With my 50-year high school class reunion a recent memory, 1965 has been on my mind a lot. Heavier, somewhat, this Labor Day Weekend. I’m guessing that’s because it was around then a half-century ago that I sadly left the Jersey shore where I worked as a waitress that summer to return home to what we graduates were told would be the “real world.” That also was the summer our world changed forever.
I can’t help myself, but just the thought of that year brings a delightful ear worm: Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch, you know that I love you … still my favorite song. In daydreams I’m back in 1965:
- Wearing khaki jeans, a madras shirt and no shoes walking to a La Salle fraternity house in Ocean City.
- Doing The Jerk at Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat’s dances at OC.
- Getting down to Junior Walker and the All Stars’ Shotgun and other Motown hits at the rec center in my PA hometown.
- Cha-cha-ing in long lines to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tracks of My Tears at YMCA dances.
- Setting my hair in empty orange juice cans to make it poufy.
- Playing 45 rpm records on a small turntable in my bedroom.
- Hanging out with my friends at a popular drive-in, where cones and cokes cost 10 cents.
- Sharing gossip with a girlfriend on our walks home from school on sidewalks lined with modest post-World War II houses.
Although I choose to reminisce about good senior year memories, also there was Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News reporting on the growing number of American deaths in Vietnam, the violent civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, street riots in Watts and—thank you, Lyndon Johnson—the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid, and the Voting Rights Act.
No wonder those memories are so tightly wrapped up in the music:
Published this year, Andrew Grant Jackson’s book 1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music chronicles songs from the Stones to Sinatra and Byrds to Beatles, as well as pivotal events from civil rights marches in America to the controversial war in Southeast Asia. Jackson skillfully relates how those events influenced music, such as Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions’ People Get Ready, Bob Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Marley & the Wailers’ One Love and The Animals’ We’ve Gotta Get out of This Place.
Recollections of just that summer as older teens at the beach capture the essence of 1965 as a tipping point. Hints of the innocent 1950s still lingered in 1965. Far from angels, we smoked Salems or Newports and drank beer or cheap wine if we could get it. We did not get high on marijuana or codeine from cough medicine, even though we knew that was the in thing in places like Greenwich Village and LA, and would be everywhere soon. The first Baby Boomers, we were the last not pressured or tempted to do drugs, whether we wanted to or not. Coffee houses were popping up, and truthfully, coffee ice cream and blueberry pie late at night at the Chatterbox was my preferred stimulant back then.
Through our transistors and the plastic clock radio in our boarding house we listened to Sonny and Cher’s I Got You, Babe; the Supremes’ Stop! In the Name of Love, The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction and The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself. And, with increasing airplay, often continuously, Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. … And you tell me over and over and over again, my friend, ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
As predicted, the real world smacked us soon and hard. One of the first members of our class to die was a soldier shot in Vietnam. An aspiring nurse who hung out with us at the shore lost her young life in a car crash. A classmate took his own life. Then another. Tragedies multiplied. By the time we gathered for our 50th last month, 88 of our 605-member graduating class were dead.
We did not destruct, however. And neither did our world, which in many ways is far better than it was in 1965 because of those revolutions. Our Class of ’65 boasts numerous successes and accomplishments, which didn’t come up much at our reunion. By now, we have outgrown our pretenses and we cherish our memories and friendships, happy to still be here and to have survived our adversities.
If you graduated from high school in 1965, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, I’m sorry.