50s: Authentic Post-war Boom Times

Boom times. We’d won the war and destroyed the industrial base of our main would-be competitors. There were jobs everywhere. Good jobs in manufacturing, on assembly lines, were readily available. Eisenhower, a war hero, was president from 1952 through 1960. Tax rates were historically high, upwards of 70%, but not a big political issue because they were progressive so only the truly wealthy paid the high rates. Families moved to the suburbs. Husbands worked and wives kept house. Kids were born. Suburbs exploded.

I turned two in 1950, twelve in 1960.

60s: Peace and Freedom. Rebellion

What seems so important, and so different, about the sixties was the overwhelming sense that we were part of an unprecedented worldwide movement that would actually change the world. We believed it was some kind of a global springtime and rebirth, a new age of peace and love, as firmly as we believed the day would follow the night.

Or so it seemed to me. But then I have to wonder how much of my sense of the 1960s is rooted in the coincidence of my own coming of age at the same time. Do historians give it the same kind of weight? How about people who were already 30 or older in 1960? I’m not sure.

But this was my case: I turned 12 in 1960 just a few days after John F. Kennedy announced he was running for president. I turned 13 three days before John F. Kennedy’s famous ask not what your country can do for you inauguration speech. I turned 16 in 1964, just 57 days after JFK was killed; just 24 days before the Beatles’ first US appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was 18 in 1966 when I left home to live for a few weeks in the Haight Ashbury, the world capital of hippies, during the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco. I turned 20 in 1968, just months before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. I was in Paris in June of 1968 during the student riots there. I fell madly in love in 1969, was working double shifts to make enough money to get married when Armstrong walked on the moon, and Woodstock happened on the other side of the country. I fell in love, for good, in 1969. I was engaged in November of 1969 when I watched the first draft lottery — which saved me from the Vietnam war. And married, for good, just a few weeks later.

Joni Mitchell wrote this about Woodstock:

And maybe it’s the time of year
Yes and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

But Woodstock was the harvest, not the seeds. That “time of man” feeling, the “we are golden” and “back to the garden” feeling started half a decade earlier. For me and the world.

Bob Dylan released ‘The Times They Are a Changin’ in 1964.

Come Senators, congressmen, please head the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin

Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a changin’

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
And your old world is rapidly aging
Please get outta the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a changin’

Bob Dylan, the Times They are a Changin’

We were all so gloriously young.