The Making of Those Fabulous Sixties

THOSE FABULOUS SIXTIES - A SOUND SCULPTURE

Tape editing. It all began with tape editing. Take two songs that have a similar tempo, cut to the downbeat or the front edge of the snare, splice, and hey! - Magic. No audible sign that the ear has been tricked into a new reality. Most jokes are like tape editing, with the actual edit playing the part of the punchline. In a joke, you tell a story, and at the punchline you send the listener off on some sort of tangential thinking. That’s why people laugh. Think of a joke. Think of the inconsistency that exists within it and realize that it’s the anomaly in the story that makes you laugh. You were tricked, and the exact place where you were tricked corresponds precisely to the edit point.

Sometime during the ‘90s I found myself in the middle of a crazed tape-editing phase. It was like working on a customized ‘49 Mercury where, with the help of bodywork techniques, you could blend those custom headlights into the original body lines seamlessly. Tape editing allowed me to customize sound.

Over the next few years I applied these editing techniques to many sound sources. Audio collage work took the place in my life that some reserve for golf, hunting, gardening, or celebrity finger print collecting. As time progressed the razor, splicing tape and editing block were retired and more efficient analog and digital techniques took over. One thing became evident. The editing process led me to all sorts of places, but it was working with soundbites from the ‘60s that always provided a reliable realm for artistic meanderings. It made me happy.

Those Fabulous Sixties is the result of over 2,000 hours of editing. That’s a full work-year. Over fifty 40-hour weeks. Why spend that kind of time on a project that could never be marketed? The simple answers: joy, passion, nostalgia, academic archiving, history, aging, love of music, pride in a youth well spent, and the realization that there would be those who would ‘get it’. Those who would understand that a fast paced, song-packed memory waterfall would best transport them back to times gone by, and would be an ideal way for a young person today to learn about those fantastic, troubling, profoundly foolish and undeniably profound times. More than ever before or since, the young people of this country and the world shared the sights and sounds of the sixties. It was an unprecedented international youth connection. The sixties.

Go now beyond the cliché concept of where you were when you heard of Kennedy being shot, and try to remember how you felt the first time you really heard "96 Tears". What did it feel like when you realized that "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was not just another song climbing the charts, but that it signified something heavier, deeper, and far more permanent and pertinent? How could the Beach Boys make a lake in Pratt County, Kansas, or anywhere, USA, seem so much like a southern California beach? What did we think was really going through President Johnson’s (or Kennedy’s or Nixon’s) mind as our faces flickered with the silver glow of TV light? How could "That Was The Week That Was," the most important show on the tube, be canceled after one season due to bad ratings? Was Paul really dead and did Dylan really break his neck in a motorcycle accident and what made him think that he could release a single that was almost 6 minutes long and still get radio airplay? What the hell was goin’ on in Vietnam? How often did we feel comforted that it was Walter Cronkite giving us the bad news on the evening news (better coming from him than from someone who wasn’t family). What were the real lyrics to "Louie, Louie"? Remember holding your breath as those first manned rockets pierced the atmosphere on their lonely journey to outer space? Just how many microseconds of "Gimme Some Lovin’" did we need to hear before we knew that we were in for 3 minutes of joy and teenage bliss, compliments of top 40 radio? What was your draft number (mine was 6)? Did you send your boyfriend to war. Did you lose your innocence, faith in America, or your son in Viet Nam? How could Hendrix have been booked as the opening act for a Monkees tour? Could Newsweek really tell us what was going on with the hippies in San Francisco? By the time they reported it something different was happening, and the fact that they acknowledged it changed the scene more than anything else. Always something new fading into time with something even newer taking its place. But each event, experience and sensation etched itself in our memories, just waiting for the right trigger to ignite the explosive that gives us a vision of the past, many times accurately portrayed, but often colored and altered by the passage of time. We rewrite history as we live, altering the significance of the past relative to how we live the present and will live the future. There’s too much interconnection in life for anything to remain static. Nothing’s written in stone but love and God, and The Bible says ‘God is Love’. We can do better than to just have another summer of love. Summertime ends. Love should not. Too simplistic? Not by a long shot. It’s way too complicated, but where else can we start?

"…we can’t return, we can only look
behind from where we came and go round and round in the Circle Game" - J. Mitchell

During the sixties our youthful enthusiasm combined with optimism gave rise to a visionary, but accessible new world. One where bigotry and greed and hatred and paranoia were overwhelmed and defeated by the powers of compassion, trust and love. One where a brotherhood of man seemed to be an attainable goal. A land where politics could actually help to attain these lofty goals, and a brave new world where a whole new attitude about our place on earth was being formulated. An attitude that sought harmony with our planet home, where nature became an ally in this long process of life, and not a foe to be subjugated and defeated.

These were fine dreams—dreams of a wonderland that we, as the youth of America, could actually have a hand in realizing. Why couldn’t we make changes for a better tomorrow and why wouldn’t we want to try?

I’m not pleading a case for the sixties here as much as I’m telling a story of Youth. Of innocence and hope and curiosity and exploration and discovery. It’s an ageless scenario with a timeless theme, repeated over and over with greater or lesser degrees of success for each generation. But this was our time, and we, the new children of the ‘60s, were going to give it our best shot. Besides, we felt so vitalized by our music that anything was possible. We had the greatest soundtrack on earth. We didn’t invent it. Decades of blues, country and folk artists built the foundation on which our music would rise, but rock and roll came alive at just the same moment that we did. The day that "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window" turned into "You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog" and Pattie Page’s "Come Onna My House" became Presley’s "I Wanna Play House With You" was the day we realized that we weren’t just being handed a world in which to live, but we were being given a world that we could contour to our own tastes and dreams. We were not helpless victims, but could scream our defiance with the strength of our demographically bulging numbers and the power of our music. The times were indeed changing, and we refused to be victimized by those changes and demanded that our voices be heard.

We watched as the world changed before our eyes. There was free music and free love and free dope and a freedom to imagine a world propelled by a whole new set of values. Never mind that some of those trendsetters had little understanding of the deeper aspects of the movement. Never mind the slim possibility that there never was real depth to the movement. Never mind that the excesses of drugs and sex were sometimes irresponsible and ill-advised, with bad consequences. Never mind that the beauty and love of San Francisco’s Summer of Love turned dark and ugly in the fall when too many came to ‘make the scene’, encouraged by the mass media’s coverage of this outlandish series of events. The Frisco phenomenon took root because of its underground nature. It was therefore destined to die as the periodicals exploited and trivialized the stories, and the record companies realized the sales potential. But so what if Elvis got fat! Does that mean that he wasn’t great in his prime? Does the fact that he made embarrassing movies in the ‘60s alter the fact that he was more powerful than politics, more influential than television and more explosive than the atom bomb when he hit the scene? Listen to his early recordings and tell me Elvis is a joke to be taken lightly. He was all shook up, and that’s what he did to the world! We’ve not been the same since. A decade later the children of the ‘60s carried the same banner defiantly.
Forget the hippie jokes. Concentrate on the Skinny Elvis. What I remember from that period are the beautiful people. Gifted, sensitive, thoughtful kids with bright inquiring minds, and a steadfast commitment to question the world handed to them, desiring to make it better. The flower children. The Love Generation. Love is profoundly more important than profit, power, or patriotism. Let the Summer of Love be just that. A summer of love. Why wouldn't we want every year to have a summer of love. Peace? Of course. Why not?

History is being re-written and re-defined and re-interpreted every minute. The book isn’t closed ‘til all the chapters are in, and that’s not about to happen anytime soon. So may I make a suggestion? RECYCLE LOFTY THEMES! They don’t wear out. They can be used over and over again, each time more effectively. Go for the jugular with that peace and love thing. Let’s get it right this time!

....In the summer of love across the land
We were all a part of Sgt. Pepper’s band
As revolution drifted in the air
And the San Francisco Bay was everywhere
Someone beautiful accepted me
For who I was and what I hoped to be… - J. Ratts

The Haight-Ashbury today. Those amazingly steep San Francisco streets. Those quaint little Victorian apartments and houses that are better painted now than they were when Janis and the Airplane and the Dead lived there. Spare-changing and head shops and street singing and tie dyed anything and fashion shops and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and Hendrix posters and Jefferson Airplane still loves you and old hippies and young hippies and youth in general trying to write their own book of freedom, independently of the successes and failures of what has now become the older generation. It’s all there. It’s just like America. And the times are still a’changin’ and this new generation will age into the old and the great mandela will continue to revolve, in and out of phase, on and on.

It is my aim in Those Fabulous Sixties to epitomize that period of our youth in two hours and thirty minutes of sound bites, song bits and any trick in the book I can come up with to transport the listener back in time and give the uninitiated a glimpse of the period. Everyone brings with them to the listening either actual memories or preconceptions about a period they may have missed completely, or been involved with only peripherally. For those of us who were there each guitar riff or notable lyric is a tap to a reservoir of memories. Each tap, when opened, floods the mind with a reminiscence of the past. Each reminder flavors and intensifies the next. It’s a waterfall of memories, those fabulous sixties!

Abbie Hoffman gives a fine retrospective:

"We are here to make a better world. No amount of rationalization or blaming can preempt the moment of choice each of us brings to our situation here on this planet. The lesson of the sixties is that people who cared enough to do right could change history. We didn’t end racism but we ended legal segregation. We ended the idea that you could send half a million soldiers around the world to fight a war that people do not support. We ended the idea that women are second class citizens. We made the environment an issue that couldn’t be avoided. The big battles that were won cannot be reversed. We were young, self-righteous, reckless, hypocritical, brave, silly, and scared half to death. And we were right."

I’m thrilled to think of today’s youth stepping boldly into their adult lives onto some platform of progress that has been put in place for them, and I trust that many will choose an honorable path. I’d like to think that we of the post World War 2 generation have left a legacy that has done much good and little harm. It’ll always be a long, difficult road, but as each successive generation approaches their own dawn of awakening, I wish for them the good fortune that we, the children of the sixties, enjoyed. I suggest to them that they demand greatness from their musicians and politicians, that they become fully aware of the planet’s finite resources and act accordingly, that they maintain a youthful perspective on life ‘til in death do they depart, that they try to come to some kind of terms with this "brotherhood of man" dilemma, and that they fill their entire lives with hope and innocence, spiritual intensity, visions of mythical lands, peace, love and endless possibilities.

Summer 2004, JR