Help me understand the fin de 60s
August 12, 2018 9:24 PM   Subscribe

As I've covered in past posts and Asks, I have something of a fascination with the late 60s as it lurched forward and became the bleak early 70s.

Although my main interests lie in the early 70s portion of the graph, I find myself endlessly fascinated in culture shifts like the mammoth one that occurred when the 60s died and everything got a little dimmer and son might say meaner.
Having long been fascinated by Gimme Shelter, Joe, Nixonland, etc. and with this being the 49th anniversary of the Manson killings, I decided to come to thee the glorious hivemind to help me find more ways to stoke this weirdo enthusiasm of mine.
I am looking for anything: youtubes, features, documentaries, podcasts (my weeklong binge of You Must Remember This eps on Manson is kinda why Im here now. Highly recommended.) that can help me dig into more of where we were all at at the time. I dunno, maybe its because even though I know we arent living through a second 1968, there seems to be enough echoes of it to make me wonder. I was born in 74 and this era we're all slogging through matches my impression of that time more than any other in my memory.
I want to know how we got to the kind of despair that makes Bloodrock's "DOA" a Top 40 hit, and Last House on the Left a box office smash, and—hell—for ZPG to get a wide release at all.
Maybe it wasn't all as dark as Im imagining and maybe its just parts of the culture I've decided to fixate on, what with Joe happening around the same year as Wonka (but Joe was the culture-defining hit of the two) but even Wonka was laced with that ambient despair.
So load me up with suggestions if you got em. I just want to know more about who we were at that moment.
posted by Senor Cardgage to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Joan Didion’s The White Album. It’s a must.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:11 PM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am sort of fascinated by this as well. I really enjoyed The Sixties by Todd Gitlin. He was one of the founders of SDS and is now a NYU professor, and it's a great personal history of the student movements of the 60s. He does a great job of talking about how groups like SDS splintered in the late 60s, which was one of the things that paved the way for the malaise of the early 70s.

I also have 1968 on my to-read list.
posted by lunasol at 10:20 PM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

You'll want to read a lot of Ed Sanders: "The Family", "Sharon Tate: A Life", "Tales of Beatnik Glory".
posted by Chitownfats at 10:23 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, a few piece of fiction, several of which are heavily autobiographical:

Vida, Marge Piercy: about a radical activist in hiding in the 70 after a bombing, with lots of flashbacks to how she wound up getting involved in a group modeled after the Weather Underground.

Caucasia, by Danzy Senna

Meridian, by Alice Walker

And one more non-ficton book: The Feminist Memoir Project
posted by lunasol at 10:27 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd like to add ... although it gathers harsh critics like dogs get fleas, I've never come across anything that really gives you the feel of the ecstasy and foreboding of the late 60's like Oliver Stone's "The Doors".
posted by Chitownfats at 10:28 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Mel Lyman cult
posted by Freedomboy at 10:54 PM on August 12, 2018

Every answer you want is in YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS podcast, you haven't listened long enough!

There is subtext and overt discussion in EVERY EPISODE. I just finished the Monster Movies/BORIS & BELA series. The arc of these 2 stars' careers overlap with the 60's and 70's and are TOTALLY about how we got there in the 70's. The Jane Fonda/Jean Seborg episodes cover same. Everything Frank Sinatra, including Mia Farrow eps. The Blacklist episodes. Everything having to do with movie codes. Why am I still listing episodes?!

Just start from the beginning of YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS. Oh! The Bette Davis and/or Joan Crawford episodes.

Anyway. DM me if you want. I went on a deep dive into history after listening to this podcast. I was born in 1970 in nyc and remember a lot of what was going on, this podcast provides so much important context. Happy to share where I went after for more + what background I already had that's important.

Because the Mad Men tv show also references the 1950's Korean War through the early 70's in important ways, you might also check this out, too. I'm kinda wondering how that might look to you if you were born in the 80's or 90's because computers and cell phones changed the culture so so much. It's hard to imagine how differently people lived before this massive change.

Hope these suggestions helped! This is a great question!!
posted by jbenben at 11:06 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

The cultural shifts were directly related to the political shifts at the time.
I'd recommend Chris Harman's "The Fire Last Time", which looks at the global political events that were somewhat kicked off in '68 and spread like wildfire across the world. First written just 20 years after those events, there's a new edition out for the 50 year anniversary.
Sorry if it's too political a work, but when I think about works that explain the trends of the last 50 years and how they were influenced by events before them, none are apolitical.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:33 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

HST gave the eulogy in 1971:

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket… booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)... but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
posted by vrakatar at 11:55 PM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Is your interest limited to north American late 60s zeitgeist or are you interested in other western experiences of the period as well? Australia also had a distinct social shift during this time, much of it linked to the US via the Vietnam war, and its social ramifications. You call the early 70s bleak, and they probably were in the US after losing the war. I found it interesting to compare that bleak judgement with its opposite in Australia where the early 70s were a blossoming of progressive government policies for social justice.
posted by Thella at 12:46 AM on August 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

I was fascinated with this too. What about this - at the tail end of the 60s, Anton LaVey (founder of the Church of Satan) led a ritual to destroy the hippie movement, called "The Rising Forth" - it's discussed in Gavin Baddeley's book Lucifer Rising.
posted by beyond_pink at 1:45 AM on August 13, 2018

This is exactly what Withnail and I is about.

Nobody knew that overcoming an entirely corrupt and entirely dominant power structure could be so complicated.
posted by flabdablet at 2:13 AM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

There's a fair bit of American cultural transition in Ken Burns' Vietnam documentary. It's fairly comprehensive, but it's also a long haul.
posted by ovvl at 5:54 AM on August 13, 2018

Oddly, I thought the film Dazed and Confused pretty accurately painted an image of being a high-school-age teen in the early-to-mid 70's (perhaps only in the midwest?)
posted by Thorzdad at 6:03 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The farther we get from the 60s, the more people fix the one narrative which is "It was good, then it got bad, and things were never the same" And, obviously, it was more complicated than that.

Speaking of Ken Burns, my uncle narrated that documentary. He's written two memoirs about the 60s and beyond which are thoughtful and reflective, from someone who was around the scene but only central to some smaller parts of it (Diggers, commune culture). He's a great writer. The first is Sleeping Where I Fall.

I also am interested in how this culture happened on the east coast and have enjoyed a few recent books abotu the back-to-the-land movement which was dramatically different than what was going on on the west coast. Two good ones.

- We Are As Gods by Kate Daloz
- Going Up the Country: When the Hippies, Dreamers, Freaks, and Radicals Moved to Vermont by Yvonne Daley

Mark Kurlansky, better known for his book Cod, wrote a book called 1968 The Year that Rocked the World as lunasol says which is good reading and puts things in a more global perspective.
posted by jessamyn at 6:10 AM on August 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

I participated in the sixties. Those who wax nostalgic about that era are almost always men. We women were left to clean up the messes they left behind.
posted by mareli at 6:41 AM on August 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

There was an episode of From the Earth to the Moon called "1968" which IIRC is more of an impressionistic take on the year culminating in an Apollo mission.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:42 AM on August 13, 2018

Fiction: Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (New Yorker review), and its amazing Wiki, which will give you all sorts of historical references.

Epigraph: "Under the paving-stones, the beach!
"Sous les pavés, la plage" - slogan dating from the 1968 Paris student riots. Wikipedia Literally, it refers to the paving stones thrown at the police and to the discovery made by the rioting students, after prying up the stones, that there was sand underneath. Figuratively, it uses the metaphor of a beach to allude to the ideal life to be found beneath the confines of society."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:05 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've mentioned it in other contexts but I got an education on the 60s - a really good one, I'll posit - from reading the MAD magazines of the era. The Ususal Gang of Idiots skewered everyone; left, right, center, themselves.
posted by notsnot at 7:29 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could also check out early issues or compilations of National Lampoon (who did an infamous MAD diss feature in 1971, ironic considering they would eventually lend their name to "Van Wilder")
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:16 AM on August 13, 2018

Once In a Great City by David Mariniss is a great exploration of this for Detroit. It ends at the end of the '60s, so really, what it explores are the highs before the lows. It's grouped into thematic sections (think Motown Records, the auto industry, the failed Olympic bid, etc.), but one of the coolest things about it is how interconnected those initially separate narratives end up being. There's a sense of foreboding throughout because you know what happened next, and it also shows all the tensions and inequalities that built and built.
posted by dapati at 9:38 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The way I remember it, the successes of the civil rights movement followed by the funny weirdness of the hippies just got swallowed up by bad things happening with no countervailing good stuff. All the fun went out of politics with Kent State and siege of Chicago, and we were left with the day-after-day-after day of the war in Vietnam, and an administration that couldn't or wouldn't do anything to end it.

I was in Vietnam from 9/69 to 8/70. My gf, now wife, was a senior at college that went all-in for the Student Strike of 1970 in reaction to the invasion of Cambodia. She always felt that she was the one who was present at the definitive event of the time.

We married in 1972. The most tumultuous event I remember from our first few years of marriage was the gasoline shortage caused by the Oil Crisis 0f 1973.

The economy was also troubled. It was a time of great inflation. This period shaped the psyches of the men who now govern the Federal Reserve, just as the Great Depression shaped the psyches of my generation's parents.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:39 AM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

The assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and then Robert Kennedy not many weeks later in June made Spring 1968 a turn into darkness - that's how I remember it.
posted by JonJacky at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2018

Richard Neville's Play Power: Exploring the International Underground (1971) is a compendium of snippets, notes, resources, slices-of-life and more from the apex of social waves that swept through Britain, Europe, Australasia, and North America during the late 1960s to very early 70s. The book also looks like this .
posted by Thella at 12:51 AM on August 14, 2018

It may be worth looking at something more innocent. I was thinking about this question last night and this example came to mind.

In the early seventies, when PBS came up with its longtime TV ident that remained in use in some limited cases well into the 80s and even 90s, it used heavy moog synthesizers. There are lots of examples on Youtube where people have commented on how as little children, the synthesizers really freaked them out.

Compare to the more natural ident musical cues from earlier decades.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:34 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

For music and pop culture, see the book Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald. He
writes, "... something in the soul of Western culture began to die in the late Sixties ...".
He makes this argument at book length, with daunting detail and thoroughness.
posted by JonJacky at 6:58 PM on August 14, 2018

Oddly, I thought the film Dazed and Confused pretty accurately painted an image of being a high-school-age teen in the early-to-mid 70's (perhaps only in the midwest?)

yeah, as a 70-80s kid in California I found quite a lot of that film truly bizarre WRT high school rituals.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2018

A great film/video montage of the 60s with excellent music

posted by goodsearch at 7:06 PM on August 15, 2018

There's a fantastic CBS special from 1979 or 1980 on Youtube that addresses this and the 1970s as a whole: American Dream/American Nightmare.

This was posted on the Blue some time ago.
posted by TrialByMedia at 12:07 PM on August 16, 2018

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