Monday, February 11, 2008

40 Years Ago

(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)

Sometime in early February I actually started the job at the Washington Post. We had no car and my cousin was taking a bus to Wisconsin Avenue; I took one down 16th St, I suppose, to the Post’s plant on L Street between 15th and 16th. The promotions department was on the first floor off the lobby, and when I needed to visit the newsroom library I took an elevator to the 5th floor. Lunch was in the cafeteria. During my days there, I was reading award-quality stories that had run the previous year, as I cut and pasted them into shape to fit into booklets. I wish I remembered the stories, but I do remember one of the trips to the library: sent to find some stories by John Goshko about ‘airplanes and Peru’ I met a slightly long-haired kid who was working part time there and attending American University. His name, I learned later, was Joe Wright, and although my request confused him at first he found the stories for me.

In late January 1968 Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In had debuted on television. I expect we would have watched: it was one of the only programs that paid attention to the current culture and may have had some musical acts. There was still the Smothers Brothers show, too, and we’d been able to see some of our favorite musicians on the Ed Sullivan show over the last few years. There’d been Shindig and Hullaballoo but they were long gone. Star Trek, the original Shatner version, had been on for a couple years, but I don't think we watched it often.

We probably spent more of our time listening to our records collection. We’d been listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band – over and over and over – for several months, now, and never got tired of it. The Stones had released Satanic Majesties’ Request in December. My music was mostly English, from the Beatles and Stones to the Animals, Kinks and Zombies. My cousin introduced me to her folk collection, lots of Boston-area old-tyme music and Greenwich Village acts like the Jim Kweskin Jug band, Eric Anderson, Tom Paxton and Dave van Ronk. We certainly would have had some albums by some of the west coast bands like Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow had come out nearly a year before), Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Lovin’ Spoonful, and the like.

Movies, especially foreign films, were an occasional treat. About this time we would have seen the one starring John Lennon as a British tommy soldier in WWI, How I Won the War. I’m sure I bought a copy of the first Rolling Stone magazine, the November ’67 issue with Lennon, in role, on the cover, at one of the local newsstands or headshops, where I also picked up an occasional underground comic book, maybe one of the first Zap comics with R Crumb’s Mr. Natural.

We spent weekends exploring the areas around Georgetown and Dupont Circle, where alternate businesses selling imported objects, colorful clothing and the like were flourishing, along with the Adams-Morgan neighborhood near us, around 18th and Columbia. We heard stories about the amazing Ambassador Theater’s attempt to become an eastern Fillmore Ballroom, opening in July ’67 and hosting acts like the like the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Grateful Dead and the Doors, and a legendary August gig by Jimi Hendrix. Unfortunately the theater had closed in early January after complaints by local residents. (There are posters, clippings and the like on this web site: Among them a Post story about a ‘pyschedelic debutante ball’. Far out.)



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