Apart from the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War, the American '60s are best remembered for the music, the drugs, and the changing attitudes toward sex. I say 'changing attitudes' rather than simply 'changes in sexual behavior' because I am not sure that long before the '60s people were not indulging full force in even the most exotic forms of sex; they just weren't bragging about it or doing it in public. In fact, if the famous Kinsey report is to be trusted (and I think it is), Americans were up to quite a few clever tricks in the bedroom that they didn't want to admit.
In truth, among the three or four biggest changes that I have noticed after all these years of chasing women like a panther at a flamingo convention, at least two are more or less superficial. To wit (1) basic hygiene (women smell a lot better now in the intimate parts -- sorry ladies, but it's true); (2) the women now shave the "area" (sometimes I confess I grow a bit nostalgic for the abundant coiffiture of the past); and, in terms of real change (3) the fact that oral sex is now a basic and shameless part of every man and woman's arsenal (which it wasn't back then.) and (4) maybe most important, there are now trustworthy products that help to avoid pregnancy; in those days, you had to fight the church before doctors could sign off on birth control pills.
But Americans possessed, then as now, (White Americans I am talking about) very ambivalent attitudes towards human sexuality. On the one hand, sex 'sells' --- and anything that SELLS can look forward to a bright future in America. On the other hand, the underpinnings of White Baptist religious zeal come straight from the Puritans, and a lot of that hysterical goobledegook still persists -- which has fucked the brains of countless people, mostly children whose thoughts and subliminations about sex are still mingled with gothic imaginings and the sound of the boogeyman on the stairs. There is no doubt in my mind that religion has been responsible for more sexual freakiness (including the creation of such deviance in psychopaths) than any other cause. In fact, I was brought up to believe that masturbation would drive a guy insane. (Come to think of it some folks do think I'm crazy. But what does that prove, ha-ha?)
It was such stigma, stuff-and-nonsense, shame and fear, that the liberated lovers of the '60s sought to eradicate. But do bear in mind that in reality we are talking about a relatively small segment of the population and most of them being young, intelligent (or at least educated-- not necessarily the same thing), middle-class university types that you would expect to be tossing about on the turbulent seas of lust anyway, hippie or not. And also remember that Americans actually do tend to psycho-analyze everything more than other cultures, and this includes sex. So in reality what you often found were young 'hippie' girls wearing their hippie uniforms (love beads, long 'earth mother' dresses, hair in flowing tresses, no shoes, who would get stoned and have sex, but then lapse into cobwebs of speculation, bewilderment, and guilt. Personally, I think it was the beginning of the 'victim' mentality which has long been prevalent in America. Over there, where 'self-esteem' issues are regarded with reverence, people like to blame their failures on those predators real or imagined who have somehow 'violated' them. For example, there was a time (much later, actually) where everyone imagined that he/she had been abused as a child. A form of mass hysteria, rather like the Salem Witch Trials in 1622 . Many of these hippie girls -- fledgling feminists, they were -- preferred to cast themselves in this light: soooo vulnerable, sooo exploitable.
But I am indulging in a bit of cruelty in the above. At its best, its very very best, the sexual awakening, the dynamic embracing of the sexual mystery, and the forthcoming openness and honesty...well, in some situations it worked. And it led to better things. Yet it often seemed to me back then that what these young White people were discovering, most Black people already knew. I completely understand that I am guilty of generalizing here -- and I am also aware that, in this series of essays, I keep coming back to Black people as a positive and liberating force for white people -- but in the sexual sense it still rings true. Excessively promiscuous or not, Black people always seemed comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality in ways that middle class, well-scrubbed white kids did not. Blacks loved, lusted, and danced without guilt. Therefore, I would conclude that the so-called 'sexual revolution; of the 1960s was for the most part an awakening of young White Americans (sometimes assisted by this Black music, awareness, passion, and freedom) to the fact that sex should be done triumphantly, ecstatically, and, above all, minus the attendant shame which had afflcted their parents..
The big drugs of choice in the '60s (I am sure all Russians have stumbled onto this fact by now) were LSD and marijuana. I want to make it very clear here that I am not advocating or in any way advertising the use of these or any other drugs. I know now that no 'high' succeeds like a 'natural high', and the only drug we need is someone to love. The artifical stuff is for the birds. It is fool's gold. Someone told me once that getting involved with drugs is like having sex with a gorilla: you stop when the gorilla wants to stop. He was right. So drugs are poison, pure and simple. Stay away from them.
But I was young and impressionable and hedonistic, and there was no way I was NOT going to take a whiff of whatever was out there. I was there, I did it, and there are certain facts that I can report.-- if an eyewitness account is what you are looking for.
So: marijuana or "weed' or 'reefer' as it is sometimes known, was the perfect 'drug' for the minions of 'non-violence'. Nobody ever, in all of history, started a fistfight when he was stoned. Nobody ever raped anybody when he was stoned. Smoking a 'joint' was great for just tuning everything out,, listening to weird music, having rambling philosophical conversations -- the momentous subjects of which, if you had to take a toilet break, you could never remember by the time you returned -- and eating thousands of donuts. Especially the donuts. We called it the "marijuana munchies" -- and it was true because it created one hell of an appetite, so much so that eventually the Enlightened even tried to argue in favor of giving marijuana to AIDS and cancer patients just to induce them to eat. Thus for me, a hippie-style evening back then (it could all go down under a heading of "How to Piss Away Your Time and Not Care at All") was as follows: 1. get stoned; 2. solve the riddles of the universe and then forget what these riddles were 3; listen to Dylan's or Jim Morrison's surreal lyrics 4. if you could not be with the one you loved, then love the one you were with 5. Get in the car and drive to Dunkin Donuts (if you could remember how to get there.)
Doesn't that sound like fun?
But the serious business had to do with the so-called psychedelic drugs, of which LSD was the forerunner. It started out as an intellectual thing with the purpose of expanding one's view of the universe. It wasn't to get "high" in the same way as with most drugs.Nobody ever said, "Hey dude, why not let's stop off at the bowling alley and pick up a couple of chicks and grab a sixpack of Old Milwaukee and a few tabs of acid and go back to the crib." It just didn't work that way. LSD was serious business; it was designed to re-define 'reality.' There are plenty of writers from that era who can open the "gates of perception" for you if you are interested, but for now I will relate my own not-so-wonderful encounter with LSD. And you will see why I am not a walking, talking billboard for the stuff. In truth, when I remember those experiences, I still undergo a sense of fear and unease.
I was about 18 or 19 years old and working in a popular restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida.. One of the waitresses was a really hot and trendy-hippie type (such creatures existed), and she lived in an apartment right behind the restaurant. One night a bunch of us went there and she started handing out the 'tabs of acid.' Eagerly, like a virgin about to be debauched, I scarfed mine down and waited for the mystical sunshine.. Nothing happened. An hour. passed. Still Nothing. At that point in my life I was already a beer and whiskey guy and I wanted instant results. So I complained to Claire ("Hey this shit ain't doin' nuthin.") Reluctantly she gave me a second tab. By then I was full of beer but having no TRIP, so I just started walking home in disgust, which meant crossing a long, looping bridge. I remember that somewhere along the bridge I started reciting a Dylan Thomas poem in what seemed to me was an almost supernaturally loud and booming voice which the wind amplified to echoing extent and carried away across the ocean, and that the words seemed to be coming from some giant megaphone, maybe even reaching the gates of heaven, or coming from God Himself..
By the time I got home and looked at my beloved dog, the dog appeared to be 1,000,000 years old, like a fossil. And when I stared in the mirror I could see the veins and arteries about to pop out of my skin. The walls and ceiling had begun to crawl. It was all very electronic, sort of sizzling, as if the whole bedroom had become my own personal electric chair. Very scary, very ego-shattering (I felt like an insect on a razor.). I didn't sleep for a long, long time. Eventually I tried it (LSD) again -- several times in fact, and by then I had learned not to freak out completely. But it was never for me, not really. I was, and remain, a plain old beer drinkin' lug, a guzzler of suds. The loss of control that hallucination brings on was for me mostly the stuff of nightmares.
I was never a connosieur of the music like some guys and gals were. I listened, but it was always the lyrics, not the psychedelics, that grabbed me. All that '60s stuff started with the revival of folk music (which soon went commercial) and the emergence of an audience for Black music: the blues, jazz, etc. Dylan was originally a folk singer, and the Beatles started out singing "She loves you, yeah-yeah-yeah!" It evolved. Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and a thousand others. And the Rolling Stones had a hard, working class edge that the Beatles never possessed. Some of these lightning bolts couldn't stand their own heat. They died. Hendrix himself, Morrison, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon, to name but a few.
The worst of it was when a strange, angry philosopher-musician cum drifter cum sociopath named Charles Manson arrived in LA and rounded up a bunch of lost kids to become part of his 'Helter Skelter' World's End "Family." The result was the most famous mass murders in American history (The 'Tate-LaBianco" murders.) That was in 1969, the same year that the Americans landed on the moon. The year the 'Flower Power' became Helter Skelter in Los Angeles. What was 'Helter Skelter, you ask? It came from a Beatles song of that name, and in Manson's mind it meant a civil war which would take place between the Blacks and the Whites. The Blacks, being stronger, would win the war, but then, being too stupid to know what to do next, would turn to him, Charles Manson, to rule the country. Meanwhile, across the rest of the nation on a New York stage, 'Hair' was still crying out the anthems of rebellion and freedom, and Woodstock was building a stage, a sort of outside 'Globe' theater to celebrate all ceremonies of love and innocence. And the great Simon and Garfunkel sang in Central Park (..."counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike/ They've all come to look for America...."). Listen to that song sometime. It catches something that really was there.
Manson was the devil in hippie gear. He was a little runt of a guy who had done time in more than one prison. He grew a beard and long hair which complemented his piercing, visionary eyes and he possessed the kind of perverse charisma which often is associated with religious freaks who build followings that evolve into cults. Manson's specialty was attracting homeless young drifters (often middle class girls gone astray) and an assortment of other marginal characters which he molded into what he called 'The Family.' He filled them with drugs and indoctrinated them with his World's-End vision and finally he sent some of them out to murder people. Among victims was Sharon Tate, an actress of limited ability but famous for being married to film producer Roman Polanski. She was 9-months pregnant at the time she was repeated stabbed, along with her house-guests These were ritual-style murders, which involved blood-smeared messages on the walls blaring out such things as "Death to the Pigs" and "Helter Skelter." A few weeks later the LaBiancos, a well-to-do family of no significance other than they lived at the address which Manson, at random, sent his mezmerized followers, were killed in the same fashion. Manson was not physically present at either of these butcheries, and it was not easy to pin the rap on him. As you might imagine, in addition to being the Second Coming of Christ (in his own ghoulish mind), he was a cunning little bastard. Was? Hell, he is still alive, and doing time in San Quentin Prison, California. Meanwhile Sharon Tate and her almost-born baby have been dead for well-nigh 50 years. Thank you Jesus, indeed.
Somehow it seems approrpiate that in America -- and only in America -- Flower Power could degenerate into Mass Murder. But there you are.
Nevertheless, I miss the '60s. Sometimes it all comes floating back, the way memories of youth and those lost aspects of a life grown in places fuzzy in memory can return in a vision with their songs and faces. What am I left with? Well, I can say that, above all, everyone who felt that peculiar magic that the '60s evoked was trying to do something...We weren't just pumping gas or shoveling shit. And yet, hitchhiking across America -- which was more or less safe then and almost a pilgrimmage for kids of the Kerouac mentality (before the psychopaths caught on and started murdering people stupid enough to stick out their thumbs along America's highways)-- part of that magic was not a question of hippies meeting other hippies but of unpredictable yet often enlightening encounters that the long-hairs had with the so-called 'real' Americans of the farms and small towns --, hard, opaque men and women named Sam and Peggy who were changing their kids' diapers and offering a piece of pie. The plain yeomen of the old American frontier and their 'yungins' that were taught to say "Yessir" and Yes Ma'am." I believe that a cathartic experience took place now and then when idealistic "Joe College" with his newfound whiskers and flowing mane came acoss the 'sons and daughters of the pioneers." Even now, that sort of thing still seems strangely and uniquely American.
Sometimes I fall into a nostalgic trance and relive those days. The music brings it back every time. There was a group called Peter, Paul, and Mary that I especially loved, and the tall, beautiful female vocalist, Mary Travers, was my goddess.. When I found out by accident that she had died some years ago of leukemia, I grieved and listened to all their old songs on Youtube. Presto and abbracadabbra, Mary was young again...and so was I. I actually met her once, backstage after the group performed in Charleston, West Virginia. I told her that my name was Eric, and she answered that she had a daughter named Erica. I had done my homework, and so I beamed and said, "I know." She died a fat, rather hideous-looking specimen of terminal illness, and I am a weather-beaten 67 now. But once upon a time I looked into the redoubtable eyes of the magnificent Mary Travers and said, "I know." Well, she must have been approached by ten thousand guys like me who worshipped her.
Ah, the '60s (in reality from about 1963 until the early 1970s) certainly had its share of saints, philosophers, monks, goddesses, earth mothers, nymphs, and freaks.. There was a lot of posturing, groping, and grappling for status and position, even in the 'hippie community." Everybody was looking for something, and, America being America -- and human nature being what it is -- it wasn't long before most everyone was trying to capitalize. Bob Dylan himself was just a prodigiously gifted Jewish kid from a well-off family in Minnesota who successfully passed himself off as a wayfaring wanderer. He simply reinvented himself as the character he wanted to be. America, then as now, was all about image and just pretending to be whatever in the hell you wanted to pretend. The miracle is that, amid such sham, so many authentic gems came sparkling forth.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===
This article by any means doesn't support drugs and drinking. Remember - it is poison!