Valentine to 60’s, Shock at O’s


All the months of ink spent on the ‘Occupiers’ ultimately leads me to shock that these birds can’t manage to keep themselves better off. Tent cities fast become moldy centers of pestilence, plague, murder, mayhem, and a hell of a lot of whining.

Get a grip. My oft-maligned 60’s generation was out in the world misbehaving ingeniously at a far more tender age. In the sixties, 17 year olds were forming communes, exploring farming, building log cabins, geodesic domes, houseboats and– our primo art form –making rock and roll. We were sewing our own clothes, swilling about in Woodstock muck, marching on Washington, discovering Appalachia, driving to Mexico in uninsured no-seat belt jalopies, brewing potato moonshine and dandelion wine and sharing drugs. Why the gap.

Well, well, we have come to this. We observe today’s adults who never managed a thing on their own for their first 25 years. Who don’t even have the sand to fury at being included in parental or government guardianships until they’re nearly thirty! That alone would have turned us all Bolshevik.

I left home at 17 and drove across country from California to New York. The highways of America were littered with us on this pilgrimage, this rite of passage. We were on a full speed run from convention toward individualism. We learned guitar, built harpsichords, outfitted school buses for homes, restored barns/basements/attics….we reveled penniless and brainless in the exhilaration of being unguardedly alive as we explored wilderness and urban jungles, read and adored French writers, gulped Pernod and puffed Gauloises and drooled for bohemian art and Italian filmmakers, martial arts, zen, dirt bikes, tai chi, and tried it or tried imitating all of it. There was nothing so exciting or free or dangerous as being on our own. A lot of living got done badly, but hey, that turns out to be how life works, and you figure out how to make good bits out of disasters. And get better at doing it.

When I hit the East Village at 18 I found thousands of me in variation who were building a brilliant underground that included the start-up Village Voice, weekly newspapers filled with scurrilous outrage and cartoon strips; directions to free dental clinics in Jersey and the nearest ER for serious bleeding. How to install a toilet in a loft. How to sand floors. We were remaking fashion, rewiring ceiling fixtures, turning storefronts into apartments and taking showers at St Jame’s pool. Turned out you could sit in the 42nd Street Library or big museums or Weisner’s Bookstore on 14th Street reading all day in comfy chairs. Word was out there for cheap apartments, where to hear Janis Joplin, watch Cocteau and Fellini films for a buck or how to time it right to see Lenny Bruce get pulled out in handcuffs from the Jewish Theatre on Third Avenue after performing with the exuberant use of four letter words.

You’d take to the sidewalks of the city night and day to watch the entire world around you. Find cheap Chinatown meals that delighted the senses and pirogi from Ukrainians on Third Avenue and real Egg Creams on the corner of St Mark’s. The cheapest place for paint and canvas. Old wool army and navy uniforms for warmth. Where to hear Gene Krupa and Thelonius Monk free and listen to Bob Dylan become a legend; where Buckminster Fuller’s last book could be found. Fulton Fish market discards that fried up good. And you’d wash dishes in a really scuzzy 42nd Street nightclub in exchange for food and likely be starting your own band when the shift ended.

We’d gather to spread info and rumor then span out to find out about living it. And we were happy! Ridiculed, upsetting grown-ups, having trouble finding work, piss poor, scared, but happy! Not dependent on prescriptions and medical plans and not getting sick, or being so damn needy, either. By the time most of us were twenty-five we were employed and raising families.

The 60’s generation that’s been raked over the coals for being ne’er do well incompetents didn’t destroy life on the planet after all, and turned out, in sharp contrast to what’s around now, to have been a lot inventing, independent, free spirited youngsters who abolished segregation, went to the moon, worried about fascism and loss of privacy, came up with Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood and Bridget and Ursala and Sophia, Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, James Bond, Evil Knieval, David Bowie, Mort Sahl and Robin Williams. We made art forms never seen before, owned politics du jour, making the occasional disaster of much along the way. But at least did something more than getting a tattoo! We changed the status quo, and that generation in most every country did the same, all over Planet Earth.

Let’s see the world’s next 18 year olds head into the unexplored country, the future, with some gusto and fervor. Honestly, listen to me, you don’t need seat belts, or GPS, or college degrees, or vitamins, or bottled water, or protective helmets. Bounce around on the front seat of your 25 year old car, eat Twinkies and bacon, risk dehydration, learn something on your own, fall on your head and skin your knees. And for God’s sake, start protesting the stupid laws that steal your independence and coddle you into oblivion.

HOORAH FOR THE SIXTIES. Drop out and tune in. Never thought I’d be saying that.

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2 thoughts on “Valentine to 60’s, Shock at O’s

  1. “A lot of living got done badly, but hey, that turns out to be how life works, and you figure out how to make good bits out of disasters.” Wow! Wonderful sentiments from my era, wonderfully expressed. Your writing style is impressive & refreshing to read. I dropped out way back then too – in a commune up near Shasta, no murder or mayhem – and have dropped out again now just to see if it can still be done with dignity & purpose. Great post!

    • Thanks, John, for responding so kindly. I may be guilty of looking back through rosy glass. I am sure the level of basic competence was up a peg or two from what’s in sight now; that the lust for adventure, for real experience, is greatly diminished in the up and comers. All my picture memories are of rabid enthusiasm. I’m glad to hear you haven’t lost that either.

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