Oh geez, it's the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury, at Monterey Pop, or anywhere else two or more tie-dyed, inordinately hairy, endlessly horny stoners might have gathered.
The leftover activists from that era are writing their end of life books. Now short of hair and coiffed of beard, they pontificate about what they think was lurking in the hearts of an entire generation.
They want you and me to believe that 1967 was a mystical time when a huge group of war babies summoned up dreams of transforming society, as if something unique and purposeful in their DNA kicked in an altruistic and uncontrollable desire to start challenging the establishment, opposing a stupid war, and marching for women's rights and racial equality. Ha.
Oh, and while we're saving the world from itself, let's roll in the mud at week long concerts, have sex with anything that moves, and worship at the feet of Timothy Leary, chanting his mantra -- turn on, tune in and drop out,
I'm tired of those wankers taking credit for my generation. I have a different theory about what caused the sixties to roll over and implode on itself. It wasn't because there was a perfect storm of war colliding with civil rights, women's rights and free love.
It was all about one man's death.
Without that particular, singular event, the sixties would have slogged along as another docile decade of somnambulism like its predecessor, the fifties. Yep, women would still be married, wearing bras and staying home. Jesse Jackson would be a religion professor at Tuskegee University. And free love would simply reflect the gratitude of a generous hooker.
Everything came unglued when JFK was assassinated. His unfathomable, still questionable death was the beginning of a rebellion that is still being felt.
JFK's death was easily the most traumatic event of my generation. You can add the subsequent murders of Martin Luther King and Bobby five years later, but we were so numb after JFK that their deaths seemed muted, like the sounds of a distant echo. Not to diminish the agony of those equally horrific assassinations, but the emotional weight of those killings was carried by our younger siblings.
In fact, I believe that Bobby and MLK would still be alive if JFK hadn't been murdered.
The unrest that unleashed so much anger and rebellion in the latter half of the sixties started on November 22, 1963.
Before then we were happy, even ecstatic with our lives. We had hope. We had JFK. There had never been a president embraced so completely by young people.
No one could have cast a better person to run the country. Not because of his agenda, which barely had a chance to get off the ground. But for his personal appeal to a twenty-something demographic that had recently come of age.
More than any other politician before or since, JFK belonged to US. Next to George Washington, he was the most charismatic leader the country has ever known. He was our class president and beloved older brother. We worshipped him. He was a real war hero who looked and acted like a war hero -- plus he was well educated, witty, smart, a published author and married to the prettiest, smartest girl in the country.
During his inaugural address, he immediately reached out and tapped us to assume unheard of responsibility. Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country. You talking to me?
He lifted the hazy veil of ennui that envelops young high school and college graduates and gave us a sense of power. He made us feel that who we were and what we did was important. He understood leadership. And we were willing to follow him anywhere.
Then, unbelievably, shockingly, he was dead. And we were left rudderless and stumbling.
As a group we behaved like so many young people behave when they've been traumatized by sudden death. First comes the shock. On a personal level, the sadness of a violent murder is unbearable. It hums in the background like white noise you can only silence with sleep. Over time, even sleep won't come. But as many traumatized people discover, alcohol and drugs can dull the pain.
There follows a feeling of emptiness and a sense of helplessness when everything that means anything seems gone for good.
Meanwhile, with no one to offer comfort, the sadness continues like a wound that won't heal. Over time a scab forms and the emotional bleeding begins to slow. But the psychic scars are permanent, revealed in the profound and unexplainable anger that seems to come out of nowhere.
It's not that hard to understand when you think of the computer model. Garbage in. Garbage out. Devastated by JFK's death, the now Bereft Generation turned and aimed its newly minted rage against anyone in its sights -- the war, the establishment, racism, inequality, and injustice -- while simultaneously trying to dull the pain of sadness and loss with sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Everything that happened after JFK died followed a tried and true formula -- one that predicts the inevitable emergence of rage and rebellion in a severely traumatized individual. In three to five years, the shit is going to hit the fan.
Only in the case of my generation, it was a group effort.