My Generation: Fifty Years of Sex, Drugs, Rock, Revolution, Glamour, Greed, Valor, Faith and Silicon Chips

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Far from being stuck in the 1960s, a decade when half its members were still children, the Baby Boom has not only continually transformed itself but has also brought epic change in society. My Generation is the collective biography of the millions of Americans born between Pearl Harbor Day in 1941 and the 1963 assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Here are nineteen quintessential boomers, ranging from the admired to the notorious, from the expected—a Vietnam War ...

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Overview

Far from being stuck in the 1960s, a decade when half its members were still children, the Baby Boom has not only continually transformed itself but has also brought epic change in society. My Generation is the collective biography of the millions of Americans born between Pearl Harbor Day in 1941 and the 1963 assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Here are nineteen quintessential boomers, ranging from the admired to the notorious, from the expected—a Vietnam War hero, an antiwar activist, an LSD chemist, an author of the Macintosh computer graphic user interface, a spiritual celebrity—to the less-so—a Jesus freak turned Queer Theorist, an ultraconservative congressman, a billionaire builder, a hip-hop impresario, and the Studio 54-bred AIDS activist who inspired Broadway's Rent. Through their stories and his own, Michael Gross takes us on the wild ride from Yasgur's Farm to Silicon Valley and into the twenty-first century.

My Generation puts the tumultous history of the baby boomers in context and makes sense out of the storm. The compelling narrative brings to life all the defining moments—the civil rights, antiwar, and identity struggles, the highs and lows of drugs and the sexual revolution, retreat and rentrenchment, the rediscovery of faith, the rise of conservatism. The book ends with the cyber revolution, the Boom's best expression of itself, and the reign of First boomers, Bill and Hillary Clinton, who, a surprising number of their age peers think, represent them at their very worst.

For half a century, for good and ill, baby boomers have been the most powerful generation in the most powerful nation on earth.This remarkable book is a chronicle of its conflicts and its achievements, the unprecedented changes it caused, the brilliant hopes of its early days, the awful traumas of its adolescence, and how it has struggled ever since to make good on its unfulfilled promise.

Author Biography:

Michael Gross is recognized by friends and foes alike as one of America's leading magazine journalists. "Much feared for his razor-like observations, Michael Gross is no stranger to sensational investigative reportage," says nationally syndicated columnist Liz Smith. "Gross turns into an old softie when confronted with the beauty, terror, passion and pity of a serious true tale. And when he is inspired by his subject, Gross can be as evocative as Proust."

Gross is a Contributing Writer at Talk Magazine and a Contributing Editor of Travel & Leisure. He was previously a Contributing Editor of New York magazine and a Senior Editor at George magazine. His most recent book, My Generation, was published in March 2000. It has been optioned for development as a mini-series by Gene Simmons, co-founder of Kiss, for his new production company. Also a selection of the Quality Paperback Book Club, it will be published in trade paperback in May 2001. Gross is currently at work on his next book, a biography of fashion icon Ralph Lauren.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
What's the best way to tell the tale of the baby boomers, the 75 million people born between the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963? Not through the lives of average people, says author Michael Gross, but rather through "the affluent, the well-educated, the accomplished and the lucky."

Perhaps. Or perhaps Gross thought his time would be better spent with the irrepressibly narcissistic Donald Trump and bisexual porn star Nina Hartley than with random interview subjects at McDonald's.

My Generationfollows the lives of 19 consummate boomers - as they pass through what he calls "Childhood," "Adolescence," "Extended Adolescence" and later eras. We watch them live through the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., the sexual revolution, drugs, the Vietnam War and rock 'n' roll before capitulating, or refusing to capitulate, to "Middle Age."

Tim Scully, a scientific prodigy, perfected the manufacture of LSD. People swore by his Blue Cheer and Purple Haze, though - typical of our label-conscious age - they were identical to batches he dyed other colors. While in jail for his commerce, he designed biofeedback instruments for drug rehabilitation, and later went on to write software for children.

Mark Rudd led the destructive student revolt against Columbia University. When it was time to face legal charges, however, he disappeared. He now teaches remedial math at a junior college.

Donald Trump did not use drugs, and had no problems with the law - until he reached bankruptcy court. The ultimate yuppie accumulated garish buildings and great wealth - and then it came crashing down.

Marianne Williamson, a beautiful cheerleader, then a profligate hippie, later sought to heal the spiritual degeneration of her generation as a populist preacher. Among her flock: Barbra Streisand, Oprah, Cher and Bill Clinton.

Nina Hartley learned from the feminist movement that she could do whatever she wanted with her life. When she chose to become a porn star, most feminists roundly condemned her.

And the list goes on. This generation may have had the pretensions and recklessness of revolutionaries, but for the most part they've ended up far more diverse - and more like their parents - than they would have ever dreamed.

Some have gone on to do important work; others have drifted into irrelevance. Two of those profiled stamped the boomer name on technology's history: Steve Capps, one of the authors of the graphical user interface at Apple Computer and now a software architect for Microsoft; and John Gage, the chief science officer for Sun Microsystems.

If the upheavals of the 1960s were a response to a perceived repression and secrecy of American society, the drug chemists and student revolutionaries profiled here didn't change much for the better. The true heroes have been the dogged, diligent nerds. Their silver bullet is the Internet. Its universal information has threatened illegitimate governments as no self-appointed subversives ever could.

At the end of the millennium, John Gage offers the long view on the boomer generation, and its crowning triumph: "We've put windows in walls. And we should be proud of it."

Daniel Evan Weiss is the New York-based author ofThe Roaches Have No King and other novels.

Atlanta Journal and Constitution
A large-scale biography of an outsize generation...
Chicago Daily Southtown
Challenging and comprehensive...evocative collective biography.
Industry Standard
What's the best way to tell the tale of the baby boomers?...Watch them live through the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., the sexual revolution, drugs, the Vietnam War and rock 'n' roll before capitulating, or refusing to capitulate, to "Middle Age." ... This generation may have had the pretensions and recklessness of revolutionaries, but for the most part they've ended up far more diverse - and more like their parents - than they would have ever dreamed....The true heroes have been the dogged, diligent nerds. Their silver bullet is the Internet. Its universal information has threatened illegitimate governments as no self-appointed subversives ever could. At the end of the millennium, My Generation offers the long view on the boomer generation, and its crowning triumph: 'We've put windows in walls. And we should be proud of it
Jerry Stahl
Conceptually ingenious, deftly written and riveting from start to finish. With 'My Generation,' Michael Gross emerges as the Herodotus of contempo American culture. The grim, hysterical and absolutely, mind-blowingly true history of themselves that baby boomers deserve.
—author of Permanent Midnight.
Liz Smith
Liz Smith, syndicated columnist Nineteen baby boomers--all activists or revolutionaries in one way or another--chronicle their lives, experiences, hopes, failures, successes and fears in Michael Gross' extraordinary new book...A must read for all those who ponder yesterday, today and tomorrow.
New York Daily News
The ultimate in high-school reunion newsletters--we finally learn how it turned out for both the cool kids and some of the nerds....an intruiging lineup.
New York Times Book Review
Exhaustively researched...Michael Gross traces the lives of 19 baby boomers--from high-profile celebrities like Donald Trump and the rap impresario Russell Simmons to...a mix of former nerds, druggies, revolutionaties and erstwhile activists...against the backdrop of current events....[The] unifying thread in the latter part of the book is Clinton-bashing--Gross's boomers nearly all seem to see the president and first lady as representing the worst of their generation. 'The First Bacilli of the disease of our age,' [political cartoonist Doug] Marlette calls the Clintons, 'where narcissism meets obsessive compulsion.'
Ocean Drive
Steal this book.
Orlando Sentinel
Hugely entertaining...Effective cinematic technique...Gross is a great interviewer. This book is reminiscent of Gay Talese's mammoth book on sex in America, Thy Neighbor's Wife. In that book, Talese got his sources to reveal the details of the most intimate moments of their lives--and not one of them went off the record. Gross also inspired trust in his subjects. My Generation is a brilliantly reported story.
Publishers Weekly
Gross's bittersweet look at baby boomers and their culture is certain to induce a wave of nostalgia among his peers.
Red Herring
A wide-ranging work...Though it could have devolved into a mere collection of life stories, My Generation draws on subjects anecdotes and experiences like a palette to paint a broader picture...Mr. Gross offers detailed insight into the history, challenges and dilemmas of a generation
Scott Ostler
Gross sorts out Boomer confusion and angst.
San Francisco Chronicle
Seattle Weekly
Gross incorporates a cast of 19 protagonists, a running history of the United States in the last six decades, and a stunning array of asides, digressions, and fascinating little facts....He's a fine writer, the book contains fascinating information,....My Generation is fun, trivia-packed and a great summer read....
Tama Janowitz
A fascinatingly different way at looking at an era--revealing and mesmerizing, entertaining and thoughtful.
The Arizona Republic
Thought provoking, and haunted.
W Magazine
Gross is out to challenge popular assumptions...He proves his point by profiling 19 Americans who demonstrate the distance boomers have traveled and how--far from being stuck in a groove--their lives have shifted...The book serves up the original Woodstock, and Woodstock '98--with plenty of decadence in-between.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060175948
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Gross
Michael Gross
MICHAEL GROSS has written for Esquire, Vanity Fair, Town & Country, and countless other publications. Currently a contributing editor at Travel & Leisure, he is also the author of Genuine Authentic and the New York Times bestselling Model. He lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Bethel, New York

AUGUST 14, 1998: I'm driving along a back road in rustic upstate New York when a déjà vu of an intensity I've experienced only once before overwhelms me. That time, en route to a meeting in Dallas, I drove into an open expanse called Dealy Plaza and didn't understand why it felt so eerie until I was alongside the Texas School Book Depository, approaching a triple underpass imprinted in my memory from repeated television news broadcasts. I sensed more than saw that I was driving where John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963.

This is different. I've been here before. In front of me is a huge natural amphitheater full of people arrayed before a great wooden stage, amassed for a three-day rock and folk concert called A Day in the Garden. This "garden," once a farm belonging to a man named Max Yasgur and long ago an Indian gathering ground, was also the site of a gentle, auspicious music and arts event called the Aquarian Exposition, better known as Woodstock, where at age seventeen I spent three near-sleepless days in August 1969.

Never trust anybody over thirty, people used to say in the years after Kennedy was killed. So this, the twenty-ninth anniversary of Woodstock, may be the last chance to trust in the Age of Aquarius.

In 1969, the bacchanal of 400,000 people was front-page news. "HIPPIES MIRED IN SEA OF MUD," sneered New York's then-conservative Daily News. Perhaps we were. But we were also enjoying the biggest coming-out party ever for America's biggest generation ever, the Baby Boom. And everyone wantedto be there.

Our youngest member was about four and a half that day. The oldest participants were gray-haired bohemian-era precursors and young-at-heart boomer pretenders. We were all caught up in the excitement of the moment when a window of opportunity--for drugs, for sex, for "liberation"--opened up and about 76 million of us scampered through before it slammed shut. It's no wonder the generation that followed resents us. Youth ruled, and if it still seems to, that's largely because we cannily repackage our youth and sell it over and again. But there's a lot of gray hair at Woodstock 1998, onstage and off

Don Henley (b. 1947) of the 1970s band The Eagles is playing an age appropriate, elegiac song, "The Boys of Summer," as I park my car and wade into the crowd past concession stands emblazoned with peace symbols. "Everybody knows the war is over," Henley sings. "Everybody knows the good guys lost." But did they? Here they are, grown up into wrinkled, happy people, in neat rows of beach chairs, lawn furniture, Mayan cherrywood chairs ($20 a day, $120 if you want to take one home), and Indianprint bedspreads scattered with Beanie Babies for their brood.

It's a generational Rorschach. You can see what you want here.

Hippies? Woodstock '98's got 'em, even if some are a little shopworn. Head shops still line the road, and beatific teenage girls with daisies in their hair dance waving tinsel in the hay fields. Everywhere are tie-dye, suede, and patchwork clothes that look as if they just emerged from rucksacks circa Woodstock '69.

Drugs? Occasional wisps tell you marijuana is still around, but far harder to find (and of far better quality) than it used to be. "We went hmmm," says young mother Susan Kaufer, eyeing her three kids, six, eight, and eleven, and the cloud of pot above their heads. "They haven't said anything, thank god."

Yuppies? There's a BMW 733i passing a Jaguar with a vanity plate that says INTRNET on Hurd Road. The only psychedelic Volkswagen in sight is a New Beetle painted with the logo of a local radio station. The satellite ATM van is as busy as the Port-a-sans. The concession stands offer pasta caprese, focaccia, mixed baby green salads and cappuccino alongside the burgers and beer. Henley launches into a song called "The End of Innocence." There are Woodstock '69 and Woodstock '98 T-shirts for sale, Woodstock license plate frames, Woodstock mouse pads, even Yasgur's Farm Ice Cream.

"My wife brought me," says Ken Adamyk, who was nine years old the first time around and didn't go to Woodstock '69. "My older brother went. He doesn't have hair now, but he did." A couple in their fifties walks by with laminated backstage passes marked FOH, for friends of the house, I assume. I ask them what the initials mean anyway. "Fucking Old Hippie," he says. She laughs. "Old hippies fucking," she says brightly.

But we've grown up. Really, we have. Even if Jim Farber (b. 1957), who's covering the event for today's more sympathetic Daily News, complains that every time he asks a boomer his age the answer is thirty-seven, most people I talk to are glad to proffer their birthdate.

"I'm one of the people who held onto the beliefs, and some of the products--I don't have to go into specifics," says Stephen Biegel (b. 1950), a builder from Hoboken, New Jersey. "I'm still proud we stopped a war. But you have to go with the flow. I grew up, had children; you have to support them. That's not a contradiction. The contradictions are either dead or wandering the streets."

Bill Lauren, a Woodstock '69 veteran wearing Oakley sunglasses and a gnomic red hat, is selling those Mayan chairs. "The first time, I liked the mud," he says. "Been there, done that."

At the first Woodstock, drugs were in everyone's eyes and the scent of sex was in the air. "You can get away with a lot of things in a cornfield...

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