BLISS it was to be alive in the 1960s.
I know because I was there, "there', specifically, being Musselburgh, whose full contribution to that fabled decade has yet to be fully acknowledged. When I was not in the great outdoors pretending to be Jimmy Johnstone I was in my room trying to figure out what Dylan was going on about in Desolation Row. My hair was shoulder length, my shirts tie-dyed and my jeans couldn't have been more distressed if they'd been bought secondhand from Neil Young.
Time's passage has done nothing to dim the sense that my generation, as defined by The Who, never had it so good. Anyone who doubted it simply had to turn on the radio or television where transformative sounds poured forth like coins out of a fruit machine. Every Thursday evening the streets emptied and the nation's youth gathered in smoke-filled living-rooms to watch Top of the Pops. It was the defining programme of the age, a glimpse of what life was like beyond one's uptight bailiwick.
Even now I meet old chums who would have died happy if they could have appeared on it. Invariably, there were bands – or groups as we called them then – miming as if their lives depended upon, surrounded by gyrating, mini-skirted girls on the foothills of hysteria. This was Beatlemania as regulated by Lord Reith. No one fainted during TOTP, nor were any bottles thrown or blows landed. It was all good, clean, innocent fun.
Or so we supposed. Tonight ITV is screening a documentary about Sir Jimmy Savile, the DJ who launched TOTP, in which several women claim he sexually abused them when they were children. If their allegations are accepted, Savile's reputation will surely suffer the same fate as those of Gary Glitter and Jonathan King, two other pop-stars who at one time seemed assured of at least an appreciative footnote in the history books but who are now reviled and removed from sight like the statues of despots.
Thus the Sixties are undergoing a belated and overdue revaluation as we learn more about what actually happened then as opposed to the carefully manufactured images that were put before us. There is, for instance, Pete Townshend's soon-to-be published memoir, early extracts from which refer in passing to the easy availability of girls who, it seems, were one of the perks of the job. Townshend's behaviour, however, is restrained in comparison to that of his heroes, the Rolling Stones, who swapped girlfriends as if they were marbles. The respect in which these countless girls were held may be gauged by Keith Richard's repeated reference to them in his autobiography as "bitches".
But while obviously appalling, such attitudes must be seen in context. Another phenomenon of the Sixties was the groupie who was a girl, usually in her teens, whose express aim was to have sex with someone famous. Lead singers were the top prize; drummers the consolation. Indeed, some groupies became famous – if that's the correct word – in their own right. Also, by the late Sixties, there was a sub-group of groupies, known to musicians as "baby groupies", who started going back stage when they were 14 and who were adept at looking older than their years.
Undoubtedly there was, as Thunderclap Newman sang, something in the air. But it would be misleading to assume that sex was ubiquitous. The results of a 1965 survey of sexual habits of 15 to 19-year-olds showed that most young people were very shy about discussing such matters. Moreover, of 475 girls aged between 15 and 17, just 29 said they had experienced sex once. And while it's true that boys were more sexually active, the overall conclusion of the report's authors was that "any idea of teenagers being generally promiscuous was quite incorrect".
What this suggests is that the Sixties' reputation for licentiousness is somewhat ill-founded and exaggerated and rests upon the energetic, some might say habitual, activity of few high-profile individuals, who could no more do without sex than they could breathing. In Musselburgh, dare I personally say it, things were done rather differently.
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