This year is the 50th anniversary of the three-day music festival near Woodstock, 90 minutes outside New York City; also inside the city gay patrons of the Stonewall bar in Greenwich Village stood up to cops who felt free to bash gays, and a movement was launched.
Also in 1969, new president Richard Nixon signed America’s first environmental laws, driven by a surge of young people joining the Sierra Club and other groups demanding ecological protections.
Moths to flames
That was what was going on in America in 1969, and their mainstream media flew as moths to flames to Woodstock or anywhere else where ‘the kids’ might bare their chests, while ignoring or demonising the ‘protest movements’ that were popping up all over.
And so it is to this day; the American commentariat is jacked up to new heights of vacuity right now, calling Woodstock the defining moment of a generation and equating it with the counter-culture, when it was mostly three days of music in the mud.
Okay, it had its moments, which I and most of my generation gathered from the triple album and the movie, and I’d nominate Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic version of The Star Spangled Banner as the moment destined to change the most consciousnesses among America’s youth, because Hendrix took the national anthem, which celebrates ‘the bombs bursting in air’ and is usually played by quasi-military bands on holidays or sung by earnest patriots at football games, and injected it with a devil’s juice, using feedback till it came out sounding like four cats being stretched in a dungeon of torturers’ racks.
It was countercultural because it took the old culture by the neck and re-framed something fundamental to Amerika’s reality… but it wasn’t The Counterculture.
Meanwhile in Australia
We didn’t have a Jimi Hendrix in Australia, but we did have a slew of movements on the move by 1969, talking between the joints and the sheets, raising each other’s consciousnesses, cranking manifestos out of mimeograph machines in backrooms and bedrooms across the country – all desperately seeking to remake our nation’s cultures, so many of which were leftovers of a colonial past that had been challenged but not defeated by earlier generations who didn’t have the numbers or the mimeographs to change it all.
I was born nine months after the Americans dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, May Day 1946, which is as close to the birthday of the baby boom as you can get, and when I and my mates (of all genders) got old enough to live in a group house we launched ourselves into a radical regeneration of politics, religion, spirituality, social organization, sex and gender, global ecosystems, the arts (all of them), fashion, manners, business, food, and surfing.
We didn’t think of ourselves as baby boomers – that was a demographers’ term that came to represent a cohort of consumers, trendsetters, and nowadays real estate hoarders.
No, we were the counterculture.
My mob’s speciality was putting out magazines with nationwide distribution, because back then very few of the separate movements had enough members to support a national paper, and no internet, so our social media were magazines at the national level and pubs at the local.
We started with GoSet (1966–75), which was mostly a pop music weekly but it gave off sparks that lit subversive impulses in pubescent brains and bodies, and our staff of 25 scattered across the nation were all just a couple of years older than our 100,000-plus teen and early-twenties readers. Then when the times were seriously a-changing, from 1968 to the mid-seventies, we published the monthlies Revolution, High Times, and The Digger.
There were other mags of course, notably Oz and Living Daylights, both produced by Richards Neville and Walsh and lit up by the acid art of Martin Sharp. They did lively satire with a tendency toward countering the culture of private boys’ schools and the boys’ clubs of business, courtrooms, and politics into which the posh students graduated – and they did a splendid job of countering that culture with wit and the bent wisdom that Neville, especially, collected and concocted.
Fast-forward more than 50 years
Over the half-century since then, hundreds of organisations, streetwise gangs, and circles of friends by the hundreds of thousands have collectively transformed Australia into a more tolerant, more informed, and more adventurous community, built around a social premise that has been vying for ascendancy over individualist and autocratic impulses since, well, the Enlightenment.
The sixties’ counterculture was fired up to pursue social equality and justice through collaboration.
Now, in 2019, some baby boomers with too much power and wealth are threatening to crush the social impulse as a matter of faith, but their very destructiveness is laid bare today in the fires, floods, and ecosystem collapses around the world, and a new wave of collaborators are young enough to see the existential threat and who’s behind it, and to see that they are in a race against time to survive.
We culture-counterers who’ve collected ourselves into the Byron Shire need less it’s-all-fucked despair, more cheering on those who will teach each other how to live with the eternally restless continental plates.
And may the MeFirstAlways boomers learn that no amount of sandbags will stop a tsunami.