Week 4: My Conversation with Pat Thomas
Hello again, apologies for the delay in posting. For the past week, I have been reading, reviewing my conversation with Pat Thomas, and doing more reading. I think it’s time to start writing my final essay.
Dorian Lynskey’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute has figured prominently in the reading I’ve done, and it will continue to in my essay. Compared to The Sixties by Todd Gitlin and The Eve of Destruction by James T. Patterson, 33 Revolutions specifically focuses on the music coming out of the 1960s and how the political events shaped it. Gitlin and Patterson provide information on these events, but music is not the center of their attention.
However, I found my conversation with Pat Thomas, a music journalist who has written extensively on the very topic I am researching, to be far more interesting and engaging than these books. I even took the liberty of transcribing our entire conversation, so I could refer back to it. It ended up being 10 pages long!
I’ll break down what we spoke about. Pat informed me that the role of protest music in American culture changed over the course of the 1960s. Here is his direct quote: “It probably got more strident; it got more edgy, visceral. You could say for example that Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’ is one of the first protest songs. And that’s like 1963. And then you think of Edwin Star’s ‘War, What’s It Good For?’ Which is more like 1968 or 69, the songs punch you in the face more with their message.”
He also gave me examples of how protest music affected and was affected by other parts of American culture. After I asked him about the connection between pop culture and protest music, Pat explained that advertising reflected the growing interest in the aesthetic of the counterculture, be it the music or fashion:
“The thing I love about the 1960s was there was this period of time when pop culture and the counterculture were basically the same thing. In other words, the hippies and the protesters were counterculture, but they were also kind of pop culture. It is paradoxical, and it is really just roughly 1968 to 1970. […] It’s so popular that right after Woodstock (which was in August, 1969) all of a sudden television commercials change. You start seeing ads for cars and clothing that are more hip. And one of the things that happened – remember we were talking earlier about parents who are like 40 who didn’t grow up on rock and roll – suddenly parents start growing their hair out just a little bit longer. Frank Sinatra starts to sing Beatles songs. All of a sudden, people in their 40s want to be more hip. So they start embracing some of the culture of people in their 20s. Just enough that you can see the change. And you start seeing it in advertisements. You know the Volkswagen Beetle? All of a sudden, it became a cool, hippie car after Woodstock […] The ad industry, which is usually run by older people, is now cynically embracing this younger culture to try to sell more cigarettes, more cars, more jeans, more clothes.”
I included a lot of the quote, because each sentence is insightful and unique. Something that my readings have not mentioned is this paradoxical nature of the counterculture. Over the course of the sixties, aberration became popular. It was cool to listen to the psychedelic sounds of Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, otherwise Woodstock would not have attracted 400,000 people. Music like this would have shocked people during the 50s and even the early 60s.
Pat also described to me the connections that the anti-war movement had with the civil rights and Black Power movements.
This is an interesting point for further research. And I look forward to learning more about the cultural dimension of the protest music that came out of the 1960s.