Fifty years since boomers were young

We love looking back. Our boomer generation 50 years ago set a new tone. Or was it set for us? Seattle’s Ron Gompertz, author of Life’s Big Zoo, fondly lives in The Endless 50th. With a lot more 50ths to come.

The 50th anniversary of Sergeant Peppers reminds us that from now on, it will always be the 50th anniversary of something that makes us feel older.

2017 is the year when 1967 appears in the 50-year rearview mirror. Our hindsight may be rose-colored, but my images of the time seem to have the contrast set high.

In ’67, an American probe landed on the moon. A Soviet cosmonaut died on re-entry. Muhammed Ali lost his title when he refused to serve in the Army. Participation in anti-war demonstrations began counting in the tens of thousands. Days after the Beatles’ masterpiece hit in psychedelic swaths of Peter Max color, the Six Day War in the Middle East brought us to the edge of oblivion. On the second day of the now-seminal Monterey Pop Festival , China successfully tested its first H-bomb.

The Summer of Love in San Francisco was midwifed by upheaval everywhere else.

1967 – The Summer of Love. The Charlatans perform at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Photo by Jim Marshall.

With the birth of music festivals, growing protest movements, and a realization that adults weren’t doing such a great job shepherding the planet, the post-war generation— that’s us, baby boomers— became self-assured and self-aware. We tasked ourselves with nothing less than saving the world. (Good news: we did. Bad news: it’s still a mess.)

“Race riots,” a term we wouldn’t use now, broke out in frustration with poverty, discrimination, and police brutality in the ghettoes that Elvis, who had just married Priscilla, would later turn to white guilt gold. While the West Coast simmered in love, Detroit riots burned a hole in the heartland, sending smoldering embers in all directions.

Parts of Detroit burned in 1967 as the result of riots.

Do I really remember any of this, or did the adult conversation, nightly news, and Time Magazine covers (or was it Life Magazine?) on the coffee table leave residual imprints that now masquerade as memory?

As a late boomer, I was aware enough to know that the Beach Boys reflected my world about as accurately as Disneyland. The fun and innocence they sang about was a Wonderful World of Color that didn’t quite cut through the asthma-inducing gray air of the San Fernando Valley, suburban L.A., where I grew up. The wild alienation of The Who spoke to me more than wistful odes to surfer girls or, for that matter, the San Francisco sound. I didn’t fully appreciate the Grateful Dead until a few of them unfortunately were.

Ron Gompertz

Surfers. Low Riders. Jocks. Hippies. Squares. These were the groups we peer-pressured ourselves to emulate. I wanted to be a hippie, but was born too late for the summer of anything, especially love.

As much as I battled for bell-bottoms, long hair, and John Lennon-style granny glasses, I was still the nerdy kid with the runny nose, the class clown who schlepped a clarinet back and forth to grade school until my mother finally relented and let me switch to guitar.
The first song I learned? “If you’re going to San Francisco …”

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