I was eleven when the sixties started and twenty one when they ended so the sixties were my formative years and boy what formative years they were.
The 1940s were the war years – a time of death, tragedy, loss and destruction. Our cities were blasted to hell. Our economy was wrecked and we were in debt to the USA.
The 1950s were the dark days of trying to rebuild; days of austerity, rationing and immense poverty but also days of reunion and attempting to rise out of the ruins. It was the era in which we lost our empire. But there was a gleam of light at the end of that tunnel with Rock ‘n’ Roll and Skiffle.
Then came the sixties.
I think my parents had grown up in a class-ridden, conservative, very uptight culture, sexually repressed and very hypocritical. Lip-service was paid to church. There was a national anthem played every night on the radio and at the cinema. For males like me every step of life was mapped out from short trousers into long, from bachelordom to marriage, kids and work. Girls were brought up to be wives, mothers and housewives.
First there were the Beat groups riding on the coattails of first the Beatles and then the Stones and we started to breathe. We grew our hair and lived music. There were girls, fashion and style. We wore our tight jeans with winkle-pickers, long sideburns and quiffs. Then it was flares, an explosion of colour, motorbikes, scooters, long hair and a new language straight out of hip black America and beatniks. There were parties, alcohol and later spliff.
At fifteen I was reading Kerouac, listening to Dylan, the Kinks, Woody Guthrie and the Blues. I was digging the Who, Yardbirds, Smallfaces, Them, Animals, Downliners Sect, Stones, Beatles and a host of other bands.
By eighteen I had hair to my shoulders, was looking into Beat poetry, Eastern religions, psychedelia, Acid Rock, Burroughs, Ginsberg and grooving to Country Joe and the Fish, Captain Beefheart, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Cream, Traffic, Family, Roy Harper, Dylan, Beatles, Stones and Fleetwood Mac.
For me and my friends the rule book went out the window. We did not want the safe, boring lives of our parents; we wanted excitement, adventure, discovery and travel.
We wanted a new world. There was a general rebellion against the greed and selfishness of society, the meaningless of life, the violent warmongering, the repugnant racism, elitism and class system, and the destructiveness of the consumer society with all its environmental damage. We no longer bought into it. The rat-race, with its chasing of money and status symbols was not alluring. We wanted something better, something more meaningful and fulfilling, something deeper, less violent and destructive, and we thought we could do it. We really thought we could build a better society and drop out of the death machine. The dream was something simple, self-sufficient and more in harmony with the planet. It was the days of simplicity.
Those were also the days of optimism spent gabbing through the night in great earnest wonder, talking philosophy, talking politics, talking spirituality, talking music, talking about a new society founded on different tenets without all the possessions and greed. Those were days of sharing and listening to music.
It was naïve and unrealistic. But we were living a revolution. They were the days when civil rights, feminism, environmentalist and fashion were spawned. They were the days of fun and laughter, friendship and joy; days spent listening to music, going to gigs and free festivals, grooving; days of sex and hedonism.
That was our revolution. We made our own clothes, instruments and pleasures; we hitched around and travelled continents. We had hugely different horizons and dreams to that of our parents.
They were days of discovery of philosophy, art, literature, dance, music, ideas, creativity, political awareness, social awareness, love and travel.
It was short-lived but it burned. I packed so much into a few short years. It was mind-expanding, enlightening and full of idealism and dreams. And that’s what the sixties meant for me.
I took that energy and positivity forward into my life and my creativity. It informed my philosophy of life, my family, my career and my writing.
The sixties gave me an unlimited set of horizons.