Sunday, January 26, 2014

Top 10 Myths About the 1960s

Following up on the piece I did a few days ago, addressing myths of the 1950s, I move on to the next decade.

I also plan to do these for the 1970s and 1980s. Whether I do them for the 1990s and the 2000s remains to be seen.

Fifty years ago today, on January 25, 1964, a British music group hit Number 1 on Billboard magazine's Hot 100. The song was "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and the band was the Beatles.

They weren't the first British band to achieve the feat: The Tornadoes had done so in November 1962 with an instrumental titled "Telstar," a tribute to the communications satellite that had recently been launched. But they couldn't sustain their success, and were quickly forgotten -- so quickly that band leader Joe Meek committed suicide in February 1967, just a little more than 4 years later.

In contrast, after the Beatles hit the top in January 1964, the world was never the same. It was a pop-culture milestone the likes of which Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga could not possibly imagine.

The perception of decades isn't neat. The first half of the 1950s really felt like an extension of the 1940s. Really, "The Fifties" began on June 9, 1954, when Senator Joe McCarthy got smacked in those Congressional hearings; and ended on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot.

Then there was a bit of an interregnum. When the Beatles hit Number 1 on January 25, 1964, it more or less began "The Sixties," which ended on August 9, 1974, when President Richard Nixon resigned.

That began "The Seventies," which didn't really last that long. "The Eighties" began on November 4, 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected President. They ended on November 3, 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected, starting "The Nineties." (You don't think of Nirvana as an "Eighties" band, do you?) "The Nineties" ended on November 7, 2000, when George W. Bush and his brother Jeb stole the Presidential election. (No, 9/11 didn't mark the change. After all, if Al Gore had been allowed to accept his rightful victory, there's a good chance his Administration would have been able to prevent it.)

And while we still haven't really reached a consensus on what the 2000-2009 decade should have been called, the election of Barack Obama on November 4, 2008 conveniently ended it. Now we're in "The Twenty-Tens," and, hopefully, they won't end with a stock market crash like "The Twenties," a Pearl Harbor-style attack like "The Thirties," or an assassination like "The Fifties."


The 1960s are a decades loaded with perhaps even more myth than the 1950s, because the Baby Boomers, the largest generation ever produced, people born in the late 1940s and the '50s, began to write their own. Or, as Ray Manzarek (played by Kyle MacLachlan in Oliver Stone's only-partially-accurate film The Doors) put it...

The world is about to explode, Jim.  People wanna fight or fuck, love or kill. (points to the ocean) Vietnam is right out there, man. Sides are being chosen. Everything's gonna flame. The planet is screaming for change, Morrison. We've gotta make the myths!

Top 10 Myths About the 1960s

1. The Sixties were a time of nonconformity. Have you ever looked at pictures from high school yearbooks from the 1960s? Even as late as 1969, students' hair wasn't much longer than the Beatles' was when they arrived in 1964. Nor were the clothes worn by most Americans as wild as seen on the hippies of Haight-Ashbury... or Greenwich Village, or Venice Beach, or Philadelphia's South Street, or Cambridge outside Boston.

A few years before he died, but after Stone's movie, Manzarek wrote a memoir in which he said that the older generation wanted "Sixties fun" to be about hanging out with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, boozing, smoking, and banging women that they called "broads." In other words, guys in their 40s were now at a point where they were secure enough with money and fame they no longer had to do what their parents wouldn't let them do in their teens and 20s.

Today, with the Rat Pack all dead and gone (unless you want to count Angie Dickinson, who is still alive as I type this), their kind of fun seems relatively harmless compared to the hellraising of rock stars of the Seventies and later, or the more recent excesses of Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber, who seem hell-bent on outdoing the nonsense of their parents' and grandparents' generations. Yeah, well, look where that got Amy Winehouse.

Yeah, the people who grew up in the 1930s and came of age in the 1940s figured, "Hey, we came through the Depression and World War II, and made something of ourselves. We've paid our dues. Our kids haven't done that yet, so they shouldn't be doing what we're doing, or worse. Never mind that we're being irresponsible, and not exactly role models: Do as we say, not as we do!"

Yeah, God forbid their own teenage and college-bound kids do what they wanted! And you know what? A lot of those kids were afraid to break from conformity. For example, take a look at this picture.
A guy getting arrested by nasty-looking cops, with a big crowd looking on. That's Mario Savio, leader of the "Free Speech Movement" at the University of California's main campus in Berkeley, in late 1964. This was around his 22nd birthday, so he certainly qualified as one of the young people that other young people were looking up to at the time.

But his hair isn't especially long. (In fact, his hairline was already receding.) He's wearing a jacket, a dress shirt and a tie. He was an activist, but he was no hippie. (Until 1966 or so, when people heard the word "hippie," they thought it meant "jazz musician," like in the 1963 hit by the Philadelphia girl group the Orlons: "Where do all the hippies meet? South Street, South Street." South Street, then as now, was Philly's "Greenwich Village.")

Savio later became a professor (though not at the college where he protested, unlike a few of the Columbia University protestors later in the decade), married twice, had a son with each wife, and developed heart trouble, which killed him in 1996, only 53 years old. He is best remembered for a speech he gave that month of December 1964:

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

Savio sounded pretty radical. Even today, he sounds radical. But he sure didn't look radical.

Even as late as the winter of 1967-68, the young people going to New Hampshire to try to win that State's critical Primary for Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota (no relation to Joe of Wisconsin), to protest President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, were so desperate to be seen as mainstream that they all got haircuts and wore suits, saying they had to "go clean for Gene." They were terrified about being seen as hippies and/or radicals.

When McCarthy came close to actually beating LBJ in that Primary -- like Tet, a public relations victory if not an actual one -- Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York got in the race. In contrast, his supporters had no qualms about being seen with long hair, work shirts or turtlenecks, or... gasp... sunglasses. (In 1963, the Senator's brother, JFK, had no problem being seen with sunglasses; in 1968, sunglasses meant "Black Panthers" to the Archie Bunkers of America.)

2. The Beatles were the good boys, and the Rolling Stones were the bad boys. Ha! More like the other way around. When it came to being bad, in the early 1960s, before they became world-famous, the Beatles were smoking pot and popping pills and shagging Hamburg strippers when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were getting no closer to models than magazines and thought heroin was for jazz musicians.
Sure, the Beatles sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Their manager, Brian Epstein, wouldn't have let them sing anything more controversial, or even avant-garde-- at least, not until he, much more than they (or, except for Brian Jones, the Stones), fell victim to drugs (prescription drugs, in his case). Brian also insisted that they wear the smart suits for which they are best remembered (far more than the Sgt. Pepper suits of 1967).

Even after they got big, when it came to being bad, the Stones weren't as naughty in private as the Beatles. Keith eventually embraced the lifestyle, but Mick was a poseur more than anything else. True, he was great at being a poseur -- until David Bowie blew him... out of the water in that regard. And on his baddest day, Mick may have been a jackass, but he wasn't as out-there as Keith, or Bowie, or the members of The Who, or (as the Sixties turned to the Seventies) Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath.

3. Drugs were big. Let's get this out of the way: The most popular drug in the 1960s was alcohol, just as the Rat Packers hoped it would be. Indeed, while drugs were involved in their deaths, Judy Garland (hardly a rocker), Brian Jones of the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Keith Moon of The Who would all die as a result of mixing downers with booze (itself a downer).

The 2nd-most-popular drug in the decade was tobacco. You know alcohol and tobacco were 1st & 2nd if you've watched Mad Men. While, at this writing, that show has half of its final season to go, the idea that most of the major characters, most smokers and some boozehounds, would still be alive in 2014 is ridiculous.

The 3rd-most popular drug of the 1960s, the biggest drug that entered public consciousness in the decade, was the birth-control pill. Suddenly, as some feminists have since observed, women could "have sex like men: Whenever we wanted, and with no responsibility."

By December 31, 1969, the kind of drugs that we associate with the Sixties were still little more than a rumor to most people. A 1969 poll showed that only 4 percent of Americans had tried marijuana. That's 1 out of every 25 people, hardly widespread. LSD? Its being outlawed in 1966 probably prevented it from becoming widespread.

4. Presidents of the Democratic Party started the Vietnam War. Conservatives like to blame JFK for sending so many "advisors" to Vietnam in 1961, '62 and '63, and LBJ for ramping the war up thereafter, especially after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7, 1964, which pretty much gave him the power to do whatever he wanted in Vietnam.

But it was Dwight D. Eisenhower who sent the first U.S. troops to Vietnam, in 1954. In that year, for the first time, American servicemen died there. And despite his Farewell Address' warning about "the military-industrial complex" on January 17, 1961, "Ike" supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam all the way until his death 8 years later. His Vice President, Richard Nixon, sure did. And when Tricky Dick ran again in 1968, as Joe McGinnis put it in his book The Selling of the President 1968, the Nixon campaign, and Republicans in general, didn't view the Vietnam War as bad because of senseless destruction with no end in sight. They viewed it as bad because it was ineffective.

That destruction was really unpopular, right? Well...
5. The Vietnam War was unpopular. It's a big stretch to say that the war was ever "popular." But even as late as the end of 1967 -- the year of the Human Be-In, the Summer of Love, the first big demonstrations against the war (in April), and the alleged "levitation of the Pentagon" (in October) -- polls showed more people supporting the war (however unenthusiastically) than opposing it.

It wasn't until the Tet Offensive at the end of January 1968 that U.S. public opinion really turned against the war. Walter Cronkite, anchorman and managing editor (read: "executive producer") of The CBS Evening News, went over there in February, to see the aftermath of Tet, and, upon his return, showed the films he made there on his broadcast, and editorialized that we had to find a way out.

Seeing this -- he had 3 TV sets installed in the Oval Office, so he could watch the evening news on CBS, NBC and ABC all at once -- LBJ told people, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." He was right: Considered in late 1967 an easy favorite to win a 2nd full term the following November, LBJ nearly lost the New Hampshire Primary to McCarthy in March, and then later that month lost the Wisconsin Primary (which, to be fair, was right next-door to McCarthy's Minnesota).

LBJ then got out on March 31, saying he needed to concentrate on ending the war, not on getting himself re-elected. (Because he took office on November 22, 1963, more than halfway through JFK's term, the 22nd Amendment, limiting a President to 2 terms, even if he had served up to half of the previous President's term, meant that he was eligible to run again in 1968.) After that, unpledged slates of electors, which would have gone to LBJ but instead ended up going to Vice President Hubert Humphrey (officially entering the race in April), started racking up delegates. But among delegates that actually went to announced candidates in the primaries, a majority went to either McCarthy or RFK. A majority of Democrats wanted the war stopped, leading to the clashes at the Convention in Chicago, both in the streets and in the International Amphitheatre.

Except that Humphrey still won the nomination, even though he was not overtly opposed to the war. And when the election came on November 5, despite a late surge by Humphrey after his September 30 speech in Salt Lake City when he finally got out from under LBJ's thumb and became yet another peace candidate, he got only 42 percent of the vote. This was because George Wallace, the segregationist once-and-future Governor of Alabama, was running a 3rd-party campaign. Between Nixon and Wallace, candidates who supported the war got 57 percent of the popular vote (a higher percentage than any single candidate has gotten since 1984), and 37 States worth 357 Electoral Votes (more than Barack Obama got in 2008, or George W. Bush got either time he ran).

Even as late as May 1970, there were "Hard Hat Demonstrations" in New York, in support of the war, and in support of the Ohio National Guardsmen who mowed down some demonstrators (and some innocent bystanders) at Kent State University. So even that late, there was still quite a bit of support for the war.

And on November 7, 1972, Nixon got 60 percent of the vote against Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, taking 49 out of 50 States for 523 Electoral Votes. Nixon said he was a peace candidate, but who was kidding who? Everyone knew that if you wanted someone who went out of his way to say he wanted the war over as soon as he got to work after the Inauguration, you voted for McGovern, not Nixon. It could be argued that some of the war's opponents were duped by Nixon, and that some were so dispirited that they stayed home on Election Day. But as unpopular as the war was said to be, the guy who had been running it won by a lot more than he did when he ran 4 years earlier as the guy who had the know-how to stop it.

6. The protests stopped the war. The protests had absolutely no effect on the war. The Vietnam War, or at least the American role in it, was always going to end at a time chosen by a President of the United States. Johnson thought he'd achieved it at the end of October 1968, just in time to save Humphrey in the election. But it didn't happen.

(It appears that the Nixon campaign sent an envoy to the Vietcong, to tell them that they could get a better deal with a potential President Nixon than with President Johnson or a potential President Humphrey. And they backed out of the deal LBJ thought he had. This was treason, extending a war for political gain. But LBJ never called Nixon out on it.)

Once Nixon took office, he could have ended the war anytime he wanted. And he did: In October 1972, he sent his National Security Adviser (then his de facto, later his actual, Secretary of State), Henry Kissinger, to tell the media, "Peace is at hand." This took away the biggest argument in McGovern's favor, and led to the Nixon landslide on November 7. Then came the Christmas bombing, and we all knew what many of us already suspected: Nixon and Kissinger were lying bastards.

Nixon took the Oath of Office for a 2nd term on January 20, 1973, and the war was still not over. He said he would end it. Well, 4 years later, he hadn't. In my opinion, this forfeited any claim he had to ending it, whenever it would have happened.

LBJ died 2 days later, on January 22 -- the same day that the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, and the same day that George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier to take the heavyweight title. The very next day, January 23, Nixon announced that a peace agreement had been reached, and the war was over. His 2nd term was underway, meaning he no longer needed the war to use as a club against people's patriotism (see also: Bush, George H.W., ending a war with Iraq "too soon"; and Bush, George W., keeping a war with Iraq going and going and going because he wanted to win elections). And LBJ was dead, and thus unable (at least, on this plane of existence) to know that the war he (or, at least, the Democrats) "started" was over. So Nixon knew he could end the war, and get the credit. Cynical to the end.

7. Robert Kennedy would have won the 1968 Presidential election if he had lived. Let's put aside, for a moment, the argument that he would have ended the war shortly after his Inauguration, which would have prevented all the 1969-73 casualties on both sides, the wounded as well as the killed, not to mention the Kent State Massacre. And let's also put aside consideration of what other good RFK would have done had he won. This is not about his imagined Administration. This is about his imagined campaign.
Nixon won 301 Electoral Votes, to Humphrey's 191 and Wallace's 46. Here's Nixon's margin of victory in certain States:

California, 40 Electoral Votes: Won by 223,346 votes
Ohio, 26: 90,428
Illinois, 26: 134,960
New Jersey, 17: 61,261
Missouri, 12: 20,488
Wisconsin, 12: 61,193
Oregon, 6: 49,567
Alaska, 3: 2,189
Delaware, 3: 7,520
Nevada, 3: 12,590

Those were Nixon's margins over Humphrey, in a year when the Democrats were demoralized over the war, the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King, and the Convention shenanigans. Can you imagine how many Democrats would have come out to vote for a living RFK? Especially in heavily Catholic States like California, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Delaware?

A shift of 111,674 votes in California (it looks like a big number but it would have been only 1.54 percent of the entire State vote) would have made it Nixon 261, Kennedy 231 -- enough to deny Nixon a majority in the Electoral College, and throw the vote into the House of Representatives. Whether a House with a lot of Southern Democrats, knowing that Wallace couldn't win, would have elected RFK or Tricky Dick is unknown.

But if there were also a shift of 45,215 in Ohio, and 67,481 in Illinois, that would have made it Kennedy 283, Nixon 209 -- and Bobby would have gotten the 270 needed to win, without winning a single State that Wallace actually took away from its then-usual place in the Democratic column. Those State were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Wallace also ended up with 1 EV from North Carolina, and siphoned enough votes to throw these States to Nixon: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and possibly Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and Oklahoma.

So if RFK had gotten the Democratic nomination, there's a very good chance that he would have beaten Nixon. All he had to do was live, and then get the Democratic nomination.

He would not have gotten the Democratic nomination. Through those "unpledged slates of electors," LBJ was controlling the process for his preferred candidate, Humphrey. Even after Bobby won the California Primary, the delegate totals were Humphrey 561, Kennedy 393, McCarthy 258. When the roll call was made at the Convention, it was Humphrey 1,759, McCarthy 601, McGovern (a late entry, designed to win over RFK supporters) 146, last brother Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts (who wasn't running) 13, all others 88.

In order to win the nomination, a candidate had to win a majority of the delegates, 1,304. Bobby would have to have hung on to all 393 of his delegates, and won all of McGovern's 146 and all of Ted's 13, and still found 752 others. McCarthy despised both Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and it is hard to imagine him releasing his delegates to Bobby -- especially since, as it turned out, he didn't endorse Humphrey until September, and then in only the most lukewarm fashion. If Bobby merely swayed 1 out of 5 McCarthy delegates, that would have been 120, giving him (in this scenario) 632 more to go. To get those, he would have had to get 36 percent of the delegates that ended up going to Humphrey. No chance.

Whether HHH would have taken RFK as his running mate, I don't know, although it would surely have made the difference, at least in the popular vote if not the Electoral. But Bobby would not have won the nomination.

There is one possibility, though. Although he looked, both during the riots after Dr. King's assassination in early April and during the Convention proceedings in late August, like a tool of the Administration and the military-industrial complex, Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago and host of the Convention, was actually opposed to the Vietnam War. And, as America's best-known Irish-Catholic politician of the time not named Kennedy, he was a good friend of JFK (allegedly rigging the Cook County, and thus the Illinois, vote for him in 1960, although the evidence is hardly conclusive and wouldn't have mattered in the Electoral Vote anyway).

If a living RFK had won Daley over, that might have won enough Catholic and/or labor-influenced delegates to swing from HHH to RFK, and win Bobby the nomination. Daley would have gone in the liberal imagination from villain to hero overnight. And while LBJ hated RFK even more than Gene McCarthy did (though LBJ had come to admire JFK before his death and didn't seem to hate Ted), like Alexander Hamilton throwing his 1800 support to Thomas Jefferson because he hated Aaron Burr more, LBJ and Daley would have gotten the Democratic Party united behind RFK, and Nixon never would have had a chance. Why, with LBJ leading the way, a lot of Southern Democrats might have even abandoned Wallace, and RFK might have won in a wipeout with over 400 EVs.

8. The War On Poverty failed. On January 8, 1964, in his State of the Union Address, LBJ said, "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort." In 1980, running for President, Ronald Reagan said, "We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won."

The major features of the War On Poverty were the Economic Opportunity Act which created the Job Corps and VISTA, the Food Stamp Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Social Security Act of 1965 which created Medicare and Medicaid.

Results? In 1966, 15 percent of Americans were below the poverty line; in 2012, the figure was 15 percent. But that's based on figures from the Census Bureau, and they don't take measures such as the preceding, or the later Earned Income Tax Credit -- a Reagan idea, mind you -- into account. The poverty rate in 1963 was more like 32 percent. By 1979, just before Reagan, that great ignorer of the poor, began his successful campaign, it was down to 12 percent. By 2000, 7 percent. In 2010, even after the 2 recessions caused by George W. Bush turning away from the Bill Clinton economic policies and toward tax rates well below the ones Reagan brought, it was back up to only 8 percent.

For the people brought out of poverty, the war wasn't lost. Indeed, while Nixon cut back some of LBJ's Great Society and War On Poverty programs, he expanded some, and left most alone. Nor did the Republican who followed him, Gerald Ford, cut back on them much. (And, foreign policy aside, Ford was noticeably more conservative than Nixon.) Even Reagan and the George Bushes didn't cut back much, although what they did cut back did hurt. The War On Poverty was not lost, it was sabotaged. And we still won many victories in it. The results suggest we could do it again, if only the wealthiest 1 percent would pay their fair share in taxes. Don't tell me that they do: A man who makes $10 million a year and afford to lose $9.9 million of that, and still live very well.

Or, to put it in language that Reagan's acolytes will understand: We fought a Cold War against Communism, yet China, North Korea and Cuba are still Communist. Did we lose that war?

9. Woodstock was wonderful. Sure, it looked like a blast, if you saw the movie (released on March 26, 1970, 7 months after the festival). Because that meant you didn't have to live through...

* The traffic jam, as bad as any as ever hit the New York Tri-State Area. When Arlo Guthrie said, "The New York State Thruway's closed, man!" he wasn't kidding. The promoters expected around 150,000 people, and thought they had enough facilities, including the access roads, to handle that. But, depending on whose figures you believe, anywhere from 300,000 (The New York Times the day after) to 850,000 (cited by Richie Havens as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show 25 years later) showed up. The best-known figure is 500,000, due to the line in Joni Mitchell's song, "By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong." The next week's issue of Rolling Stone had the headline, "Woodstock: 450,000," and that is usually cited as the most accurate number. (By the way, Joni wasn't there. Neither was Bob Dylan, whose supposed presence was said to be the reason so many people came -- the reasoning being that he actually lived in the town of Woodstock, which refused to host the festival.)

In the 1970 Census, Buffalo was listed as having 462,768 people. If there were more than that at Woodstock (which is certainly possible), that would have made the Festival the 2nd-largest "city" in the State of New York, behind only the City of New York. And since about 3 times as many people as expected showed up, they had problems with...

* The food situation. There wasn't enough. To this day, there are nearby store owners who say they made a fortune selling sandwiches and soda to people going to the festival.

* The hygiene situation. Anyone who's ever been to a sold-out football game and had to use the bathroom, and has been foolish enough to wait until halftime, understands why baseball has 9 innings instead of 2 halves or 4 quarters. It's bad enough when 60,000 people want to use the john at once, in  a building designed to hold that many.

Now imagine that, out of 500,000 people, at any one time, 1 percent need to relieve themselves. That's 5,000. I don't know how many port-a-potties they had, but imagine that it was 100. That's 1 contained hole in the ground for every 50 people. And I don't think there were shower facilities there, and lots of people stayed for the full 3 days. And remember, this was the middle of August in New York State. Hot. So even if it hadn't rained, producing all that dinginess and mud, those 600 acres must've given off some serious fumes. This, of course, gave rise to the myth of "the dirty hippie," which is also greatly exaggerated, but, at Woodstock, was bad enough.

* The medical situation. I don't know how many "bad trips" or overdoses there were, although the legend of warning Woodstockers about "the brown acid" (LSD, possibly laced with PCP, a.k.a. "angel dust") has been well-documented. Out of the 500,000 or so people who were there, it's been said that 3 died: One from an overdose, one from appendicitis, and one fool who decided to sleep under a tractor on a hill, and you can guess the result.

Now, there were almost certainly more murders, overdoses, accidents and medical miscues that weekend in New York City, with all the modern medical facilities available, including some of the most honored hospitals in the world. But the men running Woodstock were woefully underprepared. Anywhere from 1 to 3 births were said to have happened there, to say nothing of the conceptions that happened there, and the couples that met and had children later on, so the deaths are probably more than balanced out. But then, those births required medical attention, too.

* The rain. Yeah, it rained. That's no myth. At one point, somebody onstage got all those people to chant, "No rain! No rain! No rain! No rain!" That worked about as well as chanting, "One, two, three, four, we don't want your fuckin' war!" As in, not at all.

No, on August 15, 16, 17 and 18, 1969, Max Yasgur's 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel Woods, New York, where the festival was held, was not the place to be. In contrast, the next year, when the documentary about the festival was released, a movie theater showing it was the place to be. There, the millions of people who have said they were there could have a far better experience than the half a million or so who actually were there.

I just found this out while putting this post together: Max Yasgur was actually something you would think the Woodstockers would have opposed: A businessman. Yes, he was a farmer, but he had the largest dairy farm in New York State's Sullivan County. He was also a registered Republican, hardly surprising for a man living in the Catskills. And his son, Sam Yasgur, was that oh-so-square profession, a lawyer. Good thing, too: He was the main negotiator between the festival promoters and his father, to secure the farm as a site. Max died in 1973, just 54 years old, but Sam is still alive, age 71, and is now the Sullivan County Attorney, having previously held that post for Westchester County.

On the other hand, Max Yasgur, despite being a guy who grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II, was a big believer in freedom of expression, and didn't like the way the hippies had been portrayed in the media to that point. He rented out his field because it had been a wet summer, and this made up the difference in the cost of the hay he didn't have availablefor his cows. He also gave away the milk he was producing that weekend, and filled up his empty milk bottles with water and had them distributed for free to the concertgoers. The Republican businessman was doing a full "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

And on the final full day, Yasgur addressed the crowd, and said:

I'm a farmer. I don't know how to speak to twenty people at one time, let alone a crowd like this. But I think you people have proven something to the world. Not only to the Town of Bethel, or Sullivan County, or New York State. You've proven something to the world.

This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place. We have had no idea that there would be this size group, and because of that you've had quite a few inconveniences as far as water, food, and so forth. Your producers have done a mammoth job to see that you're taken care of... They'd enjoy a vote of thanks.

But above that, the important thing that you've proven to the world is that a half a million kids — and I call you kids because I have children that are older than you are — a half million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!

It probably wasn't the largest group of people ever assembled in one place -- I've heard that Gandhi's funeral, in early 1948, had over 2 million people lining the streets, and some New York ticker-tape parades have topped that -- though he may not have known that. But he saw the point.

As far as I know, Max Yasgur's thoughts about the quality of the music were unrecorded. But, as Ray Charles once said in a commercial for Pioneer laserdisc players (laserdiscs were like album-sized 1980s forerunners of DVDs), "If the music don't sound good, who cares what the picture looks like?" (Both a reference to Ray's blindness and a valid point.) So how good was the music at Woodstock?

Supposedly, transcendent performances were given by several performers, including The Who, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, The Band, Sly & the Family Stone, and, closing the show as the sun rose on the 18th with a psychedelic "Star-Spangled Banner," Jimi Hendrix. And, I have to admit, they all sounded good on television, decades after the fact.

But Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish, and John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful all said it was the worst performance of their careers. (Sebastian, by then split from the Spoonful, took the stage at Woodstock and sang one of my favorite songs ever, "Darling, Be Home Soon," but I have to agree with his self-assessment: He was terrible. He either was really, really stoned, or wanted people to think he was.) Slick actually said that the music was better at Altamont, the festival held in the Bay Area that December, where even more went wrong.
(That's Sebastian, although I chose this photo more for the panorama of the crowd.)

Back to my usual forte, sports, especially baseball:

10. The Mets were more popular than the Yankees. This is a myth that Met fans, including many in the media, have been telling us pretty much since the Mets debuted in April 1962.

Here's the per-home-game attendance figures from 1961 (the year before the Mets debuted, included as a control) until 1969 (the last year of the decade, and the year of the Mets' "Miracle"):

Year Yankees Mets
1961 21,444 < Not applicable
1962 18,439 > 11,532
1963 16,260 > 13,335
1964 15,922 < 21,390
1965 14,982 < 21,832
1966 14,058 < 24,009
1967 15,454 < 19,327
1968 14,459 < 21,996
1969 13,185 < 26,856

Yankee attendance dropped by 3,000 a game when the Mets arrived. But, remember, '61 was also the year of the Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris home run chase, and that wasn't repeated in '62. Yankee attendance went down by 2,200 in '63. Why? Because Mantle missed 2 months of the season with an injury.

The year the Mets opened Shea, brand-new, with no support poles, a big parking lot, and not in a deteriorating neighborhood where poor minorities lived? Yankee attendance dropped only 338 per game. If Shea was so great, and the Mets were so much fun, shouldn't the drop have been considerably greater?

Even the fall from a Pennant to 6th place in '65 only dropped the attendance by less than 1,000. Yankee attendance actually went up from '66 to '67, and in '68 (the first winning season since '64, though hardly a contending one) was higher than it was in '66.

But then came a 1,300-fan drop in '69. Was that because the Mets won it all? No, it was because Mantle retired, taking away the Yanks' biggest drawing card. (See also what happened to the Baltimore Orioles' attendance, which took a nosedive not when they stopped winning in 1998, but after 2001 when Cal Ripken retired.)
But if you consider that the Mets brought the fans of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers together, well, it stands to reason that they would have more fans. (This is hardly the case anymore.) So if you accept that 2 fan bases had been brought together to form 1, then there's a different chart (and not just because I'm not including the inapplicable 1961):

Year Yankees Mets
1962 18,439 > 5,766
1963 16,260 > 6,668
1964 15,922 > 10,695
1965 14,982 > 10,916
1966 14,058 > 12,005
1967 15,454 > 9,664
1968 14,459 > 11,998
1969 13,185 < 13,428

So, really, based on their own merit, and not on memories of the Boys of Summer, the Shot Heard 'Round the World and the Say Hey Kid, the Mets weren't really more popular than the Yankees until the end of the decade, their Miracle Year -- which was also Year 1 A.M, after Mickey.

True, a Met fan interested in philosophy, logic or semantics (surely, there must be a few) could say, "Well, the Yankees' popularity was based on Mantle, and the fact that they were always winning." There is a lot of truth to that. But if you accept that the Yankees were riding Mickey's coattails, you also have to accept that the Mets were riding the coattails of Jackie, Campy, Pee Wee, Willie and Bobby Thomson.

We could have this debate of which post-1968 team was more popular, comparing the 1977-81 Yankees to the 1969 or 1986 Mets. But once you start looking at Yankee attendance figures from 1996 onward, it isn't even close.

Taking all these facts into consideration, it has to be said: Based on themselves, and not on memories of players who weren't even Mets (or, in the cases of Duke Snider and Gil Hodges, weren't Mets until they were old and injured), the Mets weren't more popular than the Yankees in the 1960s, until 1969. Maybe the Mets finally becoming, genuinely, more popular than the Yankees was the true "miracle."

I know I said I was doing a Top 10, and that's 10. But let me add one more sports-related myth from the 1960s:

11. Football overtook baseball in popularity. No, not in the Sixties, it didn't. A total of 27.2 million fans saw regular-season Major League Baseball games in calendar year 1969. The National Football League and the American Football League combined, in their last year as separate leagues, with 2 more teams (26 to 24), saw 8.9 million fans at their regular-season games in 1969.

True, this meant that an average of 49,000 fans saw each pro football game, while just 14,000 saw each MLB game. But consider that there's only 1 pro football game a week, while there's usually about 6 baseball games a week. Divide those 49,000 by 6, and now you've got an average of about 8,200 fans attending NFL or AFL games every day.

Even in 2013, over 74 million people saw MLB games -- about 30,464 per game. The NFL, with 2 more teams (32 to 30)? 34.6 million, about half as many -- but 135,136 per week, and thus 19,305 per day.

By that measure, pro football still isn't more popular than baseball. Baseball is still the National Pastime -- 30,464 divided by 19,305 makes baseball more popular by 58 percent!.

Oh, you want to talk about television ratings? Even in a bad year for the Yankees, with Derek Jeter injured for much of the season and the team winning "only" 85 games, YES Network games got 2.62 percent of the viewing audience. The Mets, in another awful year, got just 1.54 percent on SNY. The Giants? 15.3 -- but divide that by 6 (again, 6 baseball games a week, 1 football game a week), and it's 2.55, less than the Yankees! The Jets got 12.3, and that's 2.05, more than the Mets, but also noticeably less than the Yankees. Add it up, and it's 4.16 for New York baseball teams, 4.60 for New York football teams. (UPDATE: I'll be interested to see the final totals for the 2015 NFL season, now that the Yankees have made the Playoffs again and the Mets have actually won a Pennant.)

But let's go back to the 1960s. What were the major events in each sport in the decade?

Baseball: Bill Mazeroski's homer, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris chasing 61, Maury Wills reintroducing us to the stolen base, Sandy Koufax's no-hitters, Bob Gibson's pitching, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski winning Triple Crowns, Don Drysdale's 58 2/3rds consecutive scoreless innings,Denny McLain's 31-win season, and the great Pennant races of 1962, '64, '65 and '67.

Pro football: The dominance of the Green Bay Packers, the passing of Johnny Unitas, the running of Jim Brown and Gale Sayers, the Ice Bowl between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, and the rise of the AFL and its eventual culmination in the Super Bowl wins of the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Which sport's big events got talked about more then? Which ones get talked about more now?

Even in 1969, when Joe Namath guaranteed the Jets would win Super Bowl III, and did, and excited everyone, especially in the New York Tri-State Area, the Mets winning the World Series 9 months later was a bigger story. And it remains so. TV shows (such as Everybody Loves Raymond) and movies (including Oh, God! and Frequency) have paid tribute to the '69 Mets. When was the last time a major pop culture item made reference to the '68 Jets, or even to Namath? The Odd Couple? The freakin' Brady Bunch?
The Jets' big upset was a moment that neatly fell into a specific time. The Mets' big upset was a moment for all time.

Because baseball was still bigger than football. And it still is.


I was born on December 18, 1969, in the last 2 weeks of the decade, the one remembered for the Beatles, Dylan, Vietnam, rising crime in the cities, race riots, growing suburbs, hippies, drugs, Woodstock, Broadway Joe Namath, the Miracle Mets, and now, in retrospect, Mad Men.

There's an old saying: "If you remember the Sixties, you weren't there." Well, I was there... barely. And I don't remember it.

I know that a lot of what we think we know about the 1960s simply isn't true, or is only partly true.

The people who lived through those times, even the ones who lied to us then, and even the ones who lie about those times now, but especially those who want the truth known, deserve to have the truth told.

1 comment:

nanciewanda said...

A fascinating and informative essay on the 60s! I loved it & I learned a lot about this era in history. The author has a great writing voice with a easy flowing style. I laughed out loud at the part about Woodstock: "One overdose, one appendicitis, and one fool who slept under a tractor..." Priceless! Thanks for the great read. -Nancie