My Summer of ’69


Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” was playing at the coffee shop this morning. In my memory that song feels like “Summer of ’85,” which was the year it was released, and a significant year in my life. It was the summer I started kissing girls and accumulating a police record. It was not an awesome summer for me, that would aktch be the “Summer of ’88.” For our purposes let’s split the difference and pretend my “Summer of ’69” was the Summer of ’87.

1985 was 16 years after 1969. If Adams were 16yo in 1969 (weirdly: he wasn’t), he’d have been 32 in 1985. By this logic I could have written “The Summer of ’87” in 2003. Which was, you know, a pretty good year for me! Definitely better than 1988.

There are 32-year-olds right now (the much-derided millenials) who could write a similar song about the year they turned sixteen: “The Summer of ’03”

50 years ago this month — in the summer of ’69 — the first people from Earth walked on the moon. Are we tired of remembering this, yet? It’s weird, but “people walking on the moon” feels like a thing that always should have happened fifty years ago. The last person walked on the moon when I was a toddler. I don’t remember people walking on the moon, the same way I don’t remember the Vietnam war. I was technically alive during that era but not paying much attention I guess. In my defense, I was pretty occupied with learning to walk here on Earth.

People walking on the moon is slipping over the event horizon of memory. A thing we lived through is becoming a thing we read about.

If we rewind history halfway back to the first moonwalk, we arrive at the Summer of ’94. That was also a pretty good summer for me! The summer of ’94, was probably the first full summer of my actual adulthood (more than one year out of college). I remember it with such clarity that I can recall individual days, down to what I was wearing, what it smelled like, how drunk I was. (I was drunk a lot in 1994.) 1994 is entirely on this side of the event horizon of memory. We are only now starting to write about it, because a lot of us still living, lived through it.

But in the summer of ’94, moon landings were also on this side of the event horizon of memory. A whole lot of 40-somethings had crystal clear memories of the moonshot, and Woodstock, and the Summer of Love, and the Beatles breaking up. The way those people (the much-derided Boomers) ran on and on about 1969 consumed popular culture so much that I have memories of their nostalgia. I’m nostalgic for someone else’s nostalgia which is so fucked up. It’s so fucked up, I wrote this thing called “I miss this dog toilet” which tries to untangle all the fucked-up-edness.

Here’s what I think though. The thing that made the summer of ’69 so huge, the reason the American midcentury still dominates cultural discourse (despite the increasingly obvious dotage of Boomer politicians who will soon enter their eighties), is that this was maybe one of the last years when Americans were looking forward more than they were looking behind. Americans were building the future and couldn’t bother with all that old cruft of the past. It was not an entirely awesome impulse — too many worthwhile things from the past were shed during that era. Still. We are (at least) two epicycles deep into the orrery of nostalgia for the era when we looked forward. It won’t ever be 1969 again, or 2003, or 1994, or 1987. I guess nothing can last forever.