Image via WikipediaBy Ken Howard
Now that summer is over, I reflect on the fact that the Summer of 2009 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of 1969 - and what a summer that was! Mind you, I was only 4 years old at the time, so I don't remember much of it from an adult's point of view, but had I been older then, I think I would have noticed - and appreciated - what that time meant socially and historically. It was a doozie if you look at it from my point of view and the things I'm interested in.
Such as, Judy Garland died of an accidental overdose of the barbiturate/sleep aid Seconal on June 22. She was only 47 - 2 years older than I am now - and yet made show business history in those short years in movies, radio, concerts, and television, and became arguably the greatest gay male icon of all time. Her death was a lesson in what substances can mean to us. I work with clients all the time whose lives have been saved, improved, and are thriving thanks to the helpful benefits of prescription medication. However, Judy's legacy is an example of how these medications must always be treated with respect, even reverence, lest they take over our lives.
Plus, her life example is that you don't have to live very long to make a lasting impression on the world. Her death is rumored to have fueled the anger of gay men in the Stonewall Riots, also in June, 1969, which marks the ceremonial beginning of the modern gay rights movement (though gay historians really like to poignantly challenge this, and with good reason - gay rights organizations existed in the 50′s, 20′s, and before).
Sometimes, a great loss like Judy's death, can be an inspiration. Gay men tore down barriers during those nights of rioting in New York City and paved the way for a more just, dignified, legitimate, respected, and mainstream existence than ever before. Bless those drag queens throwing rocks!
Perhaps the darkest events of an otherwise sunny summer were the murders over two nights perpetrated by the young gang under the influence of the crazed Charles Manson. This event, chronicled in the book Helter Skelter , and others has not lost its macabre appeal in over 40 years. The fact that one man, insane and evil as anyone has ever been, could "influence" others to literally commit murders on his behalf on innocent people (though he wouldn't call them that), boggles the sane mind. Sure; everybody loves a hero. Groupies (especially younger women) have idolized "powerful" "bad boy" men for centuries. That they would kill for him shows that mind control is a very real, dangerous thing, and underscores why a healthy questioning of authority - whether it's toward Charles Manson or George W. Bush - is always a healthy thing. The Manson Murders were also an example of the concept of "collective trauma".
Native Angelenos (people of Los Angeles) will often tell how no one in LA was quite as "trusting" after those events. People locked their doors. They viewed others with suspicion. They lost some "innocence". And the golden summers of Los Angeles would never be the same.
Perhaps not until 9/11/01 would such a large group of Americans feel the collective grief caused by one small "well-meaning" group's evilly self-indulgent malicious acts with such shared trauma. This event showed us that while we might generally try to love our fellow Man, we always have to reserve just a little "fight or flight" in the back of our minds to guard and protect ourselves, that evil exists, and that strengthening the mind with the ability for objective, critical thinking is a powerful tool that should be a part of every young man's or woman's emotional/intellectual/social development, lest they be at the mercy of an influential madman.
The Summer of 1969 also brought us the landing on the moon in July. I remember watching many (rather dull) hours looking at our kind of dark TV screen, with lousy sound quality coming from the major networks' connection to the lunar capsule. It was hard to see the dark, poor-resolution images, yet I knew because my entire family was gathered around the TV set, including my grandparents who were visiting, that this was a momentous occasion.
Back then, the most momentous occasion on TV each year for me was the annual showing of "The Wizard of Oz" (see above; starring Judy Garland) (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000Q66J1W/ref=cm_rdp_product). But as I got older, I became more grateful that I was "there to see" the moon landing "live" on TV as a part of my personal biography. It was both dull and extraordinary at the same time.
I also have a great affinity for another event of Summer, 1969 - the Woodstock Music Festival. I think to this day, seeing news coverage of that event has fueled my admittedly rabid attraction to guys with long hair. Even then, I knew that the liberation, expression, and meaning of that festival meant a challenge to the status quo - status quos like racism, homophobia, sexism, and the general conservatism with which I grew up that I have generally learned to eschew at every turn.
Sure, drugs used to serious abuse is a problem, and I treat clients for these kinds of problems every day in my practice http://www.gaytherapyla.com/?page_id=25) - I get it - but in the "innocence" of the Festival at Woodstock, drug use was minor, I believe, to the overall meaning of what it means for a society to move from the Piscean age of black/white, right/wrong, winner/loser, to the true Aquarian Age of enlightened understanding and tolerance.
Just 39 years later, when Prop 8 was enacted into the California Constitution as the first time equal, legal, civil rights had been taken away from an entire class of people (the right of gay/lesbian adult citizens of California to marry), we could have certainly used some of the tolerant, joyous, celebratory, inclusive, loving spirit that Woodstock represented.
Summer of 1969 was also the year the Beatles were seriously starting to break up, and it marked the closing of the 60′s and all that the decade represented.
The 70′s were their own special time, and maybe I'll muse more on that later (that sparked my equally rabid devotion to guys with great sideburns, so I guess every decade has its "men's style" aphrodisiac in my Universe). I think when we see how awfully conservative things got in the 80′s, with the Cold War, "greed is good", conspicuous consumption, the return of racism and homophobia (as if they ever really went away), AIDS/HIV, and the hard Right turn in the country under the leadership of the murderous Darth Vader (aka, Ronald Wilson Reagan - 6-6-6), we would do well to remember the 60′s and 70′s, and the momentous summer of 1969, that meant so much to so many.
Part of "Having the Life You Want", I feel, is living in gratitude, and celebration, of all that is around us - in the present, certainly, but also in our appreciation of our own life history, or history before our lives even began. Anniversaries help us to note this gratitude, savor it, and celebrate it. As the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of 1969 comes to a close, I'm doing all that. Let the Sunshine In!
Ken Howard, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping gay men bridge the gap between how life is, and they would like it to be, in important areas of life such as health, mental health, career, family, and relationships, with offices in West Hollywood, California. Call 310-726-4357 or visit http://www.GayTherapyLA.com for additional information and other articles.
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