Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Can We Blame the Weather?

On July 22, 1969 – 50 years ago today – Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) was arrested for disorderly conduct in Highland Park, Michigan, a community within the metropolitan area of her native Detroit. She had been involved in a minor traffic accident in a parking lot. Two Detroit policemen had responded; Ms. Franklin took offense at something or other, swore at the officers and then tried to slap them. Never, ever a good idea. She was placed under arrest and hauled off to the local police station, where she posted $50.00 bail and was released. On driving away from the station, she ran down a road sign; not a good idea, either.

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin during a recording session on January 10, 1969, in New York

Franklin was, admittedly, going through a rough patch in her life at the time. Her meteoric rise to stardom in 1967 had changed her life almost entirely, and not necessarily for the better. In 1968 she separated from her physically abusive husband (and manager) Ted White; they were divorced in 1969. Following the separation, she was reportedly drinking heavily (although alcohol was not cited in her parking lot fracas with the police). 

That Aretha Franklin was a passionate and potentially temperamental woman is obvious to anyone who has ever heard her sing; there’s not a snowball’s chance in Mali that a shrinking violet could sing and sell a song the way she could. Nevertheless, she was not known as someone who went around trying to smack officers of the law, which has made me wonder – given the weather this past weekend – whether climatological factors played a role in her actions that day 50 years ago. 

The article below appeared two days ago, on Saturday, July 20th

The Braintree, Massachusetts Police Department
The Braintree, Massachusetts Police Department

(CNN) It’s dangerously hot across much of the country this weekend — so hot, in fact, that police in Braintree, Massachusetts, are imploring would-be criminals to hold off on illegal activity until Monday.

The Braintree Police Department asked the community to put a pin in crime until the heat wave passes in a Facebook post Friday. “It is straight up hot as soccer balls out there,” the department wrote in the post.
Yes, a police department really used the phrase “hot as soccer balls.”

While temperatures in the area could reach 102 degrees, it’ll likely feel even worse: the heat index, or the more accurate temperature your body feels when air temperature and humidity are both factored in, could be as high as 115 degrees, the weather service said.

That’s simply too hot for lawbreaking, Braintree police said.

Committing a crime in this sort of weather is “next level henchmen status,” the department said, not to mention dangerous to the offender’s health.

In the post, the department suggested everyone wait out the heat wave indoors and suspend the illegal stuff until things cool down. “Stay home, blast the AC, binge Stranger Things season 3, play with the face app, practice karate in your basement,” police said. “We will all meet again on Monday when it’s cooler.”

The message is signed, “The PoPo.”

While I’m sure we all think it’s swell that the Braintree Police Department is concerned for the health of potential law breakers, I’m just cynical enough to believe that they were motivated by two factors other than the health of those potential law breakers. One, the “PoPo” themselves did not want to have to go out in the heat if they didn’t have to, and two, they know – as we’ve known for over 100 years – that our heart rates, blood pressure, and testosterone levels rise with the mercury, which means that irritability, aggressive behavior, and violent crime rise with the heat as well.

We all know this to be true; it’s built into our very language. Arguments get “heated”; tempers “boil over”; “hotheads” must calm down so that “cooler” heads may prevail. We tell each other to “be cool”; to “cool it”; to “chill”, “chill out”; and to “chillax” (that’s chill and relax).

Could the weather have played a part in Aretha Franklin’s behavior on July 22, 1969? Could it have been so hot and sticky in Detroit that her irritability level was already well into the “red” even before her accident in the parking lot? Was her car air conditioned, or was she parboiling there in the front seat? Were she and another driver vying for the same parking spot when they collided? Were nasty words exchanged with the other driver, who was likely as hot and irritable as Franklin? And then did one or both of the police officers speak to her with D-I-S-R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Maybe yes; maybe no; I have had no luck pulling up the weather in Detroit for that day 50 years ago. But I, for one, as a devoted fan-boy of Aretha Franklin, will believe what I want to believe and will claim, without a shred of evidence, that the weather made her do it!

The Rolling Stones in 1967
Looking like every father’s nightmare, the Rolling Stones in 1967. Top, left-to-right: Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman; seated left-to-right: Mick Jagger, Bryan Jones, Keith Richards.


Aretha Franklin is not the only musician who had to cough up cash for bad behavior on this date. On July 22, 1965 – 54 years ago today – Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones were each fined £5 plus court costs at West Ham Magistrates’ Court, London, after having been found guilty of “insulting behavior”, behavior perpetrated back on March 18. On their way back to central London after a gig, they had not been allowed to use a private toilet at the Francis Service Station on Romford Road by a 41-year-old pump attendant named Charles Keely. The 21-year-old Jagger told Keely that “we’ll piss anywhere, man”, at which point Mick, Bryan, and Bill did just that by relieving themselves on a wall of the garage. They departed yelling obscenities while, to quote the court proceedings, “making a well-known gesture.”

I trust we all know what middle-fingered “gesture” the court was referring to. 

Naughty, naughty boys. 

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