I was born in Philadelphia in November of 1953 – a baby boomer, for certain, albeit on the younger end of that generation. Although many periods in history are full of upheaval and change, there is something unique about the speed and severity of the changes which started to occur as I entered primary school. The sequence of events are fairly well known, but to see them close at hand as a growing child was quite alarming.
I was 7 years old when JFK was elected and definitely remember all the hubbub. The country was ecstatic over our young and vibrant President and his beautiful family. The space race was on and I distinctly remember the feeling of pride as the first astronauts were conquering the unknown of space flight. The heroes of my youth were folks like Chuck Yeager, who flew the X-15 and John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth. Those were heady times – but they seemed to come crashing down with the assassination of JFK. Most every member of my generation remembers exactly what they were doing at the very moment – and then, sadly, in the days that followed. I was in third grade at the time and remember our teacher sitting down and crying and telling us all. We all cried and were sent home early. The nation was transfixed as we watched events unfold from there.
For many Americans, this was the end of innocence – and while it may have been a faux innocence, it was never the less quite real to those of us who were children at the time.
In fairly quick succession from that date we experienced the riots of the 60’s – large sections of many cities burned to the ground by the poor and destitute who had so little hope in the fairness of the system that they sullied their own nests. Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King…all these murders caused more upheaval and loss of confidence in the promise of America. As I started into my teenage years, Vietnam was building up – causing yet another storm in our culture as young men were being conscripted to fight in foreign lands for a purpose which seemed to have little relation to our national defense. Meanwhile, on the home front, pollution, racial strife, poverty and a host of other problems seemed to cast a shadow over the American Dream which our parents had realized in the post war years.
Then, quickly on the heels of this suffering, came the counterculture era – with the promise of change and of shedding off the hateful acts and strife we had been experiencing on a nonstop basis. The Beatles entered the scene along with other rock bands. The youth of America started thinking that perhaps we could change things by living differently- escaping the chains of consumerism, war, dogmatic religion and our parents worldviews.
Again the scene shifted very quickly. The innocence of the early Beatle era spilt into various factions, from the raw sexual beats of the Rolling Stones and James Brown to the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix. I attended my first large rock festival at 15 at the Atlantic City Racetrack. It was 2 weeks prior to Woodstock and I remember leaving the parking lot at the concerts end and hearing all the cars and buses shouting “See You at Woodstock!”. While I never made it up to Yascars Farm, I did have the honor of seeing most of the same acts at Atlantic City Rock festival and other such venues.
If the reader desires to know what it was like at the time, they would have to pretend that all roots and stakes had been pulled up from their lives and culture. It seemed like any day the formerly stable world around us could disintegrate. This might mean the unhappy masses marching up City Line Avenue with guns (the revolution) or the complete undoing of our government and republic…or even a mushroom cloud, as this was still the era of the arms race. I even had a few friends with atomic bomb shelters in their basements!
My personal journey was intimately woven into these troubled times. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were just part of the trip. The undercurrent was that of many young people who try to find their way in the world….that is, what am I going to do either in response to this mess….or as a reaction to it? I can’t admit to being particularly sane or mature at the time, so I would be misleading the reader to claim that my stories and experiences were based on intelligent choices that I made after all examination of the options. Rather I think I, and eventually we (with my wife), were picked up by the wave of the time and tumbled around. In some ways I am probably lucky to have gotten out alive. I know many who didn’t make it, succumbing to drug overdoses, madness, crimes or accidents.