Baby Boomers, Sonny Bono, LBJ, Day-Glo And Idealism: Remnants Of The Sixties From A Man Who Never Left

To the Editor:

This is not exactly intended to be a letter to the editor as much as an apology from my generation to yours. I was channel surfing the other day when I came across Peter Max on a home shopping network. For non-history majors, Max was an ad man who worked up some graphics and cashed in during the mind-expanding 1960s. He made a big splash, but those of us who were really in the water knew that Peter never even got wet. He was to ’60s art what Sonny Bono was to ’60s music. I almost didn’t recognize Peter in his newest incarnation. He was dressed like a vinyl siding salesman but Max wasn’t hawking siding, he was selling cheesy posters of his work. It saddened me to think that younger generations might be watching this display and come away with the impression that the ’60s were only about day-glo paint, bell bottom pants and exploiting free market capitalism. One universal constant is that every generation thinks their parents are wrong. We boomers were no exception. It was almost a disservice to us that our parents were wrong on some major points like the environment and the War in Vietnam. As a result, we came to believe that they were wrong about everything. We set about dismantling the existing order with full intent of building back a new, more perfect one. Tearing down the old society turned out to be easier than anybody expected. With 70 million in our ranks, all we needed to do was apply pressure and wait. We broke open the old social order like a starfish cracks open an oyster. However, in the words of our old arch enemy, Lyndon Johnson, “Any jackass can kick down a barn.” Building back a new society turned out to be more difficult than it appeared as we looked out through our rose-colored granny glasses. As it turned out, our parents were right about some major issues. They were right about drugs. Here we are, 35 years later, still trying to get that genie back in the bottle. They were right about discipline in school. We boomers had to deal with duck and cover drills and the occasional ruler across the knuckles, but few of us can honestly say that today’s public schools are better. Still, I am a product of the ’60s and proud of it. As a generation, we demanded a lot from ourselves. Our arts needed to be more than simple entertainment; they had to show us a better way to live. We wore out our best spokesmen like John Lennon and Bob Dylan with constant demands that they tell us more and show us more. Mistakes were made, but in our hearts we wanted to make the world a better place. I have never entirely given up my ’60s idealism for the simple reason that I haven’t found anything to replace it with. I still believe the world can be a better place, but I’m no longer sure that my generation has the power to make it so. We need your help. It would be a shame if the only legacy of the ’60s generation is tie-dye, lava lamps and a few faded day-glow posters.

David Malcolm Rose

David Malcolm Rose builds museum quality, photorealistic scale models of roadside vernacular architecture and the infrastructure of the Blues. The abandoned gas stations, tourist courts and hamburger stands along the back roads of America as well as the juke joints, shotgun shack, and small-time agricultural buildings of the Mississippi Delta are all inspiration for his miniature art.(courtesy of