History hardens as stories are sprayed on the sheets of the past. Our visions and ideas become set when we think we know what had happened. But history, while experienced from afar, is lived on the ground, and the stories of those who were there can bring the past to life, adding depth, color and even joy. Joy is the big feature of In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea, a personalized and individualized portrait of a single critical year. Danny Goldberg, who ruled the music roost of Mercury Records (and others) in the 1990’s, had just graduated from high school in 1967. He proves to be the perfect guide for a year that is, in many ways, still with us.
Goldberg made a wise decision up front to confine his narrative (mostly) to the year of 1967. It gives him a chronological through-line to keep his journey though incredibly complicated times comprehensible. He begins with a round-up chapter that sets the scene, then reaches back a few years to offer an understanding of the background and then – you’re off to a race through a year that proves to relentlessly exciting to read about and clearly informs our culture to this very day.
In successive chapters, Goldberg take us through the areas that were transformed by 1967 as he explores the central idea, “the hippie idea,” that was at the core of this change. Goldberg is quick to point out how swiftly the word “hippie” and all things associated with it were trivialized to the point of cartoonishness even as he demonstrates the more powerful political and cultural concepts that drove the movement. The problem with the hippie idea proves to be that the idea itself is at odds with many of the forces needed to make it cohere. A celebration of youth, change, innovation, creativity and rebellion is quickly overtaken by competing factions on the inside and co-opted by commercialism from the outside. But the idea lives on.
Goldberg’s power as a storyteller stems from his ability to acknowledge the weaknesses while clearly identifying the strengths and the people responsible for them. The characters you meet here – Allen Ginsburg, Timothy Leary, Martin Luther King, among others – may seem familiar, but Goldberg has a real knack for placing them in time and drawing them vividly into his own slightly personalized story. He devotes chapters to media, music, civil rights, flower power, politics, and consciousness. Each little focal point is a blast to read and Goldberg’s concise overview brings it all together. He makes his history fun even as he lets us discover just how relevant all of this is today.
Alas, even though most of us are unclear on exactly what happened in that tumultuous year – there was a lot going on! – it is unlikely that this particular slice of history will get repeated. That’s a shame, because we could use some of that positive sweetness about now, as a relief for the dystopian drama unfolding around us. Every idea has its time, and we can hope The Hippie Idea gets another round. But until then, Danny Goldberg’s In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea is a riveting look at a bit of history that, since we’re unlikely to repeat it, we might as well learn from.
It’s no secret that I enjoy talking to authors, but there was something about talking to Danny Goldberg, no listening, to Danny Goldberg tell this story that was so compelling, it made the era, the hope and the book come alive for me. Give Goldberg a listen and you’ll have that book in your hands soon after. I’m sure some visionary back in the day probably imagined that in the unknowable future, which is to say NOW, you’d be able to “follow this link to download the MP3 audio file” – which is to say, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out and listen below, no matter what The Man says!