In this feature we ask people to share their favourite ‘Where in History?’ Lindsay Bruce discusses her passion for the 1960s. Is her love of the Sixties authentic? Who cares?!
My Teenage Obsession
Growing up in a windswept and dreich Helensburgh in the late 90s was about as far from 60s Haight-Ashbury as you could conceivably get.
However, armed with acres of badass cheesecloth; stings of love beads; vats of patuli oil and a vintage blue velvet blazer with sweat marks on the armpits, I was determined to bring the Summer of Love to Gare Loch.
I just had to finish my Standard Grades first.
You probably had a 60s phase as well, where you dug those cats the Velvet Underground and the mellow grooves of Love, man.
At university, you’ve probably explained to me, at great length, why these are the ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ 60s bands: and why my Super Hits of the 60s and the boss sounds of a Motown Chartbusters CD, that I would dance around the living room to, were confected and artificial travesties.
That I was being sold a glossy and pre-packaged myth.
Well right on, brother! But, honestly, give me the Mamas & Papas and Sunny by Bobby Hebb any day of the week.
And, maybe, it’s good to believe in myths sometimes.
Don’t Worry Love – When the Revolution Comes We’ll be Equal
Somewhat inevitably, I later became involved revolutionary politics. I might’ve packed away my flares but I started to talk and think about 68 a lot more; and marching against war, and against public sector pay cuts, seemed like an extension of my affinity with the 60s.
With what I believed that decade had stood for: free love, equality and having a gas, gas, gas.
So I travelled Britain protesting against the EDL and against the Government.
I stood on the high streets of Northern towns with the aim of ‘smashing the fash’.
However, more often than not, we would just be kettled by the police while the ‘fash’ sat in the pub.
And it was in these moments that I would grow resentful of the power of a small clique of older men who would decide our next step.
These were the men who would get to speak first in meetings, the men who would get to talk at our rallies.
The ones with wives you never saw or quiet girl friends who knew their places. The ones who you heard rumors about.
Once, when we were stood in the rain waiting for them to decide what we should do, a pal turned to me and said that their response to us if we complain, if we try to make ourselves heard, if we try to change things is to tell us “calm down love, when the revolution comes we’ll be equal”.
I think that was the moment I stopped believing in myths and became an historian.
Why women won’t have better sex under socialism
I started to look for cracks in the 60s narrative; and a BBC documentary: The Summer of Love How Hippies Changed the World was an eye opener.
Women in the documentary talked about how the ethos of free love was used against them. One woman talked about the experience of women living in Haight Ashbury was that of misogyny and exploitation.
She talked about how if the women said they didn’t want to sleep with someone then they were accused of being too bourgeois.
Also the recent revelations of Camille Kouchner in La Familia Grande that exposes the incent and abuse at the heart of her family and France’s soixante huitard establishment.
And again in a New York Times review of Kouchner’s book we see that 60s left-wing term of derision: bourgeois.
“Ms. Kouchner’s evocation of summer days at the family property on the Côte d’Azur is powerful in its evocation of a false idyll: tennis, meals, Scrabble, wine, laughter — as well as nude bathing in the swimming-pool, touching under the table and mockery of bourgeois sexual constraints.
‘It’s forbidden to forbid’ was the motto of these family gatherings, she writes.
Her grandmother explained to her how to have an orgasm on a bicycle or a horse.
All the while, a serpent lurked, in this family and beyond it.”
Look hard enough and you see these men, these serpents, everywhere – both in the counter-cultural anti-bourgeois 60s radicals and their descendants.
Do I still want to go back?
It’s easy to look back on a time period and use our own context and perspectives to make judgements; especially when they don’t live up to our romanticized expectations.
However, I would still go back to the Summer of Love. I still want to believe the myth.
I’m just not sure I can anymore.
Lindsay Bruce teaches History at Moreton School in Wolverhampton, part of the Amethyst Trust. She is an Assistant Head and is an author for OUP, contributing to the KS3 Aaron Wilkes series and the AQA GCSE student books, handbooks and revision guides.