Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The ideals of the '60s meet the activism of the '80s

This is a column I wrote for The Daily News in Halifax in April, 1991 – 26 years ago. I often find it interesting to read something I wrote years ago and in this case, doubly-interesting as I have no memory of writing it. I also find it interesting when something I wrote 26 years ago is not irrelevant all these years later. I stand by most of this – maybe with the exception of Joni Mitchell.

Just recently, I was reading a feature story about the making of the film The Doors, and a not-uncommon question was raised: what happened to the idealism of the '60s? Why did all those people who wanted to change the world end up as the greed-crazed yuppies of the '80s?

These are not questions that disturb my sleep but they do cause some minor irritation – partly because they suggest such a simplistic interpretation of a very complex time, partly because a lot of what they imply simply isn't true.

The so-called counter-culture of the '60s and early '70s should, more accurately, be called counter-cultures. Many people involved in them were looking for some form of alternative values, ways to make life meaningful, anything that showed true rejection of the way their parents lived. Other people just liked the drugs and music and felt no interest in political issues of the day. And there were many young people in the '60s who embraced values every bit as narrow-minded as their parents had before them.

They were often the ones on the sidelines, throwing rocks at anti-war demonstrators.

Even the people who were looking for more fulfilling lives took many different directions: there were exotic eastern religions; there was dropping out; there was going back to the land, living communally, writing poetry, organizing happenings.

There was also a widening awareness of how poverty and racism influence behaviour, and there was a sexual revolution which, many women realized, was a (male-coined) high-sounding name for women's sexual availability.

Out of all these movements grew – not yuppie greed – but feminism, environmentalism, a strong peace movement, an expansion of civil rights movements, the founding of underground publications which exist to this day – no longer underground – or small book publishing companies to counteract the closed establishment publishers. A friend of mine started such a company to publish young writers who were unable to break through into the world of books; his company flourishes today, still publishing original, often avant-garde works, a lot of poetry, obviously books that profit-oriented companies don't touch.

In fact, as far as I know, the people I knew during the '60s who were involved in any of the social movements, embrace essentially the same values today as they came to 25 years ago. Their tactics may be different today but they work toward the same ends. I know back-to-the-landers who may live differently from the way they did in 1969, but their vegetables are still grown organically, their compost thrives, they're probably board members or otherwise active supporters of environmental organizations.

My feminist friends probably have gone back to wearing a bra (but only if they need one) but they've become lawyers working with LEAF (Women's Legal Education and Action Fund), or directors of organizations working for pay equity, or they work in support of feminist politicians or other public feminist figures. None of them is obsessed with designer clothes or has a stock portfolio.

I'm convinced that the great majority of the people who adhered to what are commonly called the ideals of the '60s, are the social activists of the '80s and '90s. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that the people who became the yuppies were quite young during the '60s.

As for The Doors being a great symbol of the age – not for me. Lead singer Jim Morrison was described by his biographer as being “a god.” My goodness. I didn't even find him to be a decent human being.

People like Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger left me cold in the '60s and they leave me cold today. The only difference is that today, I understand why.

The music of the '60s, like the many counter cultures themselves, was wildly divergent: my taste leaned more toward Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Arlo Guthrie, Dory Previn – and old favourites like Pete Seeger, The Weavers and other folkies from the '40s and '50s.

Peter Seeger, Lee Hayes, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman – The Weavers

And I guess that's the whole point: the '60s were a time of such ferment that they can't be ignored or forgotten. It's not quite accurate, however, to make those hippy/yuppie connections.

I blame Jerry Rubin.

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