Sunday, June 3, 2007

Musings on the Anniversary of the Summer of Love

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.


ksquester said...

Wonderful entry.  I totally agree.  I remember that day and the shock and watching the funeral on television (black and white)  I also happen the think that Jackie K. was not only beautiful but very smart. She could have written books on JFK and her life, but didn't.  Again, great entry.   Anne

jayveerhapsody said...

Today's hopelessly vapid generation has no clue about the powerful JFK mystique or the enormous impact of his death. You've conjured many memories and, as usual, did it eloquently.


lanurseprn said...

I grew up in the 60's. I still remember how devastated my mother was when he was killed. I was just a small child. Then, when Bobby and MLK were killed, she was sad again. You really brought back some memories of that era that I'd forgotten about.

gaboatman said...

Mrs, L.
Very well written and right on target, as usual.  You have stirred old memories.

ber144 said...

Since this was just slightly before my time I have been reliant on the memories of others.  My mother always has said that this was the most shocking moment of her life.  My father was a little more casual about it, (but then he had a lot of hardship growing up) and both have given me a lot of insight to what life was like just before I was born and in times where I was too young to remember a thing.

Great job of conveying the feel of that time.  I really enjoyed this.

sistercynthiadr said...

What a beautiful piece.  I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through it.  It just makes sense.

gfly43 said...

Sorry, but one tragedy does not undo a generation.  Yes, it was unthinkable and horrible.  Yes, it sobered the U.S. citizenry.
But attributing major cultural upheaval to one event is simplistic and naive.

jevanslink said...

World War I started with an assassination.  

Mrs. L

cberes1 said...

Great post Judy.  I remember it well, and I was ONLY in 5th grade.  My then MALE teacher broke down and cried, I remember that vividly.  And watching the tv for hours.  You are right.  We so lost our innocence with that moment.  I was a bit behind the hippie movement but my brother wasn't.  He was in Ann Arbor, the Haight Asbury of the midwest.  Remember THAT real well too.  What a time.  Hendrix, The Doors, Cream, Donovan.....I wouldn't want to go back, but I'm glad I was there, a lurker so to speak.


screaminremo303 said...

Mrs L has once again grabbed the cord of a 1000 watt bare bulb and illuminated the topic with the blinding glare of reality. The collective angst over catastrophic events is our own reflective PTSD and requires a half-life of media scrutiny and personal reflection to boil to the surface. I have long held that the backlash against the actions and policies of the current White House administration is nothing more than a group tantrum over the fear of the Boogeymen of 9-11. We can't kill them and make all the bad things go away, so the collective simply screams at the wind. Regardless of his personal foibles, JFK crafted a persona and presence that has been lacking in our society ever since.

Don't fear. The culture of peace, love, and killer Doobie is alive and well in the People's Republic of Boulder, Colorado. I have seen the beast and it is us.

psychfun said...

I've always wondered if JFK lived what would be his legacy? Would there have been problems later? The whole Marilyn Monroe thing, his drug problem, other political issues we still may not know about....would it have fallen apart later to then have all this stuff in the country happen a bit later. We will never know & he goes out on top. It makes me wonder if this is also why the conservatives have been able to coast on the backlash of this.