Sitting in a meeting this week, a member of my writing group mentioned his belief that 9-11 was the result of a CIA conspiracy. I avoided pursuing further discussion; definitely a can of worms I didn’t want to open. But in my mind, the sixties and the conspiracies that bookmarked those years were fighting to surface.
Over the next few days, memories of being a teenage girl in the decade of ‘sex, drugs and rock’n roll’ became more and more vivid. I would love to say it was always a party, but I’d be lying. I wish my biggest concern was borrowing someone’s ID so I could get into a bar while underage, but not true. The sixties were frightening and my mortality was always in my face. Those years were also fascinating as unimaginable innovations surfaced and made me glad I was alive.
The ‘Cold War’ hit its peak in the early sixties and the ever present fear of atomic annihilation terrified me. The US and Russia engaged in a war of puffed-out chests and rhetoric not unlike two roosters in a barnyard full of chickens. Both had the capability to destroy the world in seconds. Bomb shelters became the ideal building project and even popped up in cottage country. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 had everyone holding their breath and dreaming of that bomb shelter they hadn’t started yet. Kennedy and Khrushchev played a slow and deadly game of chicken, but the Russian finally flinched and the political groupies jumped up and down and cheered like crazed soccer fans. I wondered how much longer it would be before those damn roosters killed us all.
In November 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. The barnyard got chaotic and I started to run for cover. But there were too many questions, and surviving an atomic holocaust was getting tedious. Were the bomb shelters a good idea? Fatalism started to rise up, like bile in my throat. Why survive if everyone is dead and the planet’s trashed?
The Civil Rights Movement added to the frenzy of the decade. Canada doesn’t have enough people to discriminate. Blacks were just part of our multicultural landscape. Malcolm X, the Black Panther leader was killed and that bothered me. I liked his style; angry but honest. My friends and I realized a pattern was emerging; strong leaders were being fatally shot. Conspiracy theories, although wide spread, were discussed in hushed tones. The McCarthy doctrine, of friends ratting out friends, was still a consideration.
The riots in Detroit were witnessed from across the mile wide Detroit River. I stood with many stunned observers in a waterfront park in Windsor. Sucking in the acrid smoke that drifted across the water, I watched as flames swallowed the west end of the city. I could not fathom being so desperate that destroying my own home would become an option.
When Dr. Martin Luther King became the next dead leader, I cried. He may have been a Civil Rights Leader but he also gave hope to my whole generation; black and white. His death was deeply mourned. The news stations were overwhelmed as city after city exploded in grief-driven riots. Two months later they killed Bobby Kennedy. I couldn’t feign being surprised by his death; just another day at the office. The ‘Bomb’ had taken a back seat in a society distracted by its own impotence.
Of course no account of the sixties is complete without a plug for the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands of young men were sent to the jungles of South Vietnam to poke at North Vietnamese with big guns, big chemicals and bigger bombs. Anti-war demonstrations popped up everywhere and I will admit to joining several in Michigan. When young men started to die at an alarming rate, the protests got bigger. Then the horror stories started to surface: soldiers torturing and murdering unarmed Vietnamese civilians. I didn’t know what or who to believe. Canada took in draft dodgers and at the same time, Canadian boys joined the American military and went to Vietnam. I accepted the confusion and backed my many friends, American and Canadian, who were directly affected.
Then ‘WOODSTOCK’ happened. It was never mentioned or even inferred by any form of media that Woodstock was a demonstration. These throngs of young people and many top-ranked performers took on that mud field in Bethel, NY to protest the Vietnam War. Instead of the media broadcasting the truth, they carefully selected the film that ran publicly and idealized the protest as the ‘culmination of the Hippie Movement; the weekend of drugs, sex and rock’n roll’. Who ever came up with that phrase must be very proud. It’s a lie that’s survived over five decades.
Thank you for letting me recall a memorable time in my life. I couldn’t sign off without sharing with you some of the fascinating stuff my research uncovered and adding a timeline to the busy and outstanding decade I remember:
1960 – For the first time we saw felt-tip pens, photocopiers and aluminum cans. We did the ‘Twist’ and boogied to Motown. Elvis survived the army. The Berlin Wall appeared in Germany. We screamed watching ‘Psycho’and ‘Gunsmoke’ filled our tiny TV screens.
1961 – The Peace Corp was created, the Space Race began, McDonalds opened, Tylenol was invented, and Motown was peaking. TV westerns were the best. ‘West Side Story’ lined them up at the box office. Hemmingway takes himself out with a shotgun.
1962 – Motown was the biggest R&B label. Surfer music hit the airways. Polaroid cameras and diet pop were invented. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ filled the big screen. Marilyn Munroe died of a barbiturate overdose.
1963 – Touch-tone phones and artificial hearts were invented. Motown exploded with girl groups taking on the R&B sounds. Ian Fleming’s James Bond fascinated us in ‘Dr. No’. ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ captured the TV audience. John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers were both shot and killed.
1964 – The Ford Mustang was the most popular car. Cigarette smoking was linked to lung cancer and other diseases. Hasbro introduced a ‘GI Joe’ doll. The Beatles topped the charts and the British Invasion began. ‘My Fair Lady’ took the big screen and ‘Bonanza’ was the top TV show.
1965 – Medicare became law. UFO’s were visiting often and mini-skirts were the new fashion statement. (Think they’re related?) Skateboarding was catching on. We watched ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Doctor Zhivago’ on the big screen, but ‘Bonanza’ was still the best on TV. Winston Churchill died and Malcolm X was shot and killed.
1966 – LSD became popular and the first artificial heart transplant was successful. Pampers were invented and Catholics could eat meat on Fridays. Bell bottoms and psychedelic music were catching on. ‘A Man for All Seasons’ hit the big screen and Captain Kirk beamed onto our TV screens. Walt Disney died.
1967 – The first year for micro-waves and Rolling Stone magazine. Monterey had the Rock Festival and Montreal had the World’s Fair. Israel defeated the Arabs in the 6 day war. ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ hit the big screen and our favourite TV shows were ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. Jayne Mansfield died in a car crash and Otis Redding died in a plane crash.
1968 – The Pope condemned birth control. We used the first ATMs and heard the first FM radio stations. 9-1-1 was invented and the term ‘heavy metal’ first appeared. The big movie was ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’ and TV saw ‘Laugh In’ become the highest rated show. Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King were both shot and killed.
1969 – Marijuana was considered harmless by the ACLU. Nixon banned chemical weapons. We saw the first 747 fly commercially. Concerts happened at Woodstock and Altamont Speedway. The big movies were ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Midnight Cowboy’. ‘Laugh In’ continued their TV domination. Dwight Eisenhower died. Sharon Tate and six others were tortured and murdered by Charles Manson and his followers.
How we went from all of this activity and innovation to ‘Disco’ has always fascinated me…