Not Very Heaven
Put on the Dead, get on the bed, and spread.
Popular hippie mating call, c.1967
Well, it’s not as bad (?) as that purportedly used (though he never informed me of the concomitant hit-rate) by an Australian pal of the era who exhorted young women, ‘Right, darlin’, get yer laughing tackle round the snotty end of me fuck-stick’. Yes, the Sixties. I was there and I remember them. Too well probably. Rock ‘n roll. Undoubtedly. Drugs, quite unavoidable. And sex. Oh, yes, there was that too.
And that, as the Summer of Love line recalled above suggests, was a buyer’s market. In other words the chaps called the tune. The pill had arrived a few years previously, and as scientists explained of a slightly earlier discovery, the nuclear bomb, once it’s there you need to use it. Barbers already feared for their livelihoods, now it was condom manufacturers too. Skirt lengths shot up, knickers, if even present, rushed down, even if the newly fashionable tights could be paradoxically prophylactic. An earthly paradise, again, from a male point of view. Interviewing for an oral history of the period I encountered a number of women, girls then, who actually regretted most of it. But felt at that the time there’d been no choice. It was, they had believed, a matter of proving something. Love – as amorphous concept as the much touted ‘revolution’ – didn’t come into the equation. Not in hearts and flowers, anyway. Like all the rest of the middle-class baggage, that one had to be dumped in the bin. I fuck, therefore I am. And you definitely weren’t meant to be jealous. The green-eyed monster was swept away by the polychromatic curlicues of psychedelia, even if screwing on acid wasn’t always a success. There we are, the nascent feminist editrix and myself, bouncing around, stoned out of our gourds, on . . . yes, our waterbed. There is a certain deflation – and not yet post-coital. Let us say that a waterbed held a good deal of water. And gazing at its seepage, however incarnate of the godhead it might have seemed in its immediate appearance, is not the best way of preserving the floorboards. Let alone the ceiling below. The ageing couple whose brat-substitute poodles snapped at our ankles every time we encountered them on the staircase, were strangely unimpressed by that catch-all exhortation, ‘Hey man, be cool’.
For those who wished, and you didn’t have to wish that hard, there was to be obtained, to reminisce linguistically once again, more arse than a toilet seat. Chicks, a term wonderfully perpetuated by the seemingly ever-young and recently memoiristic Keith Richards, were willing, if, as I suggest, often resigned. They too had a point to make, though in retrospect many seem to have seen it as ill-aimed. Not the feminist future was as that much of a gleam in its mother’s eye. Or not obviously. Even Dr. Greer, in her counter-cultural persona as Dr G, super-groupie, offered readers of Oz magazine a pattern for knitting the beloved a woolly confection labelled ‘The Cock-Sock’. Meanwhile, the hippie male, less glorious than the rock gods, and bowing to that awful imperative whereby the kohl-ed and en-velveted one had metamorphosed into some form of ersatz Guinevere, referred to them as ‘my lady’. My lady was also prone to splash on the patchouli, a perfume popularly used in the East to repel termites, but in the West, mitigated by just a smidgeon of B.O., to attract the equally ersatz Lancelots.
In retrospect it may look like a great big wet dream for the boys, but at the time all that ‘Make Love not War’ was a folie à deux. While the guys preached that multiple legover would smash the state not to mention off the pig, the girls, regretful or otherwise, were wholly collusive. For the supposedly ‘alternative’ society the pill gave the old double standards a new twist: it wasn’t the ‘bad’ girls who slept around, it was the repressed, ‘straight’ ones who didn’t. Anita or Marianne vs Mary Whitehouse. Per-leez.
But free love? In the sense of unfettered, poly-partnered and doubtless poly-perverse. Like so much latterly attributed to the Sixties, that really came on stream in the Seventies, with the wonderful world of swinging. Over in America there were major-league clubs like Plato’s Retreat, and for the land of the free-lover swinging was a serious philosophy, but back home it was car-keys in a conversation pit somewhere out in Essex and a certain grim determination. Naturism with erections and wide-open pink. No ideology, no politics, just a propensity for self-indulgence. Dogging in embryo. This was the mass market sexual revolution and if had an image, it wasn’t ‘underground’ illustrator R. Crumb’s exuberant picture of The Intercontinental Fuck-in and Orgy Riot, a fantasia of writhing craze-o flesh, but rather the slogan set above the entrance to Hugh Hefner’s Chicago Playboy Mansion, that spiritual HQ of sanitised excess: Si Non Oscillas Non Tintinnare a piece of dog-Latin that loosely translates as ‘If You Don’t Swing, Don’t Ring’.
Wordsworth got it right, even if he was talking about a rather more realised revolution, the French one, and around forty years back to be young was indeed ‘very heaven!’ Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It didn’t last of course. The Sex Pistols had the name, but love didn’t come into the new story and Rotten put fucking down as ‘two minutes thirty seconds of squishing noises’. Guinevere shucked off romance, donned dungarees and stopped shaving her legs. The pill was turning out to have side-effects. The old hippies were retreating to monogamous convention or dropping dope for smack.
And then there was AIDS. The condom makers could breathe again.
Illustration by Orlux.