“Sha la la la la la live for today,
and don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow, hey hey.”
- The Grass Roots, 1967.
If you occasionally listen to classic rock radio, you won’t get far without hearing the ‘60s standby “Let’s Live for Today.” In the era of “tune in, turn on, drop out,” it was a song fully in tune with the times.
Today, people gaze with bafflement at what went on during the ‘60s, when the whole world seemed to go fairly crazy. In less than a generation, the youth culture moved from slicked back hair, hot rods and doo-wop, to hippies, grass, and acid rock.
The times definitely were a’changing. The rejection of the uptight, button-downed, Leave-it-to-Beaver, black and white world of the ‘50s, morphed with all the speed of changing technology into the Technicolor, let it all hang out, free loving era of the Age of Aquarius.
I was there. I watched it all, and absorbed it the way every teenager absorbs the age in which he grows up. It may be right, wrong, or stupid, but those times were my times.
I’m proud to say we got a lot of things right in the ‘60s. Civil rights. The beginning of equal rights for women. The moral strength to point out that an immoral war might not be worth supporting. A willingness to embrace the new and different, instead of dismissing everything different as bad.
But there were a lot of things we got wrong. We went too far with the anti-war thing, and directed too many of our protests at the brave men and women who answered the call of duty, instead of just targeting the politicians who sent them into a loser’s game in the first place. That was wrong.
And then there was the free-love thing. For a while it was an actual thing, and with the aid of the participants’ psychedelic drug of choice there was a fair amount of it going on. While fun enough at the time, it hasn’t played well in the long run, producing a generation with unusually high divorce rates, which in turn produced generations of broken homes and the psychological scars such homes produce.
But in the end, it was the philosophy spelled out in songs like “Let’s Live for Today,” that was our biggest mistake. It included lyrics like “live for today, and don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow,” and “let others plan their future, I’m busy loving you.” In our eagerness to toss out all the uptightness of the ‘50s, we threw out a big chunk of the good advice every generation needs to learn: like it or not, tomorrow’s coming. Better get ready.
It wasn’t just the Grass Roots. In the mid-’60s, former Harvard psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary evangelized LSD use and urged America’s youth to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” which earned him Richard Nixon’s designation at the time as the most dangerous man in America.
I suppose each generation of young men and women believe they’re inheriting a pretty messed up world from their parents. And I suppose each generation is right. But we, the Sixties Generation, did our children and now grandchildren no favors when many of us entered our adulthood ill-prepared for the realities of the real world. Instead, we too often thought that college and trade school training was somehow beneath us, too establishment, and too much of a sellout.
Well, you can almost hear Sarah Palin, who missed the ‘60s by about a decade, saying “so how did all that live for today stuff work out for ya?”
And the truthful answer is that in many instances, not very well. It left a lot of my generation looking for overly simplistic answers to the world’s extraordinarily complicated problems. How strange to discover that the generation that once embraced the love-is-all-you-need Beatles and the free-at-last Dr. Martin Luther King now stands at the forefront of ushering in the politics of Donald Trump.