Growing Up Sixties: An Editorialized, Childhood Remembrance
INSPIRED BY THE
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
While written in 1859, Dickens words could have been easily transcribed
some one hundred years later as a premonitory description for 1960s America
as well as much of Western Europe with the French Revolution
long since past.
The historically reassigned and repurposing of this quote, suitably applied
to the Sixties, had occurred to me some years ago and such similarities
would continue as Dickens further set the stage in his books opening
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season
of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was
the winter of despair
We had everything before us, we had nothing
It was, indeed, The Sixties
It was also the age I had grown up in as a literal child of the 60s,
filled with wonder and excitement and filtered with childlike romanticism.
And for many of my older contemporaries
the romance never ended. Just
as the 1950s would forever conjure a recollective, first-kiss excitement
for conservatives, the 1960s would be that special girlfriend
for liberalism as the one most fondly remembered and the one
liberals could never entirely let go of. And very much like that girl, the
60s would continue to haunt with the what if? question that lingered
for decades and lingers, still. For there is no romance more profound
than that imagined in what could have been.
But unlike girlfriends or boyfriends decade-delineated history
is where romanticism meets folklore. And folklore is where legends, real
or conjured, are passed on to successive generations ...
For the young conservative of this day, not yet even born, the 1950s
or the purported values associated with it prompts their adoration
... In contrast, nuevo, suburban coffeehouse liberals born after 1975, say,
find their folklore romance in the 1960s. And with these respective,
current-generation attachments comes the synthesis and faux recreations of
what each has believed they had missed out on. For the young liberals of
this day, perhaps more so
From Woodstock revivals that could never possibly replicate anything other
than the name, to Occupy movements that enjoyed the luxury of
impossible failure simply because no discernable goal had ever
been set or defined, the 60s would find themselves vaguely reconstituted
in freeze-dried form for those willing to believe that Tasters
Choice was the same as fresh-ground.
things would provide a renewed, remember-me stage for Arlo Guthrie and the
now late Peter Seeger, say while those more contemporary would recycle
and effectively parody the folk singers motif of some 45 years, prior
This, as an example of time, itself, possessing the ability to become
a cheap knock-off of itself. But at least the Occupy Movement unlike
the Tea Party kept its staging and retro-costuming within the same
There is one area where the suburban mock-up protest movements of this day
authentically replicate many of the rallies of the 1960s
majority of the attendees are there for the party
The Event. This
may have been less true for the Civil Rights marches, perhaps yes
though they were certainly not entirely immune to lack of
participants authenticity. But most rallies then and now
are little more than expanded Block Parties with media coverage ornamentation.
Understand, those attending
then and now
likely share a common
sentiment as much sentiment, as cause. But as it relates
to the aforementioned romance, there is little genuine passion. And, despite
the appearances of those more angry and dissatisfied with themselves than
the world around them, the very same can be said of a Tea Party rally
unless, of course, you confuse passion with psychosis.
But most rallies indeed, entire movements, in some instances
are organized for the spot-lit glorification of its organizers and key speakers,
looking for a ready-made audience where cause is simply the
loss-leader. And for those in that audience, their presence isnt one
its fashion (at the risk of rhyming like Jessie Jackson).
And somewhere in there, with the endeavor to reestablish or recreate ones
own idyllic time be it the Conservative 50s, the
or 1776 ones romanticized impression
is beyond illusionary, its Hollywood cinematic far more colorful
and vibrant. And nowhere in there
But for those of us who were young children in the 1960s or who had
at least seen the majority share of that decade there was a laundry
list of objective and verifiable, historical facts. As children even
with a limited or variable understanding we had been witnesses to
The Berlin Wall, The Cuban Missile Crisis, three major assassinations
(four, if you include Malcolm X), the Chicago and Watts riots and
beyond, with 30 major city riots of the 1960s, the first televised and unpopular
war, Mandela, Six-Day War in the Middle East, Black Panthers, the moon landing
and the Manson-Tate murders as what I had once described as
Americas First Pop Murders ... all against the backdrop
of the Cold War with the Soviets.
And should the Kent State shootings of May, 1970 be included as a Sixties
Event? Most would say yes
In Annie Gottliebs excellent book, Do You Believe in Magic?
that chronicles much of the 1960, a number of notables who were
there were surveyed concerning their particular takes and recollections.
And, as it related to a timeframe, all agreed that The Sixties
didnt occur in a tidy ten year period between 1960 and 1970. There
were a few esoteric proposals, including that the 60s had actually found
its birth with the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945. The reasoning
was involved. Another suggested that the 60s was just an inevitable
counter-response to a neat and injection-molded 1950s, as a catalyst for
the decade that followed.
But the theory and time domain that rang most true to me in Gottliebs
book was this: The 60s began with the first shot in Dallas and
ended with the last word of the Nixon resignation speech. That was
pretty much it for me.
And within this calendar, we as children found ourselves growing
up in two rather distinct, yet often overlapping worlds: The Socio-Political
world and the Pop Culture planet.
I recently posed the rhetorical question to someone who grew up in the same
era, Which was the foreground and which was the foreground?
I immediately supposed that there were different answers for different people,
at different ages, in different locales and quite different situations.
In no way wishing not to acknowledge those from Long Island who served and
lost their lives in Vietnam ten from my hometown, more commonly, in
my childhood world of a somewhat better-off North Shore, Academic
Deferment dominated the conversation and permeated the air. But those
in the less-resourced Farm Belt, Rust Belt, and South had a far more tangible
relationship with Vietnam. They fought the war. The Northeast and West Coast
protested it. I somewhat oversimplify the distribution but not by
much. In short, while much of Americas youth could luxuriate in
Pop, others were far more familiar
But for we literal children of The Sixties, we were certainly
not of draft age. With this, we could fully immerse ourselves in The Beatles
and James Bond our foreground. Both film and music were
changing at a pace previously unknown as were most other arenas in
that decade. Consider the space between the Kennedy assassination and the
Summer of Love in 1967. Four years. And, in that duration, America
had gone from a 1963 era that was far more reminiscent of the
Vitalis 1950s to an acid-dipped, free-love, and often celebrated
Haight-Ashbury. Yeah. In four years.
It may be reasonably argued that not everyone took that trip, but
in some sense they did. They were forced to, no matter how reluctantly,
as Summer of Love and beyond would become an integral
part of their day-to-day, sociological landscape, even if
As a child, four years is a lengthy time summer to summer, school
year by school year or so it seems. But for those older, running on
clocks more hastened and adult in their pace, the rate and sheer velocity
of the changes just had to be staggering ... and previously imponderable.
I argue, with confidence, there has not been a Post-War decade since that
has experienced such a metamorphosis, for better or worse background
But for those of us growing up in what was, at once, both a frenzied and
exciting world one of wide-eyed wonder, Pop culture was very much
No matter what our catechism, the Holy Trinity was comprised of The Beatles,
Dylan, and the Rolling Stones though many of us on Long Island had
replaced The Stones with the far more suburban-safe, Simon & Garfunkel
our fellow New Yorkers who chronicled the citys underbelly in
The Boxer in such a way that was digestible in our North Shore
sanctuaries where the New York City winters werent bleeding
us and we never got the come-ons from the whores on 7th Avenue. Our existence
Mrs. Robinson. More Graduate.
But the Pop culture was also far more diverse than it has ever been since.
A single radio playlist could include Sinatras Strangers In The
Night and The Beatles Penny Lane tucked in the same
space between two commercial breaks. This, in a time before the AM band became
the disgruntled, CB radio of Right-Wing Talk. And the FM band would begin
to take hold, offering music more expansive on the side tracks.
In was also a time when you could see a light and breezy Rat Pack
movie as a slightly more adult cinematic alternative to Mary Poppins
or have the groundbreaking violence of Bonnie & Clyde
splash all over the screen at The Beacon Theater on Main Street. And then
there was Bond. James Bond. In fact, between Goldfinger and
The Graduate (that yes - many of us were able to see),
we prepubescent boys had been given the template for our imagined destinies.
But much of the decades Pop Diversity came from the fact
that The Sixties was an age of transformation that, no matter how swift,
played host to two decades that included the decade prior. There was a fair
about of bleed up to, say, 1967. Daytime television syndication would rehash
the idealism of Leave It To Beaver and Dennis The Menace
to be replaced in the evening hours by Laugh In and The
Smothers Brothers, appealing to the suburban version of
counter-culture with a patio view. After all, for those of us
growing up on Long Islands North Shore, a House Divided
was just a split-level home in Manhasset.
Still, Glen Campbell played it safe with his Goodtime Hour, as
did a seemingly endless array of Variety Hours and the
likes of Andy Williams lingered, still. Truly, situation comedies continued
to keep a foot more firmly planted in the 50s to the extent that the
benign, high school ensemble backdrop of Room 222 was considered
The likes of Batman and The Monkees were simply camp
and comic half-hours of unchallenging escapism or distraction, more
accurately. And few of us kids pondered how The Monkees managed a
4F classification at the draft board, outside of Davy Jones being
English and likely not meeting the height requirement.
Meanwhile, network programs such as Petticoat Junction,
Beverly Hillbillies, Andy of Mayberry, and Green
Acres provided vehicles where suburbanites could now openly laugh at
the hicks, rather than snickering in private. These shows were quaint by
design and country folk would be better avatars as Ghosts
of America Past, then having a reimagined appeal
especially when the
cities were being trashed and burned as recreational fare on the weekends.
Sixties television indeed was, to a greater extent, a refresh of the decade
before while stepping a careful and ambivalent toe into Mod
or as business suits had fashioned it. Far more Petula Clark than
Janis Joplin. More Georgy Girl than White Rabbit.
It wouldnt be until 1967 that the networks would reluctantly provide
an apprehensive stage for the likes of The Doors and Jefferson Airplane in
primetime. Yet, in that very same instant, this child would be additionally
watching Sinatras Man & His Music special with Antonio
Carlos Jobim. And, because of the pop culture diversity I had grown up in
I watched with near-equal interest. I suppose it helped that Jobim
played a guitar.
But imagine what it was to be a child in this Sixties Atmosphere
one comprised of different worlds, often on a collision course. The
very term, Pop Culture indeed, Pop at all
pretty much didnt exist until the 1960s. Set this against the
backdrop of Vietnam, campus protests, Johnson, Nixon
and urban riots
on the neighboring planets.
As a child of the 1960s, it was all you knew having no other points
of reference, outside of syndicated television encores of an era that was
fading fast ... and was illusionary in the first place. Even political
assassinations had become matter of fact in our young world.
Indeed, our greatest achievement as children if it could
be considered as such was our ability to selectively filter that world.
This, as something we would continue to sift into adulthood and hold
onto to this day in the form of fond remembrances. And therein, again
is the romance. The special girlfriend weve been going steady with
In my frequent recollections over recent years, I came to realize that the
age one grew up in could be greeted in one of two ways: Revolt
embrace. Keep in mind that the college radicals of the 1960s
were, as described in Gottliebs book, the very ones who had previously
sat cross-legged on the floor, watching black & white television in their
Davy Crocket hats. They would, in turn, revolt against their upbringing
for whatever reason, often cited as one of dissatisfaction. Said
another way, a flower-adorned Child of The Sixties was truly
.. a child of the 50s.
Gottliebs books aside, it may also be argued with some evidence
to support it that The Sixties Generation was comprised
of Americas first Spoiled Suburban Brat generation. Spock Babies, in
short. Over-indulged. Under-corrected. Excessively bored.
It was, indeed, the most accommodated generation up to that time.
And, as these Spock Babies became adults generating a new generation
of their own their own children would far surpass even them in
self-indulgency and egocentricity. But this newer generation would not be
as bored as their parents. For, in order to be bored, one has to have an
innate interest and intellectual curiosity in something anything
themselves. After all, there is no boredom when the subject
is always you.
With this, an assessment can be made that the campus-trendy, Sociology
Majors of the 1960s would ironically create the most mindless, fucked-up
to date. Watch this space for what happens next
For their now-emerging litter, seminated during the generation-long, Night
of The Living Brain Dead is in the bullpen, waiting to take the mound
that is, if the act of throwing a ball at all doesnt prove to
be too much of an effort for them.
And no Im not a conservative, by the way. Im merely an
But if we are to wax nostalgic over the more cherished legacies of The Sixties
inclusive of the music, the films, and civil rights, say then
one must, in fair assessment, consider what else the 60s has wrought ...
In this regard, as one reflects upon what were regarded as the sociological
strides and liberties that were achieved in that decade, one may look around
now asking, and for what?
Much of what was achieved
then has since been squandered and often by the very people who might
have otherwise benefitted no matter how shy of idealistic goal. Moreover,
for those longing for an activist-infused Sixties Revival, the
question may be additionally asked
and for whom?
From an absolutely horrific and senseless urban culture thats
bled indeed, hemorrhaged into the heartland, to the mall-centric
vapidity of the current suburban generation, existing only as mere avatars
of a text-field
for whom would we offer progress? Should
we really bother with wastelands where its own inhabitants celebrate the
waste or rather, the behaviors that have created it? And these
cultures such as they are, urban to sub-urban, are the
trickle-down descendants of the 1960s.
neither liberalism or conservatism are exclusively
to blame, if youre looking towards politics. If anything, they have
both been contributors as each have been purveyors of self-indulgency
in their own, special way. From liberalisms 'hedonistic counterculture'
(for want of a better term), to conservatisms commerce-centric world
of personal acquisition, both promote a me epicenter each
pretending to be for the benefit of all ... and each, respective side
Still, in truth, politics is only the scenery. Its the people, themselves
all of them who have provided the contemporary foreground.
And we started painting that in
in the 1960s. Stand back and
look at the results. For in the end, for many of us those who had
been children, it would simply become
our Romantic Era.
Long live The Sixties if only in our broad hearts
- Joseph -