From the mid 1950’s music moved out doors, and into big auditoriums, and dark dance halls, with bubbling lights, and electric music played through amplifiers, the music was a coming together of blues and country western music, called Rock and Roll, starting with Elvis Presley. It was youth who listened and followed this music, and for the first time there was a form of dress that was prevalent among the youth, this form of dress was to become one of the major parts of the youth culture.
The blues music had its roughness smoothed over, to create Rock and roll, but musicians, began to try and emulate the true blues men, and some began trying to infuse the music with some features of jazz. At the same time the folk tradition and the protest tradition grew with the music and poetry of people like the Guthrie’s and Pete Seeger, leading to such performers as Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, who brought poetry, and Gandhi’s idea of peaceful protest together, especially after American joined the war first in Korea and then in Vietnam. At the same time Martin Luther King, also using Gandhi’s ideas started the civil disobedience campaign, so that Afro Americans could get equal rights in America. At the same time the youth started to look at poets of the earlier beat style, so Cassidy, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Fellingetty and company started to share the stage at concerts, and protest meetings with the rock performers. Artist like Rothko and Andy Warhol, became very popular, and started to create work that fitted into the culture, Warhol even co-founding the group, The Velvet underground. At the same time graffiti art began to grow and also became a major part of the pop culture.
As the culture grew, so there was increased friction in society, which lead to an underrepresented generation gap, with many youths rejecting their parents and most of what they stood for, and moving away from home into communes. These communes were free and easy, with much sharing and few rules, which included sexual freedom as well. These movements all came together in a series of great art and music concerts. Some were banned by state authorities, but went ahead as meetings of like minded people, with only acoustic music, and others turned into pitched battles as the people attending were attacked by state troupers. By the time Woodstock came around, there was a huge debate, about whether the concert should be aloud to continue, and whether it would be peaceful. When it happened and the interstate Highway had to be closed and the army called in to give medical help, the Newspapers were all calling it a national disaster, but it happened and was peaceful, and one of the great monuments to the youth culture. When the film was made the director edited in such a way as to make it look better than it actually was, and so made a directors remake to show how it actually was.
Besides dress, drugs played an increasing part in the culture, leading to the death of some of the great performers and poets, they also lead to some of the more extreme violence that began to plague the movement and culture, ending with the low point of the Altamont concert given by the Rolling Stones, who chose the Hells Angels motorbiking club to run their security rather than the police. Many were injured, and there were a lot of deaths reported. After this in the early 70’s things became increasingly commercial, and after the age of voting and getting a drivers licence was dropped, and the war in Vietnam stopped, the culture and movement slowly waned, and became less important.
Next time, I will look at some of the characters that made up this interesting and very powerful cultural movement.