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The Gipper and the Beach Boys

At about this time in April of 1983, Washington D.C. was embroiled in a tempest in a teapot involving President Reagan's controversial Interior Secretary James Watt and the Beach Boys. It centered around plans for the Beach Boys to play a concert at Mall in Washington on the 4th of July.



From 1980 through 1982, The Beach Boys and The Grass Roots had performed Independence Day concerts at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The concerts attracted large crowds. But on April 5, 1983, Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt banned Independence Day concerts on the Mall by such groups. The reasons that Watt gave justifying the ban were that rock bands that had performed on the Mall on Independence Day in 1981 and 1982 had encouraged drug use and alcoholism and had attracted "the wrong element", who would mug people and families attending any similar events in the future. Watt then announced that Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, a friend and supporter of President Reagan and a contributor to Republican Party political campaigns, would perform at the Mall's 1983 Independence Day celebration.

In response to news of the ban, the Beach Boys said that the Soviet Union had invited them to perform in Leningrad in 1978, and that the Soviets "obviously .... did not feel that the group attracted the wrong element". Rob Grill, lead singer of The Grass Roots, stated that he felt "highly insulted" by Watt's remarks, which he called "nothing but un-American".

Watt's ban met with immediate opposition from within his own government. Then Vice President George H. W. Bush said of The Beach Boys, "They're my friends and I like their music". President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were fans of The Beach Boys and on April 7th, Reagan reversed Watt's ban. On learning that his boss was a fan of the group, Watt issued
an apology to the Beach Boys.



Following the incident, some of the members of the White House staff presented Watt with a plaster foot with a hole in it, symbolizing his having shot himself in the foot with his decision. When Wayne Newton entered an Independence Day stage on the Mall on July 4, 1983, members of the audience booed him.

Watt was the subject of other controversy. He gave a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in September 1983, in which he mocked affirmative action. He said of a coal-leasing panel: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." Within weeks of making this statement, Watt submitted his resignation letter, which I suspect Reagan accepted gladly. The next year in 1984, The Beach Boys gave an Independence Day concert on the National Mall to an audience of 750,000 people.

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