- Politics and Social Issues
The Swinging Sixties, Who Remembers Them?
Notable from the DecadeClick thumbnail to view full-size
!960 to 1969 a fascinating time
The 1960's were a long time ago. I mean, you would have to be at least 60 today to even remember them. And even at 60-years-old, in 2015 you would have only been five years old when the 60's arrived, hardly mature enough to enjoy what the period offered, at least at the beginning.
This gnarly old word-smith is 76 this year, so in 1960, maths 101 would enable you to calculate I was 21 when the Sixties arrived, perhaps the perfect age to embrace what has been perceived as “swinging” and a time of free love: anything goes; “soft” drugs and pleasurable decadence. As I was just out of the navy, I was somewhat world-wise – or thought I was – and had just begun to fulfil my desire for “sex 'n' rock 'n' roll!
Of course, those of us actually there in 1960 and on, we had no idea we were actually in a swinging period; that girls were apparently bestowing their favours on all and sundry; that we could be pot smoking hippies like the chaps over the pond in Greenwich Village. In fact, most young people of my age in Britain seemed more concerned with what they were going to do to earn a crust and keep the wolf from the door, along with other handy adages.
But what there was back then was opportunity, denied to all but the wealthy in the Third Millennium, by 2015. You could buy a decent house in the UK for £3000 (about $12000 then). The same pad in 2015 would set you back about half a million dollars!
Emigration and immigration was not the worry (apart from deciding how to spell the words) it would be shortly. Administrations in the huge, far away countries were begging Europe's young to come out and become citizens of the New World, and thousands took up the offer. Australia, for example, offered free return passage to British youths to come and work in Oz for two years. In 1965 I was one of the Brits. who had had enough of Europe's weather and iffy prospects, (and the draconian laws of entitlement by birth) and departed on the liner, S.S. Himalaya, to Sydney. But I bought my own ticket, not liking the ideas of having to surrender my passport for two years, and the fare was only £200 (about $400 back then) for 30 hedonistic days at sea with all found. A huge loss today are all the great ships then making passage cheaply over the seven seas; today's cruise ships are expensive and are not point-to-point passage makers, and airports and airline flights at tourist level are nothing but dreary torture.
I stayed in Oz right up to the end of the decade and in 1969 left for the USA.
Life in Australia didn't change much in the 1960's. It was always pretty free and easy, but mostly drug-free and decent under clear skies and what seemed like permanent sunshine. Aussies are the most open and honest of people and tolerated the wave of pimply British arrivals as long as they didn't “whinge” (complain and 'bitch) or find fault with Australia. They called us “Pommies” and to be a “Whingeing Pom” was the worst condemnation a UK immigrant, albeit temporary, could acquire. In fact, many of those with the two-year toe in Aussie waters, stayed on after the complimentary visit, or returned to the UK, missed the sunshine and cold beer, and headed back to Oz in a hurry! Not so today, very hard to get there to live. (I stayed for eight years incidently).
By the end of the decade, I was in the US and then Mexico, both, for me, sort of on par with Oz in terms of 'desirability, and I had really discovered drugs, rock and roll and booze big time.
Back in the UK, the Sixties meant “Mods and Rockers,” and later, “Skin Heads.” It was the decade of Elvis, the Beach Boys and Bill Haley; much of Britain's youth culture was adopted across the pond and even more found its way from the US to Britain, as in the music scene when Europe's rock bands aped the Detroit sound, and deep south country music, adding a more ferocious beat. The Rolling Stones took much softer US music and added the bump and grind, powering the 'Stones front-man, Jagger into becoming the world's leading sex symbol, a position, wrinkled and stringy, he clings onto today, aided by a string of nubile younger dishwater blonde wives.
That musical phenomena, the Beatles, nasal Liverpool accents and all, took the world music scene by storm, and they became multi-millionaires in short order, their often beautiful and usually original rock ballads still being played today. (The assassination of John Lennon in the 1980's was mourned world wide and associated with thousands of suicides by fans who couldn't “Live in a world without Love,”).
Of course, several large volumes would be needed to record all that went on in this hectic decade, even in the US and the UK. Most of us have heard about – and some of us lived through – the hedonism of the period. But how many remember, apart from Vietnam, all the minor wars and conflicts as well as natural disasters?
The Vietnam war began with the US sending 500 advisers there in 1961; often the sad opening gambit for more modern conflicts. By 1966, there were 500,000 troops battling the awful conditions and the stubborn North Vietnamese.
After years or trying, Nixon finally achieved the Oval Office in 1968; his old adversary, JFK, long under the sod after the Dallas horror in 1963.
The 1961 infamous Bay of Pigs scare in Cuba nearly involved the world in a nuclear holocaust. 1961 was also the year East Germany (read Russia) decided to revengefully part German into West and East, erecting the hated Berlin wall, which would last until 1992.
Meanwhile, Portugal was fighting in many African states; In 1965, the Indian/Pakistan conflict flared and was never really resolved to the satisfaction of all parties; the result has been Pakistan becoming a hotbed of jihad sympathizers and India emerging as the world's most populous land, many wealthy as Croesus, yet unable to support its billion poor.
By 1967, Nigeria was involved in bitter civil war; the Northern Irish were bombing one another as well as the hated British, the situation carrying on until an uneasy peace, which has just been won.
Not to be outdone, homosexuals were now to be known as “Gays,”* (see footnote) and began vociferously demanding their “Rights.” The success they finally obtained is obvious today as countries all over the world allow them to marry and adopt children. (I was bewildered to see a self- confessed lesbian, Amelie Mauresmo, now the coach of top 5 tennis player, Murray, is now pregnant. The father's name has not been disclosed).
Talking of starting things with a bang, as it were, France manufactured and tested its first atom bomb. In 1964, China followed suit and both are now proud owners of the H-bomb; if that horror is ever used I am sure it will spell the beginning of the end for man on this planet.
The decade also had its full share of natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Valdivia, Chile, which reached an unbelievable 9.5 on the Richter scale, killed 6000, and is still the largest such event ever recorded by a country mile.
Environmentalists were impelled to take up cudgels when the Cuya Hoga River in Ohio caught fire due to oil and chemical pollutants. This led to the formation of FEPA and rather cleaner rivers.
In 1969, Hurricane Camille became the windiest monster to ever strike land around Mississippi, with wind speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour and the resulting loss of life (around 300) and damage.
Not to be outdone, there were seven fatal air crashes killing more than 1000 passengers and crew, etc.
By the end of the decade, girls had been on “The Pill” since 1960, abortions became commonly legal, and unwanted pregnancies should have been a thing of the past despite 100 million chemical contraceptive users by 2015. Unfortunately, evolution dictated otherwise and this is a huge problem in our times.
Of course, all these events and many more are recorded online in sites like Wiki, etc., and to give more details herein wouldn't make sense.
If anyone wants to comment on this article, please tell me what were their outstanding memories – or those of their parents – from the 'Sixties. Mine was getting on the ship to Australia, a place I never should have left!
* Dating back to the 12th Century, “Gay” has been a word in English, originating in the French “Gai,” I believe, meaning light, bright and happy, full of life, etc., but even back then and onwards it began to take on the connotations of which would finally see the word usurped completely by the homosexual community to describe them and their lifestyles. Gay today means one thing only. Gay was a nice descriptive word once, much used by poets. All is not lost, the abstraction, Gaiety, is still used as it once was to mean celebratory merriment. And I must admit, it is a much nicer word than others previously used to describe gays.