If you can't be with the one you love," sniffed Stephen Stills, "love the one you're with." A very Sixties attitude. Of course, it was recorded and issued (on Stills' eponymous solo album) in 1970, but decades and calendars have only a nodding acquaintance with one another; there was, for example, nothing about 1960, particularly, to distinguish it from the Fifties, except for that mysterious artifact called buzz.

No decade I can recall had as much buzz, or as many buzzwords, or allegedly as many ways to achieve some measure of buzz, as the Sixties. And most of these qualities, to greater or lesser extent, left me utterly mystified; the counterculture, at best, seemed counterintuitive. Our marching orders were decidedly obscure: having lived through the Fifties in little boxes made of ticky-tacky, it was assumed that we all inevitably thought just the same, and it was our duty as Citizens of the Aquarian Age to address this deficiency as quickly, as dramatically, as possible.

And so it came to pass that we traded one form of conformity for another: you can't tell me that a tie-dyed T-shirt is qualitatively any different from, say, a late-Eighties power tie. My connection to the counterculture, such as it was, turned out to be tenuous at best. The sort of sexual freedom espoused by the likes of Stephen Stills never came within a hundred miles of me. I paid no more than lip service to the era's unfettered (and largely unreasoning) leftishness. And "All you need is love" was never more than a Beatles single to me — and not as good a single as "Lady Madonna", either.

Part of this disjuncture was a matter of personal chronology. There was some questionable belief that I was some sort of smart kid, a notion I hadn't done anything to dispel by finishing six years of grade school in three years. Bad mistake. And, of course, it could only get worse. Being on the younger end of this particular cohort anyway, I was permanently out of step with my ostensible peer group, and they had better things to do than to waste time trying to bring me up to speed. After a few years of this, the dull olive drab of the Army didn't look so bad, and at least I would fit in, however clumsily.

So perhaps I am not a true child of the Sixties. There are no faded posters from the Fillmore on the wall, no sheets of blotter acid hidden in the desk, no vague memories of the rear compartment of a VW Microbus. (I learned to drive in a Microbus, but I was sitting in the front at the time.) Still, I didn't come away emptyhanded. I continue to believe in questioning authority, especially if there's a possibility that authority is going to question me. I continue to listen to the music of the Sixties, the one artifact of the Sixties with demonstrable staying power. (Probably because it was the first to sell out to the Establishment, I suspect.) And even today, paranoia strikes deep, a phenomenon pointed out as long ago as 1967. By Stephen Stills, yet.

The Vent

15 February 2002

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 Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill