A battleground and a rock festival... love and war in the age of aquarius.
BOOKLIST: ¿...Barager's dynamic, passionate, often moving exploration of the turbulent and politically divided 1960s... is striking. The cast of complicated characters adds arresting human dimensions.¿
A startlingly vivid portrayal of the 1960s, as seen through the eyes of two ill-fated college lovers. The story of their generation spills across some of the era's most iconic settings: the legendary battleground of Khe Sanh; a Midwestern campus riven by dissent; and Altamont Speedway, scene of the notorious rock festival that ended the Sixties.
KIRKUS INDIE: ¿Barager spins a compelling tale of youthful passion, both personal and political... a rich, satisfying experience. A well-written, gripping novel that expertly blends fact and fiction, love and conviction.¿
EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS a startlingly vivid portrayal of the 1960s, as one reviewer put it: ¿the decade that changed us all.¿
Books by Richard Barager:
- Red Clay, Yellow Grass (A Novel of the 1960s)
- The Atheist and the Parrotfish
More Great Historical Fiction from Evolved Publishing:
- Invisible by Day by Teri Fink
- Galerie and Moon Path by Steven Greenberg
- The Shining Light's Saga Series by Ruby Standing Deer
- Fresh News Straight from Heaven by Gregg Sapp
- Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin
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Read an Excerpt
DAVID NOBLE GAZED IN awe at the power of their bewitchment. Oh, how things had changed. The swarm of students that clotted Northrop Mall that first day of fall quarter bore little resemblance to those from the year before, when he'd been a wide-eyed University of Minnesota freshman, numb with gratitude over escaping the serial foster homes of his youth.
The mod revolution loosed by London's Carnaby Street had yet to strike Minneapolis with full force back then. Coeds with bouffant hairdos had still worn knee-length gingham skirts, white blouses, and fuzzy sweaters that dangled from their shoulders. Big men on campus had slicked their hair with pomade and worn button-down shirts tucked into belted pants. Those earnest faces and conventional clothes of 1965, the last vestiges of conformity their soon-to-be-dismayed parents would enjoy before the shocking laxity came, had vanished.
Now, a year later, students bore mischievous looks on their faces, as if gauging how much fun they could get away with before shedding the chrysalis of youth to fly wet-winged into the tempest. Girls wore tweed skirts and mid-calf boots, or flared bell-bottoms over square-toed shoes, with hair that flowed shoulder to waist, soft and natural — or chopped short like Twiggy's. Frat boys in hip-hugging slacks sported colorful print shirts and hair hanging over their collars, void of oil or sheen.
The mall, lined by red brick, neoclassical buildings with limestone trim and colonnaded porticos, was bounded on the south by Coffman Memorial Union, and on the opposite end by Northrop Auditorium, where David now stood. Leafy oaks and maples scant weeks from flaming into seasonal foliage shaded broad sidewalks. A pair of droning mowers glinted in the morning light, lifting the sodden scent of dewy grass off the mall's inner rectangle of lawn.
David brought his gaze to rest on a throng of students halfway down the western promenade, in front of Walter Library, where Jackie had told him to meet her. A speaker at the foot of the stairs engaged the audience, and a girl in a gray sweatshirt handed out fliers.
He weaved down the busy walk and spotted Jackie toward the back of the crowd, monochromatic-hip in a brown mini with matching boots and cashmere sweater. Her blonde hair, restrained in front by a checkered headband, fell to mid-spine.
He eased next to her and took her by the arm. "What's this about?"
This long-legged girl with pouty lips and lapis blue eyes turned to him. Fair of complexion and lightly freckled, Jackie Lundquist possessed a devastating blend of midwestern wholesomeness and centerfold wantonness. Two summers before, she had been crowned Miss Robbinsdale, named for the Minneapolis suburb from which she hailed.
She grinned and took his hand. "I'm glad you came. They're handing out leaflets for a teach-in at Coffman Union. The guy talking is in SDS — Kyle Levy. I met him in class."
He studied Levy's angular face, the sloped nose and pointed jaw. Bony of shoulder and slouched of stance, with messy black hair that covered his forehead and ears, his dark eyes blazed as his rich baritone rang out, strong and determined.
"Let me set you straight about Vietnam." He scanned the crowd and jabbed a finger in the air. "We're not there to protect the South Vietnamese from communism. We're there to make South Vietnam an American colony that trades our currency and welcomes our companies. It's called neocolonialism, and its goal is to impose a Pax Americana on the entire world."
David gave Jackie a nudge. "What's SDS?"
She cocked her head and shot him a quizzical look. "Are you serious? Students for a Democratic Society. They're against the war. Listen."
"Article 3 of the Geneva Accords," Levy went on, "called for an internationally supervised election to unify the country. Ho Chi Minh would have won that election, but with America's blessing, South Vietnamese President Ngo Din Diem prevented a vote from taking place. And America was party to the Geneva Accords. So here we are, a decade later, still propping up Diem's illegitimate government. Yet we have the audacity to pretend that we're protecting South Vietnam from communist invaders. If it weren't for us, there would be no war!"
David could tell by the disillusioned faces around him, like children who blundered across an uncle climbing into a red Santa suit, that Levy had hit his mark.
Levy climbed one stair higher and changed his cadence. "Many young Americans can't vote, but we can die, can't we? Three thousand already. And for what? American imperialism?" His face contorted with righteous anger. "Say no to war!"
A burst of raucous agreement erupted, fists in the air, cries of "Right on!" and "Tell it like it is!"
His words provoked something altogether different in David. Anger, yes, but not at America: at her accusers. Barry Sadler's solemn hymn, "The Ballad of the Green Berets," thrummed in his head. The song's chorus rolled off his tongue above the clamor, plangent and on key.
The stunned flock of students turned around to see who would dare sing such an insult.
Levy's ebony eyes locked onto him amongst a flurry of catcalls directed David's way. "Not exactly progressive rock," he said through a thin smile, "but to each his own, brother, to each his own. Come to our teach-in and maybe you'll see things differently." He filled his hands with pamphlets and began to work the crowd one-on-one.
David glanced at Jackie, who shook her head and said, "That was very uncool."
He shrugged. "It just came out."
"It's embarrassing! People will think I like that stupid song too."
He gestured at Levy. "What people are we talking about here? The guy with the big voice?"
Jackie stood akimbo, her face incredulous. "I go out with you one time and you're laying a possessiveness trip on me?"
"Jeez, what are you getting so worked up about? He got under my skin, that's all. And it is not a stupid song. I teared up the first time I heard it."
"You are such a dip. We have nothing in common."
One date, one fight: not good.
He groped for a response, a reset to where they were-before the peacenik pissed him off. "Okay, maybe singing about the Green Berets at an antiwar rally wasn't such a great idea." He flashed an arch grin. "But will you still go out with me Friday?"
"To what? An ROTC meeting?" She spun and walked away.
* * *
David moped past Smith and Kolthoff Halls, a green-eyed, marble-bodied nineteen-year-old who walked with a deliberate, forward-leaning gait, as if bracing for another of life's blows. With unfashionably short hair, a strong brow, and a defiant cleft chin, his face could have been limned and framed for West Point, a poster paragon of the ideal cadet.
Living in America that year was like riding on Cyclone, the wooden roller coaster at Excelsior Amusement Park, where David had been only twice in his life-once with the fourth of his seven sets of foster parents, and again a week ago with Jackie, whom he had met while registering for fall classes.
The entire country bristled, awash with color and sound. Pop culture churned out new delights weekly: Mary Quant miniskirts, white go-go boots, flashcubes, color broadcasting on all three networks, and static-free radio. Above all, David loved the music-the soul-searing, mind-bending music: blues, soul, folk rock, pop rock, and psychedelic rock. Music by the young, for the young, a generational line-in-the-sand so absolute as to be a virtual Berlin wall. It brought groundbreaking albums from the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and a flood of innovative singles, including the most unlikely hit of all, "The Ballad of the Green Berets," a song about patriotic sacrifice by a staff sergeant named Barry Sadler.
Yet amidst the creative explosion of fashion and music and movies that made him grateful to be alive during such a time, darker forces had muscled onto the scene. So far, that year alone, Richard Speck had stabbed eight student nurses to death in their dorm in Chicago, a lunatic named Whitman had gunned down thirteen from a clock tower in Texas, and the bloody mess called Vietnam loomed larger by the day.
He trundled across a footbridge that arched over Washington Avenue to Coffman Union, an Art Deco-style student building that included a bowling alley, a billiard room, a myriad of grills and study areas, and a ballroom that once hosted Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. He took the stairs to a second-floor lounge, and sprawled on a dilapidated wing chair to figure out how to go about changing Jackie's mistaken impression that he was a dip — short for dipshit, an insult he got his fill of the preceding summer as the only college boy on a city roofing crew.
Did she think he was a dip for tearing up over "The Ballad of the Green Berets," or for singing it when he did? Probably both, but whatever the case, one thing was clear: Jackie and Kyle Levy had a different view of what America was fighting for in Vietnam than he did.
General Mills, a local denizen of the capitalist system Levy blamed the war on, had funded David's college scholarship. Corporate generosity had given him-a forsaken child, a castaway who bounced from one foster home to another-a scrabbling chance in life. He not only didn't loathe the bourgeoisie, he aspired to it. Its existence gave him hope. Pax Americana — the rest of the world should be so lucky. There was a reason people called America the land of opportunity. Compared to Hugo's Paris or Dickens's London — the classics he escaped to during his demoralizing youth, reading behind woodsheds, and in trees, and under the covers with a flashlight — success was there for the taking in America.
He thought back to his date with Jackie a week ago. He didn't own a car, so she had driven. She pulled up to the steep-roofed, dormered home in Dinkytown, where he rented a room, in a red Mustang convertible her father had bought for her when she graduated from high school. They took off with the top down and KDWB wide open. She gunned it to eighty-five when they reached Highway 12 heading west, singing at the top of her lungs to "Shapes of Things" by the Yardbirds, her wind-whipped hair a mess.
The rush of her hurtling sports car and the fuzzy feedback of Jeff Beck's guitar swept David into the moment. He sang along, antiwar song or not, as untroubled and joyous as he'd ever been. So it went the entire day, Jackie in the lead, racing from one attraction to the next like a child on a sugar high, even though she'd been to Excelsior countless times before — including the night the Rolling Stones played at Danceland, the park's ballroom, in 1964. She confessed that, at the time, she didn't like them; they hadn't yet perfected their snarling brand of rock, their first hit record still a year away. Together the two of them staggered through the Barrel Walk, where they tumbled and spun like a load of clothes in a dryer; navigated the Fun House's gunnysack slide and distorting mirrors; and rode out Cyclone's stomach-tossing plunges again and again, to satisfy her reckless zest.
David had been there only one other time, with foster mother Number Four, a hopeless drunk who drove off a bridge and died a week later. He had longed ever since to be like the rest of the children at the park that day, normal kids having fun without the grinding worry that went with being a serial foster child, always waiting for your walking papers, never knowing when the current gig would end and you'd be packed off to someone new, someone even worse.
How uncanny that Jackie insisted on Excelsior for their first date. And how was it that at nineteen, she hadn't outgrown the goofy delight of having air blown up her ass in a Fun House? He had never met anyone like her, had never known anyone with her insatiable appetite for thrills, for kicks. For life. She was like an impish, mirthful changeling — in a temptress's body.
Late that afternoon, amidst the democratizing scent of corn dogs and cotton candy, she took his arm, seized by yet another impulse, another craving. "Take me on the Ferris wheel," she urged.
The request surprised him. It didn't seem like a Jackie kind of ride, more something her parents might have done — while she rammed ten-year-olds at bumper cars.
"Why the Ferris wheel?"
She took his hand and mugged while singing her answer, and though David knew the lyrics to Freddy Cannon's ode to amusement park love by heart, he had never known if a place called Palisades Park really existed or not — and if it did, where it was. Whenever he heard the song on the radio, he pictured couples across the country necking in tunnels of love, all over each other in amusement parks just like Excelsior. He fell dead-bang in love with her at the top of the Ferris wheel, swaying to and fro sixty feet above ground, where she finished him off with a long, slow kiss glazed in cherry lip-gloss.
He returned to the moment with a sigh, staring at the study lounge's dingy ceiling as he mulled his options for Friday night. He wasn't in ROTC — she knew that, of course-though he might have been without General Mills' generosity. A line of homespun wisdom about getting past a lovers' quarrel came into his head.
Take her to something you detest, but she enjoys. Sweet forgiveness will follow.
* * *
For penance, David invited Jackie to a cult film at the Campus Theater — Un Homme et une Femme — followed by a pot party on Huron Avenue. He half hoped she would reject the offer, but she told him she looked forward to the movie and would be at his place by seven. A French film with subtitles: the excruciating cost of atonement.
She parked her Mustang out front and they walked to the theater, located at Oak and Washington. Even among the parade of hipsters streaming inside, Jackie stood out with her white headband, silver stretch top with matching tights, plastic white mini, and flat-heeled white boots.
David wore a black turtleneck and corduroys, but with his short hair and athletic build, he looked more like the burglar/hero of the television series T.H.E. Cat than a London mod. Fragrance was a standoff, David reeking of Brut and Jackie redolent of the hyacinthand-jasmine scent of Fidji.
Hailed for avant-garde camera angles and transitions from black-and-white to color to sepia, the movie was about a widow and widower who fell in love after becoming friends, but who then failed to consummate their love on account of the woman's guilt over her deceased husband. David found the film visually appealing, but intellectually unsatisfying. What was its point — that celibacy was the purest expression of grief? He kept his opinions to himself, though, because Jackie seemed enthralled and gave him full credit. Maybe next week they could see Thunderball.
He had been invited to the party, held in a ground floor unit of a three-story apartment building two blocks east of the theater, by a neighbor, on the condition that he bring a "foxy chick." They passed inspection at the door and stepped inside a darkened living room, its only contents a shabby blue sofa, a poster of Lichtenstein's Whaam! and a stereo playing "Eight Miles High" by the Byrds. Candles strewn about cast a wavering light over fifteen or twenty students in all manner of dress: frumpy skirts, tattered sweaters, a boy in a jacket and tie, a girl in a checked mini and bowler hat. A frayed, thin blanket on the floor accommodated eight. The rest of them milled about, grooving to the music.
On the couch, a vacant-faced preppie tapped a bongo wedged between his knees. A stringy-haired campus pothead named Dexter lay couchant on the blanket, where he expertly fashioned joints with a roller donated by a Loring Park pusher who sold him the grass-for five bucks a dozen, Dexter informed them. He passed each one around as it came on line. A cannabis-infused haze filled the unventilated room.
Its musky smell clung to David's shirt. He took Jackie's hand and squeezed onto the blanket next to the neighbor who'd invited them, Paul, a florid redhead who offered Jackie a hit.
"You weren't kidding about bringing a fox, were you?" he said to David while looking at Jackie.
She winked and cupped her hand around the joint, took a ferocious, cheek-puckering drag, and passed it to David like a precious baton.
Though it may have appeared otherwise from his stiff-fingered pinch, David's marijuana maidenhead had already been claimed. One Saturday last summer, after tacking down the last shingle of a side job re-roofing Paul's duplex, Paul met him at the bottom of the ladder with a lighted doobie. Under his neighbor's instruction, he drew smoke and held it until his lungs burned.
"Inhaling hits your brain faster than shooting up," Paul had assured him, like a car salesman touting a Corvette over a Barracuda.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Red Clay, Yellow Grass"
Copyright © 2018 Richard Barager.
Excerpted by permission of Evolved Publishing LLC.
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