Danny Goldberg could not have been better placed to enjoy the pop culture revolution of the late 1960s. He graduated from high school in New York in 1967, briefly attended the University of California at Berkeley and by the following year had found his first job in the rapidly expanding music industry. His career would see him work closely with everyone from Led Zeppelin to Kurt Cobain.
He does not lack insight into how recorded music became perhaps the biggest cultural phenomenon of the post-war era, a time when LPs became as revered as hardback novels.
His latest book focuses on 1967 and “the hippie idea”, a reference that will give some the shivers. While the central tenets of hippiedom as most will understand them – pacifism, self-sustainability – have become middle-class ideals in the 21st century, the term itself remains a form of abuse in the UK. This attitude can be traced back to British-centric tribes such as the Mods, who, with their sharp suits and love of amphetamines, viewed stoned, kaftan-wearing hippies as badly dressed weirdos. Suburban Britain hated them even more. When the Anglo-Scottish rock band Primal Scream released a single entitled Kill All Hippies in 2000, few batted an eyelid.
None of this is explored by Goldberg. His book is “a subjective and highly selective history, an attempt to remember the culture that mesmerised me, to visit the places and conversations I was not cool enough to have been a part of”. He focuses on the scenes in California, London and New York. In fairness, this is where the action was. Sgt Pepper was not recorded in Glasgow and Haight-Ashbury was not a district of Birmingham, after all.
The problem is we’ve heard all this before. The late 1960s has been written about to the point of tedium and beyond. Goldberg attempts to find a fresh angle by focusing on what it meant to be a hippie, arguing the movement was driven by a quest for civil rights, peace and a desire to be a good person. A cynic might counter that hippies were no better or worse than other youth cultures centred on music and fashion. What did hippies do that metalheads didn’t?
As numerous critics have noted, the 60s ideal was a remarkably niche affair, one that barely registered in the UK outside of London. Many young Scots who came of age in that decade – this reviewer’s father among them – did have their heads turned by the likes of the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. They also enjoyed greater access to higher education afforded by post-war reforms. But for a significant number of young adults, the late 60s were spent working in factories, mines and shipyards far removed from the ideals found on university campuses. Live entertainment was still largely of the variety type found in numerous local pubs and clubs.
Ultimately, In Search Of The Lost Chord is a harmless recap of an era that many will have fond memories of. But surely now it is time for us all to move on from the 60s and its myths.
In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 And The Hippie Idea, By Danny Goldberg, Icon Books, £14.99