What did the Sixties mean to me?

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.

 

17 thoughts on “What did the Sixties mean to me?

  1. I’ve lit an Incense stick and put my finger bells on (sorry, but I couldn’t find the Loon pants) and these are my thoughts on the 1960’s.
    I don’t think you have considered that the kids of the 60’s were in fact the 5th wave of this “new” philosophy. It had all been so much done all before in the 1910’s, 1920’s, 1930’s and 1950’s. Nothing of what you were up to was original in any shape or form.
    I’d go as far as to claim that the 60s was the “straightest” of the lot and was a commercialised fashion fad. The social scene of the 1920’s completely creamed anything of the 60s, where Cocaine and Opium were the drugs of choice, not junior’s choice mild and meek Cannabis. I’d also debate whether the activity of hedonism was quite at the same proportionate level of the 20’s either. The movement of the 50s informed and spearheaded the 60s, with the difference merely in the volume of numbers of people, where the take up was far greater and simply due to commercialisation and media adverstising and exposure. Ironically enough the very same factors that a lot of people in the 60s were against. A prime case of the Pied Piper leading the Lemmings.
    Whilst we all lived through the changes as promoted and experienced in the 60s, I was never under any illusion that we were reinventing the wheel or anything of that nature. Perhaps my course studies at the LSE gave me unfair disadvantages over the masses.
    Like yourself, I have many enjoyable and positive recollections of the time but I was never under the impression that it was unique. The music might have been a bit louder than before, but that’s about all. When I arrived in Istanbul in summer `68 and smoked Opium for the first time, I never wanted to go near England again as it seemed by comparison so drab and contrived. The repetitiveness was like a hamster on a wheel and there was little focus if any of direction.

    1. Who cares?? I loved my time. Maybe every generation goes through such an enlightenment – but I don’t think so. There’s been nothing like it since and I’m sure the working and middle classes of previous generations never got to experience it.
      More power to those (the rich cats) who had the opportunity before. I had mine. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t swap it. It doesn’t sound as if your experience was quite as inspiring as mine. Maybe I was lucky with the incredible people I met.

      1. As I previously mentioned, I was at the LSE, the centrepoint of everything and the crucible of where it was at, particularly relating to London. We were these “incredible people” and the eye of the hurricane for the hangers-on. I lived just off Sloan Square for five years. I used to hang out with all the people from IT, I knew Hoppy very well and many movers and shakers running the scene. Everything that happened our end was fed off onto the streets for mass consumption which is where I think you came in.

        Who cares? I would say that it’s important to know the why’s and the wherefore’s.
        I would also say that the 1970s and 1980s provided an immensely larger communication between the youth culture masses. The simple detail of the fact that LP record sales were considerably higher than 1960s sales and the explosion of youth clubs and discotheques indicated mass acceptance of an unprecedented scale. No longer was it centred around Universities and manifested by the elite but youthful intelligentsia, which is perhaps a detail that you have not given enough consideration towards.
        In fact it was the middle classes of all these previous generations that were the cause celebre and the guiding force of the new liberalism. It wasn’t about money and wealth (although that is always of use) but creativity and will power.

      2. The eye of the storm for me was the bands, musicians and my immediate group of friends. We had a great time.
        It was dead by the 70s. The optimism had gone and it was shallow glam rock and prog lacking in social/political input. Punk brought back the anger and rebellion but not the optimism.
        The late sixties was, for me a flourishing of consciousness and creativity not to be seen since.

      3. I can only suggest that you look further than the end of your nose! You’ve just underestimated everything that you experienced and which was conceived within the “eye”. Suffice to say we would know exactly the same bands/musicians (no separation of entity) and a “good time” was the least of it as that was minimum expectation and basic requirement. I think it’s important to have recognised why you were having a good time and the factors which provided that.

        I don’t think the genres of musical styles should be the only indicative factors implemented as guidance of youth development. Whilst Glam was very exciting and immediate and produced a wealth of very good records – whether you liked them is irrelevant – perhaps Prog offered a great deal more than you are presently giving credit to.
        I would suggest that you lack generosity with your assumption and Prog did in fact provide many pointers towards further enlightenment and further education regards philosophy and process of thought and imagination. It should be said that Prog was not a field for every man, as to a degree it did require a certain level of education and familiarity with classic literary works from a broad spectrum of schools of thought peppered all through the ages since the beginnings of the written word.
        Punk was simply a reaction by some rather disappointed youths who were being denied opportunities, particularly jobs and had grown tired of the constant threat of unemployment. These were dark days back then as we were all being affected with constant strikes with public services and power cuts. If anything, there was optimism expressed in Punk, and it’s point of focus was to not be under such constraints.

        In reality the late 60’s was a time of your initial enlightenment (and mine), but it would be most improper to suggest that this sort of cultural change has not been seen since, particularly in reference to the rest of the western world and where authorities were not quite as immediately libertarian with attributes of progressive expressionism, yet some have ultimately overtaken us and we have fallen behind.
        I suggest that you dropped out from further involvement at an early stage.
        Aren’t we still busting kids for smoking a joint? Fifty years later!
        Flourishing of consciousness? We still have some thinking to do.

      4. Tony I think I am very far-sighted with my appreciation of the underlying philosophies that gave rise to the phenomenon of the sixties. It was a wave of liberalisation that built on what had begun in many fields in the 50s but which reached a culmination in the late sixties. That liberalisation was attached to a desire to experiment and push creativity to the boundaries. I think that unlike with previous waves of liberalisation it did involve a far greater number of people and gained a wider popular culture.
        As I stated – this was not confined to music or youth culture, fashion or pop, it involved all manner of creative and intellectual fields from science, literature, drama, poetry and art to politics and social experiments. Thus I found myself discussing Dada, Beat poetry, Joyce and Lawrence as well as the wonders of quarks, infinity and spirituality. Very liberating and expansive and with a lot of cross-over.
        I think you were very unkind in your summary of Punk. It was much more than that. As for Glam Rock – well it produced some good music but not a lot that I felt had substance and Prog Rock also produced some brilliance – Floyd’s output for instance – but became much too boring and pretentious for my liking. Many of the people I know who really got into Prog Rock well far from intellectuals and were not conversant with classical works at all.
        That sixties phenomenon was pretty global. I was quite amazed to see the psychedelic bands coming from places such as Peru and the Philippines. While there appears to have been various movements in a number of countries I have not seen a movement that comes close to what happened back then.
        I did not drop out from further involvement; I merely started a family and a career and took my experience and outlook into my teaching, upbringing of my kids, my friends and my writing. Things change.

      5. I see that you now more or less agree with what I have said. These same other fields whether artistic or intellectual were an ever present topical foundation for every one of the previous waves of experimental culture seekers, with the only differences being that culture was in general governed and/or influenced by whatever was contemporary at any given time. Although it’s highly likely that Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” was appreciated just as much in the 1960s as the 1910s and the 1870s. Some works are perennial. Just a few days ago I finished reading “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” by Thomas de Quincey, first published in the 1820s. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. It was my grandfather’s copy printed in the 1920s, and which I had attempted to read at about 15, but I couldn’t handle it at all then and only now got around to a second attempt. Better late than never.
        I would suggest that I was more generous with my point of view regards Punk than yourself, who had stated there existed no optimism. I disagreed and said there was.
        Of course, not by any measure as you had suggested was all Punk about anger and rebellion. There was a lot of comedy, self deprecation, a dose of egotism and a healthy dollop of yobboism. I may have inadvertently just invented a new word!?

        I would further suggest that you didn’t actually hear any Peruvian Chicha until some years after the event unless you were lucky enough to find an American pressed compilation which there were very few of. In all honesty it is an extremely mild psychedelia, if any of a kind at all and much closer associated to U.S. garage rock with fuzz guitars and Hammond organ. The Philippines copy cats were merely a reinterpretation of what they heard all the time on U.S. Forces radio and at the numerous army bases and this sort of thing could be found throughout Asia.
        Best of all though and what I particularly liked were the very exciting Cambodian Power Pop-Psych bands, and unfortunately most of them apparently didn’t survive the later atrocities.

        There’s one thing that Glam rock did not have a shortage of and that was substance.
        Lou Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople, Cockney Rebel, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Sparks to name a few of those whom I really enjoyed. They offered ideas galore. Were you referring to the bottom rung, lesser mortals that should never have been labelled as Glam, such as the Glitter Band, Hello and Sailor, then I would have no argument with you whatsoever!

        Pink Floyd, in the grand scheme of things was fairly radio friendly MOR Prog. They didn’t come close to the heavyweights such as Popol Vuh, Agitation Free, Trad Gras Och Stenar, Morgen, Medusa, Josefus, Deuter, Andromeda, Amon Duul II, Jerusalem, Can etc.

        Perhaps the Acid House rave scene explosion from San Francisco all the way down to Wellington of the late 1980s to early 90s was not something you paid much attention to, but I would suggest that it was massive and of global proportions of an unprecedented scale given the number of festivals all over the world that sprung forth from this movement.
        I never left the cultural revolution of the 60s and remain engrossed in the midst of whatever interests me today. Whilst I can’t claim to be rubbing shoulders these days with the young team set, I can with regards The Orb and System 7, two of the most out there live bands still in existence. My grandson thinks they’re a lot more exciting than Ed Sheeran. I can only agree.

      6. It was a good new word Tony.
        All of the Glam you mention have some merits.
        Of course I wasn’t aware of the extent of psychedelia around the world at the time. It didn’t reach the light of day until later. Most of it wasn’t up to much but it’s the principle that counts.
        I too have kept up an interest in music though not quite on the same lines as you. Floyd were very radio friendly but also brilliant.
        My sons were very much into Acid House and it was a big movement but I still do not think it was all-encompassing as the sixties.

      7. I heard this morning that the fabulous Prog drummer Jon Hiseman died yesterday.
        I really enjoyed Colosseum with Chris Farlowe and the later Colosseum II with Gary Moore. They just don’t make bands like that anymore.

      8. Yes – what a loss. Him and Dick Heckstall-Smith. I saw both of them a number of times with John Mayall. My good lady liked to dance to them. I was lucky enough to catch Colosseum live a few times. I thought they were better live than on disc.
        I nearly saw Chris Farlowe earlier this year but he ended up in hospital.

  2. Reading your post struck a few chords with me, Opher! Like you I regard myself as fortunate to come of age in such vibrant and stimulating times. They may not be unique in that respect, as Tony suggests, but they were ours and you can only bear true witness to what you have personally experienced.

    1. So true Dave. I count myself very fortunate. Though I do think that in many respects it was unique. I think there was a post-war catharsis to what occurred. The bomb was hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. That had an affect too. I certainly wanted things to change and had no faith in authorities. That was different. The generation gap had never been as great.

      1. Oh yes – that had a huge impact. I think we were looking at the mess the older generation were making and wanted a different, more thoughtful, more caring and compassionate future.

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