Book Review: The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics by Bruce J. Schulman; Part 1: What the Seventies Mean To Me

I graduated high school in the class of 1970, having just turned 17 years old.  After a few months of drinking and carousing I was off to university in California.  At the time I hadn’t a clue about what anything meant that was going on around me.  I had been raised in a particularly volatile era, an era of the Vietnam War, civil rights turmoil, youth revolution and many other manifestations of profound change.  I was clueless about it all, a slow learner, immature, unenlightened, stumbling around in a fog most of the time.  The only things I knew were books.  I read in my free time until my mother would drive me off the couch and outside, where I would play basketball by myself hour after hour until I came back in and got back down on the couch or on my bed and would stick my nose in a book again.

That’s how it went in my childhood years, and into my teen years as well.  Though I must say by the time I was sixteen I had quite a serious substance abuse problem.  It started out with alcohol at high school parties, with beer kegs and fifths of whiskey and vodka and rum and so on; we would all swill the sauce until we were stumbling about blindly.  It’s a wonder we ever made it home.  In my senior year in high school pot was added to the mix.  It’s much mellower in some ways; it slowed me down.  But I had no concept of moderation and so I’d combine the two to devastating effect.

So there I was at a California university in the San Francisco Bay area, an area that was still saturated with psychic effluvia from the cultural explosions of the sixties.  I simply couldn’t get my bearings for a long time.  Actually, during my year at university I never did.  I foundered.  One major reason was that hallucinogens were added to the mix.  But another reason was that I sensed the detritus of the sixties around me and I looked for something of substance from that era, the era of the Summer of Love and Woodstock, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Oh, the trappings were there, no doubt about it.  But something had been lost, an innocence, an ideal, a feeling that the world could be changed for the better.  The world had got darker; a sense of evil stained the idealism after Altamont and the Manson murders.

Thus was my introduction to the ambivalence of the seventies.

I never found a way out of the confusion in California, but I kept going back to California again and again, sure that something of value must have remained there.  But eventually, after I realized that that for which I searched was not to be found in a particular place, I journeyed farther afield.  I had gone to the San Fernando Valley thinking to try my hand as a Hollywood scriptwriter, but I was getting nowhere.  And at some point I realized I had to cut loose and embark on a real quest, and to do it properly I had to leave the US and get some world perspective.  So I hitchhiked across the States, flew to Europe, and eventually traveled to the Indian Subcontinent.  What I learned on my quest you can read about in my memoir “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search”.  I did finally develop an outlook on things that would see me through the years to come, and in addition to this, and much more importantly, I found my voice as a writer.

So the seventies for me were a time of self-discovery and discovery of the world, a time of travel and soul-searching and writing, of meeting friends and having affairs and taking odd jobs in order to survive.  In short, it was an inward journey.  I was not so much concerned with what was happening in the world around me, except as it affected my visa situation or my safety in the country in which I found myself.  I did spend time in the States off and on in the seventies, but it was time spent on the road and I was not well aware of the political and economic and social situations around me.

Therefore, much of what Schulman writes about in this book has been a revelation to me, an eye-opener.  I have been searching for texts on the seventies for some research, and there are not many available.  I picked this one out more or less at random, after having read the Amazon blurb and reviews.

Stay tuned.  I will review the book itself in part two.

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