THE SUMMER OF ’69 – Rich Paschall

The Golden Anniversary, by Rich Paschall

There is no doubt in my cluttered mind that 1969 was the most memorable year of my life. None. Of all of the events that have happened through the years, I can not say that any other years stands out like this one.

When you are a Senior in high school and people tell you to enjoy it because these late high school, early college (if you go to college) years are the best years of your life, it is hard for you to believe.

Surely better times will come along, you think. You cling to that belief for many years. Then you realize something.

The years around your high school graduation may, in fact, have been the best years of your life. They are the touchstone. They are the yardstick by which all future events are measured. They contain the moments you treasure, and they are locked away in your memory vault for all time. They are the springboard that launched you into adulthood.

My first high school closed and I went to another for one year. Our class play is the extracurricular activity that introduced me to many of my classmates. Most seniors joined the spring musical which was South Pacific. It was a great experience as a large cast worked together at a common goal. It turned out well.

I’m in this group, just left of center.

Meanwhile, a series of astounding events filled the spring and summer of ’69. In April the convicted assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, was sentenced to the death penalty in California, but the state would eliminate the death penalty and he would never be executed. He is still incarcerated and is now 75 years old.

In May Apollo 10 took off for the moon. It was just a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11. On July 20th the world watched in wonder as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. President Kennedy had promised the nation in May of 1961 we could accomplish this by the end of the 1960s, although he did not live to see it himself.

A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft, while other technicians look on from the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 1969. (NASA)

Also in May, The Who introduced their”rock opera,” Tommy. It was an album of rock songs that told the story of that “deaf, dumb. and blind kid” who “plays a mean pinball.” The “Pinball Wizard” may not have been the first rock opera, but it was the first album to call itself that. Others have followed to varying degrees of success.

The Beatles were still hitting the top of the charts. In May “Get Back” would reach number one. The song would later turn up on the “Let It Be” album. Who knew we were nearing the end of an era that in many ways never ended? In September The Beatles released Abbey Road.

Abbey Road

In ’69 I went to the movies a little more often than I do now. Midnight Cowboy came out in May and I recall seeing it in the theater. It was likely then that I first took notice of the Harry Nilsson song, “Everybody’s Talkin’.” It became a favorite. After the movie came out, the song received a lot of radio play.

In June the Stonewall riots took place outside a Greenwich Village, New York City gay bar. A confrontation between police and activists turned ugly over a few days period. Many say it led to the modern gay rights movements. The following year the first gay pride parades were held in several cities, including Chicago. I can not say that I was aware of any of this at the time. However, Stonewall marked an important moment in LGBT history in this country.

On two days in August, The Charles Manson “Family” killed 8 people in murders that would shock the nation. The gruesome details that came out over time were almost too horrifying to be believed. Manson was sentenced to death for his role in the killings, but, like Sirhan Sirhan, his sentence was changed to life in prison when California did away with the death penalty. Manson died in prison in 2017 at the age of 83.

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration

In August it may not have been a half million people who went down to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm 43 miles from Woodstock, New York, but the crowd was certainly in the hundreds of thousands for the “3 days of peace and music.” Perhaps a half million said they were there. Over the festival, 32 acts performed, sometimes in the rain, while organizers proved rather unprepared for the massive event.

I can not say I knew much about Woodstock in 1969. The film, the music and the many videos that have turned up taught us about the event. It meant little to some of us back home in the Midwest at the time it was happening. The 1970 documentary of the festival won an Academy Award. Joni Mitchell wrote a popular song that was a big hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young who played at the festival. Mitchell had turned it down.

The big news in Chicago that summer for baseball fans was the miracle collapse of the Chicago Cubs. On August 14th the Mets were nine games behind the Cubs in the standings and it looked like the long pennant drought for the northsiders was about to end. Then September happened. The Cubs lost 17 of 25 and the Mets got hot. They went on to win the World Series and the Cubs did not make it to the Fall Classic until 2016.

Sources include 1969: An eventful summer, August 9, 2009.

See also: This Magic Moment, The Golden Age Of Rock Turns 50, 1969, SERENDIPITY,, 2/1/2019.
Good Old Rock ‘N Roll, One Hit Wonders of 1969, SERENDIPITY,, 3/10/2019.

Categories: Culture, History, Rich Paschall

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16 replies

  1. Reblogged this on rjptalk and commented:

    The big events of 1969, 50 years on. Read and share. Be sure to click on “View original post” at the bottom to head over to SERENDIPITY for the rest of the article, more pics and music.


  2. 1969 was a good year for us too. Our second son (third child) was born.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AS you obviously already know, that was also MY best year. It was the year I graduated college — officially. I was late with turning in one exam because I was in the hospital having my spine fused — so I should have graduated in 67, but I was laid up for about a year and turned in that one stupid paper when I could finally sit (I was wearing a full body cast and couldn’t sit … I was like a giant paperweight). These days, with computers, I could I talked it into the machine and graduated two years earlier, but they hadn’t invented it yet.

    But 69? What a year. Everything good happened at once and of course, my son was born. Which was very cool because at that age, being a mother was actually FUN. No one was thinking about getting old or planning for retirement. Mostly, we were trying out the latest versions of LSD and mescaline. And then, there were the drinkers who were just learning the pleasures of old Scotch and classic Bourbon. We had hardly gotten old enough to enjoy being grown up and those of us who were working were starting our first jobs. The mothers were having first babies. We’d start work a couple of years later and I personally think, if you can manage it, having babies young is better for the kids and the moms.

    They walked on the moon and the Mets won the series and there was Haight-Ashbury and Woodstock and the Beatles. No one had heart conditions and I was young enough to pretend my spine wasn’t a mess. We didn’t know the terrors that lay down the road. We were sure we’d end war and bring peace by singing folk songs and wearing bell-bottoms and fringes on our shirts.

    These really WERE the days.

    They didn’t last long and though we brought down Nixon, it turned out war never ends and all we managed to do, other than invent Earth Day, was make denim a fashion fabric. But we sure did have an awful lot of fun!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Such an interesting look back at that year!

    Liked by 2 people

      • Rich, it was a monumental year in so many ways. For a graduating High School student, it must have been fantastic. How could you top it?
        I covered most of the news events you mentioned. I was still a newbie newsie at ABC Network News. We seemed to have legit “Breaking News” every day. A constant roller coaster of events.
        The Mets’ World Series Championship has a special place in my heart. “Ya gotta believe!”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mets World Series was not very special here. It was the time when all our Hall of Famers should have made it, Santo, Williams, Banks, Jenkins and a host of others who were really good too.



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