The Sixties: If You Remember Them, You Weren't There

In the Sixties Darkest Years

Fusible Links
Fusible Links

Before the counterculture and the hippie movement brightened hope for a renewed American Dream, Peter McCarthy struggled to find out where he belonged in the coming of age story from 1965.


Growing Up Hippie and Sticking with It

The Messes I Made While You Were Waiting For Godot: The Autobiography of X, Book Three
The Messes I Made While You Were Waiting For Godot: The Autobiography of X, Book Three

It's not the wins or losses but the decision to do, to screw and screw up, that makes a life worth remembering.


True Only If You Really Weren't There

The last time I heard the familiar nonsense about the 1960s, "If you remember the sixties you weren't there," it was repeated by my boss at a department meeting, immediately after which he turned to me for confirmation.

I smiled.

I wasn't about to waste my time defending the counterculture to a group whose minds had already been hardened by the drumbeat of the mass media.

And what was there to gain, anyway?

1960s If You Remember 1968 You Weren't There

If you are one of those old enough to reveled in the spirit of the Sixties, here is some of what you might have witnessed:

  • Time magazine calls their designation Person of the Year these days, but in 1966, it was Man of the Year and that man, collectively, was my generation, The Baby Boomers, all of us then under twenty-five.
  • The Beatles flipped pop music on its head and changed forever the way we listened to the radio. I Wanna Hold Your Hand was huge, but so was All You Need Is Love , a generation's anthem in response to worldwide oppression and war. John Lennon argued that Christianity would go away and that The Beatles were already more popular than Jesus, an obvious truth striking so close to home that mobs threatened the group and staged record burnings.
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22nd, 1963, ending for many of us the fantasy of an idealized America, dedicated to peace, liberty and prosperity. His alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was murdered three days later by Jack Ruby, a strange local character whose ties to the mob were quickly scrubbed by the authorities. We have never been told the whole truth and critical evidence has been destroyed, those involved mostly silenced by death.
  • In 1963, Martin Luther King led The March on Washington, where he delivered his I Have A Dream speech to a quarter of million people stretched out along The Mall. In 1964, he became the youngest person ever to win the Noble Peace Prize. On April 4th, 1968, Dr. King was also assassinated.
  • Timothy Leary, along with Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass), Harvard Professors, experimented with mind altering substances, most famously LSD, and promoted the results as revolutionary. "Turn On. Tune In. Drop Out," became a slogan that got both of them fired from Harvard.
  • Ominously, in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson succeeded my generation as Time's Man of the Year.
  • In 1964, Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most comprehensive legislation calling for fairness in society for all classes, races and genders since the Nineteenth Century.
  • On July 6th, 1969, Apollo 11 landed the first men ever on the moon, fulfilling a pledge made by President Kennedy. It is still considered one of mankind's greatest achievements.
  • Only a month after the Apollo 11 landing, Woodstock Nation gathered for three days of music, love and freedom on Max Yasgur's farm. It's unclear whether this or the political pressures brought on the established parties in 1968 represented the high point of the 1960s counterculture, but neither were matched in kind or anything close thereafter.
  • On June 5th, 1968, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles shortly after winning the California Democratic Primary. The country was told an unsustainable story about the killer being Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant claimed to have been driven to murder by American favoritism toward Israel.

The 1960s - Were You There?

1960s If You Remember The Sixties You Weren't There

The Sixties weren't a sex and drug addled decade in which free love deprived young people of the ability to form memories or permanent relationships. In addition to these bullet points, there were moments of humanist cohesion and understanding.

Young people flocked to the Peace Corps, heeding President Kennedy's call to help a less privileged world. Northern liberals traveled south to help with voting rights drives intended to bring democracy to the mosquito republics for the first time.

While many answered the call of patriotism, many other young men went to jail or surrendered their citizenship rather than fight in an inhumane war against a small, impoverished Third World country.

Women gathered enough commitment and force to inaugurate their own liberation movement.

On a smaller scale, partners of every sexual inclination began learning, for the first time in history, what it was like to build personal relationships not bound by property contracts, otherwise known as marriage licenses, or the necessities of child rearing, to understand what it was like to discover each other freely.

Never mind the social forces urging us to forget that revolutionary decade, but observe the results of what began then.

Imagine what more might have happened, had our best leaders not been gunned down. Understand that, not only are women enjoying something closer to social equality than ever before, but that they are now the most powerful voting group in the country.

Without women voting, neither Bill Clinton nor Barrack Obama would have been elected and George W. Bush would have won in a landslide, as indicated by male voting patterns.

While it's true that America has become more militarized than ever, we have an African American president, a possibility unimaginable without the successes of the Sixties civil rights activists.

Conformity has continued to erode as we get farther beyond the rigid Fifties. Individuals are freer than ever to express themselves creatively, sexually, socially and vocationally.

Not on this hub, but maybe in the future, we'll explore why some groups in power are still trying to erase the Sixties. They have managed to peel back our resistance to war, and maybe we need to prepare for more.

Maybe, but let's just think about why and how and who stands to gain. Let's appreciate the victories, the memories and the long shadows cast by those momentous years. We were there, and we remember.

© 2010 David Stone

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What do you think? 17 comments

agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 6 years ago from Australia

Oh yeah I was there! There were bad times as well but one thing we had then that seems to be missing these days is simple 'respect' !

Thanks for bringing back the memories!

David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City Author

Yes, there was more of that. Thanks.

Dorothee-Gy profile image

Dorothee-Gy 6 years ago from near Frankfurt/M., Germany

I was born and raised in that time, with a sister 8 years older than me, so I got a whiff of it (as far as it perpetuated to Germany). My biggest memory of this time is the juxtaposition between the flower-power movement on one side with peace and harmony as main driving force and brutal political extremism on the other hand. Looking at that, our actual life has calmed down, no position is as radical as they were then. I think the conflict is now lived out on another scale, it is more an intellectual conflict, with more and more people recognizing the power of thought, and that's a good thing. But without the breaking free of the 60's, none of this would have been possible.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City Author

It was a revolution less quiet than the powers that be would like us to believe now. A lot changed.

From your description, Germany (I'm assuming West) was like America. Kurlansky, in his book, wrote about Berlin being pretty active, if I remember correctly, but it was all intense and, as such things go, brief.

mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 5 years ago

I saw this on DropJack and had to come over. I was too young in the 60's to be very aware of anything, but in the past 10 years of my life I have wondered where all of those people, who had such high hopes and vision in the 60's, went. My biggest fear is that we will be losing ground on many of these important issues.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 5 years ago from New York City Author

I'm not familiar with DropJack, but thanks in any case. My novels are exactly about the long fallout from the 1960s. Fascinating topic, but I do believe people are losing track of it. The general public had a tough enough time of it when it was current.

Injury Lawyer 5 years ago

@David Stone: I agree with a lot of the things you say. But I believe in American exceptionalism. Hard work cures the ails of the soul and sets you free. No more free handouts. I think if people want free handouts in exchange for socialist votes, they can pay for them out of their own pay-checks. Leave me and my family alone. Our church is our welfare system. And we give rather than take.

Steviewhyrusokz 5 years ago

"If you remember the sixties you weren't really there" is a quote from Frank Zappa!

David Stone profile image

David Stone 5 years ago from New York City Author

Other say it was Gracie Slick and Robin Williams. It doesn't matter. It's the way it was used to denigrate cultural revolution that is the point of article. Does sound like Zappa though.

Diana Lustig 5 years ago

I was definitely not alive during this time, but I love every aspect of it. There's so much that came out of the 60s that changed America for the better, even though in my opinion, America is not better as a hole. But if it weren't for the counterculture movement, the hippies, flower power, or the civil rights movement, we'd be leading very different lives. And probably not better ones. I for one, love the 60s and appreciate the way it shaped the world.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 5 years ago from New York City Author

Right with you on all that, Diana. Thanks.

Chuck Bluestein profile image

Chuck Bluestein 2 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

I read your article on Eckhart Tolle and commented on it and decided to see if you have other articles that I would like. This article mentions Ram Dass. He wrote a famous book before anyone heard of Tolle. Ram Dass wrote "Be There Later." Just kidding! He wrote "Be Here Now." It is about the spiritual experience of transcending time that Tolle calls being in the now.

The Beatles took drugs and wrote songs about it. But it did not end there! In 1968 they went to India and learned TM (Transcendental Meditation). The 2 living Beatles still practice it. Is that the end of it? No!

Now you have Oprah, Dr. Oz, Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, Katy Perry, Liv Tyler and many other celebs that do TM. So the heart of the 60s still lives on. Also many famous musicians and actors of the 70s say that they got into entertaining because of The Beatles.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 2 years ago from New York City Author

True, Chuck, that period, for me as well as others, demystified the East and gave us new avenues to awareness. In reverse order, I learned about Ram Dass after reading Tolle, but probably would not have found about him at all if I hadn't started with Tolle. Tolle, I think exhausted himself because he couldn't stop talking. After about the two-thirds mark, The Power of Now is filler probably put in to satisfy a publisher requirement. It's also not very insightful, and in many ways, it contradicts in tone the wonderful start of the book. Ram Dass was wise. He made his statement and, then, lived it.

Thanks for your comment.

Chuck Bluestein profile image

Chuck Bluestein 2 years ago from Morristown, AZ, USA

A friend of mine said he stopped reading the book, The Power of Now, half way through since it did not make sense. I told him that he wrote it after sitting on a bench for years and so his communication was not that good. But then he got a lot of practice and he wrote A New Earth and that book is 50 times better then The Power of Now.

The TM meditation is a part of yoga known as raja yoga. The postures or poses are known as hatha yoga. Mother Theresa was practicing karma yoga. The postures are to keep the body free of problems and enable it to live as long as possible to help the person to accomplish the goal of yoga.

So what is the goal of yoga. Remember that our language was not made to describe things like this. Wikipedia used to say "In all branches of yoga, the ultimate goal is the attainment of an eternal state of perfect consciousness."

Note that 'perfect' is referring to a state of consciousness that cannot be improved upon. In financial terms what amount of money cannot have a higher amount? A blank check. The only way for people to be really happy before reaching that state is with movement towards it (evolution of soul). So reading that book made you feel good.

But then you were not doing anything about it. Exercise makes you feel good. Playing tennis makes you feel good. Reading makes you feel good. These things are not the same as thinking. Thinking is not an effort. You can think about reading or think about exercise or think about having sex but this is different than actually doing it.

They say that women practicing yoga in the West is a huge phenomena. There is even a movie about it called Yogawoman. Hillary Clinton has been doing yoga since law school. Bill Clinton does not do yoga but he is a vegan. Al Gore does raja yoga which is meditation. Al Gore just became a vegan.

David Stone profile image

David Stone 2 years ago from New York City Author

The world is turning, that's for sure. And turning means changing.

What goes sour with so many practices, even Taoism, is the ritualization that inevitably comes and douses the original flame. We can try all these things that others have tried, and we can learn from them. But the only practice that gets us anywhere special is individualized conscious awareness, of discovering our impulse, and acting on it. Passive enlightenment is a spiritual sedative.

annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

I remember the 60s well and I had a great life then (still do!). That decade took me from 9 to 19 and I had a great time. My main memory is the music, the fashions and a great group of friends. The freedom was wonderful but, contrary to the belief of my students later, I didn't smoke pot and take part in flower power, apart from the fashion that is.

On a more serious note, I remember the assassination of JFK and various missions to the moon; both those things had an impact on me. Here in Britain Macmillan and Churchill made an impression on me too and I went on strike as a teaching student against that awful woman Thatcher who was ruining our education system.

All in all I think the 60s gave us a base on which to realise that we can make a difference. We still don't do enough to make the government listen to us, they're still going to war instead of talking and they still don't care about the planet. However, if enough of us keep shouting they'll have to take heed.

Interesting article with a thoughtful perspective. Off to follow you now!

David Stone profile image

David Stone 2 years ago from New York City Author

Thank you, annart. I believe that, while they may be doing some of the same things, they aren't doing them as much or with as much cover from the mass media. Things are better.

Some time next week, my Squidoo lenses will start coming over. You'll enjoy some of the Sixties stuff from over there. We had to use different user names for that account, but I kept it close = David Stone1. I hope to see you there, too.

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