Why the Late '60s and Early '70s Was a Great Time to be Young
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear
First thing to get out of the way is to explain that "straight" had nothing to do with sexuality. It only meant those where the people who were neither "freaks" nor "greasers." They were the ones who never got in trouble for anything, they had normal haircuts, they didn't do drugs, they didn't drink, and they didn't drive souped up hot-rods. They were the guys who were driving around in their dad's Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon, wearing pocket protectors, and carrying a slide rule. They were what today has mophed into a "geek." But we didn't really use the term "geek" or "nerd" back then, so they were simply the "straight" guys.
A "Greaser" got his name because he usually wore his hair greased down and slicked back, usually long in the front, but cut close on the sides, and possibly sideburns closely shaved. Sometimes they wore boots or pointy toed shoes with cleats, and occasionally they had home-made tatoos. They tended to wear tight boot-cut jeans and "Wrangler" was the preferred logo to be on them. Also, they usually had rivets in the corners of the front pockets, and they were't allowed in school.
They didn't usually induldge in drugs, but they were well known to overindulge in alcohol. Many a "greaser's" life ended tragically on Rte. 209 coming back from Port Jervis, New York into the Poconos, because back then the drinking age in New York and New Jersey was 18, but it PA it was 21. PJ was a favorite destination of the under 21 Pocono area "greaser" faction on weekends. That's not to say that "freaks" didn't make that trip too, because some of them did, and occasionally the two groups would get into altercations before they left Port Jervis.
Some of them even took orders from their underage peers before making the journey to PJ and would tack on an upcharge to rake in some extra cash to pay for gas and more booze or drugs. The greatest fear was getting stopped at a toll booth and being asked to pop the trunk. If one got caught transporting liquor across state lines from PJ into PA it could mean some heavy fines, and maybe even some short time in the slammer. Even worse to get caught selling some of that ill-gotten booty to one's underage constituents. Let me make it perfectly clear, that I DO NOT condone any of these actions, I'm just telling it like it was.
Main Street Stroudsburg, PA
Back in the late '60s and early '70's I lived in East Stroudsburg, PA but the main hub of social activity was in Stroudsburg. On Friday night Main Street Stroudsburg was an all-night cruise fest. The "greasers" would be driving their rides up and down Main Street showing off for their chics and occasionally burning rubber at one of the traffic lights. The "freaks" usually had their cars parked on Main Street and were just hanging out having friendly conversations with each other, until maybe 8 PM or 9 PM.
Some of the locals had garage bands that they had put together and there were various opportunities for them to showcase their talent. We had a place on Main Street in Stroudsburg called "The Grapevine" which was set up in the now vacant "Lim's Sports Shop." On weekends, some of the local bands could perform there. In East Stroudsburg, there was also a place called "The Niche" on North Courtland Street. The performances there featured mostly acoustic performers, and some of them were students at East Stroudsburg University, which back then was East Stroudsburg State College. "The Niche" was operated by a church group, but eventually the place got shut down because one of the musicians got busted for heroine possession and that was the end of that.
"The Grapevine" lasted a little bit longer, but the older townspeople didn't like us hanging out there, and they were pretty determined to shut that place down too, one way or another. There was also a place called "Chic's Pizza" across the street from ESU which usually had one of the local bands playing on at least one night during the weekend. For the "freaks" music was the focal point of social activity.
Were You Alive During the '60s and '70s?
Major Events of the '60's and '70s
- Vietnam War
- Vietnam War Moratorium
- JFK Assassinated
- The Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan Show
- Dr. Martin Luther King Assassinated
- John Lennon writes "Give Peace a Chance" which becomes the antem of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
- John Glenn becomes the first astronaut to orbit the earth.
- Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the moon.
- Richard Nixon Resigns as President of the U.S.
- The Beatles break up.
- Kent State Shootings
- US voting age lowered to 18
- End of the US Army draft.
- Last US sodiers leave Vietnam
We Had Something to Believe In
The vietnam war was one of the major things on people's minds back then, whether you were for it or against it, no one was neutral. John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" became the marching anthem for the anti-Vietnam war protestors. October 15th 1969 was the Vietnam War Moratorium which was a nationwide protest. There were events going on in nearly every major metropolis in the country, even small towns like Stroudsburg. It was a three-day event, just like Woodstock, which had been the previous summer.
Protestors marched in the courthouse square in Stroudsburg and various musicians performed in the Student Union building at East Stroudsburg State College over the course of the weekend. "The event was a clear success, with millions participating throughout the world. Boston was the site of the largest turnout; about 100,000 attended a speech by anti-war Senator George McGovern. Future U.S. President Bill Clinton, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, organized and participated in the demonstration in England; this later became an issue in his Presidential campaign."Souorce: WikiPedia
Woodstock was billed as "Three Days of Peace and Music." Appropriately the logo for Woodstock was "Woodstock" the bird from "Charlie Brown" cartoons sitting on the neck of an acoustic guitar. I remember the infamous words of Arlo Gutherie near the beginning of the concert "The New York Thurway is closed man!!!" It had been built up for months before the concert actually took place. Tons of great performers were scheduled to be there including Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Jimi Hendrix, Sha Na Na, Alvin Lee, The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, and many more.
Lots of us remember Country Joe's chant "Gimmie an F, etc, etc" I, unfortunately, was not there, as I had broken my back in an automobile accident only a few hours prior to when I had planned to leave to go to Woodstock with two of my friends. But it was all on the news, on every channel. Nothing like this had ever happened anywhere in the world before. Half a million people together on Max Yazgur's 600 acre farm in upstate New York. It wasn't actually Woodstock, it was Bethel, New York which is 43 miles Southwest of Woodstock.
Woodstuck was the musical version of the anti-Vietnam War protest that would come into the bigger national scale protest in October. Joan Baez was one of the performers whose husband was jailed for refusing to be inducted into the Army and Arlo Gutherie's song "Alice's Restaurant" was another song popular among the anti-war protestors. Both Woodstock the concert and "Alice's Restaurant" were made into movies, so even though I didn't personally get to Woodstock, between the news and the movie, I got a pretty good front row seat. I saw the movie the first time at the drive-in movie theater in East Stroudsburg, but I also got the video, so I could watch it anytime.
The End of an Era
By the mid-'70s, the war was over, Woodstock was a faint memory, the "Grapevine" and "The Niche" were both closed, and I had moved away from the Poconos. There were still "Greasers" and "Freaks," I suppose, but it didn't seem like they were at war with each other anymore. Life had setteled down to somewhat of "normal." The sad thing about "normal" is that it is boring!!!!
Whether you were for the Vietnam War or against it, there has never been any cause that has enganged so much of the population, except perhaps the Civil rights movement. I don't think even Obama Care has as many people taking up the cause as the Vietnam War did.
The lyrics "Those were the days my friend, we though they'd never end, those were the days, those were the days" by Gene Raskin (who modified a Russian romance song) are kind of the definition of the end of this era. Those times are gone, but I will never forget them.