I was nineteen during most of the year covered by 1969: The Year Everything Changed, by Rob Kirkpatrick (2011). I was aware, as they were happening, partially or fully, of the events this collection of short narratives covers. I was disappointed that this book rendered events that once stood in my memory as blazing moments as prosaic events of little importance. This is not the fault of the book or its author.
My main criticism of this volume is that it describes the important events of 1969 without offering much context. There’s not much analysis or interpretation, little effort to delve below the surface of these events. They don’t fit together in some sort of coherent or even incoherent assemblage of moments that sum up the year or the decade for which 1969 served as a culmination. They leave me uncertain as to what did change, and why, and how. Altamont, Vietnam, Chappaquiddick, Charles Manson, the Mets, Nixon, the Apollo moon landing and other moments are part of my personal history—I may not have experienced them first hand, but I lived through and certainly knew about them, thought about and wrestled with their meaning. They helped formed my identity. (Equally important to that formation are college experiences and friends). In Kirkpatrick’s book these events that defined 1969 are reduced simply to instances of reportage decades after the fact. Dry, factual, interesting, but distant, almost irrelevant. I have lived long enough that many of the events that meant most to the formation of my “self”—events extending mainly from 1968 to 1972—are now distant history. I feel removed from them and what they represented. I feel removed from (though in many cases desiring to reconnect with) people I knew then.
Of course, I am no longer remotely similar to the person I was in those years, and in many regards that is good. My marriage and my children, and my work at the University of Georgia, changed me into a different person. My family is what matters to me. In my sons there is perpetuity. The events of 1969 are distant, dead history.