Something’s Happening Here: A Memoir of the 60s reveals my evolution during the political and cultural upheavals in America from 1964-71. Having just graduated college, I was on my way to the Art Students League in New York when the Vietnam War erupted. My draft board came after me. As naive and patriotic as my Catholic, Republican upbringing made me, I saw no reason to fly 6,000 miles to fight communism. After a nerve-wracking battle with the draft and becoming involved in the antiwar movement, I embraced the mind-blowing Cultural Revolution, including meditation, macrobiotics, and an introduction to LSD amid phenomenal rock and roll at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. Simultaneously, I was drawn into the civil rights movement as it became even more volatile. Cities burned and my sense of family, community and common purpose was shaken to its roots.
As if that wasn’t mind-blowing enough, then came 1968. In February, the Tet Offensive by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese made it clear that America wasn’t winning the war as our military claimed. The lies about who started that war and who was winning it led, on March 31, to President Lyndon Johnson declining to run for reelection. Less than a week passed when, while peacefully advocating for striking garbage men, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Across America cities exploded, students occupied campuses and nearly took over Paris. On June 5, presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was also gunned down. The heart and soul of our leadership were now assassinated. While America staggered, the Chinese Red Guard were rounding up their parents as counter-revolutionaries and the Soviets were crushing rebellion in Czechoslovakia. Before the summer ended protestors were attacked at the Democratic National Convention and a known liar and warmonger, Richard Nixon, was elected President.
I had long found solace in my studio and managed to complete my MFA in painting. But living through the chaos of 1968 destroyed my trust in the American system. Along with millions of others, I lost faith in my country; this earnest, All-American kid was radicalized.
As 1969 dawned, I abandoned my growing, but politically ineffective, painting career and co-founded Los Angeles Newsreel, part of a nation-wide effort to distribute and make militant films about the Black Panthers, the antiwar movement and college takeovers. Speaking out felt good; I was doing something concrete to bring about change. Furthermore, the comradeship was inspiring. But, in December of 1969, days after a similar attack on the Chicago Black Panthers, the police decimated the Los Angeles Panther Party and its headquarters. Our hardy film collective hadn’t even finished our film about them. While civil-rights protests and antiwar demonstrations still raged, the most charismatic, radical elements had been destroyed. Within a year L.A. Newsreel made the decision to disband and take factory jobs to lay the groundwork for a Marxist, proletarian revolution. I went to work at General Motors, in the paint department as chance would have it, but it soon became painfully clear that the working class wasn’t ready to revolt.
By June 1971, my girlfriend and I had agreed to enter the “bourgeois institution” of marriage and had a child. My daughter’s birth gently guided me off the path to violent revolution and onto the road toward domesticity and working within the system.
The 60’s: you had to be there—and I was.
Something’s Happening Here: A Memoir of the 60s Available July, 2017