I FOUND THIS DISCUSSION about aspects of The Sixties in the comments section in an article titled “How we made: Donovan’s Sunshine Superman” by Dave Simpson for The Guardian (May 2, 2016). There are many participants in the back-and-forth conversations in the thread, but I will focus on just two commenters, BarbKay and Katch33.
The comments cover a wide range of topics—from how adorable Donovan was to Shawn Phillips’ contributions to the Sunshine Superman album to how adorable Donovan was—but I glommed onto the observations of Katch33, particularly the two paragraphs below that begin with, “Nevertheless, I’m left with an unresolved mix of confusion.” 1
I could seek to explain the sense of hope for a more enlightened tomorrow that prevailed in the Sixties as against today’s anxiety and cynicism.
I wanted those observations recorded here on The Endless Sixties. So I copied the relevant posts from him and the responses by BarbKay, deleted comments that were not germane to my issue here, and have produced this conversation below.
I have made a few editorial and stylistic changes to make this look and read like the bulk of the articles on this blog.
This is the Profile Books paperback edition of Jenny Diski’s The Sixties (2010). The book is both a historical overview of the era and Diski’s memoirs of drugs (lots of them, lots the wrong kind) and sex (lots of it, lots the wrong kind). It’s interesting to read of the hippies who brought the compulsory behavior and regimentation of the gray “straight” life they sought to escape to their new life of no boundaries.
“I’m waiting for Donovan’s memoir ‘All you ever wanted to know about the Hurdy Gurdy Man but were afraid to ask’. I’m hoping it might shed some light on the Sixties, that strange epoch in time that the late Jenny Diski called ‘the longest gap year in history.’ Come on Donny boy, pick up thy quill.” 2
“As for the glorious dramas Katch imagines (by way of Diski) happening in the 1960s, it was certainly a gap year for people with the connections or money to make it so. But while the cultural shifts were mind-boggling and often wondrous, and did filter through societies to some degree, it was also a time of terrifying social and political upheaval, with US civil rights in jeopardy, the war in Vietnam raging, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy assassinated, a huge housing crisis kicking off in Britain.
And, as Diski herself notes, there was plenty of fatigue and exploitation involved in the requisite adherence to ‘free love’ and acid-popping. Both trends carried on into the 1970s, where my generation of adolescents took it up and also found ‘both sides now’—the dark and the light.”
“Hey, BarbKay, I value your contribution to this thread but cannot remain silent when you suggest I concoct imaginary Sixties scenarios that never existed. I lived through the Sixties. I survived the light and dark ‘both sides now-isms’ that were our everyday experience.
“Some did not survive, others live to this day in a scrambled / schizoid post-LSD half-life as a consequence of their chemical experimentations.
“Nevertheless, I’m left with an unresolved mix of confusion, bewilderment, nostalgia, disillusion, and more whenever I consider that strange, strange flip in 20th-century history that we now call ‘the Sixties.
“I could go on but this is a huge area for discussion—to examine and seek to explain the sense of hope for a more enlightened tomorrow that prevailed in the Sixties as against today’s prevailing anxiety and creeping cynicism.
“I suppose I’m still hoping for a kind of Sixties – Part 2, but next time around with our minds and hearts on higher alert to the inglorious underside of human nature; one that corrupts by way of greed, exploitation, and fear of ‘otherness’ —both from without and from within.”
“I often think, in retrospect, that the ‘let it all hang out’ ukase was an invitation to the unscrupulous to simply get in there and exploit. By the unscrupulous, I mean dealers and manipulative personalities of all types.
To some, stoned hippies must have looked like a bunch of sheep ready to fleece.
Nauseating? Yes.” 3
“Nauseating? Yes. In fact more like predatory.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The black & white photo of Jenny Diski—the apparently quintessential ’60s hippie-chick—at the top of this page was taken at the same time as the colorized photo on the cover of the Profile Books edition of her book The Sixties (above).
1 Multi-instrumentalist Shawn Phillips played the sitar on the Sunshine Superman album sessions. Years later, he apparently claimed to have co-written “Season of the Witch” with Donovan or to have completely written “Season of the Witch” for Donovan.
2 The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man had already been published in 2005, years before this conversation was held.
3 I had to look up ukase: “a proclamation by a Russian emperor or government having the force of law.” In modern usage, it usually means an edict.