We don’t notice it at the time, but time passes…quickly. The above photos from college days and retirement days reflect the essence of each man and the nature of life: We age. For me it is a summing up time and a time to make an offering to my peers and younger generations. We Boomers had a wild ride from our typically youthful idealism to the undeniable failures to achieve them. That’s life, but ours was an unusually emphatic generation. Propelled by resistance to the horror of Vietnam and political assassinations to demand change, we’re leaving the millennials quite a mess. The environment is much worse, social/ ethnic relations are more polarized, and income-equality is more extreme than in the Gilded Age. What did we achieve with our fervent idealism? I think about that a lot these days.
It haunts me as I attempt to make sense of my fifty years of adulthood. When I write about the old days, I often think of the seminal movie Easy Rider which is an accurate mark of the Sixties culture. At the end of the movie after the cross-country odyssey sitting around a campfire, Captain America (Peter Fonda) says to Billy (Dennis Hopper), “We blew it.” ‘Why’ is left hanging. Perhaps he was prescient in assessing what would come out of all that youthful idealism.
Most of us tempered our ideals or put them in a locked closet and then engaged the world of responsibility and pragmatism. But for many Boomers that time of hyper-adulthood is ending. The Baby Boomer generation is now retiring or at least at that age. Many are disoriented by retirement, as I was, and need some direction. For my own resolution and to assist others, I wrote a book on re-invention for Boomers. Not a how-to book with five-step plans or a collection of success stories, but a memoir of my journey of discovery, inner and outer.
Writing in installments, I compiled my insights and stories into Living the Dream Deferred: A Boomer’s Reflections, Reconnaissance, and Redemption on the Road to Reinvention. Each essay shares my personal lessons from real world experiences. Along the way, I visited Venice, CA, Sayulita, Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico and many other places and found my process of renewal, after career. But these are not just travel stories; I examined different theories on reinvention and successful exemplars of living well later in life. Each essay ends with a two-step process, inner and outer, to fuel the reader’s own renewal. By the time I published and promoted the book, I had fully embraced my transformation in ‘retirement.’
After that odyssey, I wanted it to be a legacy, not my name on a scholarship or a building, but a chronicle of life lessons through the my generation’s story: The highs and lows of our youth, what became of them, and how they apply today. I’m now on a quest for the famous and not so famous counter-cultural history of LA, the USA, and beyond. Expanding on the first book’s theme of learning and renewing in ‘retirement,’ my new memoir presents and evaluates the stories, places, and ideals of the Boomer generation—What did we do, what was the impact, and what can we learn from the youth-quake of fifty years ago?
Looking at nine general themes, from anti-war politics to hippie communes, I go to places that contributed to the era’s ideals. As a start, I’ve visited Elysium Fields, a clothing-optional human potential center in Topanga, CA, to Venice West, the historical beatnik/ poetry coffee house in LA, and the original love-in at LA’s Griffith Park. And most recently, the hippie-trail of Central America.
Not nostalgia, not just golden oldies, remembrance is an attitude of respect for past events and how they inform the present. The idea is to re-member, that is put back together the pieces into a whole. As the quotation says, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The Sixties had a lasting impact on our world, not all of it positive, but the hopeful ideals of the first mass counterculture offer a guide to working through the divisive tribalism that plagues us today.
What can we learn from that era? What can we revive? What should be avoided? Looking back on that time with sentimentality feels good, but there is more. At the 2017 fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Griffith Park love-ins, I interviewed attendees who waxed euphoric about that bygone era like a misty-eyed veteran who remembers his days in World War II. Unfortunately, hindsight is NOT 20/ 20. Too often, truth is submerged in conflated memories seen through rose-colored lenses, my mission is to clear the mind weeds. At the same event, I interviewed several young people who heard about the event as a Sixties revival and they loved it. Ideals of peace, community, sharing, and non-corporate fun resonated with them. They wanted more of it.
In this pivotal transitional period of our history, Sixties ideals are still valid. As Johnny Echols guitarist of the seminal interracial LA rock group, Love, said to me at the 2017 love-in, “We’ve gone backwards, sadly.” In this era of tribal conflicts, massive economic injustice, and environmental devastation, it behooves us to awaken the long dormant values of freedom, community, creativity, and justice.
The Sixties were not an accident of history, but an expression of humanity’s striving for hope and possibility. Join me in a campaign of hippie redemption. We can stop the current backsliding by taking steps forward. We hippie veterans and younger fellow-travelers need to work together for the healing of society and our planet. As John Lennon said in 1970, “Let’s Come Together.”
An invitation: Anyone out there who has an inquiring mind and wants me to investigate some place or story that fits broadly into the above format, please contact me. I’m really excited about local stories of peace, love, and freedom. In return I’ll gift a free copy of my book, Living the Dream Deferred. I’m looking forward to connecting with the cultural roots of our city, state, nation, and world. Peace, freedom, and love.