Hoist With A Canard… Not His Own, But Whose?


Some of the upcoming posts on this blog will fall into the category “60s Flashbacks,” so I want to get something out of the way right now. 

There’s a well-known saying: “If you can remember the 60s, then you weren’t really there.” 

I’ll grant you, the quip has a certain cleverness.  It starts out a drug joke and ends up a metaphysical absurdity (suggesting the ability to remember experiences that you didn’t actually have). 

Nonetheless, it annoys me… mainly because I was really there and I do remember them! 

Okay, so the word “really” in the saying implies that a person might have been physically present but was not… fully partaking in the zeitgeist, as it were.  Well, I’m not going to go into details (at least not now… maybe in some of those upcoming blog posts) but suffice it to say… I partook, baby! 

To establish my cred, I offer this fact: I attended the University of California, Santa Cruz from 1967 to 1971.  When people learn that, they tend to jump to certain conclusions – based on stereotypes about that school and that time period.  Well, to quote David Lee Roth, “Go ahead and jump!”  There’s a fair degree of congruence between those stereotypes and my college lifestyle. 

If the holy trinity of the 60s gestalt were sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, well then, I was batting .666 (interesting number).  I certainly was not some celibate monk during college, but I kind of missed out on the freest fringe of the “free love” thing.  On the upside, I also missed out on syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes and crabs (for younger readers, this was before AIDS). 

Beyond that “Big 3,” I can add political protest and long hair… 

The author (circa 1969)

The author (circa 1969)

 …and sideburns (“Neil Young called and he wants them back”). 

Probably the only part of the 60s Santa Cruz experience that I completely missed out on was organic gardening.  Oh, and I never wore beads… EVER! 

That’s enough about me for now.  I think I’ve made my point.  So… where did that @#$%ing old saw come from? 

Regular readers of this blog may recall an earlier post [Bloggus Interruptus… Altered States, Altered Quotes and the Lost Art of Fact Checking – July 8, 2009], where I fell down a rabbit hole trying to determine who originally said “Higgamous hoggamous, woman is monogamous; Hoggamous Higgamous, man is polygamous.”  I never did find a definitive source for that bit of doggerel.  This week I applied the same research methodology to “If you can remember the 60s…” and came up with an interesting trio of suspects. 

I Googled the phrase and the first answer1 was my fellow Redwood High School alumnus, Robin Williams. 

Sources as early as a February 7, 1988, New York Times book review2 credit Williams with the remark.  He’s a plausible source – for years, he was essentially a spontaneous punch line generator.  Born in either 1951 or 1952 (sources conflict), he’s on the younger side of the demographic that the saying applies to, but that’s a minor quibble.  My problem: There’s no original source for the quote.  When and where did he say it?  As a comedian, he might have said it hundreds of times – but I was unable to find a single clip of him saying it.  And, even if he had said it, was it his line or did he “borrow” it?  While Williams isn’t notorious for stealing jokes (unlike, Milton Berle, who was known as the Thief of Bad Gags), his mind is a comic sponge, absorbing ideas from a wide range of sources. 

So, Robin Williams was a definite maybe. 

However, two other people were also credited as the source – Paul Kantner and Grace Slick, both members of Jefferson Airplane (also, later, Jefferson Starship – but the less said about that group the better). 

BrainyQuote.com credits it to Kantner3, but provides no source.  I found the following statement in the prologue to Jeff Tamarkin’s book, Got a Revolution! : The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane

“Like Rashomon, the story of Jefferson Airplane, the band’s Paul Kantner has astutely postulated, is also one of many truths. There’s a cliché these days, ‘If you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.’ It’s a wisecrack intended to imply that denizens of that era were so zonked-out that their craniums have been reduced to space dust. But that’s not the case here: the former members of Jefferson Airplane were there all right, and they do remember the ’60s.”

If Kantner had been the source of the adage, you’d think:

  • Tamarkin would have known that.
  • Tamarkin would have written a very different prologue. 

Wikiquote credits it to Grace Slick4, but lists it as “unsourced.”  She was certainly a quotable figure.  Again, however, if she had been the source, you’d think that Tamarkin would have known that (unless “logic and proportion have fallen softly dead…”). 

It turns out that Ms. Slick wrote her own book: Somebody to Love? A Rock’n’Roll Memoir.  On pages 166 and 167, she describes her attempt to fact check where she had sex with Jim Morrison:

“Because I have the Robin Williams disease—If-You-Can-Remember-The-Sixties-You-Weren’t-Really-There-itis—I’ve blanked on what country the Strawberry F@#% was actually in, so I called author Danny Sugerman, who probably knows more about The Doors than they know about themselves.” 

It doesn’t prove Robin Williams said it, but it leads me to conclude that Grace definitely didn’t – Wikiquote not withstanding. 

So… what can we learn from this? 

  • If you can remember the 60s, you feel compelled to tell people about them! [Guilty as charged]
  • The Internet has enabled the human race to pool misinformation on an unprecedented scale.

Well, at least I can name every country I had sex in during the 60s.   


  1. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080523191229AAbffrR
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/07/books/young-werther-in-the-60-s.html
  3. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/paulkantne101385.html
  4. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Grace_Slick

9 Responses to “Hoist With A Canard… Not His Own, But Whose?”

  1. 1 ted

    Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll …. and Vietnam, but that wouldn’t be a Trinity anymore. We all had to survive the draft that first year when the lottery numbers went as high as 165 birthdays, or thereabouts. I got a lucky lottery number, otherwise things might have been different.

    By then I was living in Los Angeles, where you could take that “long strange trip” with a lot fewer stoplights than today. Wasn’t doing drugs yet, sex not so much, and I loved rock ‘n’ roll. And the Beatles were still together all through my college years – what could be better?

    • Vietnam was defintely the “elephant in the room.” Like you Ted, I too had a high (high enough) draft lottery number. I’ve certainly never won anything in the California Lotto that was a valuable as not going into the Army!
      In my blog post I lumped Vietnam in under the heading of “political protest.” But, basically, it was the Vietnam War that I was protesting… Civil Rights and the Free Speech Movement were just before my time. Feminism was just after… and, as women back then were more than happy to remind me — AT ABSOLUTELY EVERY POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY, AND AS LOUDLY AND SHRILLY AS HU-WOMAN-LY POSSIBLE — I had absolutely no part in that (“part” being both literal and figurative in this case). The UC Santa Cruz campus shut down during the spring of both 1969 and 1970 as a result of People’s Park and Kent State. Vietnam loomed over the entire era, despite all the good times.

  2. 3 jallebrand

    Right on Dorn blog! What a marvelous bit of sly digressive method. Calculated indirection to find direction out. First person narrative clawing through the chaos of, well mostly the chaos of being a particular person at a particular time, and assuming that these particulars, and the researching of things said about said particulars, provide life lessons, or perhaps better, quessons or lestions for they are posed, as they should be, as questions. And I detect, and relish, the parody of a good, clear instructional manual (an ID pro at the height of his powers) that leads us to the lessons for review at the end of our modules.

    I have procrastinated too long in not doing the appropriate interactive blogging thing of adding another perspective, set of opinions, reactions to these wonderful pieces. So long procrastinating, that the volume of subjects and essays and my imagined responses, in bed in the morning mostly, have drowned the possibility of incisive blog riposting and poignant canard hoisting. So I wade in, up to my neck, with no particular direction in mind and no life lessons in sight.

    Thank you Mr. Dorn, you unrepentant English major, for sending me back to my cobwebbed bookshelf and the yellowed pages of the likes of Sterne (for wild hilarity of narrative digression) and Montaigne (for dry and self-mocking reflections on the mind absurdly at work, and full of interesting, and many times randy, quotes from ancient times). I also pensee-ed of Pascal, but no humor and way too much religion resides there. Oddly enough, Kierkegaard came to mind; the witty critic of pop culture part of him, hey and maybe the leap of faith in an absurd world thing too.

    Wading, or is it weighing?, in now on the 60s – my college career began when Dorn’s ended, that first year of the draft lottery, as drugs and sex and rock’n’roll were heading to their peaks and thus beginning to point toward some of the sad outcomes of the commercialization of the counter-culture, the war was in retreat, Nixon’s paranoia and sweaty upper lip gleaming, bad trips in the dorms, a few good minds losing it to the romance of nihilism or the business of dealing. In other words, we’d reached that edge of self-consciousness when the renaissance begins to turn to mannerism and the revolution begins to be televised and advertised. Oh well.

    Which brings me to the quote about ‘not really being there.’ I guess I really wasn’t, and not because of drugs, but because I was mostly experiencing it, them, through a filter of emerging commercial interests. I don’t know if it matches up with defined historical eras, but the early 70s is when I became, it appears, ‘postmodern.’ Post Eden, post the flood, The Fall.

    Now there happens to exist a quote, which I just did a little research on, attributed to Margot Kidder that goes something like “The 1960s didn’t end until about 1976.” If we consider Ms. Kidder (what’s in a name?) reliable on this subject, and not deploying verbal irony, or in Dorn’s unPC world, the female form of sarcasm, I can be convinced I really was there. Kidder goes on to say, let’s hope with a bit of irony, “We were idealistic innocents, despite the drugs and sex.” I could argue that that ‘despite’ could be reworked to ‘due to’ and there would be no irony in sensing one were in paradise, unfallen.

    • John, what a shamanistic (is that a word?) incantation. You truly are a marketing communications medicine man! Thank you for an amazing, mindbender of a comment… if I were still back in grad school, I would write a term paper on it. That will have to wait for another time… I’ve got to get back to redesigning PowerPoint slides for a training program in Strategic Commercialization (true!). For now, thanks again…
      … and by the way, I ran into Gwenn Smith at Ca del Sole in Toluca Lake and there will probably be an AMI alumni reunion this fall!

  3. Regarding “if you remember the 60s…” and Paul Kantner:

  4. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  5. This site rocks!

  6. 8 Tom Pope

    The quote “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t really there” comes from Lisa Law’s book “Flashing on the Sixties.” In the first edition Lisa and I credited Carl Gottlieb. After talking with him we credited Wavy Gravy. C’mon you guys, let’s get it straight. Tom Pope

    • Wow… where to begin?

      When I wrote this blog post in August of 2009, it was simply my own humorous musings inspired by and about the phrase “If you can remember the 60s, then you weren’t really there.” I did the best research that I could at the time.

      Then, in May of 2010, the site Quote Investigator – with far more resources than I had – determined that the earliest recorded instance of the phrase was attributed to comedian Charlie Fleischer in 1982. Read it for yourself:

      Therefore, the quote certainly does not “come from” Lisa Low’s book Flashing on the Sixties, which was originally published in 1987.

      Then, there’s the matter of your snotty attitude. As my blog post and the Quote Investigator article indicate, the phrase has been attributed to numerous people. With all due respect to Carl Gottlieb (a fond 60s memory of mine is seeing him in the San Francisco improve troupe The Committee), he probably just told you the first person that he’d heard it from… reasonable, but not definitive. By your own admission, Lisa originally misattributed the quote. So, who the hell are you to lecture me to “get it straight”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: