Witness to the Revolution by Clara Bingham, Random House, 612 pages, $30. With America’s postwar baby boomers now turning into the newest reigning class in the AARP, we’re seeing a floodtide of books about the radical changes in American society and culture that seemed to accompany the Vietnam War in what was once feebly called “the psychedlic era.” What seems to be happening more and more often are books of history devoted to individual years.
A book dedicated to the music of 1971, for instance, is on the way. What this oral history book is devoted to is an exhaustive but enthralling and brilliant chronology of the period between August 1969 and September 1970 when “radicals, resisters, vets and hippies” helped America “lose its mind and find its soul” (as this book’s subtitle would have it.)
It’s written by a former Newsweek White House correspondent who was born in 1973 and graduates high school in 1981 “at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution” when “former hippies like Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield had become ice cream entrepreneurs” and “California kids who had taken LSD in high school were starting personal computer companies in the bay area.”
The book officially begins with the antiwar movement in 1964 and ends with a current prologue quoting Daniel Ellsberg, Mark Rudd, Peter Coyote and Robin Morgan, the TV child star and feminist who now says “I wouldn’t go back to 1970 for anything in the world. But I wouldn’t have NOT been in that year for anything in the world either.”
Some new 21st century revisionist truth from Marin Scorsese’s legendary film editor Thelma Schoonmaker who was one of those helping Michael Wadleigh film his mammoth documentary of “Woodstock”: “We had no I idea it was going to be that many people or that it would be a little bit of a nightmare.” Those of us who were actually reporting some of that in the daily press of the time were coming up against the instant mythology of “Woodstock Nation.” There’s none of that here. Jane Fonda: “A couple of years ago, I was going to go on the QVC channel to promote my book, and QVC got bombarded with threats and they canceled me.” Minds “lost” are hard to regain. – Jeff Simon