The beat goes on – how women remember the 1960s and 1970s

The sixties in my life were turbulent indeed: moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, transferring from the University of Wisconsin to UCLA, getting married, graduating college, working at my first real job as a technical writer and editor in the aerospace business, having a miscarriage, getting divorced, spending five years looking for the real Mr. Right and trying to get equal pay and status in the corporate world, and remarrying just as the seventies came around. It was the time of the Pill, which I took advantage of, and a new kind of openness and creativity as my WOW Women on Writing blog tour guest Kate Farrell discusses today. I certainly remember those times – especially the music that I still love to listen to in this twenty-first century.

Now just in time for the holidays, Linda Joy Myers, Kate Farrell and Amber Lea Starfire have launched their anthology Times They Were TimesTheyWereChanging_BkCovrA-Changing: Women Remember the ’60s and ’70s. The book is the perfect gift for opening discussions with friends and family members and illustrating what a powerful time the ’60s and ’70s truly were. Forty-eight powerful stories and poems etch in vivid detail breakthrough moments experienced by women during the life-changing era that was the ’60s and ’70s. These women rode the sexual revolution with newfound freedom, struggled for identity in divorce courts and boardrooms, and took political action in street marches. They pushed through the boundaries, trampled the taboos, and felt the pain and joy of new experiences. And finally, here, they tell it like it was. Through this collection of women’s stories, we celebrate the women of the ’60s and ’70s and the importance of their legacy.

Here’s Kate:

The Beat Goes On

One of the wonderful benefits of editing the anthology, Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ‘60s & ‘70s, is the open invitation to relive that creative era, my coming of age time. I was fortunate to arrive on the streets of San Francisco in 1961 as a 20-year-old undergraduate, lured by the pull of North Beach coffee houses, bookstores, and funky bars.

To me, the Beat movement contained a rich tapestry of brawny words and soulful music, haunting, pleading, rebellious. The overriding ambiance was one of self-expression in many forms and genre, stimulating and grass roots. Find a microphone and deliver! In North Beach, you could sign up for open mic readings or pay for professional entertainment with a cover price: heady, intellectual, spontaneous, calling attention to the vapid materialism and dehumanizing racism of mainstream culture.

The echoing words of  the era return to me in fragments, still humming:

  • Poetry in open verse, spoken with passion to drum beats or with a bluesy tenor sax: Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, ruth weiss
  • Song lyrics, sung as a message in folk or protest song, every word distinct, to strums of an acoustical guitar: Baez, Dylan, Guthrie
  • Progressive jazz, blues, telling their stories: one block of Broadway with jazz clubs cheek to jowl, Jazz Workshop, Sugar Hill, El Matador, Basin Street West, with the greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker
  • Political speeches on campus, given at SF State on an outdoor weathered wooden platform or at UC Berkeley from the top of a police car during the Free Speech Movement
  • Conversations lasting all night over espresso and cheap wine or beer at Vesuvio’s, shutting down the bar, walking to after-hours Clown Alley

Yes, we were talkers, ardent, caffeine driven, eager to be hip, to side with the disenfranchised. For most Beats, that meant identifying with Black musicians and supporting the civil rights movement, first funded by the radical left.

I was just a young college student, pursuing a degree in English Literature, who wanted to be hip and played the part as best I could. Wearing the requisite black turtleneck sweaters with tight black stirrup pants or black Danskin tights, I donned my beret and khaki trench coat, belted it tight, and set off for my fog bound campus in the outer Sunset District. Some part of me wondered if I had the right to wear these clothes. Had I lived enough yet? Was I really world-weary?

On campus at SF State, I met one of the Black student leaders, president of the Black Student Union (Negro Student Association then) in my biology class and we became friends. Tall, lanky, with a raspy voice and matted, nappy hair he refused to comb, Art was easy to talk to, share biology notes, and hang out with. I listened to him harangue the student body at outdoor lunchtime rallies, talking about civil rights and the Freedom Riders down South.

It was so natural then to be his friend. Those early ‘60s in the City, racial lines blurred and vanished as if a veil had lifted and we wondered why it had ever existed. Art and I shared our childhood memories, my shame at living in Mississippi for part of my girlhood. Later, Art worked as a cashier at City Lights Books, and I happened by. He introduced me to another friend, saying, “She’s from Mississippi, but she’s all right.” Those few words absolved me from my shame: forgiven publicly in City Lights. It was a moment of salvation.

The Beat culture was a gentle one, though zealous and insistent. It blasted North Beach with the mellow sounds of jazz and poetry and held out the hope that someone was listening. In our anthology, the story, “This Girl Who Is Me,” most closely captures the feeling of this open ended, creative life style.

By ’63 and ’64, the influence of North Beach gave way to the Haight-Ashbury and the young, sometimes affluent, runaways. Though the elder Beat culture looked down with scorn at these non-intellectual youngsters and called them “hippies” in a pejorative way, decried their loud, amplified guitars, and cheap light shows, there was an overlap of music and culture for a short time. As for me, I was much too old to be a “hippie.” I took my stand on the political side of the mid-‘60s.

Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the ‘60s & ‘70s is available in print and as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, She Writes Press, and Indie Bound.

Paperback: 354 pages

Publisher: She Writes Press (Sept. 8, 2013)

ISBN-10: 1938314042

ISBN-13: 978-1938314049

Find out more about the book online:

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TimesTheyWereAChanging

Times They Were A-Changing blog: http://www.timestheywereachanging.com

Twitter: @womensmemoir60s

About the Editors:

Kate FarrellKate Farrell earned a M.A. from UC Berkeley; taught language arts in high schools, colleges, and universities; founded the Word Weaving storytelling project in collaboration with the California Department of Education with a grant from the Zellerbach Family Fund, and published numerous educational materials. She is founder of Wisdom Has a Voice memoir project and edited Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter’s Memories of Mother (2011). Farrell is president of Women’s National Book Association, San Francisco Chapter, a board member of Redwood Branch of the California Writers Club, member of Story Circle Network and National Association of Memoir Writers.

Linda Joy Myers is president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers, and the author of four books: Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness, The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story, and a workbook The Journey of Memoir: The Three Stages of Memoir Writing. Her book Becoming Whole—Writing Your Healing Story was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. A speaker and award-winning author, she co-teaches the program Write Your Memoir in Six Months, and offers editing, coaching, and mentoring for memoir, nonfiction, and fiction. www.namw.org. Visit her blog at http://memoriesandmemoirs.com.

Amber Lea Starfire, whose passion is helping others tell their stories, is the author of Week by Week: A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations (2012) and Not the Mother I Remember, due for release in late 2013. A writing teacher and editor, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and is a member of the California Writers Club in Napa and Santa Rosa, the Story Circle Network, National Association of Memoir Writers, and International Association for Journal Writing. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors. www.writingthroughlife.com

Comments

  1. Kate Farrell says:

    Thank you, Madeline, for hosting Times They Were A-Changing on our WOW! Women on Writing blog tour! Music was such an important part of the early ’60s, the folk songs, protest songs, the great jazz! This post was a pleasure to write, not just because it gave me permission to return to my youth, but to those innocent and hopeful years, before the assassination of JFK that shattered many dreams. Those hopes for change lived on past ’63, but soon became a rough road in trying to achieve them.

    Most of the stories and poems in the anthology tell of those later times. The first story in the anthology, “Proud Spinster,” begins in the early ’60s, in Greenwich Village, and tells of the author’s (Patricia Vestal) creative urge to produce experimental plays off-Boardway and write for the Village Voice.

    With the increasing popularity of memoir and the opportunity for self-publishing and blogging, are we returning to those beat days of grassroots self-expression?

  2. Madeline Sharples says:

    You are very welcome, Kate. It’s fun reminiscing about the 1960s and 1970s. I definitely think we are returning. Telling our life stories boldly and openly is a great incentive. Good luck with your book.

  3. Thank you again for hosting, Madeline! I for one am enjoying the ways expressing ourselves has evolved with modern-day technology and social media, stemming from its origins in the ’60s and ’70s. I also think this book is a great study in writing poetry and essays in a detailed, yet, succinct way.

    • Kate Farrell says:

      Thanks to you, Renee! All three of us editors are very pleased with each and every spot along the way. Never thought of our book as a good example of personal narrative and focused poetry. That’s quite a compliment.

  4. Kate, even though I saw your article before it was posted, I enjoyed reading it again today as I check in from Mexico where I am enjoying my first true vacation in several years. Reading your story, I am reminded once again of how different all our experiences were of those times and how just a few years made a difference in our perspectives. I loved reading the variety of stories during the selection and editing process for Times They Were A-Changing, and I am enjoying the continuing discussion, learning more from each persona along the way. And Kate, I envy your experience of those beat years, before anti-intellectualism took hold in our culture!

    Madeline, thank you for hosting us during our blog tour and Renee for organizing it.

    • Kate Farrell says:

      Hi Amber,
      Thanks for checking in on your first real vacation in so long! It’s true that those decades provided so many opportunities for experimentation, bright facets of the times that shifted so quickly into new patterns of focus. The beat years were exciting and we learned so much from each other.

      Thanks, Madeline, for asking us to present that early time of ’60s counterculture: of artists, poets, soulful music, blues, jazz, and folksong. Working on the anthology has been nourishing in many ways. I hope that our readers will find it so.

  5. Madeline Sharples says:

    Renee, it is my pleasure to host the editors of this wonderful anthology. Thanks for asking me to participate in their WOW Women on Writing blog tour.
    And thank you Amber and Kate for your reflections on the 60s and 70s – a time I was very much a part of. Yes, all our experiences are very different.

  6. Thank you, Madeline, for reminding me about the opening salvos of the 60s, the transition from beat to hip, and the blend of promise stirred daily like honey into the tea of creativity. I have been focused on the end of the decade and the early 70s in my memory-tapping, research and writing, with my novel about 1968 Berkeley and Paris, A Time to Cast Away Stones, and with my 1969 memoir, “My People’s Park,” for this wonderful anthology. I was 13-14 in 1961, the daughter of conservative Republicans and yet already sneaking around with “the gang” (we actually called ourselves that, even in an upper middle class neighborhood!) and questioning my parents’ values in noisy, passionate evening battles. In some ways, a painful time – ignored in my writing – but what better source for drama? Thank you for a fascinating and instructive blogpost!

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