Rant ‘N’ Roll: I Forgot How Funny The ’60s Were

If you read The Me Generation…By Me: Growing Up In The ‘60s, and believe author Ken Levine, the 1960s was one hilarious decade. I’m not saying there’s a joke on all 313 pages. What I’m saying is that there’s a joke in every paragraph of every page. That makes almost a thousand jokes in this book and although they’re not all funny, the percentage of laugh-out-loud moments is pretty damn high, thus making Levine’s memoir a true laugh riot. Hey, what can you expect from a television sitcom writer? He’s also one of the current broadcast voices of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners. That means he’s no doubt met The Great Ichiro and for that alone, I love this guy.

Just like you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Rye Bread, you don’t have to be a long-haired pot-smoking hippie to identify with his growing up in one culture and discovering another as we all did back then. Difference between Levine and myself is West Coast/East Coast but unlike the hip-hop wars where rappers were killing each other over that disparity, I feel a kindred spirit with this dude. But while my deadbeat dad was a Brooklyn taxi cab driver who associated with the Bonanno crime family enough for them to set him up in business with his own limo, Levine’s dad was a great father who worked at a radio station and brought home all the 45s that the DJs didn’t want to play. He’d sit in his bedroom with friends and plow through them. One friend, Michael Monarch, became the lead guitarist of Steppenwolf. “I’d like to think,” he writes, “that sitting in my room absorbing Neil Sedaka singing `Alice In Wonderland’ inspired him to go off and do ‘Goddamn The Pusher Man.’” That was my first laugh. And it came on page 20.

With chapter names like “You Never Forget Your First Whore” and “Nuns, Nazis & Sex Education,” Levine barrels through the decade as if he’s trying to squeeze it all in the 24 minutes of a half-hour sitcom. At least he’s honest: the ‘60s might have been the decade of hippie girls baring their breasts and indulging in “free love” before AIDS existed but Levine mentions masturbation most.

Music is peripheral here but the grooves get deep when he takes on a job at a record store, the kind of store with private listening booths so you could hear the music before you buy it. The one rule was no pot smoking in the booths but there was this one musician—from Buffalo Springfield—who constantly broke the rule. It was Neil Young and Levine says, “he was a shithead. I used to throw him out once a week. Plus, he slept and dumped a girl I had a crush on so I took every opportunity to kick his raggedy ass to the curb.” Now that’s funny! So is the laughing fit he and a friend couldn’t stop after getting drunk prior to going to the theater. Problem was the play is Diary Of Anne Frank.

He makes fun of the trendy fashion of wearing Nehru suits. He’s right about that one. The Beatles had come back from India wearing them. It set off a national craze. I must admit, I too, in my first band, The Rock Garden, wore a Nehru suit (with Beatle boots and a peace sign around my neck), as did my whole band. Okay, he got me there. But he didn’t go to Woodstock and I did. Then again, he got “a mere inches away…standing eye-to-eye” with Goldie Hawn’s vagina, so I guess he wins.

There are a few mistakes but they’re minor. The moon walk was before Woodstock, not after. “Goin’ Home” is by 10 Years After, not the Rolling Stones. The title of the Beatles’ white album is The Beatles, not The White Album. “Please Please Please” is the title of the James Brown song he writes of, not “Please Please.” As I said, minor.

Ken Levine is one funny guy. He proves it by playing the ‘60s for laughs. Why the hell not? Surely, enough serious stuff has been written about that decade.