Graham Phoenix remembers the 60’s and 70’s, his years of rebellion, and how they ended up in the power of marriage, parenthood and ordinary life.
I left school in 1966 and I am now 66 years old. This seems to me a great reason to celebrate my decade of freedom that started that year, nearly 50 years ago. It was the year The Beach Boys released the album ‘Pet Sounds’, The Doors released their eponymous album and John Lennon met Yoko Ono leading to the end of live concerts by The Beatles and their break-up. The Vietnam War was causing chaos, almost revolution, in America, but it didn’t really enter my consciousness.
Janis Joplin sang:
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’, honey, if it ain’t free.
Yeah, feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.”
(‘Me and Bobby McGee‘)
For me freedom was about leaving home at the age of 18 and starting to live. In ‘My Father was an Angry Man’ I talked about how I grew up under my father’s dominance. Getting out was scary but released so much in me. My decade straddled the 60’s and the 70’s, a turning point in the post-war world.
It started small for me. 1967 saw the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, an album I have never forgotten and played countless times. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ opened up a whole new world to me. This was a world of what would now be called soft drugs, mainly cannabis and LSD. Harmless in those days, compared to today.
Before the drugs, though, was politics, left wing politics, much to the dismay of my middle class father.
I had left home to work in the theatre and within a couple of years I was a staunch trade unionist sitting of the Scottish Committee of Equity, the Actors and Stage Managers Union. I helped pick the Scottish Organiser of the Communist Party in Scotland to run Equity in Scotland. This flowed naturally from my natural reaction to being out in the world at last.
CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) became my passion, as it did for the British left wing politician Tony Benn, who died last week. Like much of the campaigns from the left in Britain, CND never succeeded in it’s aims. It seemed so noble and so obvious. Earlier in the 60’s there had been JFK, Khruschev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was serious, the world was on the edge of destruction, the Cold War hotted up.
It would be nice to think that all this seriousness led me to embark on a path of changing the world, but this was the 60’s after all. Both Robin Williams and Grace Slick are reputed to have said, “If you remember the 60s, then you weren’t really there…”. I did my bit to move on and numb myself into not remembering.
That really started in the early 70’s with experiments with drugs and sex. Sex had been a desperation for me in these years. Like many men I felt I should be getting it, frequently. It was the age of ‘Free Love’, but somehow that seemed to pass me by. I tried to make it work but had not learned, yet, about women or girls. I had gone to an all boys school, had grown up in a mainly male family, and I just didn’t know how to go about it.
I spent some months working in a Strip Club in Soho in London. Spending 12 hours catching clothes as the girls undressed and standing around backstage with naked girls, left me feeling nothing would make this work for me. Working on the original production of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, in London just made things worse. Smoking dope seemed to blunt the unease as did working, hard.
The 1973 Oil Crisis, and petrol rationing in Britain, made me pretty well give up hope. What was life about; conflict, drugs, no sex! There had to be a better way.
The end of my decade of freedom came when I met a girl and fell in love. Everything seemed to slot into place. I felt connected, wanted and desired. I was able to express myself through my emotions and my passion. I was finally able to discover something about myself.
We got married, bought a house and started living a good middle class life, just like my father. In the marriage service it talks about what marriage is for:
“The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”
I understood, now, the life my father had led and what I had been missing. I gloried in it and left politics and drugs behind. A few years later I left the theatre and my first son was born. Now I had a real reason to live.
In a couple of weeks it is his son’s first birthday. I see the continuation of life through the generations, I see the end of my son’s decade of freedom and I see him loving it. I wonder what experience my grandson will have?
—Photo: My father, me and my sons