the sixties’ hope for a more enlightened tomorrow

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

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.


JennyDiski TheSixties ProfileBooks 600

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.”


JennyDiski TheSixties 1000 crop

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.


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