Throughout American history, each generation has sought to individualize itself from all others preceding it. Decades of American history can be separated to represent a distinctive set of values, culture, and political ideals. The 1960’s was a decade caught between euphoric, idealistic beginnings and a discordant, violent climax. The music of this time period produced a strong counterculture which sought to influence America in a way never before experienced. The songs were the backbone of this new age; they were the tunes which the generation danced to, marched to, and got high off of.
This paper will discuss the ways popular music of the 1960’s produced national awareness of the anti-war movements, led to the partialcollapse of the structure of American society, and forever changed the way current generations listen to and buy music. The songwriters of the 1960’s were rarely without inspiration. Perhaps the most powerful incentive came from the movement to end the Vietnam War. Many of the most prominent musicians of that generation aided the struggle to protest against and attempt to end the war.
The most popular song to be considered an anthem against the war efforts was called Blowin’ in the Wind,” written by Bob Dylan in 1962 while he was living in New York. The song is centered around racism and militarism, two main focal points which were principal in many early sixties protest songs (Pichaske 58). Dylan used conventional symbols to blatantly state his point; a white dove representing peace, flying cannon balls describing war and violence, and roads and seas symbolizing the hardships and struggles there would have to be with eliminating the war.
Demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place in many major cities and college campuses. While many of these demonstrations had only eaceful motives, violent methods were often used to break them up. Take for example the famous student takeover of Columbia University. Black students arguing for civil rights, and white students protesting against the Vietnam war successfully took over Hamilton Hall, the Low Library and the Dean’s office, as well as three other buildings.
The Grateful Dead were smuggled onto campus and played several long sets of music while students began to set up communal living, with food generously donated by outside supporters and Harlem’s CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) Office, nd hospitals run by medical students from local hospitals (Anderson 196- 197). The stage was set for an unprecedented event which had never before happened, an entire campus being placed under the control of students. However, plainclothes police were called in to violently break up the students, and by May of 1968, the administration regained control.
Many people were shocked that police used such violent and bloody methods to break up the resistance. The mayor of New York, John Lindsay, said that he himself believed that the measures used to regain Columbia were overly brutal and forceful (Sann 234-235). The aftermath had great implications on some of the music played at Woodstock in 1969. Joni Mitchell, for example, cried for more of these types of protests when she sang, “we’ve got to get ourselves, back to the garden. ” By 1970, confrontations with student activists and armed forces had become overly violent.
At Kent University of that year, National Guard forces opened fire at a group of demonstrators in Ohio’s Kent State University, killing four and injuring 9 (Encarta). These actions led to many college students jointly rebelling against sending troops to Cambodia, and an even larger number called for he impeachment of then President Nixon (Anderson 350). In 1967, in New York, roughly 3000 rioters pelted police with bottles, stones, and eggs. In this time of turmoil, Bob Dylan again wrote another song which would forever define the plights of this generation.
In “The Times They Are A’Changin,” he uses metaphors, such as running water, open-eyed writers and critics, and clueless senators and congressmen. He calls for the parents of these rebellious students to not criticize them, for they can never understand the battle that their sons and daughters are fighting (Maslin 221). Aside from the struggle to end the war in Vietnam and achieve civil rights, the generation of the 1960’s was struggling to individualize itself. The main proponent of this struggle was a movement called the counterculture.
The counterculture was at one time s smaller minority that spawned from the activist movement. The participants of this movement, often called hippies were characterized not only by their bell-bottomed pants, tie-dyed shirts and loose moral values, but also by the music they listened to. While they did exemplify aspects of the activists, and they were certainly anti-war, their demonstrations were not take-overs of ollege campuses, or marches in major metropolitan areas, but generally mellow love-ins and be-ins.
The drugs of choice at these gatherings were marijuana and the hallucinogenic LSD (Pichaske 114). The counterculture was a movement of writers and poets, advocating principles of an alternative lifestyle and a general distrust of all authority, especially the government, oftenly referred to as “Big Brother”, a term coined in George Orwell’s “1984”. Poetry was a common outlet for many constituents of the counterculture. Reading and publications of poetry were common place, as was the purchasing of anthologies by schools and universities Kunitz 133).
The likes of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs had started out singing their songs in tiny coffeshops between long readings of poetry. The music of the counterculture would leave an indemnable mark on the way music is performed and marketed today. The musicians of the counterculture were set apart from the heralding, acoustic music of the activists. Bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and The Doors were regularly giving free shows which would last for unprecedented amounts of time in a district of San Fransisco known as Haight-Ashbury.
Haight-Ashbury was the Mecca of the counterculture movement. It was here that the hippies set up communal living, sharing large Victorian style houses, setting up free clinics, and staging sporadic rock concerts. The culmination of the counterculture, as well as of the entire decade occurred on a large patch of farmland in Bethel, New York, and is referred to as the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. It was the pinnacle event of youthful innocence and idealistic glory.
Its predecessor, The Monterey Pop Festival on the west coast, met with huge success, headlined by such greats as the Mamas and the Papas, The Who, and Jimmy Hendrix. Woodstock was also a major success, hailing bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The people who came to this festival were part of a cultural revolution which would bring the hippies onto a worldwide stage. For three rain- drenched days, over half a million people lived in almost complete harmony with one another.
Through food shortages, lack of medical supplies, and toilets overflowing, the hippies maintained their helpful and brotherly pirits and everyone left Bethel with nothing but good feelings (Anderson 278). Music from the Youngbloods best summed it up when they sang, “C’mon people now/ Smile on your brother/ Everybody get together/ Try to love one another right now”. In the aftermath of Woodstock, cultural activists began formulating ideas about a peaceful station for communal living called the Youth Nation (Anderson 279).
What many of these activists failed to realize is that with Woodstock, the 1960’s had in effect ended. What followed were strings of commercial takeovers of bands and exploitations of the now popular counterculture. More significantly, the fact that Charles Manson was portrayed as a “freakish hippie”, led to the downfall of the ideals of the counterculture (Sann 285-286). The 1960’s also saw the resurgence of feminism. Lower infant mortality rates, soaring adult life expectancy, and the availability of the birth control pill gave women greater freedom from child-care responsibilities.
Bra burnings were a common spectacle held on campuses and other public places to express a freedom from the bondages of a male dominated community. More females were attempting to enter the workplace after an economic inflation during the sixties (Encarta). Singer/songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez became unofficial spokeswomen of the feminist movement. They were considered groundbreaking pioneers in the music business, an industry that had usually been dominated by men.
Baez especially lived out the countercultural woman’s dream, participating in the feminist movement, marrying a draft dodger, and maintaining that she would not pay her taxes (Pichaske 139). The 1960’s was also a decade that brought about major economic changes. Major corporations began to exploit terminology commonly associated with the counterculture as the decade winded down (Frank 77-78). After Woodstock, record labels began methodically recruiting performers and signing them to contracts. The music was becoming less oriented to free form and more constricted so as to present them on FM radio.
Advertising became increasingly directed towards the hippies. Pepsi Cola began airing commercials that consisted of an eerie psychedelic renderings of urban nightlife, with the Pepsi theme sounding more like a Byrd’s song than a commercial jingle (Frank 178). Many musicians began fighting a sense of deep disillusion as the sixties winded down. Perhaps Dylan, the man who poke so poignantly about the generation understood it best, he knew that the most prominent threat to musicians of the sixties was their image, it leads to the generalization of their art and destroys it (Pichaske 177).
In conclusion, the sixties were a turbulent time characterized with both optimism and despair. The music that this generation spawned has lasted as a remnant of the idealistic and hopful nature of the times. In many cases, the songs are interrelated with certain events. In other instances, music was used as a catalyst to ignite a chain of events. Whatever the case may be, music was revolutionized during the1960’s.