#5. The 73-Year-Old Man Who Played Chicken With the Entire Soviet Union
In 1968, Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Soviet Union (the highest position in the land — basically the king of Russia) was in his office minding his own business when Ludvik Svoboda, the president of Czechoslovakia (a symbolic position lacking real power, like “employee of the month” or “Joe Biden”), burst in and demanded that Brezhnev release the 26 Czechoslovakian political prisoners he was holding. Brezhnev said no, because Svoboda was 73 years old and had no authority — what could he possibly do?
The Badass Moment: Svoboda pulled out a pistol, held it to his own head, and said, “If I kill myself, my blood will be on your hands, and no one in the world will believe you did not murder me.”
In the late 60s, Jimi Hendrix shattered the notion of what the electric guitar could be. On stage he was simultaneously self-possessed and otherworldly, playing the guitar with his teeth and behind his back, even setting it on fire. He took standard blues and changed it through psychedelic sonic alchemy, mining the depths of the instrument’s poetic expressiveness by testing its physical limits.
His photo is on view with 100 others as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s "American Cool" exhibition, exploring one of our greatest cultural exports: that elusive quality of charismatic self-possession that we call “cool”