WALLY’S WORLD: Recalling another generation

Last week this silly, little column discussed the various generations of American youth as defined by the mass media. Each was promoted as a new, revolutionary generation that would forever alter the art and morals of our society. In particular, I described the “Lost Generation” of the late 1920s and the “Beat Generation” of the late 1950s and suggested the former probably had more influence than the latter.

However, the social changes produced by both those generations, substantial as they may have been, were completely dwarfed by the astounding supernova that erupted in the late 1960s. With the exception of the two world wars, the “Now Generation,” as it was tagged by Time magazine, was probably the most rebellious, awesome social phenomenon of the 20th century. More revolutionary than even the computer – as least as the computer was manifest in that century – or the pill. It was essentially an insurrection of American youth.   Not all of them, by any stretch, but a significant proportion, particularly college students, who were fed up with the status quo and demanded change. Now, if not sooner.

The revolt came on two fronts. First, there were the violent confrontations stemming from racial strife and the Vietnam War. People were killed. National Guard troops fired on anti-war marchers at Kent State University and the streets of Chicago became a war zone during the Democratic Convention. Black and white “freedom riders” were murdered in the Southern states and Martin Luther King Jr.’s boycotts and demonstrations frequently resulted in gunfire by local police.

On the second front, there were the long-haired hippies who were something else again. Rather than join the battle lines, the hippies decided the best way to change the world was simply to drop out of the whole egotistical, money-grubbing rat race. They took Timothy Leary’s mantra to heart: “Turn on, tune in and drop out!”  Many lives were permanently scarred, if not completely wasted, in a barrage of illegal drugs.

These two components, the gentle hippies and the combative protesters, all rallied around the same slogan: “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” They frequently gathered in taverns. In Seattle, there were a few defiant rumblings in the original Red Robin on Lake Union.   There were also some philosophical sparks in that cloud of pot smoke hanging over the elevated back room of the Comet Tavern.

But if I had to pick one place that served as the unofficial headquarters for the Emerald City’s “Now Generation,” I’d have to choose the Blue Moon tavern.  This rebellious shrine hasn’t been remodeled for nearly 50 years so, if you’re too young to have experienced the full fury of the late 1960s, you can at least witness the era’s physical decor. Given this setting and a free-floating imagination, you may even be able to sense, on some unconscious level, the generation’s energy and sentiments.

The “Now Generation” rumbled out of the underground in late 1965 and by 1971 it was more or less finished. The toll it took on individuals and the changes it instigated were enormous. It left the nation flooded with illegal drugs, was an important – if not the most important- – contributing factor in ending the Vietnam War, and it shattered the foundations of institutionalized racism and bigotry in general. Artists like Warhol and Lichenstein changed the nature of art, stripping it of much of its alleged spirituality and putting more emphasis purely on art’s commercial value. The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and The Jefferson Airplane provided the most innovative music of the century, right up there with Dixieland jazz.

Or maybe I’m just an incurable romantic. Perhaps it’s like Amber Valentine says: In 1967, while lost in Grace Slick’s rendition of “White Rabbit,” I must have fallen into a rabbit hole and haven’t yet found my way out.

Still more on “generations” next week.

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