A fan’s lucid notes on a time when the hope or fear, depending on one’s viewpoint, of “a violent assault on the established order” occupied minds, megaphones and microphones.
British chronicler Doggett (The Art & Music of John Lennon, 2005, etc.), who is just old enough to remember the ’60s, is comfortable looking at the time through a kaleidoscope and reporting his visions in straightish lines—not easy, given its myriad madcap qualities. Among his exhibits: Allen Ginsberg, who wondrously declared that he would use language to end the Vietnam War (“The poet says the whole war’s nothing but black magic caused by wrong language & authoritatively cancels all previous magic formulas & wipes out the whole war scene without further delay”); Black Panther strategists who studied the lyrics of the man they called Bobbie Dylan as if Talmud, trying to penetrate the honky mind; Abbie Hoffman, howling “Fuck Lyndon Johnson! Fuck Robert Kennedy! And fuck you if you don’t like it!” to an audience of well-groomed liberals. The era made lots of people crazy. On the other hand, it snapped some into sanity, as when, in a marvelous moment, Doggett finds MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and singer-songwriter Tim Buckley stumbling into downtown Detroit during a race riot: “My first reaction was just like any red-blooded American kid: ‘Oh boy, a fire!’ But then I remembered what time it was in America.” Doggett dodges through the decade, noting that the Jefferson Airplane members were a pretty conservative lot (listen to “Crazy Miranda”) and giving Paul McCartney wry props for sort of making an effort at being political with his song “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” which “was less incendiary than Lennon’s contributions to the debate, and even more banal.” Indeed, Doggett does not unduly lionize the rockers who stuck their noses into politics; as future media mogul David Geffen said when asked whether his clients were being monitored, “I don’t think Nixon cares very much.”
A top-flight interpretation of a time, its music and its strange doings—which still look pretty good compared to now.