This quotation from Roger Hutchinson's HIGH SIXTIES: The Summers of Riot and Love describes my fascination with that era in Britain and the continent and its youth culture, when it seemed the whole existing order of things would be swept away, and then in the early '70s all the momentum fizzled out. While Hutchinson was active in the underground press only from the beginning of the 1970s, his wide circle of older acquaintances and extensive trawling of archives has enabled him to write a sweeping view of the 1960s.
The boundaries that Hutchinson sets for this era are two obscenity trials. The first was the trial of D.H. Lawrence's novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover" in 1960, the second the prosecution of three editors of the legendary underground newspaper OZ in 1971. Society had changed so much in between, Hutchinson notes, that the first trial "had as much resemblance to, say, the trail of Oz magazine 10 years later as did a medieval joust to the Battle of the Somme."
HIGH SIXTIES is divided into 10 loosely chronological chapters. "Signals" discusses the Chatterly trial and Harold Macmillian's "Winds of Change" speech that introduced the post-colonial era and a new global order. "Wheels" describes the Mods, the hipsters of early 1960s Britain, and the mobility afforded them by new, affordable motorbikes. In a sense, they are already the forerunners of the hippies. "Dope" chronicles British youth's discovery of marijuana and LSD and, on the margins but troublingly there, heroin.
"Love" begins with Bob Dylan's arrival in England and then segues to the sudden visibility of counterculture in the parks of 1960s London. "Underground" presents the underground press, which began with INTERNATIONAL TIMES, gained competition with TIME OUT and OZ, and sparked a host of minor regional publications. "Hitching" describes the international mobility of this generation, where English youth and their continental peers moved along the "hippie trail" to the Indian subcontinent, Greek islands or Morocco.
"Mobs" focuses on massive youth organizing, from the Grosvenor Square Vietnam protests to rock festivals. As a sign the golden age was over, Hutchinson points to the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, where the motive was visibly profit, style was more important than substance, and much of the crowd found themselves blocked from entering the venue.
"Schoolkids" sees the rise of children more ready to confront teachers and other state authority figures. I feel it gives too much attention to the Summerville school, an institution founded decades before. Still, schoolkids ready to revolt were what led to the OZ trial, since an issue prepared by secondary school pupils (but not necessarily meant for them) is what led to the editors' prosecution for obscenity. "Sex" describes that trial, where Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson were facing possible life sentences, but still maintained a jolly, carnival atmosphere inside the courtroom and out.
The final chapter, "Relics", is set in the present day. Hutchinson first visits a group of youths camping in the Scottish Highlands and compares their society (happy to pursue their own freedom, less idealistic about changing the whole world) to that of the 1960s generation. He then visits the home of Jeff Nuttall and listens to the artist's poignant recollection that in the late 1960s he thought his generation had triumphed, and then came two decades that undid all their gains and even their hope itself.
I've read several books now on this particular generation. Richard Neville's Playpower (published in 1970, describing these years as they happened) and Hippie Hippie Shake (his memoirs from his Australian childhood until the OZ trial, written in the 1990s), as well as David Tomory's A Season in Heaven, a 1998 collection of oral histories about the Istanbul-Kathmandu trail. These were fascinating books and I'd recommend them to anyone interested in counterculture, but they are fairly personal works rooted in the memories of one person or a small group of people.
For that reason, I really enjoyed HIGH SIXTIES, which gives a much vaster view of the societal changes happening in that decade. Hutchinson's style is engaging, with just the right dose of humour, and he packs an enormous amount of information in. Don't be turned away by the fact that the text of this book is less than 200 pages, there are so many fascinating people and events mentioned here that you'll spend long hours afterwards following up on Wikipedia and other publications on the era.