Lots of fictitious nonsense is written and portrayed on the screen about the 1960s. Everyone is familiar with the Woodstock numbers. Enough people report being there that the earth might have wobbled on its axis if they had been there. That’s not all; Dylan going electric, Altamont, the March on Washington, or Chicago in ’68.
Truthfully, enough was going on that anyone could have a full dance card if you were within a hundred miles.
Me? I was in Newport when the man went electric. We couldn’t afford tickets, so we were perched on the side of a hill outside the grounds listening; we couldn’t see squat, and listening was not great either. Being with a great group of friends from the Folkie Palace, we hooted and hollered and carried on terribly.
I was in Harlem and very close by when Malcolm X got assassinated. The group I was performing with had a gig at a church that night. We were hustled into hiding because two of us clearly were outsiders in the Harlem community, and the church members feared for our safety. I guess my point is that I was nearby, but not there.
Most of the jive you hear is about people being there. Bull. They were home, in their beds, living the inane life that 99 percent of the public always do.
In the 1960s, the one percent bore little relationship to the one percent of today’s political rage. The one percent were largely outcasts, Beats, Bohemians, and Folkies. I did not say Hippies; that was “a precocious affectation of disenchanted middle-class youth” to quote Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee was the proprietor of the New Era Bookstore in Baltimore. His bookstore was dedicated to socialism and communism in all its sundry manifestations. His clientele ranged wider afield than that. Yes, there were the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Trotsky fans, and all that jazz. Due to the eclectic nature of what he procured for his shop, it was where you went for classics, works on economics, current events, and small press publications. All this presided over by Mr. Lee, always genial, even to the National Socialists who came to picket the shop. By the way, on your way out, wave to the nice FBI agent keeping tabs on all of us. Coffee is welcome.
Being there, in the scene, was much better than being at some individual event. The scenes that I belonged to included those in the environs of Boston’s Beacon Hill and Cambridge – sort of a Folkie Grand Central. But also Baltimore and New York’s Greenwich Village. Of course, being a Pius Itinerant ( Brother of the Road), I traveled widely.
Many people in our society are stuck on Instagram moments. Here I am on the Great Wall, soaring over the Grand Canyon, getting a selfie. So much focus gets spent on the moment. Little interest or introspection gets expended on the process or experience of how we got there.
Be more than an Instagram moment. Be there.