Were the Sixties Swinging?

March 30, 2013 1:39 pm

It’s not difficult to see why the 1960’s remains as popular as ever amongst this generation, with its rebelling youth, free speech, music, and fashion. Sixties swinging nostalgia is becoming a new phenomenon with many youngsters today, just like Britpop was in the nineties. However, more youngsters are becoming fascinated with the legacy, rather than the reality of the era. It is no surprise that the emergence of this new ‘nostalgic’ youth culture, is taking place in the midst of the worst economic climate many of us youngsters have ever endured. Just like the youth of the sixties, music, fashion, and recreational drug use, provides relief in our attempts to escape the reality of our everyday lives. In our perceptions of sixties culture, we are beginning to realise that we have much more in common with the baby boomer generation, yet, the legacy of the ‘swinging’ sixties has become more ‘Arthurian legend’ than actuality.

The BeatlesThe bright lights of swinging London could soon be forgotten, with a trip to the outhouse in the wintry weather of February 1963. This is how many of those who lived through this decade may recall their experiences of sixties life. The closest many individuals got to the glamour of sixties society, was reading the newspaper while making use of the outhouse facilities. The concern of most people was to keep warm in this bitterly cold winter, and not the recent release of ‘Please Please Me’ by the Beatles. However, the prolonged episodes of snowfall, led to the Beatles exposure to a mass audience due to the fact that many people were snowed in. This is where the fascination began, the ‘fab four’, with their unique appeal, offered a slight glimmer of hope to the youth of the day. Although the Beatles would merely be considered ‘rebellious’ in their approach, other musical acts soon followed lead into the spotlight of sixties youth culture. A more vocal voice of rebellion would be found in the lyrics of the Who, with their off stage antics, and the newly formed Rolling Stones also representing this new wave of youth dissatisfaction with sixties society. The reason for their sudden popularity was because they shared the same aspirations for society as the generation who came to see them, these were attainable role models, from working class backgrounds, unlike the politicians who presided over them.

Sixties music remains so popular because the music industry at the time reflected the struggle of a generation to change their lives and realise their voice. For the first time in history, perhaps, the youth of the day were taking control of their own lives. These working class ‘heroes’ contributed to Britain’s transition, from a post-war society of tradition and poverty, to a cultural phenomenon that became the envy of the world. It was a decade where Britain regained its identity from the shadow of American dominance. The popularity of these British acts led to the export of British culture overseas, most notably seen in the ‘British Invasion’ of American markets in the early sixties. It wasn’t just music that managed to reach these foreign shores, fashion also fuelled the growing appetite abroad for all things British. This is where we get our sense of ‘nostalgia’ for the 1960s, and this is how the decade is perceived by most of us today. A decade of progression, the enlightenment of British society in the twentieth century. It’s easy to remember the good times, but if you look beyond the legacy and the bright lights of the ‘swinging’ scene, the sixties were very different.

the rolling stonesThe economic hardships of the 1950s were still prevalent in many families lives, things we regard as basic necessities, such as television and central heating, were still not widely seen in British homes. For many, watching the Beatles on the television would involve walking to a neighbour’s house, and shopping on Carnaby Street was out of the question for most youngsters. Most of us today would regard a mobile phone, or personal computer as a basic requirement, yet, this is where our sense of ‘nostalgia’ for the sixties way of life stops. Everything the sixties represented has gone, the innovation, seen in the arrival of Concorde, the excess, with its ideas of individual freedom. There is no doubt in my mind that the youthful Rolling Stones of the sixties would have baulked at the prices of tickets at their recent arena tour. Small venues with screaming fans have been replaced by huge arenas that offer a more commercialised experience. Social constraints may have been the cause of the ‘rebellious’ nature of the sixties, yet today, there exists more barriers in society, meaning that role models are no longer attainable to this generation.

As I am writing this article, I realise that 50 years have passed since the notorious winter of early 1963, and as I peer out of my window, I see similar wintry scenes unfolding before me as we face the coldest March since 1987. Yet, while I’m sat here on my laptop computer, with my heating on, I cannot help but have an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia in my attitude towards those who experienced that winter of 1963. Being able to say that I was there, and that I managed to get through it without the assistance of modern advances, watching the Beatles, while gathering at a neighbour’s house. The problem today is, I could not even give you the names of half of the people on my street, and I am quite sure that without central heating, I would probably find it difficult to cope in such conditions.

If the legacy of the sixties is somewhat contradictory to the truth, then so be it. My personal fascination with this decade will always be a passion of mine, and if anything, the emergence of this new ‘nostalgic’ youth culture may help this generation, just as it did me, realise that we have not got it too bad after all. By following the examples of a previous generation, this ‘nostalgic’ revival provides this generation with an escape from the realities of their everyday lives in a time of economic hardship. London may of lost its swing, and Carnaby Street may no longer be the centre of the fashion world, but the ‘swinging’ sixties definitely did happen, and the echoes of that generations determination will always provide solace. So, let us remember the good times, Long live the sixties!

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  • blue owl

    Don’t forget, it was also the year that Sylvia Plath, stuck up north in Yorkshire, all alone and with her children, decided enough was enough and said goodbye to the world. Some say it was the harsh English winter of ’63 that tipped her over the edge and her depressive nature got the better of her.

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