Vinson: Mandela, the Boss and the Sopranos

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Possibly the biggest gathering of celebrities, heads of state, and religious leaders the world has ever seen took place on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in a near-100,000 capacity football stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. The event was the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, who passed away Dec. 5, 2013, at age 95, from a lung infection

For those unaware, a brief bio on the late Nelson Mandela:

Born to a royal family in South Africa on July 18, 1918, Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist, and ex-prison inmate who served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, becoming South Africa's first black Chief Executive.

After the South African National Party/ANC came to power in 1948, Mandela rose to prominence in the ANC's 1952 Defiance Campaign. Back then, racism was blatantly rampant in South Africa: whites had all the rights; blacks had no rights, thus the term "apartheid."

Initially committed to non-violent protest, he, however, co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life in prison.

Mandela served approximately 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release. He was released in 1990, during a time of great civil strife in South Africa.

Upon release, Mandela joined with then-South African President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory and, as mentioned, became South Africa's first black president. Too, his Administration was instrumental in combating HIV/AIDS (of which rock group U2's Bono was a major participant) through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Expectedly, Nelson Mandela has been called everything from a "Marxist terrorist" to a "Heavenly Saint." Though I'll let you be your own judge, I will say I admire a man who did 27 years hard time in prison, yet managed to always flash a big, warm smile for the cameras.

But what's all this got to do with Bruce Springsteen and the Sopranos?!

Remember when music videos, a.k.a. Music Television/MTV, first started being the really big thing, back in the early - mid '80s? Back then, I was already into the music of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band-East Coast rock at its best!

One day, sometime in 1985, I turned on the tube, and this rockin' video was playing! The musicians in the video were a virtual Who's Who of pop music, everyone from Bob Dylan to Miles Davis to Bonnie Raitt to Eddie Kendricks. Out front, leading the group, though, was this eccentrically-dressed fellow, scarf on his head, a creative scowl on his face. And they were singing, "I-I-I ain't gonna play Sun City!"

Curiosity piqued, I conducted some research and, come to find out, the eccentric dude out front was none other than Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen & band. Further, Sun City was a place in South Africa where "apartheid" still existed as of 1985.

As a protest against apartheid, Van Zandt had written the lyrics to "Sun City," and a host of musicians joined him in the video, proclaiming, essentially, "We ain't gonna play Sun City until you abolish apartheid."

The interesting irony here, I suppose, is the first time I remember learning of Nelson Mandela, his life, his fight against apartheid, was back in 1985, when I was digging Steven Van Zandt and fellow musicians do "Sun City" on MTV.
Still, as many know, Van Zandt would go on to star in the hit TV series the Sopranos, playing Silvio Dante, mob boss Tony Soprano's childhood friend and second-in-command.

Strangely enough, I recall that when watching the Sopranos, I, sometimes, would think of Nelson Mandela.

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Mike Vinson
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