The memories are hard-wired in our heads. No other time was as turbulent or tragic or—for many of us—as life-changing. Here marked the pivotal turning point of an era—when every established norm seemed under siege. When idealism clashed with fear. When our national psyche went from hopeful to despairing in such a freefall that some began to wonder whether the America they knew could endure.
So extraordinary were the dramas that we relive them now in shorthand: Vietnam and Tet. Assassinations. Chicago. Mexico City. Nixon. Riots. Student rebellion. Black Power. Sisterhood. Prague. Paris. Poland. All coursed through our lives against a backdrop of music-making and cultural expression that was as riveting as it was groundbreaking. Here were the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, setting new artistic standards. Here was television, brazenly changing the political landscape with raw images of war and repression. Here were men orbiting the moon, LSD, free love, Broadway nudity, and Yippies, outrageously testing the limits of countercultural freedom.
It was a heady time. And we were there—fighting, grieving, demanding change, experiencing the ecstasy and the agony of our new morality, our new attitude. Or not. Some of us were proud and vigilant protectors of the world as it was. Others watched from the sidelines, stoically putting one foot in front of the other, making a life as best we could.
Whoever we were and were becoming, one thing was certain: We could not totally shut out the world around us. And so here, on the following pages, are our stories—stories from you, the readers; stories from the famous; stories from those whose public acts 40 years ago are now etched in history. Together they paint a picture of how that momentous year informed who we would become as individuals and, ultimately, as a nation.
Additional reporting and research by Janet Kinosian, Robert Goldberg, and Brooke Howell.