[The rivertop freeze is taking its sweet time to unbuckle and depart. Not much I can do about it except to keep piling on the wood, and to write. Fly fishing? It’ll be a while. But this is a workingman/woman’s blog. I can’t just whisk off to the Caribbean on a whim. I need to write, and to keep in mind those readers who enjoy this blog. Since I try to repeat myself as little as possible, my subject matter might seem a bit digressive at times, but there’s a point to it, as surely as the sun will reappear and the trout rise again.]
“The 60s are Back!” gushed a late 1990s flyer for a literary magazine requesting thoughts about the strange old decade. I remember reading the flyer and stopping in my tracks. Why would anyone proclaim such a thing? Had the past few years produced some kind of cultural equivalent to that time of madness and assassination, of social protest and war in Vietnam, of the hippies and the Beatles, etcetera? Was I really 30 years down the road, too encrusted and anesthetized to see the similarities?
Glancing back, I saw myself standing in the junior high gymnasium after lunch… It was one year past the time when a teacher had rushed into our school library tearfully announcing President Kennedy’s assassination. The nation had been reeling from racial inequality and strife, from a look at the Cuban missile crisis, from a glimpse of Armageddon and the brink of nuclear war… Malaise was in the air.
I was in the school gym and the large speakers were blaring Beatles music. Everyone was shouting and singing to the likes of “I wanna hold your ha-aa-nd”– energy and articulation overcoming the numbness of our lives, at last.
I was never quite in synch with those times. I preferred Dylan and the Rolling Stones (then) over the Beatles. I enjoyed the instrumental Ventures and garage band geekiness on 45 rpm records. Hair would not begin to creep down testily until 1967, and would not fall free of all restraint until 1970.
I hated the decision of my parents to remove us from rural eastern New York to an urban plot along the Mississsippi River in Wisconsin. I didn’t feel like I could live without the fields and forest I had grown with. One day, however, my new friend Ian and I were browsing through a record store, amazed at the blur of possibilities. The rippling psychedelia of Vanilla Fudge blasted from a stereo and carried us into the streets. Set me free, why don’cha babe! …From there on out, Diana Ross and Top 40 pop was history, as far as I was concerned.
In my 60s rites of passage, music was all garbled up with the presence of girls, of course. The scent of dope was in the air. One girl was unlike all the other females of my decade. She was an acquaintance, and then a friend, with sophisticated tastes in art and music. Like listening to good music itself, she helped me comb away frustration from the pleasures of my age.
My friend Ian had come to the city of LaCrosse about the same time that I arrived there. We were neighbors and attended high school classes together. After graduation Ian enlisted for the war in Vietnam, and I attended South Dakota State on the pretext of furthering my education. Correspondence with my war pal grew increasingly sporadic, but Ian eventually returned to LaCrosse in one piece.
I transferred to a university in upstate New York and never heard from my Wisconsin friend again. I would soon skirt the fringes of war, drugs, sex, and deep relationships, thus entering the grubby fist of the 1970s.
I mention all of this because my involvement with the 60s and early 70s youth culture was the biggest stride I ever took in the way of self-education. Eventually I learned that dealers, death, and materialism had fully penetrated the aesthetics of the so-called revolution, even in rural America.
My experiments in “mind expansion” ranged from blissful involvement to trials by fire. I do not endorse the paths I took, nor do I disclaim them. They worked for me, and needed to be taken. That’s all I can say for sure.
Every generation has its own pleasure drugs, mentors, and rites of passage. In my case, I was able to return happily to a world of country living that I had known when I was a kid. In a sense, I never grew up at all.
In response to that literary flyer of the 90s, I decided that if the 60s had returned in spirit I had no idea where those years were hiding. We baby-boomers would do well to let them go although, admittedly, that time of youthful dreams and creative energy and vision is powerfully influential.
Only now, after the passage of all these decades, have I found a way to express how I feel about that time. Only now can I admit that I’m unable to let that period go, or even wish to erase it from my life.
I’m still learning from the 60s/70s because the struggle for identity in this soul-crushing present era never ends… I live with the earth and feel its strength. I recognize the falsehoods of consumerism and see some dangers in the dominant paradigm of political and economic power.
I still like to think I can work for peace and a healthier environment. Whereas I may have rocked to the Beatles and to Frank Zappa and the Mothers playing “Louie Louie” (ca. 1969) at the Royal Albert Hall, I’m still finding new music that I should have found back then.
Take the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, for example. I’m ashamed to say that I never really listened to the band at its peak. Every once in a while, an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2015) is actually deserving of the honor.
Now, if I can only find a way to keep the grooves in my vinyl LPs free of dust, and capable of tracking a dulling stylus.