WHAT was the real heart of the ’60s? That depends, of course, on what we really mean when we talk about that much-mythologized and contested decade. The British rock critic and social historian Jon Savage, best known in the States for his chronicle of punk and the Sex Pistols, England’s Dreaming, sees 1966 as the era’s key year, and his book, 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded, just out in paperback, chronicles it all in delicious detail.
Here is my essay on Savage’s book, which was a built out of a long interview with him as well as conversations with a film critic, Michael Sragow, and a writer on black culture and politics, Gene Seymour.
I found Savage to be quite sharp and lively over the phone, if despairing at recent shifts in US and UK politics. (He and I disagree about The Jam and Van Morrison!) Savage also has a book about the making of teenage culture — from the Victorian era to the end of 1945 — that I am eager to read. Overall, it was his skills as a social historian that impressed me the most, and his ability to put things like the Velvet Underground, the Beatles’ Revolver and Dusty Springfield into a historical context.
And unlike a lot of folks who lived through the ’60s, he is not nostalgic for the era or its music: While groups like the Kinks and the Yardbirds still matter to him, his favorite recent record, around the time we spoke (this was some months ago) was the latest Frank Ocean. As a writer, he has to look back, he told me, but he tries to stay connected to his inner teenager and also look forward. In any case, check out the book — it’s outstanding.