1969: Does Music Capture the Heart of an Era?

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.

Music vinyl covers from the sixties

Music vinyl covers from the sixties (Photo credit: Falcon Writing)

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

English: This photo was taken near the Woodsto...

English: This photo was taken near the Woodstock music festival on August 18, 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP

Simon and Garfunkel Mrs Robinson UK EP (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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And it’s 1, 2, 3, What Are We Writing For? (orig. post Jan 20th)

And it’s 1, 2, 3, What Are We Writing For?

 I’ve been taking a poetry class with Catherine Smith (see Links page), called Pushing the Boundaries. I wanted to get to know one of the characters better in my new novel Under the Bed – she’s a 25 year-old poet in the East Village in 1969. A not very good poet, so I figured she wouldn’t be too hard for me to emulate. I’ve also been a bit poetry phobic so I thought it would kill two birds with one stone. I’ve loved learning the value of brevity, which can only be a good thing for a prose writer.

This week we did a Ghazal, which comes from a musical tradition of Urdu poetry, going back to the 14th century. A ghazal is made up of several couplets, which traditionally would have been set to music, sung and performed. When sung, the music provides an interlude for the audience between each couplet allowing them to resonate. An important aspect of the couplet is that each should stand on its own as an aphorism. The couplets have been compared to a ‘stone from a necklace’, each with a value of its own. Once put together it’s part of a whole. I’ve included here the ghazal I wrote as “Izzie”.


Ghazal:  When is a War not a War?

By “Izzie” 1969


No poem or painting is finished without our eyes to see.

We decide what it means. Dare to say what we see.


Are the mix of hues and colors still on the canvas

when they’re left in a darkened room, too dark to see?


Have all the colors in the world disappeared when

the sun is blazing white, so bright we cannot see?


Where have the other colors run to, in a land where sun burns

crimson, earth and rivers reflect blood red for all to see?


What is more real? What we think we see, what we’re told

to think, or what is shot in front of the whole world to see?


TV images of the War up Close – visual bombardment more real

than any reality in the commonplace we live and see.


Izzie’s paintings are finished by the viewer’s eyes. Can we

finish the War by what we dare to think and say and see?



The ghazal I’ve written asks more questions than I answer, which is symptomatic of the times (1969) and how a 25 yr. might have viewed them. By coincidence, after I’d written the ghazal, I came across a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin on twitter this week, which I thought was apropos:

“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live … “


In the critique part of Catherine’s poetry class, I talked about the fact that the Vietnam War was really the first war recorded live on television. We also referenced the iconic satirical protest song ‘Fixing To Die’ by Country Joe McDonald *

The refrain says it all: –


And it’s 1,2,3, what are we fighting for,

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn

The next stop is Vietnam,

And it 5,6,7 open up the pearly gates,

There ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee we’re all gonna die


To most people in the UK ‘during the war’ refers to WWII. When I first went to live in San Francisco in the early 80s, when people talked about ‘the war’ everyone was referring to Vietnam. I think it’s hard for people in the UK to fully understand the enormity of the effect the Vietnam War had on an entire generation of Americans.


So in the spirit of my ghazal, mixed with Country Joe’s humor,  I’m going to leave you with the question:


What are we writing for?


Click on Comments at the bottom of this post and let me know.


* Here’s a link to Country Joe’s performance of ‘Fixing to Die’ at Woodstock, August 1969.

Country Joe @ Woodstock




Sun, 22 Jan 2012 02:34:23

what are we writing for? To stay alive, to be alive, to be able to say all the things we can’t speak aloud ourselves and to see how all these things look through other people’s eyes.


Sun, 22 Jan 2012 03:02:07

Thanks for getting the ball rolling Jess. I have to agree with you, especially the part about seeing how things look through other people’s eyes. To actually get inside their minds is pretty amazing. I think it helps us understand other peoples motivation too.

Catherine Smith

Sun, 22 Jan 2012 04:48:54

I agree with both of you – and writing reminds me I want to keep asking questions.I want to find out what I belive, what is important to me. I don’t always find the answers, but asking the questions still feels essential. Love your blog, Kathy! 😉


Sun, 22 Jan 2012 08:05:10

Thanks Catherine. And you’re right The questions always take the lead.



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