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The 60’s: The Age of Innocence… Guess Again!
The American Dream?
For the first few years of the 1960s, life was indeed innocent for the common person. The American Dream of owning a house with a white picket fence, having two kids playing in the yard, and having a job that allowed substantial income for necessities and time for family was definitely present. Kids had birthday parties, high school dances were sock hops and closely monitored by chaperones, and the big event in rural areas was the annual county fair and parade.
There were drive-in restaurants where your food would be brought to your car. Hamburgers were a quarter, Pork Tenderloins 65 cents, and milkshakes 60 cents. There were also drive-in movies (that gave lovers a place to enjoy something more than the movies) for $1.50 a car. If you weren’t old enough to go to the drive-in movies by yourself, the Saturday double feature matinee would cost 25 cents to get into, with popcorn costing a dime, candy bars a nickel, and cokes 15 cents.
Gas was 27.9 cents a gallon, oil changes with air filters five dollars, and cigarettes were 29 cents a pack for regulars, and 32 cents a pack for 100’s. A box of cherry Stag cigars with the plastic tips was 69 cents.
Events That Changed Us
Ike was out and President Kennedy had taken office and the country thought the first Catholic President could work out well. Of course, the Bay Of Pigs incident and civil rights speeches quickly changed that opinion. Lee Harvey Oswald was blamed for shooting the President in Dallas, and was quickly shot by Jack Ruby. Innocence was starting its departure.
Martin Luther King was bringing about change and discontent for racists with demonstrations and marches throughout the South. Malcom X was doing his part to discredit MLK and pull blacks over to his religious beliefs. Both ended up dying at the hands of murderers before their missions in life were complete as the 60’s continued their loss of innocence.
Vietnam was claiming more and more of America’s children as time went by. Most were from rural America and the slums, dying either because they thought it honorable to fight, or, because they had no money to go to college and get a deferment so they were drafted. As the bombing increased and tales of civilians being butchered were made public, society continued to change. And, President Johnson felt it necessary to show us a scar from a medical operation.
The respect for one’s elders began to wane as common sense told them to stop being naïve and think for themselves. The length of one’s hair, the style of dress, and the symbols worn separated the pro-war from the anti-war activists. When four died at Kent State, killed at the hands of National Guardsmen that were ordered to shoot upon the unarmed, innocence was slapped in the face and knocked even further out of the picture.
Country Joe & The Fish "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag"
Oh, kids still rode bikes. The Sting Ray, with its high rise handlebars, smaller wheels and banana seat proved to be the menace of many a kid attempting to pop wheelies while traveling at high rates of speed.
Family television shows had broadened out from Roy Rogers, My Friend Flicka, Sky King, and My Little Margie to the comedic Batman and Laugh In, the special effects loaded Lost In Space and Land of the Giants, the spy filled Man From U.N.C.L.E. , Secret Agent, and I Spy, and the variety shows of Ed Sullivan and The Smothers Brothers (later cancelled because of its political statements and anti-war sentiments).
The Beatles wanted to hold your hand, the Rolling Stones couldn't get no satisfaction, and The Troggs had singing hearts provided by Wild Thing. Music,also, reflected the changing times with songs of protest from Bob Dylan, CS&N, Mason Profit, and many others. Drugs became another way to experience the times and the electronic music of the day. Pot was the drug of choice, but speed, acid and downers quickly made their way into the culture. Mind expansion was the key and the Summer of Love the result. Groups like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane, as well as, artists including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, rode the drug train with acid rock masterpieces.
Movies got more extreme in both violence and semi nudity. The James Bond movies displayed action and sexuality as enticements, The Wild Bunch was the first adults only western because of violence, and Easy Rider gave us drug smuggling and using, love making, and violence as a lesson of life. And no one can forget the classic Valley of the Dolls, that showcased Sharon Tate (later murdered by followers of Charles Manson).
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young "Ohio"
Hopes of new beginnings were shattered when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Also, George Wallace was shot while campaigning, causing only a few tears to be shed after his activities of Gov. of Alabama. Richard M. Nixon became the new President and hopes of peace dwindled amidst the masses. Tricky Dick would prove to be the enemy of the peace movement for several years to come.
As kids, the comic section reading was first, but the front pages continued to provide news that stopped the laughter. The death tolls from Vietnam were headline news. Richard Speck (killing eight nurses in Chicago) and Charles Whitman (shooting from the University of Texas Tower killing 14 and injuring numerous others) proved there were real monsters in our world. And, late in the decade, perhaps the most notorious criminal of the century, Charles Manson, directed his followers to two nights of merciless killing in California and gave everyone nightmares.
We knew that in school, we were safe from the outside world. Basketball games were held in gyms filled to capacity with screaming fans. Football games were our greatest concern of injury. Teenagers pushed limits of handholding, hugging and kissing in the high school hallways. Yet, what awaited us after school was somewhat disheartening and different than what we’d been led to believe. Again, innocence was leaving us as we aged with the times.
You needed to be "groovy to be with it in the in crowd", where it was "cool to be a freak." Also, it was "outasite to be far out". “The government is filled with crooks”, “The police are pigs”, and “Don’t trust anyone over the age of thirty” were our cries of anguish. “Live for Today”, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”, and “Man made alcohol and God made marijuana, who do you trust” were our statements of hope!
Man on the moon and Woodstock were tied for the greatest event of the decade. One displayed man’s greatest technical achievement and the other the ability of the youth of the day to show the world that thousands could get together and practice the Peace, Love, Dove that they preached. As Three Dog Night would later sing, "Joy To The World".
Steppenwolf "Draft Resister"
Each person that lived in the 60’s will have their own memories of both the good and bad times they experienced. And, not a soul that truly remembers this time in the life of America can forget the rules and lessons learned from these times.
1) Belief in government, or those motivated by political or monetary goals were and are not to be trusted. This is a lesson more of us need to remember in today’s world. The common man is only a tool to be utilized to achieve greatness in the eyes of those that do not know what being common is like.
2) All men are created equal. This doesn’t mean that one group is superior to another, nor does it mean that one owes the other anything. It means we have all been given the ability to succeed if we use what we were born with...intelligence and common sense. Those that expect something for nothing, feel as though they are owed because of trials and tribulations endured by past generations, or those that feel they are superior because of financial status need to take a second look at themselves and change their attitude. Love your brother and we’re all brothers.
3) We can change the thought pattern of society if we all stick together and utilize common sense. We don’t need groups like the Weathermen, S.L.A., or others that utilize violence as extreme measures. It’s simply a matter of making our voices heard loud enough and in enough communication avenues that they can no longer be ignored.
Those were three lessons learned over fifty years ago that need reviving today.
No one can deny the changes that took place in the 60’s began the loss of innocence of America. Maybe it was because we opened our eyes and saw what was taking place and refused to accept it as the inevitable.
“Fool me once, shame on you,
Fool me twice, shame on me”
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