I was born in September of 1966, just past the midpoint of this turbulent and memorable decade.
I don’t necessarily remember being actively present during that time, but I do have still frame pictures painted in my memory, that to this day resonate and inform me as to what life was like then.
Every day I find myself utilizing those still shots as an anchor when I have to interpret the crazy nonsense that passes for our daily reality in this era.
“The new normal” is now a familiar line repeated by the press. God, I hate that phrase. There’s nothing normal about today’s world regardless of what topic you wish to raise.
Our politics, news and arts (notably music) have always been reflections of each other and as with the present, the 1960s were no exception. And this matters quite a bit.
If truth is missing from the daily discourse in all three areas of a society, it migrates away from any path of authenticity or real value.
Back when I was born, the United States had just come out of a decade where after two brutal World Wars, middle class families were finally able to look inward in pursuit of “The Good Life” (check out Tony Bennett’s interpretation of that song! It captures the flavor of that period perfectly).
What was the Good Life? A decent paying job, an affordable home, and a lower cost of living that would allow you to raise a family without going broke.
And if you saved up early enough, you could possibly even put at least a kid or two thru college. Many families achieved all the key essentials of what was once considered The Good Life!
But there were others among us who, after playing their part to help us survive the unholy vision of the Nazis, were all too predictably left once again by the wayside to fend for themselves.
These ongoing injustices became causes that now started to enter into the mainstream of the Country for the very first time since the 1860s.
The children of the 1960s, at least for a time, had developed a nagging conscience over these injustices. Coupled with broader access to education, the result was a generation of young Americans with a heightened empathy for those suffering among them and an unwillingness to gullibly swallow the current sentiments of nationalism that were to pull America into yet another overseas conflict (Vietnam).
They expressed their discontent with the direction America was taking in many ways. One key area of this expression was in music.
Much like these times, the decade of the 1960s had its fair share of the trivial. There were also poignant songs about love, romance, sorrow, pain, good times and bad.
But this wasn’t the end of it.
Additionally there were songs about injustice, war, destruction, hatred and violence. And many of these songs received airtime and subsequently were allowed to enter the public consciousness.
Here are just a few examples of the offerings:
- “Blowing In The Wind” – Bob Dylan – 1963
- “The Times They Are A Changing” – Bob Dylan (deserves double mention) – 1964
- “Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire – 1965
- “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield – 1966
- “All You Need Is Love”- The Beatles – 1967
- “Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon – 1969
What is interesting is that following this decade in the 70s and even to some extent into the 80s, we had artists that still lent their voice to social injustices that were occurring both domestically and throughout the world.
In the early 70s we had John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”.
In the 80s we had offerings from artists such as Sting/Peter Gabriel and domestically, rockers like Bruce Springsteen whose “Born In The USA” album touched on deeply painful issues that were arising out of Ronald Reagan’s America.
But this seemed to fade away starting in the 90s and I would argue we have never really recovered.
Where are the songs that speak to the ongoing color divide in this Country? Are there any songs that speak to the fact that our politicians no longer work for us or that private money writes and passes new legislation that actually hurts us?
I’m sure some protest music came out during the Iraq War, but did any of the stations or mainstream broadcast/cable shows parented by your pick of top holding corporations dare to present any of it?
And this brings us back to why the Music of the 1960s still matters..
It matters because to a great degree the subject matter is still relevant in today’s world. Whether we’re talking about love vs. hate, peace vs. violence, greed vs. charity or life vs. death, we apparently not only have failed to learn any lessons from our past, some of our leaders have found ways to make things worse!
The magic of art is that it has a subtle way of making the moral side of these issues resonate and live within each of us while also standing as testimony to point a finger firmly at those who have been too busy serving themselves at the expense of their fellow men and women.
So if all the art we see is exclusively focused on the light stuff, it serves to blind us to the hidden ills that are running amok beneath the surface of our collective lives.
This is why any entity that distributes content, whether the intent is to inform or entertain, should be either privately owned or at least not be in the hands of big corporations that would use them to distort our reality.
That is what has happened to us since the 90s, perhaps even as far back as the 80s. I would argue that the primary reason this has happened is that the powers that opposed the sensibilities of the 60s Generation are still forcefully at work on their own agendas. They have deep pockets and do a very good job stuffing those huge checks into the pockets of their appointed mouthpieces.
But even more sinister I think are the folks that originally stood for those high ideals some 50 years ago and have since turned their backs on them, selling out to the highest bidder, still reaching out for “The Good Life” – or whatever passes as the current conception of that in the modern world.
To understand why things are the way they are we have to understand how we got here. And a lot of the elements (both good and bad) started back in the 60s.
And the reason the Music of the 1960s matters so much today is that back then we actually had artists who had the courage to talk about the messy stuff going on under the surface. We also had distribution of media that were willing to give these artists a voice.
More of that is needed now.
If you would like to hear more from Harper Nilson, CLICK HERE to receive 3 free 70s Style Tracks from his new album entitled ‘The Years’!