What was the 1960s about?

As I noted in my last post, I have been binge watching Mad Men. In that context, I caught an old episode of Charlie Rose (www.charlerose.com) wherein he was interviewing some of the cast and the creator of the series, Matthew Weiner. On the show, Mr. Weiner characterized the 60s as an underserved decade.

Hello!!? I have thought this for a long time. Maybe it’s selfish because I was born in the 60s. But maybe it’s because, as Mr. Weiner commented, the 1960s has a bit of an identity crises. I would characterize it as being caught between the Mom’s-smiling-it must-be-fine 1950s and the Do-your-own-thing 1970s. What a place to be! I know I feel that my experience of the decade was a juxtaposition of 50s conservatism and 70s radicalism.


And, I hated those things from the 1950s that were still hanging around. The funky 1950 décor colors (pink/black and green/black bathrooms), not to mention the frieze fabric on the sofas and the metal-trimmed Formica kitchen tables.

Side bar: If you don’t know what frieze is, it’s a nylon loopy fabric where the loops are at different heights to make a pattern (sort of like a sculptured carpet—also popular at the time). There is a good representative picture of the fabric at http://www.textilefabric.com/companion/data/fabrics/frieze2_265.html.

However, this might have actually been 1960s décor. I just know that I always viewed it as old fashioned and was happy when we moved into the 1970s and the avocado, rust, gold color scheme took over my house. I think that’s pretty normal for a child to want to think that the furniture you had as a baby was old-fashioned..

But, do I really know the 1960s? I mean, you know how it goes, you kind of slowly became aware of life. First it was about Mom and the crib (which you don’t really remember) and then somewhere in there, you became familiar with your house, the neighborhood, your car, etc. Then your world expands to include the places you visit frequently (church, relative’s houses, grocery store, department store). Somewhere along the way, you remember the route to the store and on it goes.

Things might happen to impact this. I remember there was a guy killing college students in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, nearby, and I knew one of the bodies was found off a road that I thought I recognized. But, it took me awhile to figure out that the road was on our route to the department store.

I don’t know how I found out the information because Mom would have kept it from me, as I was only about 6 or 7 years old–Google John Norman Collins for more info on these murders.

The point is: when did I start paying attention to the colors in my house or what was trendy in décor enough to remember it 40+ years later. I know that I was familiar with the frieze couch material early on. The couch and chairs at my one Grandparent’s house had the same material and I would trace my finger over the short loopy parts like a car on a road when I was bored. And I was bored a lot at their house (and mine for that matter). But, how much do I really know about the icons of the 1960s because I just turned 7 more than half way through 1969.

It takes tragic things, like murders, to be able to put dates on things in your past sometimes, especially when you are this young. But, if you can’t understand a concept like protesting, you might just dismiss it from your mind and forget forever that it even happened. Generally I don’t remember much of the news first hand except big things, like all the space flights.

But, those murders made the road name important. Boredom made upholstery fabric memorable from sheer repetition of looking at it. But I was definitely not aware enough at the time to be able to go back and piece together the essence of a decade?  And maybe even my feel for home trends for the decade is not representative of other people’s experience of it. Just because my Mom picked out curtains for the kitchen with fruit on them, doesn’t mean it was popular.

I’m not sure Mad Men has helped me understand the decade any more than I did before. I know there were parts of the ‘established’ way of doing things that people fought to change. But was the decade conservative or radical? Was it a time of change or did we have to wait for the 70s for significant change? Girls quit having to wear dresses to school. Was that meaningful? All things for me to think about in the context of writing my memoir.


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