Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 23 – a new Renaissance

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Looking Back: 23 – a new Renaissance

original Broadway poster
     Even through tumultuous times everyday life goes on and so it did during my years at UMass. The university was a place that I had been missing without really knowing it. I was, frankly, something of a misfit in my previous life choices. But, here in the university I thrived in a socially and intellectually stimulating atmosphere. It fit, I belonged here as I had not belonged anywhere else before as a young adult. I met people who thrived on ideas without sacrificing the emotional component attached to them. Ideas were emotions and emotions were ideas without the restriction of conventional norms and restraints. It was a remarkable sense of freedom and possibility that no slogans about those concepts could begin to compare. It was like coming home after being lost in a vacuum of conformity, like coming out of a musty closet full of last year's out of style clothes—stepping “out of the drab camouflage into the gaudy plumage” * of a new life. The pot and hash came in, the hair got longer, the clothes got funkier, the grades plummeted (temporarily), the music turned to folk and rock bands and rock operas, and friends were made for life and cherished. God! What a time it was!

        I was 26 in 1967 when I drove my Volkswagen bug to Amherst to begin my Junior year at UMass. I was assigned to one of the older dorms and was feeling a little self-conscious being surrounded by younger but more experienced college students. Attending evening classes at a junior college was a far cry from the world of a full university campus. The university housing administration may have taken that sense of awkwardness felt by older students into consideration in making roommate assignments, because my first roommate was also an older student and a veteran.

        At first it seemed like a good idea, but in just a short time it became obvious that we were not well-matched just because of our ages and military backgrounds. Just as I had been a non-conformist misfit in the Navy, my roommate was a misfit in college. It got to the point where I began to think he was a borderline psychopath, nervous, jumpy, angry and always grumbling about campus life. He seemed to idolize the military in retrospect. I tried to avoid him as much as possible until he eventually dropped out of school and I had the room to myself for the rest of the term.

lifelong friends from university days
        Around this time I met P and we became friends and began hanging out together. He told me about a group of people who got together in a discussion group and asked me if I'd like to attend a couple of discussions to see if I'd like to join. The university was gradually changing from below, from the grass roots with the growing counterculture movements happening on many campuses. Younger, more innovative, professors were attracting interested students to form their own courses outside the traditional course offerings. These discussions were informal and generally unstructured and not for credit, but were animated by interest and enthusiasm.

longer hair and other flamboyant...
...affectations of appearance
        After attending one meeting I immediately joined the group and met two young women, MD and J, who also became friends and who, along with P, have remained so through the years although we may not see each other for years at a stretch. In our meetings, we might discuss esoteric philosophical concepts, the latest advance in computers, how to build a geodesic dome, eat with chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant, build a campfire, you name it! I began to take a deeper interest in photography, while diversifying my formal course studies to include graphic arts, music appreciation, psychology along with my History major classes.

my roommate's wedding in the Berkshires
       I moved to a new dorm and met a new roommate in 1968. MB was also an older student, my age, and a Navy veteran. Although different in character and personality MB and I got along very well. At my invitation he also joined our discussion group and became an active and avid member. I was more or less fence sitting about the counter cultural changes going on all around me, but MB jumped right in, grew his hair and beard, brought dope into our dorm room and without much effort enticed me off the fence into the world of dope and folk music and a remarkable liberation of the spirit—and a neglect of formal classes and conventional university life. I felt really alive but my Major grades dropped to the C range while the more interesting elective classes stayed up in the A and B range. But, “Time it was and what a time it was, it was.” ** It was Aquarius *** rising and we seemed to be rising with a new age of unlimited possibilities, expanding awareness and changing times.

        Some of my favorite music from the era:

        Yes, the times they were a-changin', but not necessarily for the better.

* MacDermot, Rado, and Ragni, Hair
** Simon and Garfunkel, Bookends Theme
*** MacDermot, Rado, and Ragni, Hair

To be continued...

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