In 1969, I was a sixteen year old and like all teenagers, listened to a lot of music. For me, it was Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel as well as Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Rolling Stones.
My current WIP, Under The Bed, is set in 1969 in NYC, a year that began with the inauguration of Nixon as President. 1969 fell in the shadow of the previous year, which saw the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests, and the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr.and Robert Kennedy.The ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago was another scene of protest and riots.
Writing the Sounds of Silence, and Changing Times
Writers try to include most of the senses in any piece of work , but sound is one that can be overlooked. We do the same in normal life, often accepting background noise until it becomes annoying and then we’re surprised by how good it feels when it stops.
Music is something altogether different. Within a few bars of the song it has the power to carry you back in time, and evoke an emotion. Dependant on the music and the year, it can convey the popular culture of the day. In the case of the 1960’s it was often making a political statement.
Woodstock -August 18th 1969
The biggest music event of 1969 in the USA, was Woodstock. One of the the first big music concerts, it defined an era in its anti-establishment ambience and brought together an incredible collection of musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin.The backdrop of anti -Vietnam War sentiment was prevalent, epitomised by Hendrix own iconic version of the Star Spangled Banner.(FYI Hendrix himself had served in Vietnam in the 101st Airborne). Here’s a 1 minute excerpt from an interview with Hendrix talking about his rendition.
Isle of Wight – August 30th 1969
The UK equivalent of Woodstock in 1969 was the first Isle of Wight Music Festival.Personally it was a turning point, where I changed from being a halfhearted teenybopper to a definitely wannabe hippie. Bear in mind, at sixteen, I was still living at home and going to school, so I was hardly turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. But the experience of the Isle of Wight was truly amazing, not only from the perspective of having music 24/7 – big names like The Who and Bob Dylan – but I’d never been exposed to such an “anything goes” atmosphere.This is a great 2 minute home movie which captures the feeling.
I came back from the festival saying things like “it was really too much,man” (i.e. really great) and started hanging out with a completely different crowd. I felt I’d found myself, and other kindred spirits. We developed into a close circle of friends who hung out and shared all kinds of new experiences in the following five years.
Music. It all came down to the music, which in that era at least, was a political statement. I suspect teenagers of all generations feel the same when they take a stand, and feel different.
The way we listen to music has changed dramatically since 1969, when it was a much more social event, and music far less readily available. Who remembers going to their local record store and using the headphones in a sound booth to check out whether or not to buy an album? OK, I’m dating myself, but you get the point. We take music and all kinds of sounds, and the way we receive them today, for granted. However we listen, the right music at the right time strikes a chord, and captures the emotions we have as individuals. As writers, in using music in our work, we can evoke an era and/or capture the heart of our characters.
Over to you. What part does music play in your work? What were you listening to in 1969? If you weren’t old enough to remember, then what were your key teenage years, and what part did music play? Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media.
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