Fifty years ago, in January of 1969, the country was still reeling from the previous year. 1968 would forever be remembered as a tumultuous year, marked by violence, assassinations and an escalation of the war, mixed with hopes of peace and prosperity. A new president was elected and about to be sworn in, but his very presence divided the nation, in no small part along the Generation Gap of young and old. Television, the national highway system and an expanding economy all led to a widening of the Gap. This gave rise to the opening of the first The Gap retail store in 1969, in San Francisco, California. The store catered to boomers with a limited, but highly discounted, inventory of clothing that would appeal to the boomer generation; chief among the items was Levi’s jeans. Blue jeans had become the de facto uniform of the Boomer Generation. Jeans represented a break from the constraints of earlier generations, and exemplified the freedoms cherished by boomers to do what they wanted, when they wanted, dressed as they wanted. While not every boomer was in the streets protesting “Tricky Dick” in their blue jeans, the mistrust boomers had for the incoming president, especially when it came to Vietnam, turned out to be well warranted.
Here are some of the events that marked that month, fifty years ago:
January 5: The Space Race continued to heat up with the Soviet Union launching two space probes to Venus within a few days of each other, Venera 5 and Venera 6. The intention was that both crafts would arrive at Venus one day apart in order to cross-calibrate data collection of the planet’s atmosphere and surface before being disabled by heat or crushed by pressure. Venera 5 descended at a faster rate than Venera 6, broadcasting data for only 53 minutes, thus dooming the main goal of the mission.
January 12: Led Zeppelin released their first album in the United States. Featuring songs with titles like, Dazed and Confused, Good Times Bad Times and Communication Breakdown, boomers were immediately on board.
January 14: Lyndon Johnson gave his final State of the Union address before Congress. He only had one week left in his presidency, so it turned out to be his farewell speech to the people of the United States. He highlighted some of his accomplishments during his five-year tenure, including the passing of the Voting Rights Act (1964) and the creation of Medicare (1965). He mentioned that the unemployment rate, as 1969 began, was sitting at 3.3% and spoke of his hope for peace in Vietnam. He also spoke about the need for Social Security to keep up with the times, and urged a raise of “at least 13%” for the nation’s seniors on the program. Johnson also mentioned that though a new administration would be taking over, it did not mean a dismissal of the issues and challenges that faced his administration. On that front, he wished his successor well on behalf of the American people.
January 15: The Soviet Union launched Soyuz 5 with the intention of docking with Soyuz 4, which was launched a few days earlier, and in orbit. The spacecrafts were manned and became the first ever to dock in space. Cosmonauts on board became the first ever to transfer from one craft to the other via a spacewalk before both vehicles headed back to Earth.
January 20: Richard Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States.
January 22: An assassination attempt on Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev failed. An army deserter, Victor Ilyn, fired shots at Brezhnev’s motorcade, killing a driver and injuring several cosmonauts who were riding with Brezhnev in the motorcade. Ilyin was captured and, while facing the death penalty, was declared insane. He was placed in solitary confinement in a mental hospital for twenty years.
January 26: Elvis began recording what turned out to be his comeback album at the American Sound Studios in Memphis. Among the songs that became hits from the sessions were, Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto and Kentucky Rain.
January 28: A massive oil spill from an off-shore well occurred off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It caused the closing of the harbor as oil leached onto the beaches. It was the first oil spill that was ever given coverage on TV as images of sludge-covered seals and sea birds reached into homes across the country. Historians say this event galvanized the people of the state and marked the beginning of state — and later, national — environmental legislation. The disaster inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson (Democrat, Wisconsin) to create the first Earth Day in 1970. Long a proponent of conservation issues, Senator Nelson wanted Earth Day to be a grass-roots effort by the people, with the goal of making the nation’s city, state and national governments aware of environmental issues.
January 30: The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Studios in London. After a few songs, including Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, noise complaints from nearby office buildings brought the police to the roof to shut the impromptu concert down. The 42-minute show was filmed and recorded with two eight-track machines in the basement, five floors below, and became the basis of the Let It Be film and album in 1970.
Nixon was sworn in as president, the Space Race was going full tilt, and the Vietnam War raged on. The Beatles played on a rooftop, and Led Zeppelin hit the shores of the U.S. Fifty years ago, the month of January was a momentous beginning to what would prove to be yet another historic year in the lives of boomers.
What event from January of 1969 looms large in your memory, boomers?