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…
…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.
Filed under: 60s Flashbacks | 9 Comments
Tags: comedy, Grace Slick, humor, Jefferson Airplane, m. j. dorn, memoir, Michael Dorn, Paul Kantner, quotation, quote, Robin Williams, Santa Cruz, The Sixties