Text and photos by Ernest Barteldes (except where noted)
“You Say You Want A Revolution”
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building through Sept. 01, 2018
Although I did not live through the era, the 60s have always fascinated me: it was the time of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Summer of Love, Woodstock and many other transformative movements, going from the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, the early days of the LGBTQ movement (which my late friend Jack Nichols was an integral part.
The era, of course, had its dark side with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, President Kennedy and his brother Robert and the election of President Nixon, which would turn out to be one of the most polarizing presidential figures in recent history and of course the military coup that ousted a democratically elected president in Brazil and began a cruel military regime that would remain in power for twenty years. In music, a free concert in Altamont ended in tragedy when a man was murdered by a member of the Hell’s Angels, who were providing security at the event.
One of the most turbulent years of that decade was 1968, the year I came into this world. That was when student protests erupted around the globe that almost cancelled the Olympic Games in Mexico City and also, when Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, as mentioned before, met the end of their lives by an assassin’s bullet.
To commemorate that year, the New York Public Library is holding a multimedia exhibit that highlights the many events of the decade (and also some of the consequences that spilled into the 70s) that looks into all its nuances – the music, the politics, the films and much more.
As you enter the Gottesman Exhibition Hall at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue, a sign warns that some of the material might “not be appropriate” for viewers. They’re not kidding. One of the first exhibits deals with the Summer of Love and its many branches – the Hippies that came together at San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury with a graphic photo of the members of the Cockettes – an underground theater group that often performed in the nude – with uncensored pictures to prove it.
Further down are examples of the several underground anti-government groups that formed during the era, including a detailed record of the abduction and conversion of heiress Patty Hearst to a participant of the Symbionese Liberation Army (recently made into a documentary film on CNN). On two screens there are looping videos of the 1969 Woodstock Concert (again uncensored) and moments from the musicals Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Each section is divided by names of popular songs from the era – the name of the exhibit itself is taken from The Beatles’ Revolution (single from 1968), and other tunes include Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times Are A-Changing” and others. In two listening booths decorated with album covers you can listen to tunes from the era divided into the categories of love, political change and sexual liberation.
I visited the exhibit accompanied by four students from one of my classes at the college where I teach English as a second language, and it was interesting to see the reactions on the faces of these twenty-somethings that had little or no idea about those times. One student was shocked by a random picture taken at Woodstock of a young lady dancing completely in the nude (I think the title was “Nude Girl at Concert”), while others seemed surprised at how things were different five decades ago.
We later sat at the café inside the library and chatted about it. Many expressed surprise at what they saw and heard, and the conversation then went into a different era – the mid-80s and 90s, when AIDS brought a counter-revolution of sorts as a more conservative attitude about general behavior seemed to take hold even as many today enjoy the benefits brought on by the changes the came during the 60s.
But that’s another story.