Magazine article Insight on the News

Taking the Rose-Colored Haze off the Sixties

Magazine article Insight on the News

Taking the Rose-Colored Haze off the Sixties

Article excerpt

Just about everyone who lived through the 1960s has some overreaching generalization to describe that bizarre decade. Like the decade itself (which also overlaps with the 1970s), rhetoric about it is shot with inconsistency, but it's always dramatic and a touchstone for nostalgia and regret.

Nostalgia, however, frequently is clouded by the remembered fragrance of incense or the stench of pot, transmuting memory and romanticizing desire. Criticism derives from the kind of lucidity that haunts painful thoughts of "the morning after," pulsating recollections that document the absurdities and irrationalities of the long nights before.

One survivor of that decade says that if you remember anything at all of the sixties, you weren't there. That's not quite true, but most of us who lived through all of that believed it was more important to be making history than remembering it as a historian.

Personal anecdotes, the not-quite-true factoids of history, contribute as much as the actual facts to the myths of the sixties. This occurred to me as I began reading several of the new rush of books about that decade. Lots of people want to understand themselves as they attempt to set the record straight.

What seemed like fun at the time, for example, often merely was childlike, nothing more than ego gratification of the tiny tot at the party who asks out loud: "Are we having fun yet?" I remember one particular evening when I was sure I was having fun. I'd been invited by a friend to have dinner with Abbie Hoffman, the vaudevillian of protest, a stunt man for Amerika, who compared runaway children rebelling against bourgeois parents to runaway slaves fleeing oppression. He did everything he could to mobilize "the freaks" for the revolution.

It was New York 1971, and Abbie had just received copies of his latest work, Steal This Book, telling readers how to get through life without paying. It had directions for crashing certain kinds of embassy parties in Washington, as well as how to cheat the restaurants by asking for two separate checks, one for the coffee and one for the meal. When you leave you pay for only the coffee. Ripping off the plebes and the capitalists was all the same. Distinctions never were fine. (Abbie didn't like it, however, when kids started stealing his book from bookstores, arguing they were only following directions.)

I'm having fun, I said to myself as I leafed through the book, learning how to get unemployment checks without earning them, or how to apply for welfare without deserving it, or how to use cheap foreign coins for more expensive subway tokens. …

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