1969 was that pivotal year for the baby boomers. Young and innocent, they were given the ultimate freedoms and were faced with growing up.
This touching, hilarious memoir is the true story of a late sixties grand tour of Europea life-defining parable, for those who remember and for those who can’t. Never before and not since have a handful of seasons so exquisitely defined the difference between right and wrong. With the gift of youth they saw, sensed, and savored the laughably clear distinction between profit motive and greed, between truth and propaganda, between national interest and defense contractors, between a lovely cloud of smoke and the smoke of napalm, and between the phantoms of security and the dangers of complacency and atrophy.
Stoned to the gills and then some, these adventurers saw and felt and knew things that no generation before did. Some fully engaged in the counterculture while others merely observed, sticking a left foot in, pulling a left foot out, but not quite jumping to the full hokeypokey.
It was an incredible time of self-discovery, of love, and of finding out what you were made of.
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About the Author
Robert Wintner has written twelve well-reviewed novels, including In a Sweet Magnolia Time, which was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and a PEN/Faulkner Award. He is an avid snorkeler, diver, and marine photographer, and is the founder of Snorkel Bob’s Hawaii. He resides with his wife in Hawaii.
Read an Excerpt
Were You There? Sir, Really?
HAPPINESS RUNS IN a circular motion; Donovan sang that, and I believe it. Good times come and go and change in nature over the years. We age and season and enjoy life as we can.
But if we isolate the old, golden glow of endless horizons and eternal youth, we may more easily recall Sly Stone's assurance at a hundred ten decibels that
I want to
I want to
I want to take you haaah-yer,
On that note we may hark to an era more unique than your average once-in- a-lifetime. Who knows when so much fun will happen again?
The warmth lingers. Sounds echo down the decades. Single frames of it clarify concepts like doubtlessness, wanderlust and a sense of well-being. They seem so indefinite now, after so many laps around the track and so much happiness come and gone and come again and gone again. Life was full and fuller then, with good vibrations seeming involuntary as breath or pulse. Never before and not since then have a handful of seasons so exquisitely defined the difference between right and wrong. With the gift of vision we saw, sensed and savored the laughably clear distinction between the profit motive and greed, between truth and propaganda, between national interest and defense contractors, between democracy and a war of attrition, between a lovely cloud of smoke and smoke up the collective ass, between a lovely cloud of smoke and napalm, between a lovely cloud of smoke and the phantoms of security, complacency and atrophy. Sustained on smoke — stoned to the gills and then some — we saw, we felt, we knew, some of us. Others observed, apart, sticking a left foot in, pulling a left foot out, but not quite jumping to the full Hokey Pokey. From those same sidelines they still observe, some with superiority, confirmed by success.
Tom Brokaw, a cultural clarion claiming that the WWII years framed the best generation, regretted "the 60s" as a lost opportunity. He dismissed the idealism of "the 60s" as a failed promise, a fantasy unrealized and unworkable in the world at large. Tom Brokaw aired a TV special called "The 60s" with personal recollection of "what it was like." He'd been alive at the time, and he recalled sanguinely his young adulthood in "the 60s," when his hair touched his ears, and bell-bottom pants and a turtleneck were typical for a walk down to the park with his young kids. At the park others tended their kids in bell-bottoms and period accoutrement. Tom Brokaw from Indiana, grounded by heartland values from a bastion of Republican virtue, delivered the news nightly for years with competent credibility, so his opinion would be hard to refute. But I hail from Hoosierville too, and I'm here to tell you: both Tom and his kids missed the best part of it — missed the part best defined by no definition, an anarchy of intent and a mission to more fully penetrate the mystical meaning of fun as we knew it. Fun wasn't part of life; fun was all of life.
Of course WWII was about as great a war to fight as ever could be. Could an enemy rouse any more fervor than the Nazis?
Yet hardly a generation after "the best generation" came another mass fervor against another enemy as formidable and sinister as the Nazis, and that enemy was war itself. For the first time in the history of man and women a generation sang out in harmony for harmony. Hell no, we won't go.
War had changed. We had no Nazis. We had Johnson, Nixon, Westmoreland and Dow Chemical urging war to protect a way of life. The nation changed, because it wasn't our way of life and we don't want your dirty war. Maybe Old Mom, a bona fide best generation gal with pinpoint recall on those years of denial in Western Europe, on the Wehrmacht backing into Poland like the butt-end recoil of a 12-guage shotgun, on the sneak-attack bombing of Pearl Harbor, on the Viche Government and the resistance, the struggles from England to North Africa, D-Day and the Beach at Normandy, the Manhattan Project, Enola Gay and oh, my God, the songs, said it best of her sons on the subject of military service in Vietnam: "Oh, you're going to Viet Nam. Over my dead body you're going."
Old Mom, patriotic as anyone from her generation, also knew a thing or two about fleecing a flatlander, which is what the Johnson, Nixon, Westmoreland juggernaut felt like to her in the heart of the heartland. The 60s legacy was that war is over. That legacy has since been lost, because the military/industrial complex realized that the Selective Service Draft beat them — beat them in the streets, beat them on the airwaves, in the schools, the homes and watering holes around the nation. The m/i complex cannot force peaceable, over-educated people to fight a war of resource allocation with no share of the dividends. Volunteers must do the fighting for the sheer love of battle and for national fervor. And we as a culture must praise those volunteers as heroes, or, short of praising our soldiers, we must stay mum when cultural leaders praise them. And so they do, and we do too. War wages on with fewer complaints.
Meanwhile, Tom Brokaw, a homespun fellow in a turtleneck and bell- bottoms, walked his kids to the park in "the 60s," hardly oblivious to the world at large. But by making personal selections in his perceptive life, he missed the 60s. No shame there, with a dynamic career in broadcast news to consider.
Sly Stone was another homespun fellow but from the other side of town. Sly woke the crowd with the cutting edge of revolutionary good taste. Sly got down and let it rip. He said it all, on his game with an irrepressible downbeat on a funky lyric for the ages. Sly Stone never shared billing with John Denver, who stood on a stage in a mop-top to yell, "Far out!" Sly Stone felt connected to the central nervous system while John Denver probed and Tom Brokaw watched. Everything was everything, but how could such disparate parts cohere? Ah, yes: and the doobie's red glare, the thoughts bursting in air, gave goofs through the night, and we needed more beer. Paradox prevailed in chaotic times.
Tom Brokaw seemed outside the action, yet Dick Nixon was in it. Tom Brokaw wore a turtleneck as seen on Bobby Kennedy in a radical fashion statement, indicating Brokaw's willingness to dabble in daring — adding bell-bottoms didn't mean shit, because department stores overflowed with 60s ornamentation once marijuana hit the suburbs; once TV was rife with reefer wry humor and everybody wanted to be hip. Pat Boone doused Tutti Frutti with corn syrup, turning Little Richard's original classic from funk and soul to shit with sugar on top. Self-respecting white kids knew little Richard and resented the theft. Dick Nixon loved Pat Boone and lunched alone on cottage cheese and ketchup, transcending the munchies with perversion.
Riptides made for differences and cultural rift both general and personal, delineating sides. Tom Brokaw hit the park in timely style, reflecting awareness or hip taste. At another park down the street or cross-town, others gathered in ragtag consensus, smoking joints, commiserating on strategy and taking solace in the music, wondering along with one lyric or another where America as a concept had gone to, asking if it still cared for its sons and daughters, asking if it could sense the monster. Or had the monster already prevailed?
The Monster voiced the harsh sentiment and growing divide. No candidate could easily embrace a lyric that questions the continuing legitimacy of the government, and the cultural rift still festers. Now down to septic level and festering worse than a faulty drain field, the two-party system is stymied. Problems persist through power grabs and shit slinging until one party fails. Self-righteous buttholes still spew dogma that you will accept or be damned. Christian standards will determine family values or you will be deemed subversive and damned again. They did it in the 60s — and the 50s too.
The good news is that no other culture in history was ever more ready to self-efface, to find truth in humor than in the U.S.A. The Monster touched a nerve for poignancy. Creedence Clearwater Revival touched a different nerve on a rockabilly downbeat for equal effect by poking fun at the culprits.
Who was the silver-spooned draft dodger that inspired Fortunate Son? Just look: two ranking political families with draft age sons qualified, both sons fortunate, silver-spooned, as it were. Both sons would in time be candidates for the Presidency of the United States of America. Both would dodge military service in Vietnam by sleight-of-hand maneuvers, with Daddy on the phone for some well-placed calls to gatekeepers with needs of their own.
The guys hungry for battle along with the poor dumb fucks who got snookered fought that war. Meanwhile, Al Gore and George W. Bush were getting drunk and snorting cocaine ...
Wait a minute. Al Gore was never a lush and didn't snort cocaine and served in the military, and his father, Senator Al Gore, Sr., was a leading critic of that war. Well, hell ...
What was the take away? It seemed obvious: you needed some Steppenwolf to balance your Creedence according to the mood of the hour. Because the mood could change from dead serious to rock out — to acid blues — Ooh! Get some Moody Blues too, because the cosmic truth was so simply stated in a lyric revealing that Timothy Leary was not dead but merely outside — outside conventional behavior, society and reality, like we could be, should be, would be — looking in.
Because getting the music right could affirm faith that the correct park had been found.
The 60s and the Universe turned in on themselves to reveal the inner core in layered patterns. Frank Zappa, Janis, Jimi — hell, Captain Beefheart, Country Joe, Joe Cocker, the Stones, Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, America, Steely Dan, Quicksilver and on and on gave voice to the insurrection, affirming the common view. Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield banged drums and steel guitars like blacksmiths on anvils, pounding things back to the truth. The Killing Floor came out in '65 as a Howlin' Wolf blues ballad set in the meatpacking district of Chicago, meant as analogy to Howlin' Wolf's love predicament. He was the meat, and romance kept butchering him no matter what he did.
When reality got inappropriately touched by grown men who should have known better, it was up to voices in the wilderness of the 60s to cry out, even though the grown men had warned that this little event should not be mentioned to anyone. The United States of America waged a war of massive attrition for the benefit of certain people who did not fight that war.
Electric Flag covered The Killing Floor in '68, beginning the cut with Lyndon Johnson:
"I speak tonight for the dignity of man, and the (heavy guitar down stroke) destiny of mankind ..."
Next came audience laughter — Lyndon Johnson had just carpet- bombed Hanoi to prove a point and shorten the war with a knockout punch. Next came Bloomfield's guitar hard charging a different kind of cavalry with Buddy Miles on drums. The slaughterhouse was ambient. We were in line for a killing down on the floor.
Revolutions in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Syria over forty years later rose against other despots with social networking as the great unifier. People hit the streets to stand up, shout out and fight for change.
In the 60s it was smoke and music lifting spirits, building momentum and rising to life as it's rarely been lived. Talk about Ethernet; we were on the airwaves, wireless, tuned in.
A turtleneck and bell-bottoms? Are you for real?CHAPTER 2
We Have Ignition and ...
IT DID NOT begin on New Year's Eve of '69. By then we were well into the essence of the thing, confident of scratch in all four gears, even as traction became metaphysical, an esoteric concept to ponder in still life. But that night shines with everlasting light.
A dozen of us, give or take a few comers and goers through the evening, had gathered at Marcia Sacks' and Betty Boop's place to celebrate the new decade with spaghetti and LSD. Marcia, our hostess for the evening, was old hat on the psychedelic scene, tripping with moderate frequency over the previous few years. She'd prepared a great, hardy sauce. A dozen hits of acid wasn't so easy to come by in one fell swoop in mid-Missouri, but we began a few days out, so by sundown on the 31 we had enough to go around — purple microdots, pink barrels, Owsleys, orange sunshine and blotters — with a single electric neon Jesus and a few odd extras in case of late arrivals or acid malfunction.
Betty was gone, off to Boston to visit her fiancée. That was a certain tender subject for me, since she'd been my main squeeze since Halloween, and sixty days was a stretch of many moons in college time, in the heart of the sexual revolution. Bona fide beautiful and acutely intelligent in her personal, parochial way, Betty seemed less than stable on the emotional front, even skittish at times. She wanted acceptance as something other than a spectacular beauty. She craved recognition for her wit, insight and clever quips instead of her perfect figure. Physical self-consciousness was compounded for her in those days of wild hair and hippy clothes. Betty was perfect and couldn't help it. Worse yet was her impending marriage to a dolt she did not love but would marry anyway because he profiled so suitably. Her parents approved of the beau, and so she went along. Going along with the parental program, she did not fit in and could not find the words to rationalize such a wrong path. Oh, she tried. She got stuck on self- incrimination every time. The phrase still in its germinal phase was copping out — trading the adventurous prospects before us for the same sameness smothering our parents in the life-stifling suburbs. Maybe her last ditch bid for redemption was telling me matter-of-factly that she would cancel her holiday visit to Boston and cancel her engagement too, if I'd only say the word. She batted her big brown eyes and licked her lips to show how much she liked me, and I think she did like me and would have liked me without inclusion at last in a greater whole that she sorely wanted to call her own. Betty craved the outside but just couldn't fit in.
Of course her name wasn't really Betty Boop; I called her that because she stole my heart on a single beat, just like her namesake did when I was eight. I don't remember which Betty Boop cartoon crushed me in a love embrace, whether it was Betty running for President or merely saying booby dooby dooby doop, boo boo be doop! I learned why love leads to marriage in that moment, falling hopelessly head over heels in love with Betty Boop. I planned to marry a cartoon character. I was only eight but it didn't matter, because she was everything. I recall with relish that George Coleman's little brother experienced similar pangs and announced his intention of marrying Betty Boop. George's little brother wasn't even seven but was smart enough to back off when I told him, "Forget it, you little shit. She's mine. I'm marrying Betty Boop." How did I know such foul language at that tender age? Easy: you little shit was my sister's nickname for me; without being entirely hateful it conveyed thorough revulsion.
Betty Boop the cartoon character had an oversized head surrounded by spit curls and a quaint body that was usually encased in a one-piece swimsuit. Betty Boop my unlikely squeeze who was engaged to be married to an egghead Ivy-Leaguer, wore her auburn hair long and silky smooth, flowing to her shoulders and down her back, which, like her front, bottom and sides, was as quaint as Betty Boop's. To say I was smitten would be an understatement. Events occurred too quickly for thorough assessment, but that would have been crazy anyway. My college Betty was a profile in cameo femininity, an intellect with limited common sense, and a generally nice person yearning to fit in with a crowd in synchronous convergence, in high times as a defense against the real times. In our Never Never Land, reality took a holiday. Youth was not then wasted on the young; it was met with an old spirit of political conviction — of love, trust, understanding and lust.
I helped her with the sensible part too. But nah, I did not take her up on her suggestion of making her a better offer, or even saying the word, or offering encouragement for herself and me as an item in any way. For starters, I had nothing to offer — no money, no prospects, no nothing but youth and the wits, so far, to survive. These were impressive assets in the neighborhood but hardly of value in an Ivy League world. Even as we spoke or engaged in any exchange, her soon-to-be husband was establishing friendships and contacts that would form a network to secure his place in the financial, intellectual, social hierarchy of America. We could only speculate on prospects for my ilk. The future shaped up like an extended Halloween, with buccaneers, cowboys, Indians, Vikings and artists. My non-Ivy future could be evaluated by the contents of my pockets, which in those days barely cleared the grocery store and the landlord.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "1969 and Then Some"
Copyright © 2014 Robert Wintner.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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