Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

It’s the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love!

According to this author, one view favored by intellectuals is that everything was childish and narcissistic about the hippies but their political activism. Such philistines know nothing of art and culture. It’s true enough that it’s tough to engage in political life while on LSD (I hear). But there really is a lot to be said for the music of the late sixties, except when it got (overtly and immediately) political. The most childish and narcissistic part of the late sixties was the new leftist political activism. (That’s not true, of course, of the early sixties.)

Discussions - 22 Comments

Gee Peter, I haven't thought about this seriously for a while! I was going to disagree with you, but then I remembered that it was the crazy political stuff that caused me and Peggy Noonan to ask ourselves, Why am I on the same bus with these people?, and to begin by chance reading National Review and going to mass... Of course, one would have to name names regarding the music. I always will associate Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with all my mates being stoned out of their minds, but by 1970 Bob Dylan was crooning non-political love songs.

I will add (and confess) that I wrote my senior honors thesis in English at Indiana University, in 1969-70, on the songs of Phil Ochs. Does anyone remember him? Ended up writing more about love than war, as he too had changed.

I remember Phil Ochs. I can't believe you were allowed to write a senior thesis on him. I met him at a party in NYC in, maybe, 1974. He was very drunk. My husband was a follower of Micheal Harrington, and a member of DSOC, and Ochs was associated somehow. It was all much more important to him than to me, and he remembers details of the party I had forgotten, and also that about two weeks later Ochs committed suicide. I have been asked to ask; was Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" about Ochs?


It was not that hard to engage in politics while on LSD. In fact, the politics of the Left of that era made much more sense that way. I was told at the time that if I were more serious in my drug use, (being a mere taster) I would have fewer doubts as to the righteousness of "the cause", which only makes sense.

And just in time for your summer movie blockbuster season -"Across the Universe" -The coming attractions seemed like a bad "Hair" knock off but the music selection wasn't bad.

Groovy, dudes...now pass the love grass, man. This whole "critique" thing is a bummer. It's like...you gotta be there, you dig?

Phil Ochs was the hero of the really, really intellectual types. So those like Rob with the deep longings for something probably saw a lot more than was really there. (Dylan, by the way, always, always resisted politicization [but not spiritualization, if that's a word], as did the Band.) I don't remember much about Phil's actual music. Thanks, Kate, for the fascinating memories, which presumably you won't had you been more dilgent about your drug use. I actually didn't know Phil committed suicide. Michael Harrington wrote one fine book--I can't remember its name--where he said that the great modern choice was Pascal or socialism. It actually appeared as a footnote in my "early work" on Tocqueville, but some INTERPRETATION reviewer said such references were vulgar or something and needed to be dropped.

Peter is right about the longings and seeing more than was there, but I remember Ochs could write haunting melodic lines to versicles like: "But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady...anymore...." The Band was great, and "progressive country," that Dylan and The Band helped to inspire, I think. It IS amazing they let me write the thesis. The faculty was good, mostly New Critics, but not too philosophical. The explanation is they liked us serious 60's students. We were thinkers, so they let us think, about.....PHIL OCHS! And what do you know? The next year I was reading Thomas Aquinas and going to daily mass and thanking the flower lady. I did do a close reading of the Ochsian text, by the way, practicing for my Straussian days to come. Ochs dropped off the radar screen though I did hear he had committed suicide. Kate, I do have a vague recollection of the bit about Positively 4th Street but am not sure. Great stuff about LSD and the politics of the left. Also about Harrington, Pascal, socialism, and the reviewer too thick to see the significance.

I think it important to say that many of us THOUGHT ourselves out of the left. Perhaps like Kate and her husband too. It was something like a miracle.

He hanged himself in 1976. His father had been manic-depressive and he had similar brain-chemistry problems, aggravated by years of pills and booze. If you were on a college campus in the late sixties or early seventies you would have heard at least two of his albums, "I Ain't Marching Anymore" and "Phil Ochs in Concert". The latter had a pretty good satirical song, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," which I remember, along with "Is There Anybody Here?"

I happened to be thinking of George Gershwin this morning. He died of a brain tumor in the 1930s. Although Ochs had, and I'm being generous, about one-tenth of Gershwin's talent, they are similar figures in one sense. Each died at the end of a period of time in America that had its own distinctive `feel' or tenor. Their music had contributed to the sentiments people remember from that time, and their deaths somehow put a final punctuation mark on it. More or less by accident their lives took on a sort of integrity lacking in writers and performers who limp along for years past `their' time.

Will, Thanks for the profound version of the Seinfeld-ian "leave 'em wanting more" thought. Is there any way to accomplish this without actually having to die? Peter

Robert, for us "something like a miracle" is very apt. To find out that there was God meant having to rethink EVERYTHING. Actually, the selfishness and mendacity of the political left had alienated me long before conversion, which was why I was not enthusiastic about Harrington and DSOC. I could not stand a politics wherein relative truth trumped actual truth, because it was "right."

So you, were allowed to think about just about anything as long as you did it well? Honestly, some professors will let kids do anything. My youngest son is an art student and built a 4x3x3 foot submarine for a sculpture class with sound/music, fish (3-for-a-dollar goldfish)in the round windows and interior controls. Since he has no money, it was mostly done with found objects from dumpster-diving expeditions, so it is literally garbage. I haven't seen it, but his friends loved it (you climb can climb inside and play with the "controls") and the course critique just glows.


Thank you, Will, for the details.

Interesting that you should mention relativism in relation to Harrington. I actually wrote about Harrington on just that point (in a book on moral relativism that came out a long time ago), so I'm in sympathy. As for the Ochs-Harrington connection, it makes sense because Ochs had been involved in democratic-socialist politics since his student days at Ohio State, which means ca. 1960 if I'm remembering the chronology correctly. Harrington's first major book, "The Other America," was read almost universally by social democrats and also progressivist-liberals in the early sixties.

Peter, the only way I know to become a symbol of your `time' without dying astutely is to go into retirement and give no interviews. Now, of course, you need to accomplish something first. (That was my problem. I went immediately to Phase Two.)

Will, I recall that one of Phil's late 60's albums or songs was called "Rehearsals for Retirement." Kate, I had always believed there was truth. When I went to Stanford and read St. Thomas and Aristotle for the first time, I said to myself, this is it! The shock of recognition. Then graduating up to Catholicism along with it. I spent three years afterwards just rethinking things, rethinking through EVERYTHING, as you say. It wasn't until six years later that I found the education I was looking for, so, for example, I could really understand Aristotle.

Pascal or socialism...I knew there was a reason I've always liked Michael Harrington! I'd like 'em a whole lot more if socialism could work, but he never had the...er...evidence for that. He just kept saying that everybody SO FAR, especially the Russians, had screwed it up.

I tend to think of the 60s childishness as one big package...but as for late 60s rock, well, there are two theories that work for me. The first was promulgated most pungently by disgruntled 80s fanzines like Kicks and Ugly Things from whence I imbibed my musical conservative proclivities to "hail hail rock and roll and deliver us from the days of right now." As Mike Stax, the editor of Ugly Things more or less said, "There were great savage sounds from the moment the first cave-men smashed rocks together, right up until everybody took too many drugs in the late 60s and blew it. If you don't acknowledge true facts like that, you just don't know where its at." Not a bad rock and roll catechism, despite that now that I like classical and jazz and can see the finer points of...blah blah blah...and so I would put it in a much more elegant and qualified way.

So here's a second theory, my own, which is that 60s music defintely represents an apex of sorts, the very best years being 65-67, with lots of interesting stuff on either side of those years, tons of musical experimentation, but that it represents an apex you can only do once. It took the forms of RnB, RnR, C&W, folk, etc., for a last ride around the block as it attempted to mash them together and emerge into the magical music of formlessness or many-formed-ness . And so it's pretty cool when the Yardbirds are mixing harpsichords and RnB on "For Your Love," or when James Brown is inventin' a brand new bag before your very ears, but over the years, things take their toll, and it all begins to blur into one big blah...the new forms that emerge are crude, metal, disco, rap, and somehow drained of real energy. Perhaps Morrison caught a glimpse of the future at that moment with "When the Music's Over." Or maybe it was the Acid.

Peter, maybe the Harrington book was The Politics at God's Funeral ? Really weird that an Interpretation reviewer would reject a footnote to him being vulgar.

Will, I think Harrington was sincere. My husband thought so and was devoted to him. I think he would still use statistics in the Disraeli way. And he DID think socialism would work if only it were applied correctly. I used to think that he might be right if we could just leave the human element out, but wondered how that might work.


Carl, as to the music, as in any other time, some of it was quite good and most of it was pretty dreadful. I couldn't listen to rock music on the radio then, as I can not now. Your mention of "When the Music's Over" made me look it up, because I could recall the song, but not the lyrics. They're pretty bad.
My kids' music is the same type of mix as then and some songs are quite good.

Robert, I would say that if you always knew there was truth, you were very fortunate.

To Kate: I know. (Am up late having just finished grading.) I like "statistics in the Disraeli way." My major professor at the University of Dallas wrote his dissertation on Disraeli's novels. Thanks...

Carl has both the right Harrington book and a very plausible apex theory, although Van Morrison's own music was certainly not over.

Kate, my apologies for interesting you in the Morrison lyric...it is bad in both the shabby and fundamental senses, but that line about "music is your special friend" always appealed to me as an appropriate mocking of just how MUCH his bohemian generation was now making of music, a habit that certainly extended into mine.

And of course there is always good music here and there...had I more money and time I might enjoy checking out the best rock acts right now are, particularly the more pop-artish ones, or maybe even hearing what the best disco-type DJ could do, but it is still a funny thing that we've now had more than FORTY FRICKIN' YEARS, with no end in sight, of the same basic post-rock n'roll forms, unless you count the primitivist speeding-up or sparing-down of punk and rap as innovations. It's probably not something to get excercised about like I guess I do, but it does suggest a great deal about where we are culturally. Rock was supposed to be about always moving forward, into ever greater expressions of freedom, but it could not deliver.

So the kids may sometimes be sort of all right, but adults of all ages with ears gravitate toward the jazz, the classical, the blues and the bluegrassy C+W, and you betcha when it's time for dancin' the real rock n' roll.

Carl, once you have "expressed freedom" where do you go? One of my sons insists that hip-hop and rap is the music of the future, to which I say, "God help us." as it doesn't strike me as particularly musical.

Kate, anything that's been fresh for twenty-five years now has got to be the future!

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