Sunday, January 22, 2006

The 1960's: A Paper

John F. Kennedy was a symbol of the beginning of a major transformation in American culture. With his election, the conservative 1950’s America that are echoed in television programs such as Happy Days was on the way out. Within ten years, American culture would define more closely to the hippies than they did to Richie Cunningham or Beaver Cleaver. The times, they were a changing. With the influence of extreme liberals upon popular culture during both decades, American adolescents went from playing baseball and chewing bubble gum to playing guitars and smoking pot. The 1960’s saw numerous protests about a questionable conflict in Vietnam, while only ten years before there was little doubt that the war versus communism in Korea was necessary. As the American society changed, clearly counter-cultural and liberal influences from the realm of popular culture inspired the transformation.

In his 1961 inaugural address, Kennedy himself recognized the winds of change passing over the United States. “…We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change…” said Kennedy.
[1] He did not realize how prophetic his words were, however that message in the speech is clearly seen from a present-day perspective. Continuing, Kennedy further expounded on the transition afoot.

Change was the status quo of 1960’s America. For those experiencing that change, the sixties were not just a decade, they became a way of life. In many ways, the cultural shift of the 1960’s can be traced back a century to the Civil War period. Civil Rights concerns find their birth in that era, and American women can trace their liberal roots back to the same time period, as did many of the less conservative beliefs of a great deal of Americans. Furthermore, the pacifist demonstrations and the anti-war beliefs of many Americans became very passionate following the Civil War, and only grew through the wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

From the Cuban missile crisis to the three days of peace and love that were immortalized in the word "Woodstock," the 1960's epitomized the rapid transition of America from 1950's conservatism to the liberalism of more recent decades. “It was surely the decade of rock and roll... from Elvis to the Beatles... and a thousand places in between. It was an active decade in the Congress as President Johnson signed major civil rights legislation and the laws enacting Medicare and the first round of the war on poverty.”
[2] In examining the 1960’s, one of the more interesting developments was the group known as the hippies. Though the other movements were much more significant, it is the hippies and the sixties popular culture that will be focused upon, as they changed and grew. It would be impossible to study these people with out noting influences from other movements, but they will be the focus. The images of these “long-haired youth,” and their music, have surely endured, and it is interesting to explore their development. Thus, as the sixties waxed on, change was inevitable.

The popular band, The Byrds, wrote a song entitled Turn! Turn! Turn!, which describes a cyclical pattern of change for the world population. The lyrics include the lines, “To everything, turn, turn, turn/There is a season, turn, turn, turn/And a time to every purpose under heaven/A time of love, a time of hate/A time of war, a time of peace/A time you may embrace.”
[3] The lyrics parallel the ideals of the decade, as the time of war, discrimination, and poverty were no longer justified. Members of movements such as those looking to extend civil rights, anti-Vietnam groups, or the residents the peace and love communes of the hippie variety, all related to the onset of those ideals preached in the song. In 1967, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote, “All you need is love, love. /Love is all you need,” and clearly the world was a changed place at the close of the decade than at its beginning.[4] In the cyclical pattern that the Byrds sang of, the time for hatred was over, and it was a time to love. This was the sixties. It cannot be stressed enough that large portions of Americans, who previously were conservative, segregated and fought in Korea during the 1950’s, had definitively reversed their social and cultural poles. In other words, throughout the 1960’s, Americans became increasingly more.

However, what were the roots for these changes? Popular culture is often viewed as the catalyst of social change; thus, it is ironic to examine a song for such a theme. However, a great deal of the inspiration for the social movements of the era came from books, poems, songs, and other artistic forms. Two of the groups that greatly influenced the development of the decade were the Beats and the Beatles. Though the quartet of John, Paul, George, and Ringo had such a wide following throughout the decade, it was the foursome of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Cassady, that was more responsible for the lifestyle of the late sixties.

The original Beats met and began writing in 1948.[6] Though it took a decade for their work to be widely recognized, their influence is seen clearly in the sixties’ lifestyle. Ginsberg and Kerouac emphasized the “beatific” qualities; writing, reading, and other attributes of the published word held a mystical and transcendental characteristic.[7] Kerouac’s On the Road, and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch stretched the 1950’s definition of decency. The works of these authors were “banned and vilified, [and] broke through the barriers of censorship…a literary movement was born.”[8] Bookstore owners were arrested for selling obscenities. Beat works were teeming with “graphic depiction of drug use, homosexual acts, cannibalism, [and] raw languages” among other improprieties.[9] Simply put, rampant drug use and promiscuous sex were stock items in Beat literature.

Other writers, such as the controversial Timothy Leary, continued working with similar topics during the sixties. Leary was an advocate of LSD, and was described by Richard Nixon as “the most dangerous man in America.”
[10] The drug was legal when he began research at the start of the decade. Leary, as a psychology professor at Harvard, experimented with the then legal drug.[11] After introducing Allen Ginsberg to the psychotropic substance, Leary became a part of the new wave of people associated with the Beats. His works included many books advocating psychedelic drug use, and his research with it at Harvard made him an expert. He noted a number of perceived benefits of the use of such substances, noting that the majority of people had hallucinations and other such experiences. “We include marijuana smokers, the adepts in hatha yoga, meditators, peyote eaters, mushroom eaters, the LSD cult, and those millions who have had involuntary psychedelic experience those…we call psychotics.”[12] With such statements, it of now wonder Nixon considered Leary a threat to America’s youth.

Adolescents in many conservative fifties’ and sixties’ homes stole away to read the prohibited material, in much the same way that their modern day counterparts listen to albums with parental advisories. As the reading of Beat literature slowly became less of a social taboo, its morality gradually influenced the readers. As a result, many considered the psychotropic drug use a gateway to a sense of higher enlightenment, while the promiscuous sex received the delightful title of free love.

Leary brought Ginsberg into the sixties by introducing the Beat writer to a number of hallucinogenic drugs. Consequently, Leary opened the door for the Beat author, and Ginsberg became “perhaps more than any other figure, helped define and shape the aesthetics of the psychedelic sixties.”
[13] In fact, his relationship with Bob Dylan helped transform the acoustic folk singer into a “modern poetic genius.” Aside from the Beatles, Bob Dylan could be the most influential person/group in regards to future music. During the early part of the decade, with the British Invasion and Elvis, that rock and roll music really became defined. “Rock music became the most important medium for defining and coalescing the new hippie aesthetic, and style that emerged.”[14] It was a new generation, as the Chamber Brothers album from 1968 declared.[15]

Artists like Bob Dylan, and San Franciscan bands, such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane emerged as the leaders of a “style that emerged with brilliant, swirling colors, and hallucinogenic imagery.”[16] It is of no surprise that San Francisco was the birthplace of psychedelic rock, as the Beat and hippie movements became centered there. It was a hotspot. Soon other bands were following the new form. New York bands such as Velvet Underground began producing similar music. Even England, who’s British rockers had changed American rock and roll in the early part of the decade, were now being influenced by their colonial mistake. American psychedelic rock changed the style of the Rolling Stones and the biggest group ever, the Beatles. The Beatles’ White Album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour were produced with a number of psychedelic rock songs and the album covers were equally trippy.[17]

Ed Sanders pushed every known limit with his obscenely-named underground press, his similarly-titled magazine, and his musical group, the Fugs, and he, along with countless other former Beats, easily moved into the evolving hippie scene. Although the urban grittiness of New York was not conducive to a Love-In or an Acid Test on the beach, there were marches, demonstrations, underground newspapers, and alternative musical groups that provided a grounding intelligence that countered the often superficial and fanciful idealism of the San Francisco experiment. [18]

In addition to music, artists like Andy Warhol, who “took the Pop Art sensibilities to its furthest extremes” were emerging and becoming dominant.
[19] Rolling Stone published a special issue, declaring an American Revolution of 1969. One thing was sure, that by 1969, the hippies were there to stay, and they wanted to be heard.[20] But, who were they? To many, they were considered social vagrants; men with long hair and beards and women with flowers in their hair, all wearing crazy colors. Scornfully they were looked upon as all being “dirty, drugged, and disrespectful of their elders.”[21]

However, like their Beat predecessors, the hippies and flower children believed they were living in an almost religious mysticism. “They were dropping out of college, starting up rock bands, living in communes, and traveling to the far reaches of the planet.”
[22] Like any religious group they had their own sayings: Make Love. Not War. There was an escape to higher enlightenment in drugs.[23] Hippies also had their hymns; the popular ballads became their theme songs, whether it be Fifth Dimension’s Age of Aquarius, or the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever and With a Little Help from my Friends. Lastly, they had their holy ground.

Woodstock became the hippie Mecca, as they celebrated “Three Days of Peace and Music.” From August 15, 1969 through August 18, the concert played. A festival expecting 150,000 people received three times that number, many without tickets.
[24] Some of the most memorable rock performances came at that concert.[25] “The music was nonstop, the rains came, drug use was widespread, sanitary conditions primitive, bad acid trips were a constant problem, yet somehow it all worked out…Woodstock came to symbolize all that was right and good about the hippie movement.”[26]

Though it was not the conclusion of the hippie generation, Woodstock was certainly the pinnacle. When one mentions “Psychedelic Sixties,” it is hard not to conjure images of Woodstock. This is even true for those of us who did not live through the sixties. We lived vicariously through Kevin Arnold on The Wonder Years. The current generation has seen through someone else’s eyes, exactly what living in that period was like.

Though seen as anti-establishment during their day, the development of the last three decades looks to the hippies as a major influence. Their music has touched our lives, and their culture assimilated into the mainstream. Personally, growing up in the home of an Army officer from the Vietnam era, hippie was seen as a negative term. However, the first album I bought myself was a Beatles album. Tie-dye, flower power, and Woodstock are part of the modern vernacular. The hippie music and their peace and love ideals, though seen as nonsensical at the time, are now seen as classic and wholesome, respectively. As the cyclical changes progress over time, the hippie’s have certainly left an indelible mark on American civilization. It is sad that humans fear change, and ironic that fifty-somethings of today, look back to the hippie era as “the good old days.” My, how things are changing.


“The Byrds,” [database online] [cited 8 March 2001] available from
“John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address,”, Inaugural Addresses of Presidents of the United States
[database online] [cited 8 March 2001]: available from

“The Complete Beatles Lyrics: All You Need is Love” [database online] [cited 8 March 2001]; available from - 11

“John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address,”, Inaugural Addresses of Presidents of the United States
[database online] [cited 8 March 2001]: available from

Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available

[1]“John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address,”, Inaugural Addresses of Presidents of the United States [database online] [cited 8 March 2001]: available from
[2]“Psychedelic Sixties” [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[3]“The Byrds,” [database online] [cited 8 March 2001] available from
[4] “The Complete Beatles Lyrics: All You Need is Love” [database online] [cited 8 March 2001]; available from - 11
[5] photo available at
[6]“Beats” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Timothy Leary” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13]“1967” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[14] “Rock” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[15] See album cover in appendix or at
[17] See Magical Mystery Tour cover at
[18]“In New York” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from
[19] Ibid.
[20]Cover of the Rolling Stone, April 5, 1969,
[21]“Hippies” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from and also see “typical hippie clothing” at
[23] See appendix or http://www.lib.virginia/cgi-bin/imgload.cgi/120
[25] Listen to a Woodstock performance at
[26] “Woodstock” in Psychedelic Sixties Home page [database online] (University of Virginia, 1999, [cited 8 March 2001] ); available from

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