1950s post-war culture was drab and dreary. Life in Britain was dire with rationing and poverty. The country was littered with bomb-sites and no money to provide the impetus for a renovation to lift the country.
Socially life was equally drab and boring. For boys you wore shorts until you were thirteen and then went into long trousers as a right of passage. At thirteen you became a mini version of your dad. For girls it was even worse. There were strict taboos and dress codes. Life was very linear and stereotyped.
I grew up in the post-war period with the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over our heads in the form of what was accurately called M.A.D – Mutually Assured Destruction. The Soviet Union and the West were at each other’s throats with thousands of nuclear warheads poised. The USA was quite keen to use Britain as a fixed aircraft carrier and there was talk of a limited exchange that would involve a European theatre i.e the USA and bulk of Russia would miss out on the action. Nuclear war did not just seem a possibility but more of an inevitability.
The nearest we got was the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’. I remember going to school and listening to it in the classroom instead of lessons. The USA had told Russia that if they went over the line of latitude set by the States it would be an act of war and they would attack the ships. That would have been the prelude to the end. We were not sure we were going to get home again.
The 1960s was a period of liberalisation after the stultifying 1950s. Censorship was being relaxed and boundaries were being pushed. There was the Allen Ginsberg ‘Howl’ trial and the DH Lawrence ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ trial.
This was the setting for the Rock Scene to find it’s feet and become the political and social conscience of youth.
Behind the burgeoning Rock Scene was the Counter-Culture sensibilities of the Beat Generation and then the Hippie Movement. While these movements were small in number their effect was enormous. They reached right through the Underground Scene to have a great effect on Popular Culture. Most young people were not part of the Hippie/Beat experience but were affected by it through its manifestation in Pop music and fashion. They might not have heard of Captain Beefheart, Roy Harper, the Grateful Dead, or Edgar Broughton but they had heard the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and Cream and they were affected by the plastic hippie Flowerpot Men, Scott McKenzie and the Mamas & Papas. They thought London swung and Carnaby Street and Haight-Asbury were the places to be.
The effects of the Hippie movement in San Francisco and the Underground scene in London, Los Angeles and New York, was far reaching. There was an explosion of colour, fun, street theatre, hedonism, marijuana, sexual liberation and rebelliousness tinged with a distrust of the establishment, a civil rights unrest and an anti-war ethic.
It was hip to be young. There was a generation gap like never before. Youth was in revolt, marching in the streets, protesting and fighting for freedoms the previous generation could only dream of. They were pushing back the boundaries. Their musicians were the new leaders. Dylan, Hendrix and Morrison set the tone. The establishment were reeling. There was a camaraderie and sense of the bringing in of a new era.
The effect was felt globally. Youth all over the world saw the excitement and energy of this sixties culture and wanted to be part of it. Psychedelic bands started up all over the globe from Peru to India, Pakistan and Australia as well as all over the Soviet Union. Youth was in harmony with each other and revolt against the status quo. All over the world kids were donning kaftans, flares with scarves and beads, exhorting peace and love and forming bands. They wanted part of the sexual revolution, the liberalisation and fun and were kicking against the repression of the State. The historic animosities broke down. As far as the kids were concerned you were either a Freak or Straight.
Behind the Iron Curtain the youth of Russia were hooked on the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and Hendrix. They wanted Western music, Western jeans and Western freedoms. It led to a breakdown of the division between the East and West. Youth was talking the same language. It signalled the end of the Cold War.
We were not mutually destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. The 1960s counter-culture changed history.
If you want to read more about the 1960s, about the counter-culture or Rock Music then why not visit my blog: http://ophersworld.com/ It’s all there!