.
The Soviets did have a program to land cosmonauts on the Moon, and were theoretically trying to beat the United States to this achievement. However, their effort was less diligent and enthusiastic than the U.S.’s, and was hampered by repeated setbacks including the explosion of their N1 rocket in July 1969. In the story, the Soviet cosmonaut who first walks on the Moon, Vladimir Komarov, in real life died on the ill-fated Soyuz 1 mission in 1967.
Next Episode: September 12, 2021