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Underground in the Fifties

The Angry No

The Transcendent Yes

Alternative Life Styles

The Tug of Gravity:Co-option, Absorption, and Shlock Rock

Artiness, Absurdity, and Excess

The Seventies: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Suggested Recordings

Music Quiz

Suggested Links

It is, although it has never known a depression or a world war, a tough generation. It arrived in the late forties to understaffed and overcrowded maternity wards and postwar economic dislocations. In childhood and adolescence it fought its way through schools unequipped to deal with either its number or its abilities. When, in the middle sixties, it went looking for a college education, it found too few seats in too few universities, so it busted ass to get in and busted ass to stay in. When, diplomas in hand, it went looking for work, it watched a seller's market evaporate overnight. Now it hustles jobs as it once hustled college dormitory rooms, fighting to hang in there.

When it comes to be buried, it will no doubt find short space at astronomical rent in America's cemeteries. Which will be no surprise, for it is a generation toughened by fighting for space in a world built two sizes too small, two decades too old.

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A generation light on its feet, accustomed to dreaming, hearing put-downs, and getting too punched out of shape about them. It is a soft generation, kind and generous, contemptuous of this world's goods as only people who take them for granted can be.

"The best informed, the most intelligent, and the most idealistic this country has ever known," wrote the author of the Cox Commission report on the disorder at Columbia University.

"I can't take boring things." - Jerry Rubin

"Rock and Roll was the basic revolution to people of my age and situation." - John Lennon

Imagine WAVImagine Sound Clip (565 KB)

A Lennon InterviewLennon Interview sound clip (800 KB)

On the way, the generation of the sixties quarreled with everyone and everything - including itself. Weathermen split from Students for a Democratic Society, and women split from Weathermen. SNCC outradicaled the NAACP, and then the Black Panthers outradicaled SNCC. Bob Dylan split from protest folk music for rock-n-roll, then split from rock for country leaving at each exit booing fans and baying critics. Abbie Hoffman and Pete Townshend, mythic embodiments of the new American and British order quarreled bitterly and openly at the Woodstock festival, that emblem of the new consciousness, that celebration of love and understanding.

For all the decade's multiplicity, in retrospect one grasps immediately, intuitively, that something did happen and continues even now to happen that sets people of the sixties apart from the fifties or seventies generation.

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But things are not so simple. If the sixties thought that a circle of chanting hippies could raise the Pentagon three hundred feet in the air or exorcise its demons, if they believed that flower power would have political force in terms of elected candidates and revised federal budgets, if they expected the seizure of a library here or a dean there to shake a university's commitment to the Institute for Defence Analysis, then certainly the sixties are dead.

However, if the essence of the sixties was not program per se but experimentation, gathering fresh evidence, doing a new and beautiful thing then the sixties were not empty. The sixties gave fresh ways of thinking and talking and behaving.

And we have the music.

"For the reality of what's happening today in America, we must go to rock-n-roll, to popular music." - Ralph Gleason, The American Scholar

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