Most people get the 1960s wrong in an important way. This includes people who “were there” — who lived through that time as children, teens or adults. Perhaps more than any other decade or era in modern US history, the 1960s is subject to a kind of “temporal collapse,” a foreshortening that has caused perceptions and memories of that time to be distorted by things that happened at the end of the decade and — for many people — things that actually happened in the first part of the 1970s. Often, when people say “the Sixities,” they’re really talking about 1968 and 1969 and even then, much of what people mean when they say “the Sixties” is really a mentality that for many, perhaps most, people really didn’t take hold until the first half of the 1970s.
Because the 1960s was a time of fast and radical change on many fronts, things happened fast: social, cultural and political phenomena came and went very quickly. The world at the end of the decade was, for a lot of people (but not all, by any means), very different from what it had been at the beginning of the decade. The events of the 1960s has remained a cultural and political battleground ever since — think about how often we hear the term “the legacy of the 60s” even today.
The result of all this is that images like this have come to dominate the conception of the 1960s in many people’s minds:
But that happened in August of 1969 — the last half of the last year of the decade.
Woodstock certainly was a while in the making. The things that led to it and a lot of other events late in the decade have taken on a great importance in how we see the era. That history gets a lot of attention now. Writers spend a great deal of time now tracing back the roots of what ended up seeming — in hindsight — to be very important. But a lot of other things were also going on, much of it now overshadowed and all but forgotten.
There are other narratives through the 1960s. This series will look at various bits and pieces — cultural flotsam and jetsam if you will — from a kind of “forgotten 1960s.”
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