Setup: the Sixties

I was there through the Sixties and I remember them. I was a white middle class kid who started junior high school in 1960 and graduated from college in 1970. My youth lives in my memory as a catalog of TV shows, characters and incidents. When I watched coverage of JFK’s assassination and funeral, it was on a black and white TV.

My rock’n’roll upbringing took me from Elvis through the dissolution of the Beatles, laced through with jazz, classical and some pretty decent pop. I took first holy communion but left the Catholic church at 14. My folks didn’t mind; it relieved them of the obligation to act religiously.

During the summer of ’65 I was a curb waiter at a drive-in burger shop. The theme songs blaring from car radios included Satisfaction, Like a Rolling Stone and Eve of Destruction. I was primed for disillusionment and open to leave lifestyle assumptions behind.

A civics teacher in my senior year had us subscribe to the NY Times and read the columns of Russell Baker and James Reston. We learned that the rationalization of the Viet Nam war was a lie. We learned that the press allowed that lie to go unchallenged. We learned that the war was a waste, generating huge profits for defense contractors while killing hundreds of thousands of peasants. We learned that our government was not the force for unquestioned good that previous history courses had claimed. I went to college because, well, that’s what was expected. My only friend to volunteer for service in Nam had the last name “Peace.” It was a world filled to the brim with irony.

In the summer of ’67 I traveled through Europe “on five dollars a day” with my best friend Lewis Black. I shit you not. Getting our heads outside of guysbensweddingAmerica for the first time changed our perspective of the World’s Greatest Nation (as we’d been brought up to regard it). We heard Hendrix for the first time in London. I bought the British version of Revolver.

But my close friends and I weren’t introduced to our first non-alcoholic mind altering substances until that autumn. We’d barely begun to appreciate getting high when 1968 – with the murders of JFK and MLK – politicized us. That was what, today, they’d call an extreme buzzkill. I was pissed for most of the next year but got my new buzz from taking collective action, massively.

Marching with half a million people on the Mall was actually the most mind altering experience I’d had to that point. Until being in a place with that many people, you have no clue what it’s like. It felt amazing, affirming and I’m sure we were all bummed that such seemingly irresistible strength was so totally blown off  by the morally puny president and his clownish crew in the White House.

I graduated from college with a red fist safety-pinned to my gown. The University of Maryland had been on strike for over a month before I casually accepted my diploma. I had no interest in seeking a job as a psychologist in the same corrupt nation that had elected Richard Nixon.

During the summer of 1970 I tried to co-invent a way to work with friends on a socially justifiable project, but politics within the Left had become divisive, petty and ugly. The circular firing squad had been formed and I didn’t want to get shot, much less shoot some other well-meaning schlub. So politics was out. Psychology was out. More school was certainly out.

I could only find fulfillment being around a lot of people on the same side as me. I knew I found contentment helping people who needed some. I felt that I was done with the D.C. area. I wondered if I should go back to Europe or join The Peace Corps or emigrate to Canada.

The energy of revolution seemed to be all around me, but I found no direction attractive enough to move.

So there I was, existentially frozen with a clearly corrupt buffoon elected to the Presidency, involved in an intractable and seemingly unresolvable war on which a growing number of Americans had given up. There were myriad social problems at home needing attention and funding.

It was much like America in the summer of 2008, except we had no presidential election happening to provide a window of hope. I was waiting for deliverance.



  1. moondaddy said,

    April 19, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Thanks for putting this up again. It’s a really important slice of hipstory. I was but a lad when the Caravan stopped and camped out on my college campus in 1970. Been keeping tabs ever since.
    Keep it coming.

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