Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, a saying most folks identify with the Sixties, though the phrase comes from a punk rock song of the same name by Ian Dury, released in 1977. And though Dury coined the phrase, all three were around well before the Sixties, and two of the three from the beginning of time (you can figure which two). But the Sixties counterculture epitomized the saying.
By the end of WWII mores and morals had shifted. Women, once confined to the kitchen and child-rearing had learned they were able to do a “man’s” job as well as their traditional role as homemakers and mothers. When the men came back from war, women were once again relegated to being “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.” And although women were not able to change the culture, resentments grew, and their daughters, aware of what their mothers had done began to think about their role in a limitless society. Joined by their male counterparts, young people demanded that all people should be treated equally.
By the time a young president and his family took up residence in the White House, and later, when the Beatles were all the rage, young people began to think of themselves as equal to, and in most cases better than their elders. Race was also coming to the forefront as African Americans demanded their rights to equality under the law, and Mexican Americans began to form unions to demand equal pay and humanitarian rights.
Through the hard work and determination of the prior generation, young people by the millions went to college, something most of their parents had not been able to do. And while most college campuses were calm and establishment oriented, there were hotbeds like Berkley that started the “Free Speech Movement” and the University of Michigan that issued the Port Huron Statement that criticized US foreign policy and attacked the Cold War assumptions underlying it.
By the mid-sixties, an ever-growing number of young people fled to San Francisco and embraced a new way of living. Perhaps coined the best by Timothy Leary’s words: “Turn on, tune in, drop out” drugs became a major part of the scene as did “free love” and ever-present Rock and Roll from bands like The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and many others.
Having lived through the Sixties I can personally attest that it was a wild time when we thought we could change the world by our refusal to participate in the established paradigm. But change didn’t happen in the Sixties, it happened in the Seventies and continues today. Minorities and women are still fighting for equal rights, still fighting to be heard, still fighting for justice.
But the possibility of freedom, the possibility of change was what drove those who lived through the Sixties—with a little help from our friends—sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.