A year of miracles: Americans on the moon, Tommy (the first rock opera), Woodstock and the Amazing Mets…but also, a year of nightmares: Charley Manson, Altamont, and Lt. Calley at My Lai. Rock & Roll becomes the official Boomer religion TV gives up on teens and aims at younger siblings as Hollywood cranks out more antiheroes and ultraviolence.
1969: Bright Promise (The only new Soap)
“…The Summer of ‘69/ Those were the best days of my life.” What a strange declaration from Canadian Rocker, Bryan Adams in 1984. Most American Boomers (during the nostalgic ‘70s) chose 1962 as their favorite year. (The poster for American Graffiti read, “Where were you in ‘62?”) We remembered fondly the innocent bliss of Camelot, a time beforeVietnam and the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK and the American Dream. But the ‘80s provided the insight of distance, and thus removed the pain and disillusionment associated the era. Only then, were we finally able to recall the “Bright Promise” of 1969.
Boomers declared this an age of miracles…bigger and better than ‘55 and the First Golden Age of Rock & Roll, or Kennedy’s Camelot in ‘62, with our last complete year of emotional virginity. We put the violence of 1968 behind us, as 1969 presented us with an American on the moon, a UFO sighting by Jimmy Carter, and the first rock opera,Woodstock, Broadway Joe and the Amazing Mets. All these lovely miracles have been overshadowed for decades by the trauma of Nixon, Charles Manson, Altamont and Lt. Calley, but now the time has come to think back to a time when Boomers stood united against the system. Society beat them back, but the kids put up one hell of a fight. No American generation since the Revolutionary War can claim to have been a greater thorn in the side of an oppressive government.
ROCK & ROLL
A funny thing happened on the way to Woodstock… Rock & Roll became the official Boomer religion and, as a result, the counterculture lost its sense of humor and an overall perspective. The new church canonized John Lennon as its initial saint. The Rolling Stone named him as their first “Man of the Year.” Actually, John looked and sounded more like the Second Coming than a Rock Superstar. “All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance”… a plea for sanity from a man of peace. Who in their right mind would argue with that? Nixon honored the celebration by placing St. John high on his infamous “Enemies List.” Lennon, at the appropriate season, staged the holy Happy Xmas, (War is Over) bed-in with Mother Yoko (apologies to Phil Ochs who wrote the song I Declare the War Is Over in 1967).
The Who unveiled a newer New Testament and a prophet named Tommy. That deaf, dumb, blind kid obviously operated on a higher plane of consciousness… something that Boomers tried and failed to achieve with LSD. Tommy’s heightened sense of touch was nothing short of miraculous: “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” But the masses wanted more. As with Jesus, the public admired Tommy, then worshiped him, but finally rejected their idol when they realized that he offered no easy path to enlightenment. R&R critics erroneously predicted that Tommy would be the first of many Rock Operas… the wave of the future for Rock & Roll.
Paul McCartney pleaded, “Hey, Jude… Make it better” early in the year. St. Jude is the Catholic’s patron saint of hopeless causes. Who else would one pray to in this year of expecting miracles?) Ocean sang Put Your Hand in the Hand (…of the Man who walks on water”) and Edwin Hawkins declared Oh, Happy Day (…when the Lord washed my sins away.) True believers took to the road on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Woodstock (Dylan, and later Jimi lived there for a time) to worship in their own way, and listen to the gospel of the high priests of Rock. The pilgrims received inspiration along the way as the Zombies preached, It’s Time of the Season For Love and the Youngbloods added, “Come on, people now, Smile on your brother/ Everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”
From the heavens there came a sign, just three weeks prior to the festival of the holy Rock & Rollers. Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon and declared, “One small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.” We time-warped back to Camelot. Kennedy’s dream, like Lazarus, had been resurrected. Jack predicted that a miracle such as this would happen far off in the New Frontier before the end of the ‘60s… and here the heavenly event appeared as promised, long after the departure of our cosmic seer. Every American forgot his or her problems for a moment, and stopped to watch and take great pride in the accomplishments of our nation. Proud citizens took a pleasant stroll with our astronauts along the shore of theSeaofTranquility. Our only regret was that JFK could not join us here to see his dream come true.
How ironic that only the day before (July 19), little brother, Senator Edward Kennedy stumbled along the shore near Chappaquiddick Bridge, searching for his clan’s last hope of reentering the White House… now dead beneath the water’s surface.
Teddy’s problem was political and Boomers no longer cared about the follies of past generations. They traveled to Chicago in 1968 and defeated the Johnson/Humphrey war machine, only to wind up with Nixon. The counterculture refused to be burned again. They left the existing political system to the fools who ran it, and went in search of a new world. They headed to Woodstock in 1969, and for three days 450,000 Boomers (and millions more who joined them in spirit) created their own nation… indivisible, with liberty, justice, drugs and Rock & Roll for all. Boomers needed to prove something to the world, and somehow it all worked out, despite the rain, mud, paralyzed roads, bad acid, inadequate medical aid, toilets and food supplies. The organizers expected only 75,000 kids, instead of nearly half a million stoners and freaks, running wild at a 72-hour party. Older America expected the worst, but only two deaths occurred at the scene… one drug overdose and one kid accidentally run over by a tractor. Several births more than offset the fatalities. Woodstock achieved the best violent crime record of any American city its size during any three-day period in the 1960s. The peaceful coexistence of nearly half a million stoned-out, sex-crazed longhairs amazed the world. The White House heard a thunderous echo as the huge crowd joined in as Country Joe McDonald prompted, “Give me an F… Give me a U… Give me a C… Give me a K… WHAT’S THAT SPELL?” Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Teen Utopia in Suburbia, shouting in unison the dreaded “F” word, immediately followed by “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn/ Next stop is Vietnam…” Dickie, were you listening?
Woodstock served as a summary and a climax of an era. If you are one of the 18 Baby Boomers who didn’t attend, and/or haven’t yet seen the movie, and/or haven’t heard the album… do so immediately. The rest of us will wait… Good. Now, that we’ve eliminated the dead weight from our group, let’s skip ahead to the final act of this miraculous celebration. Fate chose Jimi Hendrix to deliver the key sermon on the final night of the holy ceremony, but the show lagged far behind schedule, and dawn loomed on the horizon as he appeared. Sleepy heads and exhausted bodies snapped to attention as they listened to a familiar tune. The crowd heard menacing choppers circling overhead and semi-automatic and machine gun fire on the ground… bodies ripped apart from the blasts and women and children screamed in horror. The bombs burst in air among other violent explosions in Hendrix’s new interpretation of The Star Spangled Banner. No Rocker ever made a guitar speak the way that Jimi did in the dawn’s early light at Woodstock. Teens heard a perfect reflection of how they felt at the time: they loved America, but to call it the “land of the free” was just a lie as long as we remained in Vietnam. The Woodstock Nation already boasted an official flag, and now Jimi offered an updated, more realistic Anthem.
All of America rooted for underdogs and miracles in 1969. Joe Namath boldly predicted that his upstart Jets from the fledgling AFL league would clobber the mighty Colts from the traditional NFL league. Broadway Joe arrogantly claimed that Old Man Unitus would be lucky to make it as third-string quarterback on his team. The experts laughed at Namath’s bravado and picked the Colts as 18-point favorites before opening kickoff. Unfortunately for football fundamentalists, Joe made good on his boasts, and experts reluctantly granted the AFL league equal billing. Soon after, the tribes of David (the AFL) and Goliath (NFL) merged.
Another New York City team in baseball performed an even more amazing feat. The lowly Mets, in their first year of existence (1962) broke the all-time record for futility with 120 losses in a single season. For the next five years they remained in the cellar, and in 1968 New Yorkers rejoiced to see their other team (the Yanks always won) climb to ninth… one game above last place. Even the most devout fan didn’t expect much at the start of the 1969 season, but the Amazin’ Mets went on to defy 100-to-1 odds and won it all. Suddenly, the Bronx Bombers became New York’s other team. Mickey Mantle, the last and greatest symbol of a crumbling dynasty baseball’s final Great White Hope, finally called it quits in 1969, and America’s first corporate team floundered. Remember that old adage from the ‘50s: “As go the Yankees, so goes America”?
Miracles even popped up in the vast television wasteland. Sesame Street debuted on NET in November, providing kids with the first real educational programming in history. Of course, the youngest Boomer had already turned five-years-old at the time, so a great majority of our generation never received help from Big Bird. Teens considered the on-air wedding of Tiny Tim to Miss Vickie on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as the real tube highlight of 1969. The highest-rated episode in the show’s history confirmed our belief in miracles; if a freak like Tiny Tim could find a mate, then anything could happen.
… Well, almost anything. By now, Nixon made it perfectly clear that he was not about to end the violence abroad. Instead, Dickie concentrated on eliminating the resistance at home. The trial of the “Chicago Eight” began barely a month after Woodstock, as Nixon attempted to publicly humiliate and condemn the protest leaders of the Democratic Convention. Unfortunately, most good citizens now held the opinion that if anyone should be on trial, it should be Mayor Daley and his thugs. The Yippies, as usual, took advantage of the free publicity and turned the courtroom into a circus. Jerry Rubin dressed as a World All-star Revolutionary with a realistic looking, toy M-16 rifle. Photographers captured a reflection of guards ripping an American-flag shirt off Abbie Hoffman’s back on his way to courtroom, where he claimed as residence a “state of mind called the Woodstock Nation.” A few days later, Abbie and Jerry dressed in judge’s robes and the public began to wonder who was in charge of these proceedings.
Nixon’s people cast the Black Panther Chairman in a small role in this extravaganza, as a token warning to all African Americans, but Bobby Seal upstaged his seven alleged “co-conspirators” and stole the show. Bobby had been barely involved at the scene of the crime. He flew in at the last moment, gave a brief, impromptu speech and then split, but now he stood accused as one of the main organizers. Seale loudly interrupted the court proceedings, demanding his own choice of lawyer, until the judge ordered the defendant bound and gagged. The image of Bobby tied to his chair and unable to speak in his own defense was unbearable to African Americans, who already felt excluded from the American Justice system.
Leslie Uggins, Bill Cosby (I Spy) and Denise Nichols and Lloyd Haynes (Room 222) joined Diahann Carroll as blissful Black professionals participating in the system on the tube in 1969. One quick glimpse of a bounded and gagged Bobby Seale destroyed that illusion. Tube tokenism wasn’t enough. Head Soul Brother, James Brown proclaimed, I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing on the radio.
White teens spoke out for the first time against the rigid class system in America, especially when they noticed that rich kids never got drafted. Creedence Clearwater complained in their behalf, (I Ain’t No) Fortunate Son. Even old Elvis showed the first glimmer of social consciousness since his GI lobotomy with In the Ghetto.
The tube offered Boomer teens The Brady Bunch, the movie screen gave them If. Lindsay Anderson’s film took place in a boys’ school, where students rebelled against an oppressive faculty and took over the institution by force. The final scene showed the boys gunning down adults from the rooftops. None of the Brady kids participated.
Concepts of love changed somewhat in 1969. Boomers listened to Led Zeppelin sing, “I want to give you every inch of my love,” and watched death-of-romance movies like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Goodbye Columbus, Satyricon, Sterile Cuckoo and Midnight Cowboy. Television offered Love American Style in contrast.
Biker operas continued on the big screen with Hell’s Belles, Run Angel Run, Angels From Hell, Hell’s Angels ‘69 (with real Angel president, Sonny Barger in a lead role) and the genre classic, Easy Rider. Television introduced a wimpy Along Came Bronson… a two-wheeled rehash of Route 66.
Parents desperately searched the entertainment section for an appropriate movie, and finally found Henry Fonda starring in a new horse opera called Once Upon a Time in the West. Henry always symbolized the good and heroic potential in every American and the old folks loved him (i.e. in flicks like Young Mr. Lincoln and Grapes of Wrath). When the older set arrived at the theater this time, however, they witnessed their hero shooting kids and kicking the crutches out from under a cripple. Hollywood didn’t make Westerns like they used to. In Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, bad guys didn’t just roll over and die when shot. Instead, bullets slashed through their flesh, and then, exploded out the other side of their mutilated bodies, followed by bright, red blood spurting into the air. Sam showed the action from every conceivable angle in slow motion, so the viewer could fully appreciate the true beauty of violence in great detail. The 8MM footage of JFK’s assassination in 1963 inspired “slow-mo” and instant replay in TV sports, and now, the constant bombardment of TV coverage of assassinations of RFK and King and the senseless brutality in Chicago and Vietnam made the Wild Bunch a hit in 1969. Thus began the “Violence as Art” movement in cinema.
Two of the favorite films of Boomers in 1969 fell into the Anti-Western genre. The heroes in each reached the frontier, found nothing interesting, and then decided to retrace their steps East in search of a lost America. Jon Voight, in Midnight Cowboy followed his dream from his Texas home only to find the Big Apple rotten to the core. Dustin Hoffman, a fellow loser, convinced the wannabe gigolo that Utopia had flown south to Florida. The two follow, but Rizzo dies en route, and the cowboy realizes that he has been hitching a ride on another guy’s dream, and now felt alone and lost. In the second installment of this new Eastern genre, Peter Fonda (son of retired hero, Henry) and friend, Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, scored some quick cash in a drug deal with Phil Spector on the West Coast, and then headed east to experience our great country and its people. Two rednecks in a pickup truck blew them off the road just for the fun of it and the movie abruptly ended. Random, casual, unexpected, senseless violence seemed logical inAmerica in 1969.
The big screen magnified two important reflections from the previous year in 1969. Haskell Wexler’s hard-hitting documentary, Medium Cool revealed even more horrible details of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Arthur Penn directed Alice’s Restaurant, based on Arlo Guthrie’s classic antiwar song from 1968. Arlo played the lead, and at the draft board tried to use reverse psychology on the Army shrink: “You’ve got to let me in, Doc. I wanna kill. I wanna rape and maim. I wanna burn villages and massacre women and children.” Teens laughed at the absurd, black humor until November 16th, when TV news reported on a day in the life of Lt. William Calley at My Lai. Truth turned out to be more absurd than fiction for a Boomer kid in 1969. To this day, Gomer Pyle remains the only popular media military hero from the entire Vietnam era.
Nixon, jealous of Pyle, expanded the war into Cambodia. But at home, Dickie lost ground… even in the once-friendly courtroom. The Chicago Eight Circus Extravaganza inflicted great damage to the system, and now, in “Cohen vs.California,” the judge decided that a young man could legally wear “Fuck the Draft” on his jacket. The Supreme Court also ruled that students could sport black armbands in protest of the war. On July 11th, a US Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Dr. Spock and three of his peers for aiding and abetting draft resisters.
Nixon appealed to the “Silent Majority” and they answered in a Gallop Poll: 58% ofAmericanow strongly opposed involvement inVietnam. A massive National Vietnam Moratorium Day took place on October 15th, including vigils and demonstrations in every major city. Thousands of young soldiers inVietnamdonned black armbands in support. Vice President Agnew called the protestors “the effete corps of impudent snobs.”
The Moratorium caught the media’s attention, but in the end turned out to be just a rehearsal for the main event. 250,000 Americans, including Dr. Spock, Coretta King, George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Senator Charles Goodell, Leonard Bernstein, and thousands of Vietnam vets and war widows staged a peaceful “March Against Death” exactly one month later in Washington, D.C. Police arrested 186 people at a “Mass for Peace” in front of the Pentagon. This group of “impudent snobs” included two Episcopal bishops and forty other clergymen. Nixon swore in his Inaugural Address, “For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways to voices of quiet anguish.” But when it came time to make good on his promise, Dick simply ignored the massive demonstrations. Nixon suffered from extreme paranoia since the very beginning of his term. He watched the Inaugural parade from behind bulletproof glass, and when reporters asked of his plans, Dickie answered, “They gave me a key to the front door (of the White House) and I’m going to see if it fits.” But much to his surprise, it did fit, and now no one could tell Dick Nixon how to run his country. Trickie Dickie was prepared to use the CIA, FBI, IRS and the National Guard against anyone whom he considered as a threat to his authority, and judging from the size and wide variety of names on his famous “Enemies List,” that could include just about anyone.
Tyrannosaurus Nix (as christened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) quietly went about his work to keep the war rolling, and to divide and conquer the opposition. Dick made what can only be considered as a masterstroke of genius on November 26th, as he took aim at his biggest problem. He signed into law a bill for a lottery of Selective Service draftees. “Now let’s see how hard a Boomer kid protests against the war after he knows that he is not among those condemned to go.” Nixon figured that his new law would quiet down the wimpy WASP teens. Black radicals might require a stronger message. Police broke into a Chicago apartment and shot down unarmed Illinois Black Panther Chairman, Fred Hampton and one of his peers. The ACLU claimed that the two men had been murdered.
John Fogerty predicted, “I see a bad moon on the rising/ I see trouble on the way/ I see earthquakes and lightning/ I see bad times today.” Let me make this perfectly clear… Nixon did not defeat the hippie/ Yippie/ Boomer counterculture. Instead, a series of rapid-fire, distorted, nightmarish reflections of their peers blew them away. Teens experienced heaven at Woodstock, only to find hell at Altamont. They hung on every word as one of their messiahs delivered the gospel of Give Peace a Chance, then watched in horror as the Anti-Lennon, Charles Manson, twisted the Master’s words into a gruesome message of hate and violence for his zombie family. Charlie was completely nuts, but he had long hair and a beard like Jesus and/or Lennon, and even played guitar, so the group of pathetic losers chose Manson as their leader. Too much isolation, desert sun and LSD caused Charlie to hear all secret messages as the family played Beatles’ White Album over and over again. He shared his warped revelations with anyone who would listen. Manson declared the Helter Skelter meant that Blacks would soon start a nationwide revolution. Charlie promised his group that they would be the only White survivors, and as visionaries, Manson’s clan would be worshiped as the leaders of the New Society. “Little Piggies… What they need is a damn good whacking,” according to Charlie meant that the time had come for the family to show slower people of color how to get the war rolling against the White Ruling Class.
Manson spent a record amount of time in the courtroom, although the defense offered little in the way of evidence or witnesses.America saw Charlie daily throughout the trial on the tube and in newspapers, and each time it chipped away another little piece of the counterculture’s self-image. Manson, a power-hungry wolf in hippie clothing, managed to destroy all the romantic myths about dropping out, communal living, and expanding your mind with drugs. LBJ, Nixon, Middle America and the entire US government for years tried and failed to debunk the naïve notions of the counterculture, but Charlie pulled it off in no time at all. Up until his arrest, Boomer teens truly believed that Rock & Roll would change the world. Now they saw what evil that power could cause in the hands of a lunatic like Manson. How could his followers have been so gullible? Unfortunately, many teens were extremely naïve at the time. Case in point: 1969 was also the year of “Paul is dead!” mass-hysteria: “Look, Man, right there on the Abbey Road album cover. See? Paul is dressed different from the remaining Beatles. He’s in a suit with no shoes. That’s how they bury you, Dude. And look at the license of the car in the background: ‘27 IF.’ Get it? Paul would have been 27-years-old IF he were still alive. His stand-in double doesn’t even look like Paul.”
One of the eeriest ingredients of the Manson episode in the eyes of serious students of mass-media reflections was the identity of whom Fate provided as the first random victim. The bloody scene occurred at the home of Roman Polanski, the film director who just a year prior scored his first major American hit with Rosemary’s Baby. The plot involved an actor willing to sell his soul and wife to Satan in exchange for celluloid success. The Beast raped the poor woman, but the husband convinced her that it was just a nightmare. She believed him until Lucifer came to claim his prize: the resulting newborn baby. In real life, the Manson butchers showed Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate, no mercy, even though she was more than eight months pregnant at the time. Susan Atkins, one of Charlie’s disciples, told a Grand Jury: “And when it was all over, I didn’t want to go back into that house, but something made me go. I went over to Sharon Tate and flashed, ‘Wow, there’s a living human being in there.’ I wanted to, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut her open and take the baby.” The coroner, in fact, testified that the baby survived its mother by 15 to 20 minutes. If Atkins acted on her impulse, Manson could have claimed another young mind to corrupt and manipulate. Another strange media reflection: Sharon Tate played a witch in one of her final roles in the film 13: the story of ritualistic murders committed by a hooded sect of devil worshippers.
ROCK & ROLL
“Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste/ Been around for many a long, stole many a man’s soul and sealed his fate… My friends just call me Lucifer, and I’m in need of some restraint,” sang Mick Jagger at Altamont, as members of the Hell’s Angels clubbed and stabbed away memories ofWoodstock. Drug busts and legal hassles kept the Rolling Stones out of theUSAsince 1966 and the group yearned to shed some moss. As a warm-up for the tour, the Stones offered a free concert inHyde Parkon July 5th to introduce new member, Mick Taylor to the public. Unfortunately, the concert became a wake for Brian Jones, found floating face down in his swimming pool just two days before the scheduled event. The Stones planned for thousands of white butterflies to be released into the air as a final tribute, but no one thought to punch air holes in the boxes, so most the insects had already joined Brian in a better place by the time of the ceremony. A few pathetic survivors fluttered a short distance, and then nose-dived into the crowd. Mick quickly gained control of the crowd and delivered a bizarre eulogy for Jones, sprinkled with quotes from Oscar Wilde.
The Hyde Park Concert preceded Woodstock and drew a larger crowd (an estimated 500,000), but received little publicity in the USA. Most Americans didn’t realize that the event had even occurred. That pissed off Mick and he decided that his group would put on their own Woodstock at the end of the US tour. He dreamed that his concert would be bigger and better than the New York version, and best of all, the Stones’ show would be free. The Stones attempted to hold the celebration at Golden Gate Park but found miles of red tape and city regulations (aimed at the hippies) made that impossible. They frantically searched for another location, and on the day before the scheduled event, they found Altamont Speedway… just an hour’s drive from San Francisco. The Grateful Dead recommended the Hell’s Angels as security (for $500 worth of beer). The Dead often used the Angels successfully in the past, but by 1969 the gang began to believe its own sensational press clippings. The bikers took their image seriously, as they went about their day’s work of cracking the head of anyone who dared to approach the stage, and then tossing the limp body back into the crowd. Members of the Jefferson Airplane pleaded with their security to stop the violence. Marty Balin quit playing in the middle of a song, lay down his guitar and went into the audience to help one of the victims. The Angels knocked him unconscious.
An ugly mood prevailed as the Stones walked onto the stage. The set started badly and only Keith Richards seemed to remember the songs. Mick, visibly shaken, tried to take control of an explosive situation: “Let’s cool out, everybody. Just cool out.” The Angels continued to beat up fans, and then began to mock the Stones. Finally, they murdered a young Black man, in full view of the cameras. A pack of bikers jumped on James Meredith, beating and stabbing him in the back. As the victim fell to the ground, the Angels stomped the life out of the bleeding man. Members of the audience tried to stop the slaughter, but the Angels beat them back. The dust settled and Mick again attempted to win back the crowd. It was too late. The final score: One murdered, three others dead, many wounded and 300,000 Boomers completely bummed out. The Nightmare at Altamont erupted just days after the arrest of Manson, and the combination of the ghoulish media reflections of the two events erased all pleasant memories of Woodstock’s Hippie Heaven.
Do you crave more media reflections of the violence? As in the period immediately following JFK’s assassination, an army of doctors (Marcus Welby, Medical Center, The Bold Ones, etc.) invaded the tube. TV cancelled Bright Promise in its first season. On the radio the Beatles urged, “Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.”