To Define Counterculture, Stop, Look And Listen

by frugalrvers

To help define counterculture, listen to the music and songs of the 60s, then look at the styles and fashions, then stop and think about the changes in society and culture...

The decade of the 1960s saw the birth and blossoming of what is known as the counter culture. For those of us who came of age in these times, it was an unforgettable era that transformed our lives forever. There was a literal revolution in the arts, style and fashion, social mores and attitudes.

Because the counterculture was in much-publicized rebellion against the mainstream, much of what we see as examples appears superficial, but the ripples and reverberations run deep, and continue to be important to the world in these modern times.

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Exploring 1960's Counterculture

The 1960s were an important time in the history of America. After the Beat movement of the 1950s, the next decade began without much of a hint of what was to come. Conservatism in politics, social mores and personal bPhoto Courtesy Of Pixabayehavior was the name of the game in the mainstream. While the 1950s had brought prosperity, complacency and consumerism to a high point, the beginning of the 1960s was coasting along in the same vein, until the tragedies of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, and later on, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

In certain more bohemian pockets of the country, dealing with these unprecedented events seemed to bring out a longing for something more spiritual, less materialistic. People seemed to be more willing to experiment with beliefs and behaviors that had been lurking on the fringes. They were literally going against the mainstream and the establishment, counter to the norms, and for a while they were underground. But they were about to enter the public eye in a big way, and before long, the word "counterculture" would be used by TV news anchors and folks down at the coffee shop to describe something new in America. So what's the best way to arrive at a working counter culture definition?

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Counterculture Songs - Listen To The Music

Dylan, Doors, Beatles, Jefferson Airplane And Other Classic Rock Artists

We can chart these changes in the music of the decade. In 1960 the big hits were by Elvis, Connie Francis, and the Everly Brothers. These were the sweet, teenage love songs that teens danced to and made out on lover's lane to. The lyrics were important to the listener, no doubt, but the subject was invariably love in all of its variations and dramatic turns.

In 1962 musical events were happening that would become very important very quickly. A premier album by a young folksinger named Bob Dylan was released. In Hamburg, Germany, the Beatles were learning their craft at the Star Club and their way around a recording studio as a backup band before recording on their own. The Rolling Stones were fully formed and took up their first resident gig at the Marquee Club in soon to be swinging London.

By the middle of the decade, drastic changes were apparent. Dylan had moved past his folkie phase and into electric music, the Beatles were experimenting with new sounds and lifestyles, and the Stones were growing in stature by leaps and bounds. On the west and east coasts of America, things were evolving in the music world as well. Fueled by new attitudes of freedom, rebellion against the old ways, infusions from all kinds of genres of music, and experimentation with psychedelics, the music scene exploded with novelty, pushing all of the former boundaries.

Within 2 short years, the summer of love would come and go, and with it some of the most famous and best rock albums of all time came into being and into the public consciousness. The Doors' first LP, Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's first 2 records, Janis Joplin's debut, Jefferson Airplane's groundbreaking and hitmaking Surrealistic Pillow - all of these and many more still define counterculture for millions of listeners. By the time the end of the decade and Woodstock rolled around, the masterpieces of classic rock had been created, and it remains an important genre today so today.

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Counter Culture Clothing - Dedicated Followers Of Fashion

Exploring Counter Culture Fashion

But it wasn't only the music - musicians were stars, like the Hollywood screen idols of old, and everything they said and did was newsworthy, and what they wore became fashionable. For men, it was suddenly acceptable. at least in more metropolitan areas, to have long hair and wear frilly, flowery shirts, hats, beads and other jewelry. For both sexes, tie-dyed clothing, granny glasses, bell-bottom jeans, and sandals became a uniform of sorts. If you were a hippie or a freak as they caled themselves, in a new place, you could identify your brethren by how they looked. As these fashions spread across the country, the trend-setters moved on and became harder to keep up with - Carnaby Street in the UK was the fashion hub for a time, and polka-dot and paisley shirts, wide-wale corduroy bells and wide belts were soon to be seen everywhere. For many, fashion and style define counterculture - but it went deeper, much deeper than that.

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The Style Of The 60s
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Counter Culture Definition In Society

Changes, Everywhere I See Changes

A new and exciting trend towards sexual freedom and openness was one of the first counterculture examples to hit the mainstream of the culture. The widespread availability and use of birth control pills by women and the idea of rebelling against morally conservative, middle-class standards and beliefs led to socially important changes in how men and women related. Women's liberation was another natural result of these new attitudes, as was the growing acceptance of recreational drug use. Politically, the counterculture was evident in the growing occurrence of demonstrations and protests to correct injustice and initiate change. Many people who lived through the changes of the era still define counterculture in social, cultural and political terms.

Counterculture Examples: Just Look Around Today

Ripple In Still Water Continues

And the changes initiated by the counter culture spread out like ripples on a pond, until after a few years what used to be counter to the the establishment became part of the mainstream.

Today music is fragmented into many genres, but jam bands, psychedelic and progressive rock, blues and roots bands, and many more trace their lineage back to the musical creations that define counterculture.

Fashion always moves on, but periodically retro fads happen and bell-bottoms and fringe vests become hip for a while. Modern parents even have their babies dressed in tie dye onesies. Long hair on men is now a common sight - who doesn't know a lawyer with a ponytail?

And of course the social and cultural changes that came about as a result of the counterculture are enormous. New Age healing and spiritual practices, political liberalism, relaxed attitudes towards recreational drugs, environmentalism, the frugal living movement - all of these and many others trace their roots right back to the 60s. The ripples from that period continue to define counterculture, and will as long as time allows.

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Updated: 04/29/2018, frugalrvers
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Can You Define Counter Culture In Other Examples?

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frugalrvers on 02/26/2013

Elias - Another great book about these times and what happened afterwards over time is The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson. If you haven't read it, check it out.

frugalrvers on 02/25/2013

Thanks for your comment, Elias!

EliasZanetti on 02/25/2013

Great post, I love this era! I think Roszak's book was highly influential at the time even though he was exaggerating a bit!!

BrendaReeves on 09/14/2012

I think we grew up during the most interesting time in history. I recently asked a friend of mine, "Where did all the hippies go?" She replied, " They're at the pharmacy getting their arthritis medication." lol

katiem2 on 08/27/2012

Funny thing, people who know me really well often refer to me as hippie or flower child, while I like the fashion, wear my hair long and natural, which is long curly and red. I even have hip hugger bell bottoms, their retro bought them new at American Eagle. I too love the music of the 60s, It was a bit before my time but love Love LOVE the many pioneers of great music from this era. Sweet Van, I'd drive one now, just like it if I had it. :)K

frugalrvers on 08/07/2012

Thanks, Mira!

Mira on 08/07/2012

I love the music of the 1960s, and much of the spirit of those times. Your article prompted me to search for more YouTube videos :-)

frugalrvers on 06/08/2012

I appreciate your comments, sheilamarie. It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that the whole co-opting of the counterculture happened so fast - I still remember how shocked and disappointed I was in the early 70s at how quickly things had changed. What was important for a time (long hair, for example) became superficial nonsense used to sell stuff - nowadays I'm still shocked when I hear White Rabbit in the grocery store. And the whole topic of drug use is a real can of worms - ever heard/seen Bill Hicks?
Much good came of the movement (holistic healing, New Age spirituality, women's rights, and so on) but obviously a lot of things went haywire too. I do love Jerry Garcia's comment - and you can bet he was there in the thick of things - that for a brief moment it was like a door opening on a new world, and then slamming shut. He knew that there were problems born in that time, but that somehow it might have been worth the negatives for the good that came of it.
Anyway, keep on truckin' and thanks again!

sheilamarie on 06/08/2012

As another person who grew up during the 60's and 70's, I am amazed at how many people of our generation so quickly accepted consumerism and the trappings of prosperity as their due during the the 1980's til now. Yes, you see lawyers with pony tails, but how many of those lawyers are adding to the materialistic culture we now have?
There may be some benefits society has seen from those years, but the consequences of the 60's have not been all good. Where are all those lovers of peace in our militaristic world? And I don't see that "recreational" drug use has done anything positive for people's lives.
The fact that the music is still played even by the young gives tribute to its staying power, though.

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