August 12, 2009


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There have been a rash of articles celebrating and demonizing the 40th anniversary of the summer of 1969. Here's yet another one. I hope you will find it a little different.

I look at the summer of 1969 as the culmination of several years of social disruption followed by a slow remolding of values in the 1970s and 1980s. If I may get a little "new age," there was a cosmic rip in the social fabric of the country, and something new emerged. A lot of what happened was bad, but a lot of what emerged was pretty good, at least from my point of view.

I think arguably the most disruptive of years during the sixties were 1968 and 1969.

In 1968, American suffered its highest casualties of the Vietnam war (16,592). Sen. Robert F Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King were both assassinated. The King assassination sparked riots in America's cities. Riots also broke out at the August 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.

In 1969, the Vietnam war had its second highest American casualty rate (11,616), and demonstrations against the war were on the rise. Hippies were all over the place. There was the Woodstock concert (August 15 to 18, 1969) the Moon Landing (July 20, 1969), Senator Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick (July 18, 1969), the Charles Manson murders (August 9th and 10th) and the Stonewall riots (June 28).

Woodstock is probably what aging hippies remember if they think about 1969, but I think the Stonewall riots probably had a more profound effect on society. Stonewall was a gay bar in New York City whose patrons were routinely busted by New York's finest. That is until June 28, 1969, when the patrons rioted and kick-started the gay rights movement in the United States.

The very best video I could find on Stonewall was made by AARP! I thought that was a little odd until I realized that anyone who was in the bar when the riots broke out would have to be 58-years old or older.

Here's the video:

The most psychotic person that summer was the cult leader Charles Manson, who along with his misfit followers was responsible for the grizzly murder of nine people on August 9th and 10th, including actress Sharon Tate, who was 8-1/2 months pregnant.

Here's a video of Manson in case you're unfamiliar with his charming personality.

And let's not forget Woodstock. It was the rock concert to end all rock concerts. Oscar-winning director Ang Lee has just made a movie about it to called Taking Woodstock. It will be released this summer. Here's the trailer.

The slow unwinding

The 1970s and 1980s began a slow unwinding of some of the excesses of the late sixties as well as a rejection of the conservative attitudes that preceded the sixties. The life of Jayanti Tamm personifies that slow unwinding.

Jayanti Tamm was born in 1970 to two hippie parents who were followers of the guru Sri Chinmoy (right). Ms Tamm not only grew up in a cult, she was declared "the chosen one" by Sri Chinmoy before she was even born.

Being the chosen one in a cult is not a good thing. After spending her youth distributing leaflets declaring the gurus divinity and cleaning the cages of the zoo housed in his Queens, NY, basement, Jayanti split at the age of 25.

Jayanti wrote an August 8th Washington Post op-ed piece about her experience with the whole hippie guru thing. She also wrote a book about it called Cartwheels in a Sari. It's a good example of what can happen when vulnerable people (her parents) fall under the spell of a charismatic charlatan. And there were plenty of both in the late sixties and the seventies.

From the Washington Post article.
By the time the mud had dried at Woodstock, Swami Prabhupada had created the Hare Krishnas and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon had founded the Unification Church -- the Moonies. Communes and ashrams sprouted across America. In the 1960s, the decade now mythic for its anti-conformity, flocks of people conformed to the dictates of self-proclaimed prophets.
So there you have it. The 1960s were a pretty clean break with America's past values. It culminated in the summer of 1969. Out of it emerged the gay rights movement, the women's movement and improvements in race relations that eventually led to an African-American president. It may have also led to a backlash by those nostalgic for "traditional American values" -- the culture wars. The Jerry Falwells, Jimmy Swaggarts, Pat Robertsons and Ted Haggarts of the world didn't develop in a vacuum.

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