Summer of ’69

As we approach the end of the book in the World Civilizations class I teach, I invite students to name the earliest event they can remember happening that is in history books today. Students older than me frequently speak of the assassination of President Kennedy. Students of traditional college age used to mention the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, then the fall of the Berlin Wall. For several years the earliest event remembered by many students was the terrorist attack of 9-11. I discovered this summer that, for this year’s incoming freshmen, the fall of the World Trade towers is a historic event; they cannot recall the day it happened.

I remember some events from my early childhood, but the first historic events I remember took place in the summer of 1969. Chief among those events was, of course, mankind’s first visit to the moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, while a third astronaut, Mike Collins, came along for the ride but continued circling the moon during their mission. I remember sitting in the living room watching the grainy broadcast of Armstrong climbing down the ladder and setting foot on the moon. I remember hearing him say, “That’s one small step for [a] man—one giant leap for mankind.” I remember the other details of the mission as well. It pleases me that my earliest historic memory consists of good news and high accomplishments, not an assassination or attack or accidental explosion.

I remember the Chicago Cubs were doing well in the summer of 1969; they seemed destined to enter the playoffs for the first time since they lost the World Series in 1945. I remember the heat of August as they began losing more games than they were winning. I remember my father’s disgust after some of those losses. I remember the New York Mets passing the Cubs in the standings and taking their place in the playoffs. Reason to hope for success would not return to Cubs fans for another fifteen years.

I remember seeing my first hippies. They were a carful of people with long hair and brightly-colored clothes, shouting happily and waving to the little boy (me) standing by the street. I knew they were hippies. I had seen something on television about hippies and about a concert they were attending somewhere in the state of New York.

I didn’t see the documentary movie about Woodstock until I was in college. They showed Woodstock on campus, and my friends and I went into a frenzy of celebrating everything sixties and hippie-related. A few years later I found the three-disc album from the concert in a record store and bought it and played it over and over. Yet a few years later, I bought the VHS package of the documentary, watching it every August. When those tapes were wearing out, I replaced them with the DVD package released for the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock—it contains several songs that were not included in the original documentary, including performances by Jefferson Airplane and by Janis Joplin.

Some five-year-old and six-year-old children today are going to remember the summer of 2017. It will be their introduction to current events that become history. I wish they could remember successes, accomplishments, and acts of human kindness. The summer is not yet over; we still have a chance to make history. J.

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Remembering the Sixties

It’s all coming back to me now: the Beatles, the space program, Woodstock, Star Trek, Presidents Johnson and Nixon, I Dream of Jeannie, the Vietnam War, the Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel), MAD magazine, hippies, protests, the Six Day War….

My youngest daughter and I watch television together. Mondays we see I Dream of Jeannie, binge-watching if you can call three episodes a week a binge. Wednesdays we see the original Star Trek, although we have only three episodes left until we have to jump to the feature movies. Weekends this new year we’ve been watching musicals. So about ten days ago we saw “The Way to Eden,” known among Trekkies and Trekkers as the “space hippy” episode. With that episode still in my head, when we chose a musical to watch last night, I suggested we see Hair. She had not seen it before, but she’s old enough to handle it, so that is what we did.

Now I am very much in a Sixties mood. I’m torn between two movies for tonight. To stay with musicals and with Sixties music and dancing and clothing, I’m leaning toward Jesus Christ, Superstar. On the other hand, to continue her education about the 1960s (which is as remote to her life as the Great Depression is to mine), I am thinking of watching Forrest Gump. Either one would be a lot of fun, and I have a few hours left before I have to make up my mind.

Of course there is also the four-hour movie version of the Woodstock music festival. That might have to wait for another weekend, though…. J.

Generations

A few posts back I grumbled about members of the Baby Boom generation and their self-centered ways. Some readers may have been thinking, “Hang on a minute, J. Aren’t you part of that generation of Baby Boomers that you are raking over the coals? You’ve been posting about Star Trek and the Beatles and a lot of Baby Boomer kind of things. Aren’t you one of them?”

Well, technically, yes. The Baby Boom generation is usually identified with people born between 1946 and 1964. (By the way, I believe that Baby Boomers are the first group in history to start identifying and labeling generations, but that’s another story.) My birth falls within that time period. For that matter, I’ve been offered or given a “senior discount” in some stores without anyone asking for identification. By strict definition, I think it’s fair to say that I’m one of those Baby Boomers about whom I was complaining.

There are big differences, though, between Americans born during the Truman administration and Americans born during the Kennedy administration. Truman Boomers attended increasingly crowded schools. New schools were built during the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson years, and the Kennedy Boomers attended those new schools. Truman Boomers had to worry about the Vietnam War and the draft, but before we turned eighteen, the Vietnam War had ended and the draft had been abolished.

Even in arts and entertainment we are different. Early boomers remember the Elvis of the early hits and the movies, but late boomers remember only fat Elvis singing in Las Vegas and Hawaii. Early boomers remember Beatlemania and the concerts, but late boomers remember the Beatles only as a studio band that broke up while we were not yet teenagers. Early boomers went to Woodstock, but late boomers only attended if they came with their parents. Early boomers were drawn to rock and roll music; but by the time the late boomers were in high school, rock was already fragmenting into disco, heavy metal, and other categories.

Early boomers were able to vote for Bobby Kennedy and remembered his brother John, but late boomers have no memory of those two Kennedys. Early boomers took part in civil rights marches and war protests, but late boomers had no great uniting causes while Reagan was president. Early boomers have Sputnik and Mercury astronauts to remember, but late boomers have to settle for distant memories of men walking on the moon, followed by the triumphs and disasters of the space shuttles.

Early boomers and late boomers are very different from each other; they are not the same generation. I only hope that as the late boomers move into retirement, we will do so more gracefully than our predecessors.

J.