Hippies died and Yippies take their place and head to Chicago. Lyndon quit and everybody runs for president. Hair invades Broadway. TV cancels all War Dramas, but adds Gomer Pyle . The oldest Boomers become eligible to vote…Antiheroes flood the big screen and riots in Chicago and assassinations of MLK and RFK inspire ultraviolent flicks.
1966: Dark Shadows
President Johnson declared in his State of the Union, “The United States will remain in Vietnam until aggression there ends.” According to the polls, LBJ scored high with nearly 70% of the general public. Teenage Boomers rated him zilch, but since none of us were eligible to vote, no one (over thirty) asked for our opinion.
ROCK & ROLL
The Generation Gap dwarfed the Grand Canyonin 1966. If you flipped on Top 40 radio the day of Lyndon’s speech, you probably heard Sgt. Barry Sadler singing the praises of the good soldier in The Ballad of the Green Beret, followed by Lennon’s (He’s a real) Nowhere Man. Or, Frank Sinatra reminiscing on different periods of his long life, declaring after each verse, It Was a Very Good Year, followed by the Who, stuttering “People try to put us down/ Just because we get around/ They don’t dig our hair or clothes/ Hope I die before I get old/ Ta-ta-talking ‘bout my generation.” Teens were California Dreaming with the Mamas and the Papas, except for thousands who had already run away, and then wished that they Homeward Bound like Simon and Garfunkel. The Rolling Stones delivered the Boomer State of the Union: (Here comes your) 19th Nervous Breakdown.
Teenagers rode an emotional roller coaster. Paul Simon boasted of Feeling Groovy one minute, and then appeared isolated and withdrawn the next in I Am a Rock. A year prior, Dylan and Byrds begged, “Take me on a trip upon your magic, swirling ship.” This year, the Beach Boys sailed on board the Sloop John B, felt homesick, and complained, “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.” A bit later, the band was (I’m Picking up) Good Vibrations, while ? and the Mysterians cried 96 Tears. The Beatles declared Got to get you into my life, but the Supremes had another idea with, “Get out of my life, why don’t you, Babe?” Again, the Beatles were optimistic, “I can wait forever, I’ve got time,” but not so the Outsiders, who sang “I can’t wait forever/ Time won’t let wait that long.”
We heard songs of great faith from the lightweights: (You’re my) Soul and Inspiration by the Righteous Brothers, I’m a Believer by the Monkees, God Only Knows by the Beach Boys… And songs of no faith from the heavyweights: Dylan sang, “Human Gods… made flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark/ It’s easy to see without looking too far/ That not much is really sacred.” Along that same line, the Beatles told us the story of “Father McKenzie, writing the words of the sermon that no one will hear… All the lonely people/ Where do they all belong?” Perhaps aboard the Yellow Submarine? The Stones nixed the idea, “No colors anymore/ I want to paint it black.”
The radio played tunes that created images of ideal love, as in Soul and Inspiration and Cherish, and reflections of raunchy, get-down lure in (My Baby does the) Hanky Panky and Wild Thing. Even eternal teens, the Beach Boys, admitted that they lusted in their hearts, in Wouldn’t It Be Nice (“If we could sleep together?”). Cherish wasn’t a word to be found in the vocabulary of the Rolling Stones in 1966 in (Look at that) Stupid Girl and (She’s) Under My Thumb.
Nothing was simple… black and white… clearly right or wrong. Even the names of the groups were confusing. The Lovin’ Spoonful (Mary Poppins’ Spoonful of Sugar, or a junkie’s spoonful of smack?) felt up with What a Day for a Daydream, then down with “Hot town, ‘Summer in the City’ / Back of neck feeling dirty and gritty,” and then perfectly happy again with “You and me and ‘Rain on the Roof.’” Finally, even they had to admit that “It ain’t often easy, It ain’t often kind/ Did you ever have to make up your mind?”
In an intense comeback attempt, Phil Spector reflected the wide spectrum of changes going on inside our heads, as he produced River Deep, Mountain High for Ike and Tina Turner. But he used the same old Wall of Sound technique and the record flopped. Spector announced his retirement at the age of 26.
Defense Secretary McNamara revealed on March 2nd that US troop strength in Vietnam already topped 215,000, with 20,000 more Boomers on the way to the combat zone. That same month, the Beach Boys declared, “I feel so broke up, I want to go home,” and Peter, Paul and Mary released The Cruel War. Dylan, with tongue firmly in cheek, declared, “Everybody must get stoned.” Why not? The Great Society sends you half way around the world to get stoned in the Biblical sense, so why not stone yourself in a way that’s a lot more fun? The Byrds soared Eight Miles High in the “5-D” (Fifth Dimension), tripping with Mr. Space Man. The Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper pointed out that pill popping had become a traditional, popular sport for our hypocritical elders. The Beatles confirmed their diagnosis with a second opinion in Dr. Roberts. Dylan observed that Boomer daughters had inherited a pill-popping habit from their moms: “With your amphetamines and pearls… Just like a woman.”
The Association celebrated the arrival and acceptance of marijuana into mainstream pop culture, with Along Comes Mary. The Beatles encouraged us to “Turn off your mind and gently float upstream,” as the Trade Winds offered to take us on a Mind Excursion. Kicks attempted to be an anti-drug song, but Boomers interpreted the line “Kicks just keep getting harder to find” to mean that supply fell far short of a rapidly growing demand among young people. Teens rejected the recreational vehicles of the past, such as booze, prescription uppers and downers, and searched for kicks of their own. Pot was king, with LSD catching on fast. Donovan boldly (and erroneously) predicted the future: “Elec-a-tricka banana (smoking banana peels), it’s bound to be the very next craze.”
Before AM radio station managers and parents deciphered the hidden, trippy lyrics on several new records, the damage had been done. Dr. Timothy Leary spread the word for years, but Boomers heard the message for the first time: “Tune in, turn on, drop out.”
Teens turned off Television. The network cancelled Gidget because kids refused to be sucked back into the beach scene. Then Shindig and Hullabaloo bit the dust… Go-go dancers and lip synch looked too phony now. TV offered teenagers a compromise, and tried to coax them back to the innocent, I-Wanna-Hold-Your-Hand era with The Monkees (modeled after the Beatles’ movie, A Hard Day’s Night). But the TV program had none of the rebellious spark of the flick. Don Kirshner put the package together, and his old Brill Building ex-assembly-line songwriters cranked out most of the songs on the show. Some Boomers (mostly 9 to 12 year-olds) took the bait, but First-Wavers just laughed. The Monkees exposed glaring proof of the communication gap…the exact opposite of the direction in which Rock & Roll was headed.
Boomers laughed even harder at Batman. Again, the networks aimed at the vast Boomer market, and completely missed the mark. War Babies bought American Dreamish DC Comics, such as Batman, Superman and The Flash, back in the dark ages of the 1950s. Boomer kids read the much hipper, Marvel Comics, including Dr. Strange, Spiderman, Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk in the ‘60s. Because of this incredible misunderstanding, Batman became the first “camp” (Cannabis Aided Mass Popularity) TV series of the Baby Boomer Generation. The Caped Crusader acted just too good to be true… a hilarious bore, completely predictable and superficial, and yet, he displayed all of the correct characteristics and behavior that society had shoved down Boomers’ throats since birth. But the fact remains that Batman was a moron. Kids began to notice similarities between him and the heroes on serious law-and-order TV programs, thus diminishing their credibility. In fact, teens lost respect for most of the establishment’s champions of justice, and created their own counterculture heroes instead.
The television network remained clueless as they tried to slip in an old WASP favorite, Tarzan, into primetime. Since “uppity Blacks” at home, and “yellow Commie devils” abroad gave Lyndon such a hard time, TV decided that a little reminder of White Supremacy was in order. Television’s first Tarzan, Ron Ely, appeared naturally stronger, smarter and braver than all the Blacks in Africa. The Great White Hope defeated whole tribes of the inferior race without breaking a sweat. TV axed Tarzan right about the time of the Tet Offensive of 1968, when those sneaky Asian Commies caught us by surprise, and then seriously kicked some white butts.
The Green Hornet, the only new superhero on the tube with enough common sense to realize that some non-Whites may be equal, or even superior, hired Bruce Lee (as Kato) to watch his back. Who would you rather have on your side in a real fight, the Boy Wonder or Bruce?
The superhero shows in 1966 tried to provide little Boomer boys with macho role models, but how about their sisters? They received That Girl, a young, single woman with a career, making it on her own. Unfortunately, that girl was Marlo Thomas, child of Danny, the perfect 50’s parent on Make Room for Daddy. Marlo had a Teen Idol Era look: False eyelashes, stiff helmet hairdo and Mod clothing, just as First Wave Boomer girls moved out of Barbieville.
As teens tuned out, ratings dropped, and the networks wallowed in the mire. The titles of the new programs reflected their mood. Dark Shadows (with vampires) premiered as the only new soap opera, Rat Patrol as the new war show, and Felony Squad as the new law-and-order show. Could they win hippie Boomer teens back to tube with their new spy thriller? Mission Impossible.
Boomers lost all faith in television as a tool to provide role models and morals, and turned en masse to the silver screen for more accurate reflections. Just beyond the American Dream’s perfect love/marriage/family myth, came another British Invasion, this time of films about broken marriages and empty affairs: Alfie, Morgan, Georgie Girl, and a carryover from 1965, Darling. Buffy Sainte-Marie sang, “Don’t ask forever of me, just love me now” on the radio, and teens reconsidered attitudes toward love and sex. Teen girls tried to explain, “But Mom, you didn’t have the pill as an option when you were my age. The world isn’t flat anymore.”
Boomers couldn’t find any relevant heroes on either the tube or big screen in 1966, so they began their first serious celluloid flirtation with antiheroes. War Babies had Brando in The Wild One back in the Dark Ages, but Marlon and his biker buddies spent all of their time boozing, cruising, bruising and terrorizing just for the hell of it. Boomer kids identified more with The Wild Angels… a bunch of long-haired, pot-smoking, acid-dropping (Ken Kesey turned on the real Hell’s Angels in 1965) hippieish bikers, just looking for a little space. The Angels never played the aggressors in these stories; instead, they appeared as innocent victims of an oppressive police state. Peter Fonda astride his chopper looked just as romantic an image to Boomers as his father, atop his steed had for our parents. But now, the quest was no longer to tame the wild frontier, but to escape Big Brother… to hang on to your freedom and individuality at any cost.
The antihero in Fahrenheit 451 faced the same challenge in a society where television grew all-consuming and “firemen” burned books in an effort to “make history more flexible and to maintain sameness among the masses.” This movie inspired a few Boomers to drastic action… they actually began to read. 1984, Animal Farm, Stranger in a Strange Land, Catch 22 and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all contained a favorite hippie theme similar to that in Fahrenheit 451: “Who should be called sane in an insane society?”
Americans watched TV news in horror as nightmare images filled their living rooms with mass murderers, Richard Speck (eight student nurses, stabbed and strangled in Chicago) and Charles Whitman (13 cut down and 31 wounded in a sniper attack from a tower at the University of Texas at Austin), more race riots (the biggest in Cleveland’s Hough Ghetto), a riot of WASP kids on the Sunset Strip, growing antiwar demonstrations at the White House and at Dow Chemical (makers of napalm and Agent Orange) headquarters, as McNamara calmly announced to the press that more than 2,000 American kids died in Vietnam during the first five months of the year, and that more than 285,000 Boomer teens were now in the combat zone.
ROCK & ROLL
Dylan sang, “Sooner or later one of us must know/ And only time will tell/ Which one of us has fell/ And which one was left behind/ When you go your way and I’ll go mine.” Boomers dropped out of the Great Society in droves, but where were they headed?
Boomers turned away from TV, traditionalHollywoodfilms and Top 40 radio for the remainder of the decade, and instead, searched for better reflections in counterculture flicks, underground newspapers and psychedelic music from small, independent FM radio stations. They dug a subterranean counterculture Teen Utopia all their own.
“Who could imagine that they would freak out in Minnesota, mina-mina-mina-Minnesota?” mocked Frank Zappa in the title cut of his first album, Freak Out, in late 1966. It was true… Boomers all over theUnited States rapidly converted to hippism.
Dylan warned in Subterranean Homesick Blues, “Look out, Kid, they keep it all hid,” and the obscure lyrics cleared the censors, and gave Bob his first Top 40 hit. Zappa didn’t care about his chance on pop radio in Trouble Every Day: “And there ain’t no Great Society as it applies to you and me/ Our country isn’t free and the law refuses to see/ That all you can ever be is just a lousy janitor/ Unless your uncle owns the store.” Frank belonged to a new breed of Rock musicians who mocked hit singles and Bandstand. The Mothers of Invention packed them in on the Sunset Strip and didn’t need the Music Establishment. In Who Are the Brain Police? Zappa enticed Boomers to question traditional values: “Is that what you really believe, or is it what the media hype and your mama told you to believe?” First Wave Boomers understood, and then began to resent all the media manipulation and censorship on TV and AM radio. As Zappa continued to insult everyone, including his fans, the audience grew: “You’re probably wondering why I’m here/ Not that you care, you plastic freaks.” The Mothers traveled toNew York in the fall and advertised their show as “Absurd and a total waste of three dollars.” Anti-hype instantly caught on with the counterculture.
The music scenes in LA and NYC were just a seed in the lid compared to the explosion in San Francisco. An estimated 1,000 psychedelic rock bands called the Bay area home by 1967. San Franciscoalready claimed the title of “dropout capitol of the West Coast” (Greenwich Villagein the East), dating back to the Beat era and Kerouac’s On the Road. Hippies and freaks fit right in. Freedom of Speech headquarters lay just across the bay at Berkeley, and underground newspapers, like the Berkeley Barb and Mojo Navigator put the real buzz out into the community.
MIND EXPANDING DRUGS
As might be expected, the US government supplied the largest single contribution in the development of the counterculture. They selected Ken Kesey as one of their $75-a-day human guinea pigs for a “mind control” experiment with LSD at Menlo Park Clinic in late 1959 and early 1960 (before Leary’s research at Harvard). Ken helped himself to some free samples, and soon he and friends back at Perry Lane conducted their own experiments. They deduced that LSD was a mind-expanding, rather than a mind-controlling drug, and thus, felt compelled to spread the good news to the freak community. By 1965, Kesey, Augustus Owsley Stanley III (“The Henry Ford of acid”), a little-known band called the Warlocks (who soon renamed themselves the Grateful Dead) and a group of Ken’s friends presented The Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests. Kesey explained his mission: “As navigator of this venture, I try, as much as possible to set out in a direction that, in the first place, is practically impossible to achieve, and then along the way mess up the minds of the crew with as many chemicals as we can lay our hands on.” With everyone in the proper frame of mind, the Pranksters proceeded with their mixed media experience: strobe lights, movie projections, taped sound effects, live cosmic raps, black lights, and some stoned-out Rock & Roll from Jerry Garcia and company, in an effort to provide a thought-provoking, mind-expanding experience and a lot of fun. The performers encouraged the audience to join in the fun, as Garcia explained: “We all preferred the anarchy of the Tests in a lot of ways. Every person was a participant and everywhere was the stage. We didn’t have to entertain anybody. We were no more famous than anybody else.”
Teens considered LSD a noble, brain-building exercise in 1966… just the thing to help shed the blind faith tunnel vision of their elders. Hippies and freaks rejected the Great Society, and the human mind became their New Frontier. They expected to explore time and space, and then to push imagination to the limit in search of a better world.
TV claimed to be hip to the scene, but as usual, stumbled in the wrong direction with It’s About Time. Plot: two astronauts broke though the time barrier and crash-landed in a prehistoric cave-dwelling neighborhood. In Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel the heroes bounce helplessly from past to future and back again, but were never able to connect with the present. (television networks suffered from that same affliction throughout the ‘60s.) TV finally took a lucky stab and hit a spot where teens might find happiness… aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, working in harmony to rid the universe of evil for the benefit of all. The crew included women, Blacks, Asians, a Russian, aliens, and even a Scotsman! The well-written scripts were usually thinly disguised studies of contemporary social problems, cloaked in extraterrestrial settings. Star Trek reflected the highest ideals and aspirations of teens… definitely the classic show of the entire Flower Power ear. Unfortunately, hippies didn’t own TV sets and none of them bought the sponsors’ products. Most of them didn’t see Star Trek the first time around.
ROCK & ROLL
Very few members of the hippie/freak counterculture held steady jobs, and “rent parties” became an acceptable way of raising money without selling out to the system. Plenty of garage bands in the San Francisco bay area played free every weekend. Everyone chipped in a buck or two at the door, to postpone the money hassles of everyday living for another month. Local Teens asked themselves, “Let’s see. Should I 1) live on the mean streets, or 2) work forty hours-a-week at minimum wage, or 3) host a rent party once a month for a place to live?” A no-brainer for young people at the time. An enterprising group of kids known as The Family Dog decided to try it on a large scale. They borrowed money from their parents, rented the Longshoreman’s Auditorium, tacked up colorful flyers all over town, and on October 16, 1965, put on a concert called Tribute to Dr. Strange. The show featured The Jefferson Airplane and The Great Society (with Gracie Slick), and was such a hit that the following week The Dog added a light show in A Tribute to Sparkle Plenty with the Lovin’ Spoonful.
The ultra political San Francisco Mime Troupe desperately needed money to pay the legal fees from the frequent obscenity busts, and the Family Dog shows impressed their manager. Bill Graham organized a benefit, introducing New York City’s Fugs to the West Coast. The band wowed the audience with such underground classics as I Couldn’t Get High and Kill for Peace. Graham then put together a three-day “Trips Festival” for the Merry Pranksters at the Longshoremen’s on January 21-3, 1966. Anarchy ruled. Someone slipped LSD to the rent-a-cops, last seen playing with a Slinky. But one thing did become clear at this chaotic concert… people paid to see the bands, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead, not for the psychedelic “experience.” Rock stepped forward as the dominant force of the counterculture.
The success of the Trips Festival amazed Bill Graham, and he searched for a permanent home for hippie concerts. He found the Fillmore Auditorium (capacity- 1,500) in the heart ofSan Francisco’s ghetto and teamed up with a couple of guys from the Family Dog to get it open. But they needed a bigger hall to hold the egos involved, and the two Dogs went to look for their own place. They grabbed the Avalon (capacity- 1,600), just a mile away.
All of the elements fell into place for the SF Psychedelic Music Scene: the bands, the drugs and venues to play. The hippies and freaks created their own music industry, ignoring most of the rules along the way. Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane commented, “Nobody (of the kids in SF) listened to Top 40. We didn’t start out wanting to be on the radio or even working in that direction. We didn’t want to know anything about that stuff.” Teens didn’t swarm to the Fillmore and Avalon for a note-for-note rehash of hit singles. They expected a new and unique rendition each time and bands delivered. Pace and length varied each performance and groups like the Dead would often stretch a tune out for twenty minutes or more with long improvisations. If it felt good, the band played on. Marty Balin declared, “The stage is our bed and the audience is our broad.”
The chauvinistic counterculture movement improved a bit in 1966 as Janis Joplin joined Big Brother and Grace Slick dumped the Great Society in October to front the Jefferson Airplane. Now, two Queen Bees ruled the hive.
Teens felt great strength in brother (and finally, sister)hood. The counterculture formed its own society, dedicated to survival outside the system. Zappa sang a new Declaration of Independence:
Mr.America, walk on by/ Your schools that do not teach
Mr.America, walk on by/ The minds that won’t be reached
Mr.Americatry to hide the emptiness that’s you inside
But once you find that the way you lied and all the corny tricks you tried
Will not forestall the rising tide/ Of Hungry Freaks, Daddy…
Those who aren’t afraid to say what’s on their minds
The left-behinds of the Great Society.
Or, was that a Declaration of War and a shot at LBJ? On the opposite coast the Fugs sang, “If we don’t kill them, the Chinese will/ And you don’t want America to play second fiddle/ So, kill, kill, kill for peace.”
Dark Shadows, indeed, and things would get even darker. Bob Dylan broke his neck in a motorcycle accident on July 29th, and rumors circulated that he lay near death. California elected the new Old Ranger from Death Valley as Governor on November 8th. WASP kids rioted on the Sunset Strip. Walt Disney turned in his rodent ears on December 15th and asked to be placed on ice, with a wake-up call for better times.
Lyndon’s camp blamed the whole mess on a few drug-crazed hippies, but the Establishment got a shock on December 30th as The New York Times published (on page one) an open letter signed by several hundred student body presidents and college newspaper editors protesting the war in Vietnam: “Unless this conflict can be eased, the United States will find some of her most loyal and courageous young people choosing to go to jail rather than to bear their country’s arms.”
“… And only time will tell which one of us has fell and which one was left behind when you go your way and I’ll go mine.”