With all the 60’s bashing going down in the past few decades it’s hard to recapture the very real magnetism and transcendence of those times without coming across like some old guy hopelessly stuck in some sentimental rendition of the good old days. Suffice it to say that recognized social science has pretty well pegged the 1960s and ‘70s as having really generated an historic transformation in society and its values.
Say what you will, it was a watershed moment in history. Regardless of neo-con hysterics by people who really do “hate our freedom”, one of the most obvious ways to overcome anti-60’s prejudices is to pass on the experience of the music of the 1960s, letting it speak for itself.
Before hip-hop, the rave and the mosh pit there was, after all, Woodstock. The music of the 60’s captured much of that period’s sub-cultural dimensions and certainly its promise and chemistry. Yes, the promise of a world where “all you need is love” dwindled in the wake of Altamont; the Weather Underground; the flood and curse of cheap heroin; and New Age self-absorption. And, least we get too romantic here, bear in mind that rebellion had a life of its own quite apart from so-called “flower power”.
Recall the bobbysoxer in the malt shop asking the Marlon Brando character in the ‘50s film “The Wild One”: “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” To which Brando replies: “What da’ ya’ got?” Well Johnny, how about the whole ball of wax? In short, the promise and rebellion of the 60’s overshadows its own failures and precursors.
During its height, Woodstock Nation was very much about mutual love and goodwill, often accompanied by a psychedelic awareness of the fabricated social life and the natural world around us. There existed a widespread camaraderie, an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance unfamiliar to us in the present age of rightwing and media generated fear and hostility. A tangible indicator of that goodwill can be seen in the number of hitchhikers one encountered on the road back then compared to what we see today. The era of Reagan and the Bush dynasty, with all its emphasis on crime and punishment and phony “morality” created a chill, a mutual distrust that descended on the nation like a dark cloud. Prior to that, in the 60’s and 70’s, and in spite of the usual human failings that ran counter to the ideals of those times, it seemed entirely possible that there actually was a new world rising.
The music of The Byrds; Dylan; the Rolling Stones; The Beatles; The Kinks; Jefferson Airplane; Janis Joplin; Jimmy Hendrix; The Beach Boys; Eric Clapton and John Mayall, to name a few, both reflected and influenced those amazing times. In New York’s northern burbs, like over much of the U.S., those influences took hold of an educated, restless youth already primed by and nurtured on Kerouac; Orwell; JD Salinger; “Camelot”; a growing civil rights movement, even Mad Magazine. It was a generation fed-up with the restrictions of an uptight, puritanical, narrow-minded, authoritarian society. The revolution, and it was a revolution albeit brief, was inevitable and it led not only to liberation, drugs, and some very wild sex, but naturally onto even more rock & roll. Kids who may have struggled with mind-numbing piano lessons or terminally un-hip school marching bands were suddenly picking up guitars, harmonicas, or drum sets and forming rock groups.
It began a decade earlier with the music of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the like, but basement or garage bands in Westchester County really came into their own in the 1960s with such bands as The Neptunes; The Del-Rays; The Overdue Experience; and The Offbeats. Those groups, and others like them, carried the tune and played the soundtrack for the revolution. They were definitely not your mother’s band. At some point in the early 60’s this writer found himself in the cramped space of Garth Radio, a record and repair shop sitting practically on top of the Scarsdale/Eastchester town line, among the stacks of Elvis, Little Richard, and Henry Mancini LPs listening to the owner’s son and my friend Al Torzilli, my friend and neighbor Ed Hawkins and others give birth to a rock & roll band. To us it seemed like a very exciting and important moment and it was in a larger context as well, because the same thing was happening elsewhere in New York and around the world in basements, garages, and spare rooms. The music of that moment in time was a tidal wave sweeping up all the disaffected and rebellious youth in its path and depositing them onto what was actually a new stage of existence. Those early awkward jam sessions at Garth Radio later morphed into the surf sound of The Neptunes, playing gigs all over the county and eventually cutting an album.
In another part of town a few years later the Del-Rays formed, soon to morph into what may well have been one of the most vibrant bands to come out of Westchester during those heady times. The Overdue Experience was doing regular weekend gigs at The Willow Inn in Armonk, NY attracting the leading lights of the drug culture, hipsters and hippies, as well as wannabes, the just plain curious, and the law. You had to drive through the dead of night around Kensico reservoir to get to The Willow, which loomed out of the darkness like an oasis of rainbow-colored light. Perhaps that was fitting, given that the times they were “a changin’” and the gloom of an old phony and repressive society was giving way to the revealing psychedelic light of a new generation. One can only imagine how many tales came out of that place and time; how many loves and relationships grew from the music and liberating atmosphere that surrounded all of us. Now, decades later, the darkness has returned. It’s time for another generation to discover some kind of overdue experience.
By Don Ogden