***Happily Presenting a Guest Post Written By My Husband, JP, After Much Nagging***
Hard to believe my niece already received a college acceptance this month — via email of course. That news had me drifting off to reflect on that special time of life – my freshman year in college.
I have always seen the 1968 – 1972 period as a kind of “revolutionary window,” from the Los Angeles riots and Prague Spring to Nixon-in-China, layered over with really cool music. 1970 when I started college was smack in the middle.
I was the first in my family to go to college, a Vietnam-era, baby-boomer, whose parents came to this country just before I was born. They both had sixth grade educations so just the knowledge that I was going to college was its own achievement. Leaving Michigan to go to a school out-of-state, taking a plane to get there, those were big deals.
I had no idea what to expect, no one had told me what college would be like. The only pressure to succeed was what I placed on myself. After all, this was a time of turmoil over “The War,” coming on the heels of major urban riots. It was not the 1950’s with people eager to get started on the American Dream. Did the America Dream still exist?
When I first walked across the New Haven green with a single suitcase and my prized electric typewriter, I heard the sounds of “Carry On” by Crosby, Stills and Nash blasting out of a speaker hanging from an Old Campus dorm room. One of my new roommates had already posted an enormous picture of Chairman Mao on the ceiling of our dorm room. I was your basic all-around jock from the Midwest, rooming with the very radical son of college professors and a quiet oboist from the Savannah who spoke French to his parents on our single landline phone.
I had been transported from Henry Ford’s hometown to a campus that had recently been shut down in solidarity with the black panthers, anti-war protests abounded, the spring of the 1969 strikes was just behind us. It was the fall of 1970. No cell phones, no PCs. The telecomm revolution was presaged I suppose by the trickery passed on from some MIT students that enabled one to make long-distance phone calls for free. (Not that I ever did that.)
We didn’t wear uniforms, unless you counted bell bottoms, long hair and jeans with holes in them. Never mind that many of my classmates came from some of America’s most burnished ‘burbs. I learned quickly that every major city in the U.S. had its equivalent of Bloomfield Hills, the fanciest suburb near my hometown.
While many of my classmates came from privileged families, it was considered bad form in 1970 to be personally ambitious at a time when grizzled veterans of ZPG advocacy (zero population growth) handed out literature just outside the dining hall. Back then they looked to me like they had the wisdom of the ages. I realize now that they were 19 and 20 year-old sophomores and juniors. Something about all these people who sprouted enormous amounts of head and facial-hair, coupled with dressing as if they had just emerged from 60 days of living homelessly, gave them an aura.
My college class was only the second freshman class of women – co-education had finally come to the land of 1,000 male leaders. We took it as a given that the traditions were to be shaken and turned upside-down and inside-out, at least for a while. Is it the same for college kids now, in the post-9/11, post-Title IX era? Or has the Internet/iPhone/Instagram transformed what we enjoyed as the cocooned, experimental, experiential experience of college in the early 1970’s?
Entering a dorm in the evening after classes was an olfactory and auditory magical mystery tour. In the era well before iPods and little white ear plugs, listening to music was hardly a personal, private experience. Music was to be shared, played as loudly as possible, so that the walls became part of the reverb. Cat Stevens, Beatles, Stones, Robert Plant, Hendrix, Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Carole King, James Taylor, Clapton resonated in my head.
Why did Traffic sing that “John Barleycorn Must Die”? And just where was the watchtower that Jimi Hendrix sang of? Beats me. There was something tribal about listening to “In a gadda da vidda” with new friends in darkened dorm rooms. I still have those album covers, waiting to spring the music on my toddler grandson when he is old enough for me to explain to him what a turntable is/was.
What will the first year of college be like for my grandson 17 years from now? What will be the “revolutionary” stuff that he experiences? What sorts of cultural icons will his freshman year feature? I look forward to being around to discuss it with him.