Coming Of Age in 1969

It may have been "twenty years ago today,
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,"

But 45 years ago today, the band was in Washington D.C. marching in the presidential inauguration parade of Richard M. Nixon.

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I had turned eighteen just a few days earlier, a senior in high school, and playing drums in an all-city marching band from Tulsa. I expected to be wide-eyed with wonder at being in the Nation's capital, and playing "Oklahoma!" for our newly-elected president. What grabbed my attention though and held me spellbound were the anti-war, anti-establishment protests dominating the scene.

It is not hyperbole to say that it all oozed in to my psyche. In retrospect it is not surprising either. Just a few days before the inauguration, I had registered for the draft (the Selective Service). Ironically, I could not register to vote, because, although at that time an eighteen year-old was old enough for armed service, he was not ______________ enough (fill in the blank: mature, intelligent, responsible, informed, serious-minded, etc.) to vote. Already at just eighteen that kind of stuff became a seed of suspicion toward the "establishment" for me. Of course the reigning zeitgeist made for very fertile ground for those varieties of seeds. 

In the months before all of this, my "life" as a drummer had taken me to Detroit, Montreal, Quebec and New York City where protests and riots were everywhere. A Time magazine reporter writing about the era said, "America seems to be verging toward a national nervous breakdown."

I can remember on one of those trips sneaking out of the hotel where our group was staying in NYC and going to Greenwich Village to hang out in the music clubs, hoping to see the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and so on. I didn't, but the experience was heady; in a drug-free way (at least for me).

1969 still seems larger than life to me: The Jets (with Joe Namath) won the Super Bowl, The Beatles gave their last live performance (on the roof of the Abbey Road Studios)*, the secret bombing of Cambodia, student takeover at Harvard, The Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, July 8 the first withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, Easy Rider released, Edward Kennedy drives off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing Mary Jo Kopechne, The first man of the moon, the Manson "family" killed actress Sharon Tate who was eight months pregnant with Roman Polanski's child, Woodstock: 3 days of Peace and Music, The Brady Bunch premiered, the Amazing Mets won the World Series, Sesame Street made its debut on PBS, the first draft lottery since WWII was held.

Not that it ranks with these noteworthy events, but in May of 1969, I graduated from high school and in the Fall started school at Oklahoma Baptist University. Why OBU? Apparently they had a dearth of drummers and offered me a percussion scholarship.

At OBU, I was a part of the weirdly-worldly (not an official designation, in fact, I just now made that up). It wasn't hard to qualify for this label; OBU at the time was in a bit of a bubble: intentionally and strategically, protected from the rising counterculture. I guess it was because I had the privilege of travel and experience, plus the overrated mystique of being a drummer in a rock and roll band, or maybe it was all in my head. I had already been a part of a few minor protests and moratoriums: seeking the change of the voting age from 21 to 18, some anti-war stuff, etc.

There was one though: it seemed profound at the time. 

The Kent State shootings occurred at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. The Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds on unarmed college students on Monday, May 4, 1970, killing four students and wounding nine others.

As a result, a student protests were organized across the country. Hundreds of universities cancelled classes and locked down buildings. I was proud to be a part of the event at OBU. But as we sat through the day and overnight on the OBU Oval, wearing black arm bands, discussing the state of our country and world, and wondering whether we could make a difference, it all seemed a little silly and isolated. Maybe we did make some difference though. At least I was different. I wanted to DO something. I still do.

Don't skip this part. Back then, no doubt I had delusions of importance and occasional altruism. The fact is I was pretty self-absorbed; oh, not in a Justin Bieber brand of narcissism kind of way, but in a way that dictates at least this: for all of those who knew me back then, please forgive me. Maybe the Washington Elite was right--maybe I was too stupid to vote at 18. The dean of students who encouraged me not to return to OBU for my sophomore year certainly would agree with that.

My intent here is not to romanticize those days, but if I have, well... After all this was my first Coming-of-Age. It should be a bit romantic, right?


*Have you heard the rumor? Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are re-uniting at the Grammy Awards this year.

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Was I At Woodstock

1969: A man on the moon, the amazing Mets, Nixon in the White House, Woodstock, and the year I graduated from Will Rogers High in Tulsa, Oklahoma.(Not to say my graduation was of historical significance; just establishing time and place.)

A few years ago marketers were leveraging the 40th anniversary of 1969 with special edition books, album reissues, and another movie: “Taking Woodstock: A Generation Began in His Backyard.”

Apparently those who didn’t come of age in this era have grown weary of hearing about it all; especially Woodstock.

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I was not at Woodstock: the event, but was immersed in the culture of it all, in a pseudo-hippie sort of way. That is to say, I did have all that was de rigueur of the persona: tattered jeans, with their own story if I might add (made that way by hard wear, not the fictional, faux-worn jeans stacked on department store shelves these days), the beads and leather bands, even the Volkswagen Bus. However, fear and good old-fashioned Southern Baptist guilt kept me safely removed from the drugs and free love (to a large degree).

One credo of the day was, “Don’t trust anyone over 40!” Here I am at 62 and my unspoken credo is now, “Don’t trust anyone under 40!” 

A word to those under 40: can you allow us geezers just a few more months of nostalgia? After all, if “they” are to be believed, Woodstock and all was my generation's “defining moment.”

I like to sail. One of the oldest and most trusted navigational methods is called dead reckoning. This is where you take what is called a fix on a known, determined location. Then using a watch and compass you can estimate where you are at any time by advancing that position.

It works great if you were correct about your original fix (or defining moment), and if you’ve reckoned your time, direction, and speed correctly.

No doubt those of us at a certain age remember those days better than they were. You will probably do the same with your wonder years. And, if I’m not misunderstanding the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, there is a danger is this exercise:

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. Ecclesiastes 7:10 NIV.

So in an attempt to avoid that pitfall, but wanting to define my defining moment, here’s what the summer of ’69 did for me. I did learn to question authority (a key component of the culture), and in doing so, I worked out my own faith and worldview.

Enough reminiscing for now, because in the sage advice of the namesake of my alma mater:

"Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today." – Will Rogers