O’Rourke ponders the perplexing permanence of 1960s nostalgia

P.J. O’Rourke probes for TIME magazine readers the ongoing fascination with a decade most living Americans never witnessed.

Feb. 9 marks the 50th anniversary of one more 1960s changed-the-world-forever thing. Be prepared for six more years of them. This time it’s the appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed, mayor of Squaresville, hosts a provincial skiffle band that won the bad-haircut contest.

Why can’t we let the ’60s go? Mea culpa. I came of age during the “Youthquake” and have written too much about it. I repent.

I was driving my 15-year-old daughter and three of her classmates to school on Nov. 22, and I asked them if they realized that it was the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Three girls had no idea. Two girls (my daughter included) weren’t sure who President Kennedy was. We were listening to NPR, and nothing but the assassination was being discussed. One girl said maybe she’d heard it mentioned on the radio.

The majority of Americans alive today hadn’t been born yet in the 1960s. But we of a certain age (the age that grips levers of power, pulls strings of purse and has the biggest mouth) can’t stop reliving each moment.

Partly it’s the poignancy of the decade. It started so well. Handsome young couple in the White House, recovery from the 1960 recession, the Pill, upbeat message movies like 101 Dalmations and Spartacus, Hugh Hefner’s illuminating “Playboy philosophy” and the clean-cut Kingston Trio leading sing-alongs in short-sleeve shirts with big, wide, cheerful stripes.

Then it went so wrong. Shooting and killing and troops in combat gear, not only in Watts and Detroit but all the way over in Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. Feminists were suddenly angry for some, as far as men could tell, feminine reason. I had to maintain a C average to avoid the draft. Turns out you can’t fly after you take LSD. There was a war on poverty. We lost. And it rained at Woodstock.

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