Subject was interviewed at a rural residence near his land. Born 1950 in Wichita KS. Then at age 6, in AR
The combination of being in Arkansas and being from a middle-class family with a self-employed father and a semi-farm situation sort of insulated us from the ‘60s, so it hit me a little late. I suppose, probably in college in connection with ROTC, really, where at some point along in there ROTC became emblematic of the military and Vietnam and the establishment. At that time, the University of Arkansas was a land grant college and you had to do your two years of ROTC so all males got it for two years, at that time. You had a choice of Army or Air Force at the U of A. Mine was Army, I guess because I didn’t have good enough eyes to fly. I guess that’s what I decided. I didn’t decide much at that time. I just went along. Following my nose.
I always knew I would go to college. I was fairly good in school and my parents promoted education, which was fine with me. Now, I stayed in ROTC to stay in college, because after two years you didn’t have to be in ROTC. But along about that time you could have a low draft number and go to Vietnam and interrupt your education. But if you stayed in ROTC, you could defer that and finish your education. So that looked like a good enough idea to me, so I stayed in.
I was mostly oblivious of the issue [of war protests], in spite of ROTC. AR was fairly insulated even for more up to date people than myself. For example, we kept hearing that -- on the one day a week when we would march out on the quad, or whatever, that we were going to be protested -- well, the protests always tended to be four or five students who sat in little circles and talked to each other. It was vastly disappointing because then we didn’t get interrupted from marching, which was a real pain. So it wasn’t the sort of thing that jumped in front of your consciousness like it did at a lot of major universities. I was largely oblivious,, quite content to believe that those older and wiser than I were actually wiser. It wasn’t until later that I started maybe questioning what my contemporaries did earlier.
It took awhile. I was out of school and in my first job. Like ‘74. After going through four years of ROTC, you have a military commitment. But by that time you’re an officer, so I was looking for a commitment as an officer. But I wanted my master’s, plus that kept me out of Vietnam longer. So I went ahead and got my master’s, and by that time, Vietnam was winding down. I guess I was taking in information during those last couple of years, because I was listening to what was going on in Vietnam and definitely did not want to go there.
By that time, in one of the strange bits of the way societies work, the warrior class was shrinking, I guess might be kind of the generic way to say it, and they didn’t want half hearted warriors taking up the good slots. It was the only war we had, and there were plenty of what they called ‘regular army’ people --those who are career path, that wanted to be over there. So I got the opportunity to get out early, not go there, not go anywhere, really. Get out early into the inactive reserves just because of the way it was winding down and the machinery was running vast numbers of people into it and there wasn’t a place for them to go. So that all worked out very nicely for me.
But somewhere along in there, I guess the information I was taking in finally got processed. Sort of belatedly I started thinking about what was going on here. I got my head up a little bit once I was out of school. About 22 or 23, then I discovered I had a lot of information I had been taking in, and I just felt, I don’t know, unwilling, or unable to decide I had an opinion about it. I’ve always been distrustful of forming opinions too soon.
Part of the popular media was advising me to be outraged, you know, that part which you might say my parents would be listening to. So I naturally assumed I was not outraged and that there must be something good about it. But it didn’t really connect with me very much. I didn’t feel a great need to rail against my parents, who I basically got along well with. The establishment, since I was middle class, was taking care of my creature needs and seemed to provide a path for my life. It wasn’t like you were facing a depression or something. So it was kind of an academic thing. Plenty of friends in high school and college were smoking pot and using some various other drugs, but it didn’t really attract me because they were using it basically like, say, I like alcohol. Sort of as a way to be different and I guess I was happy the way I was. And so I was only mildly curious as to what the drug culture was.
It wasn’t until my early 20s that I got any kind of curiosity that would lead me to find those people who considered themselves in the drug culture. Before that, if they wanted to come into my world -- I guess I got interested in oriental religions a little bit, psychology a little bit, that sort of thing, wondering how people thought and why they did the things they did. Not like as a college study, just as a personal interest. So I got interested in reading about oriental religions and practices and that sort of thing, and that led me over a little bit, because another one of the areas -- at the time, I was very idealistic about just about everything, so I assumed that we knew better how to incorporate sex into our lives and how to experiment and find our own way in those areas, we meaning our generation.
Whereas in school I hadn’t experimented sexually, once I was out this began to look pretty fascinating. It was definitely all going into my head as possibilities Those who blaze a trail make it easier for the rest to choose what part of the trail we want to follow. I read about the eastern religions and as much was possible in the dreadfully white bread areas where I was living, tried to find those people and be around them some. But I guess kind of to my surprise, I found that, say, orthodox or practicing Buddhism was not any more attractive to me than practicing Catholicism. Or any of the others. I was finding out that in my own way I was an independent thinker, but not in a way that held up well at cocktail conversations. I didn’t really feel like I was ready to convert someone else to my way of thinking, much less badger them or expound on it, although I always felt like I was going to sometime. Haven’t got around to it yet, but -- pretty soon.
I began to pick and choose among everything about what was my track, since my track at that time was very focused around having a job, being able to accumulate enough money to drive out West and go camping, things like that. There was only so much of it I could incorporate into that framework, as opposed to, say, running off for weeks or months at a time to go experiment here or there. So that limited how much of that I could incorporate.
I was on the farm for the six years of my college life, very much a part of the farm there, at least, sort of the Arkansas hill farm/ranch sort of life. Not to be confused with say, Illinois farm country or something. The West was part of my ideal. The West was God’s country. West the right direction. East was the old place. West was the new place. We’re talking the Rockies, the Cascades, kind of scene. Big mountains, clean water. Tall trees. Space. Space to grow. And then, just a fascination with the awesome aspect of nature. I gravitated toward the biggest mountains, the biggest trees, the bluest water. You’d pack in the Rockies, pack in the Cascades, find the Oregon coast, that sort of thing.
My first exposure to any drugs was when was in my mid-twenties, well into my first job, which was mostly just curiosity. That was pot only at that time. I didn’t see that it fit into my life much, which was a personal kind of thing for me. I didn’t like being drunk. My experiences of being drunk weren’t particularly fun. Getting high didn’t make me as ill as getting drunk, but it put me out of control, and I didn’t like that. It wasn’t what I was comfortable with.
It was years later when I relaxed enough to enjoy and appreciate that aspect of it. I was trying to fit the world into my control at that time. I thought I had the world by the tail. Internally, in terms of ‘60s culture, the distillation hadn’t happened yet. The chaff was still in there. I saw so much of the chaff. I’m going, what are you trying to prove? Or , don’t talk so loud or get in my face quite so much. You’re working too hard at this. If you’ve got the answer, you know, it seems that you’d be quiet and not pushy and make me come to you. So it took awhile for the chaff to come out.
The attitudes towards sex, on the other hand, I thought had more promise. That appealed to my idealism. That sex did not have to be the way our parents did it, or the way any particular other group did it and coped with it. That since I had the world by the tail, I was competent to figure out an all new way to live life and do it better. In practical application, coming from where I did, to have sex before marriage was enough of a practical application right there. To feel that you could have a relationship that was a loving relationship, that you had more than one of in a year, was another step beyond that. So just in that sense, that was a leap for me.
I was fascinated by communes, by the possibility that a marriage could involve three people. I couldn’t see much practical way once you got past four, but it seemed like three might work. In spite of absolutely no personal experience to support that, I held onto that for the longest time, either in my own experience or in anybody else I ever observed, it seemed like a good idealistic ‘60s kind of thing.
It was an ideal, generally, in my experience, to less success, which did not affect my feeling that the ideal was sound. It was just the evidence I had been able to run across hadn’t made it yet. Of course, I put a different criteria for success. It was pretty high standards for happiness and harmony. That sort of thing was equated with success at that time. You were pretty much supposed to be happy 24 hours a day, as far as I was concerned. Tough to do that any time.
My two experiences with one night stands left me feeling like I had been dishonest or at least had not really taken the feelings and situation of the other person into account. At least, in a way that would make me feel good. Whether that’s what they were feeling, or if that’s a carryover of me not being totally ‘60s -- I don’t know.
I think partly the rude shocks that life brings along, when it reminds you that you’re just a little part of it, and that control is an illusion -- when you’re young, you can preserve it a little better, because you have more experience with self-imposed deception than you do later on when it all starts to be familiar. Probably, when I got divorced, was when I figured out that I couldn’t deny that I didn’t really have this thing figured out.
At one point we agreed to have lovers outside of the marriage, and tried that for less than two years and found that was too scary in spite of like, we can do this, we’re ‘60s folks. It still messed us up. Our first effort was with another couple. That was early on, when the marriage was working.
I was definitely affected by what I was taking in from the ‘60s -- all the years when I wasn’t acting any of it out. It was all going in. So when my time, on my own internal development came to do things, that was all inside. My possibilities were those that came with the ‘60s, and then when my time in my own way came to something, I knew there was free love, there was drugs, there was rock and roll -- all these things that were totally possible for me because there were really radical people who were doing them in such uncontrolled ways that anything I wanted to do was well within the bounds of possibility. I didn’t have to forge any new paths, due to my own sort-of ‘process it first and then do it’ approach. There was always somebody out in front of me, forging the new areas, marching against this, or demonstrating against that, or trying this substance or that substance. My possibilities were very large, I thought.
I think it’s wonderful that there are those radical people who do have to act out and rebel and live large and be extreme and climb on soap boxes. They do a wonderful service in forging new territory for the rest of us who don’t have an internal need to do that. We profit from their hard knocks.
Without the ‘60s, I probably would have tried to live the life my parents lived, but generations being what they are, it probably wouldn’t have fit and I could easily imagine being in one of those situations where you talk about lives of quiet desperation. Given who I am, I probably would not have made the large leap, or at least not soon enough, to save myself a lot of that desperation. Now I have a large set of possibilities to move through.
Making music and dancing joyfully were always things I thought would be particularly wonderful, although a way to do it did not come out of my childhood. I watched the media, other people, other musicians, other people who could dance -- I had to watch those things from the outside until it came time to make a place for it. I was still married when I decided I had to learn to dance. I went to an Arthur Murray’s, as a couple, which was a social experience unto itself. I don’t think that would be considered part of the ‘60s. I think we’re talking the ‘50s -- not the ‘40s, because I think then people did still dance. It was part of the culture. In the ‘50s, I think they were losing it, along with just about everything else they lost, in suburbia and all that. So you had to have Arthur Murray’s and that sort of thing to learn what is it you might have done as part of your life before. Very strange. Neither of us could tolerate it. It was extremely contrived and alcohol-dependent and with some very strange people teaching ballroom dancing, with a mirrored ball in strip shopping malls at five in the afternoon.
So that didn’t fit, but the need was still there. We kept looking and found the traditional dancing -- I was living in Little Rock at the time -- early ‘80s -- we looked in the paper. I went to one place they were dancing and put my nose in, and I distinctly remember what I saw, which saw a bunch of people who weren’t drunk, who were very joyfully dancing and did it without a mirrored ball and dark light. In fact, it looked just terribly normal. I thought, this is pretty great. [describes “Brigadoon” as an example.]
I didn’t get to this point all on my own. I grew up with my father telling stories about dancing when he was a boy, when they danced in the front room, literally pushed the furniture back and rolled up the carpet. In their German community, they did shadishes, waltzes, live music of course at that time. So I had that in the back of my mind trying to find expression. It sounded to great. He would reminisce about it.
My experience with disco, which I did because that was the way you met women and got to find sex, and that sort of thing -- I never felt like it was an expression of the joy. It touched on it but never really got there. There was too much other stuff going on. The thing that’s nice about traditional dancing is that it’s not complicated and you can get there. Folk dancing is for folks. Not professionals. I mean, on a scale of one to ten, with jitterbug and swing dancing being a ten, folk dancing is a one. It’s basically walking, hopefully in rhythm to the music, but not absolutely necessary. It’s that simple. And that’s why it felt accessible to me. I didn’t know that. I had it idealized from my father’s description. I didn’t have to deal with ‘could I do this’ or not. It was just something my father talked about and it sounded neat. But then I saw these people doing it and they were basically having a good time and I could tell by looking that I could sort of get by there. The first few times I was pretty embarrassed, but everybody else was smiling and laughing and didn’t seem to notice. I did have to kick myself to go, but I really thought I could do that.
It’s moved now to where for me dancing is making music. It is being part of the music. Musicians would be scornful of the term I use -- making music -- since that’s done by musicians. But for dancers, once you get into it, you’re definitely part of the music. So that’s just where you take it. But then, that happens when you do anything for ten years. No -- fourteen or fifteen. You know, time passes.
I think [our sense of civic responsibility] is in a degree different from that of some other generations. I think Al Capp maybe hit upon it in his comic strip of the time, where he was sort of making fun of ‘60s students and invented the student organization wildly indignant about nearly everything (SWINE). Sometimes cartoonists really hit on the kernel of what’s going on, in the same way that myths, legends, and scary stories do. Well, sure you should make fun of students wildly indignant about nearly everything, but that’s still telling you something, that it’s not students who are wildly apathetic about nearly everything, or students on a career track with nothing else in mind, or you name it anything else. There were those people out there opening possibilities by being wildly indignant, by experimenting, by being outrageous, by destroying theirs lives for periods of time, or maybe forever. Or by dying --
All the effects of those things on everyone else adds together in the world we have now. The whole world I’m living in has been changed by the ‘60s. If you look at what the ‘50s were, sort of the combination of the last gasp of an outmoded social system overlaid with an unreal experiment in all kinds of things --- the last gasp of male chauvinism and all that goes with that, world domination by the standards of WWII -- the world desperately needed the ‘60s. With all we’ve done to the world -- even with the ‘60s -- it pales in comparison to what we would have done to the world without the ‘60s. The military industrial complex, the power structure, the press -- the weak press, we didn’t know it was weak at the time, but by the standards of nowadays, we know the non-questioning or not questioning anything, whether its liaisons of the president in the white house, or the machinations of the head of the FBI, you name it -- we didn’t question it. Wise people, the same ones who almost led me to Vietnam, wise people were going to handle things. A patriarchal society, there. The ‘60s started the questioning of that, and with the questioning comes the end. Unless we blow it. We’ve got a chance.
They went to great efforts to preserve that. It’s now disrupted. It’s a state of affairs that you recede to through lack of effort, lack of energy. Inertia brings you that. It’s like gravity. As you get more tired, gravity is still there. It’ll push you right back down. Someone once said, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance -- something like that.
We’ve got a chance. You could say we made our chance. Pretty soon it’s going to be how well we hand it off. That’s a scary thought.
We’re extremely impatient. We knew we were the smartest people who ever came along. Consequently we should be in there at 18. We could invent new ways to live, we could have multi-partner marriages -- surely we could run the country. But by the standards of the previous generation, it’s just now getting to be our turn. Clinton and Gore are considered young.
In my case, the dancing is an expression of idealism. People who are happy, people who have community, people who have village that I’ve never been able to experience in the rest of life -- people who like to do that are sometimes separated geographically but [come together to dance] have such a basic expression, a basic human expression in terms of movement, joy, music, something that touches on such a basic human chord, it keys into all that idealism. And actually, the whole resurgence of traditional folk dancing started in the ‘60s, I just missed. Like everything else, I caught up to it later. The resurgence started on the campuses during the ‘60s.
Long-haired girls in hip huggers. Volkswagens. That sort of mobile, we-don’t-have-to ask somebody permission kind of thing. That’s still part of our times. Of course, the media has taken this and corrupted it to where it’s all around you all the time. I quit watching network television a long time ago. The last I remember of it -- I reacted against the commercials. The price of the entertainment was too high, to be periodically have something that you don’t want. I’m extremely rigid in that I keep trying to control what comes into my head. Commercials -- I had no control over them. There were right there and you had to listen to them. Even if you turned the sound off, the mute button is one of the better inventions of all time -- but it’s still flickering. You’re talking to someone and you keep going like this -- (looking back and forth)
Health food. Organic farming. Very much an outgrowth of the ‘60s. Pretty successful, on the scale of things that came out of the ‘60s. Continuing to grow. As we die and they figure out what we’re dying from, it may get more successful yet. It generally takes a generation or two to know. Some of the answers take awhile. It would be ironic if we all die from DDT residue or too much sugar or something instead of from pot or LSD or cocaine or something. Or more likely even than that, we’ll die from rayon fibers, or something else that we have no idea about.
[As far as the future goes] Part of the time I feel like the genie is out of the bottle and you won’t get it back in. That’s the optimistic side. The other side is that there’s always inertia. You get older, more tired, you lose your idealism. We didn’t do the best job of parenting as a generation. I’m not sure how well we handed it off. That’s the other side. It seems to me, for some reason or another, I have no idea what it was -- but looking at it, there was a lot of low energy, non-involvement parenting going on, among our generation. And I don’t mean because we were too busy making communes or anything like that. I mean, we went out and got jobs and decided to be middle class and we put our kids in daycare. You could say we began to look like ‘them’ if you wanted to. I saw ‘we decided’ -- we probably didn’t decide. We probably just decided we wanted what we wanted and let everything else take the course. You could be a parttime parent instead of being like our grandparents generation, where you did have a spouse at home -- we didn’t quite make it to full time dad, we just got rid of full time mom -- and I really feel one of [a parent’s] job is to pass your culture along. If you pass along a crappy culture, you deserve it. But if you don’t pass along anything, all you’ve done is abdicate. That is on the pessimistic side.
With all those ideals we had, who knows, maybe if we tried to pass them along, there are those who say that generations have to differ. [Interviewer comments about her kids not going as far as she’d like w/ education] Maybe -- if you think about education more in the traditional earmarks of success, we should lighten up on that. The world is not really hurting for more widgets right now. It doesn’t really need a faster growing species of corn, in spite of people who think that’s the answer to everything. Maybe it doesn’t need more concert pianists. Maybe these aren’t the earmarks for success in the world we’re looking at . We don’t have to populate the earth anymore.
If you chose to hide, say, for example, hide from your children the fact that you smoke pot, that’s just one easily identifiable thing to talk about that you’ve hidden from your children, that you haven’t shared with your children. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, I think. You can’t just hide one thing like that from your kids.