this ain’t the summer of love

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Walking between classes today, I saw a group of people seated in a circle on a grassy lawn. They looked like central casting Happy Young People: they were white, dressed in t-shirts and jeans, male and female. The men had shaggy hair and grad-student beards. The women either had long hair down to their waists or hair cropped short against their skulls. They were joyful and golden in the California sunlight, not going anywhere, just being, communing with the spring air and warm sunshine on a beautiful day.

One of the men had a guitar.

He was playing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.

It sparked a chain of thoughts in my mind. The young people were probably born in the early 90s, in ’91 or ’92. The sixties are completely lost to our generation. It’s in the irrevocable past. And yet I feel like my generation has nostalgia for this time that we can never visit.

“I wish I were back in the sixties,” a friend of mine told me once, her eyes shining and her face glowing with wistful remembrance of a time gone by. “Things were simpler then.”

“You can’t be back in the sixties,” I replied. “You were never there.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But still.”

Among the college students of my generation, there are artifacts of the past scattered casually and anachronistically among us. Led Zeppelin t-shirts. Bare feet on the summer grass. Woodstock concert LPs. Beards.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to live through the sixties. It was a time of freedom and youth uprising, that’s true– but it was also a time of war and assassinations, of dogs being set on peaceful civil rights protesters, and the ever-present haunting specter of the Draft, and the knowledge that it could all be over in less than forty-five seconds if Russia and the US decided to let their missiles fly. For every Woodstock, there was an Altamont. For every John Lennon, a Charlie Manson.

The sixties that the youth of my generation have composed in their minds is as based in reality as any fantasy realm. Yet it’s a place for them to retreat to. They play Beatles music, shaggy-headed and bare-footed, in the sunshine. They smoke weed and eat mushrooms in the light of the full moon, in drum circles far out in the woods.

You know what I think my generation’s idealization of the sixties is like, honestly? It reminds me most of the hard-edged Republicans who believe in a long-lost past where men were honest and just, women knew their place, and children never disobeyed or even expressed an opinion of their own. A past that never existed, yet for many people, is just as real as the chaotic, seething world in front of them– more real, in fact, because their PerfectWorld™ is the Platonic ideal of civilization as constructed in their heads, and everything else is just noise and madness.

Believing in a past that never existed is just as dangerous as ignoring history completely. How much better would our world be if the gullible idiots who believe in that perfect storybook small-town America actually looked at the world as it was and realized that it was just the same– if not worse– than our own world? Will my generation make that same mistake, and put the idolized Summer of Love on a pedestal– so much on a pedestal, in fact, that we ignore the world around us?

How can you feel nostalgia for a place you’ve never been?

~ Ian

  1. Will Forest says:

    Ian, I have another perspective. I think some people are looking at the good things that came out of the 60s — open-mindedness, freer sexuality, beards, bare feet in the grass, civil rights, environmental consciousness, skepticism of authority, the beginnings of women’s rights, etc. — and are recognizing their origins, and genuinely appreciating them, and celebrating them in the modern world. They’re not retreating into the 60s — they’re bringing the good parts of the 60s into the present. That’s a GOOD thing.

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