Thursday, April 12, 2012

Some Notes on a Photo from 1968

I got a question about a photo I used in a blog I wrote a while ago, and thought I would just tell a little about it.

I'm 23 in the picture here, and it was taken in Chicago’s Grant Park.  We're all standing around waiting for an anti-war demonstration to begin and the Vietnam War to end.  While we wait for the soldiers to stop killing the Vietcong and for the Vietcong to stop killing the soldiers and for Jane Fonda to get back from Hanoi, we are trying to look cool. 

Do you see the button on my lapel?  If you could get close to it, you'd see that it says, "Share Water With Me."  It's a quote from a SF novel by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land, and it means I want to have a real, authentic relationship with you and every other person on the planet.  I took that kind of stuff seriously back then, and I guess I still do now, give or take a few people I know it wouldn't be a good idea to share water with.

There were a lot of these anti-war demonstrations back then.  There were so many that they now seem to blend into each other.  When I sit down and try to figure out when I started to demonstrate and when I finished, I can’t come up with any solid answers.  From about 1966 to 1975, I always seemed to be going to some demonstration on the northside or the southside of Chicago with my friend Bill Anderson.  A lot of these demonstrations seem small now, a couple hundred students, maybe a thousand, (especially after the big demonstrations that followed the Kent State Massacre when the National Guard killed four students), but they seemed big at the time and important too.  There weren't many people trying to stop the war before that.
File:Kent State massacre.jpg
Kent State University, May 4th, 1970
I know my dad wasn't one of them.  He and I would get into arguments about the war.  They were the only serious arguments that we ever had.  For the most part, my dad was pretty easy going and so was I, but we fought over the Vietnam War.  He was a Pole, a Polish patriot, who couldn't go back to Poland after the war because his homeland had been taken over by the Communists.  He was afraid that they would kill him if he went back.  So he couldn't see why I would be supporting the Communist Vietcong against the Americans.  I gave him some kind of explanation about the Vietcong being the democratically chosen representatives of the Vietnamese people.  I was doing a lot of reading about the history of the struggle and thought I had the answers.  He didn’t buy it, and it almost broke his heart to see me, his son, siding with the guys who had enslaved Poland.  It was a rocky few years for us until the war ended.

But that’s all politics and for most people politics is just old news.  Looking back at the picture now, I’m really interested in what I’m wearing.  

It may not seem like it if you’ve gotten your ideas about what people were wearing back then from Time Magazine, but I’m appropriately dressed as a hip/Vietcong 60's beat student.  Please notice that I’m wearing a Vietcong peasant hat, and that I don’t have long hair and that I’m not wearing love beads or flowers.  All that hippie stuff (hair, beads, etc.) was probably just a media concoction.  I didn’t know people who dressed that way, at least not in Chicago.   

Speaking of the way I’m dressed, the jacket I’m wearing in the picture has a history. It belonged to a dead man, a friend of my dad's who left him all his clothes.  Nice stuff, jackets, shoes, white shirts, and wool overcoats.  I wore them out over the course of the next ten years.  My wife Linda was happy to see the last of them go. Although she didn’t have to worry about the sport coat I’m wearing in the picture above.  A couple months after the picture was taken, I threw it away because somebody threw up on it.  Really.  I tried to clean it up (took it to North Avenue beach and washed it in the surf) and even doused it with perfume, but nothing helped.

I like the picture a lot because for me it does capture a moment.  Can you see the black fellow in the photo with his rooty-kazooty hat!  And the kid (Billy Martin, comic book fan) in front of me.  Cleancut as April.  Really, this is the way everybody looked in the 60's--even at an Anti-War Demonstration.  

Nobody was hip.  Everybody was hip.


You can read more about me in the 60s in a piece I posted at Open Salon called "1968: A True Confession."  Just click here.

By the way, Bill Anderson took the photo.  He was the official photographer for the  Chicago/Guzlowski/Anderson antiwar movement.  He died of cancer about seven years ago.  I miss him a lot.  May he rest in peace.


Becky Muehling said...

Thank you for fighting for what you believed in, and what was right. Politics will change with every generation; you fought with your dad over the war, I fight with my dad over gay rights. It always makes me curious as to what I think and believe now that my kids will condemn me for. It really is a fantastic picture of you.

John Guzlowski said...

Thanks for the note, Becky. I think what kept me and my dad from splitting over the war was that we loved each other and respected each other for all those years before the war became an issue.

Anonymous said...

foriarts stiontalJohn, I was on a Frigate off Vietnam fixing the shipboard computers. Spent the next 4 years on various ships fixing programs.

John Guzlowski said...

Kuba, have you read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried? It's a great novel about Vietnam by a guy who was there. Not anti-war, not pro-war but just a great picture of what the war was like.

I teach it in my War Stories class and it's always the students' favorite.

Anonymous said...

John, No have not read 'the things they carried' will check it out.

oriana said...

Love your Vietnamese peasant hat. Now that's something I did not see in L.A. Not once. But we did have some very colorful hippies in robes and beads and long hair and long beards and lush mustaches. The smell of incense and pot was omnipresent. And the real scene was supposed to be Berkeley and San Francisco, with LA just a pale imitation, a poor man's Berkeley.

BKop said...

Thanks of this about your Dad and you. As for the war, I was also opposed although I expressed my opposition by integrating Rev. Jesse Jackson's Jr.-Sr. High School in Greenville, SC. My brother, however, led demonstrations at the University of South Carolina and was jailed for doing so.
Like you, I never wore any special clothes until I went to the terrific Rock Festivals that I loved and miss.
BTW, please let me know whether you'd like me to write a similar piece about America's treatment of Cuba.
You're the best!

Barry Koplen

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight. I enjoy reading about your experiences and continuong to share.ideas with you!

Mieczyslaw Mietko Rudek said...

John I will shake your hand again you are my hero and my inspiration, thank you Mietko

Sue said...

Hello John the Poet - love the article - and I love the picture! And the hat. And, yes, I too was at University during the Sixties - a redbrick Uni in a Northern English town - and it wasn't at all hippified or politicised. And I went to no anti-war demos - there were none to go to. I never understood what the Vietnam war was about, and what all those deaths achieved, any more than I understand what the current Crusades are for, an what all the current deaths are achieving. But I am so glad that the love you and your father had for each other was stronger than any political divisions.

L.P. Jones said...

I wonder if you would have the same argument today about Vietnam. If any war can be justified? Had I been a man and eligible for draft I would have probably been a CO. Of course if others hadn't entered WWII we might have all been speaking German.... Sometimes we have to fight for freedom, however freedom gets confused with exploitation, vested interests, and third parties who profit from war. An entertaining and informative post. Share water, Brother. :)

John Guzlowski said...

This is a comment by Peter Krupkowski who remembers me from that time and offers a correction to my memory:

I read the piece on 1968. Nice, but I think your memories are colored. Your hair in that picture was very long for 1968, you are wearing jeans, and many people I knew at the time would have said you were the very embodiment of a dirty hippie. I got in regular hassles almost daily because my hair was long. Look at my hair in the pictures I sent you of Helmut. That was radical for a high school kid in 1968. By the end of '69 it was cool to be a hippie and lots of kids were imitating the look. In a few months I went from being a pariah, to being one of the elite without changing a thing.

Also beads and flowers were not a media creation, but were so over by the summer of '68. They were big in '66 and '67. Thanks to Jim McGuinn, I had granny sunglasses I bought in Woolworth's the summer of 1966. You sure did know people who dressed that way, Helmut and Wally for starters. Bill Martin too. Those clothes cost money which a lot of us didn't have, but by the summer of 1967 those styles were being absorbed into the mainstream. Look at Helmut, Wally, and even Rich's paisley shirt in the convention photo from 1967. The clothes they were wearing were statements of unconventionality at the time and would have got them into fights in my neighborhood. Remember Stash and his fringed suede jacket? 1968. Just google hippies 1968 and look at the images. A wave a weird fashions as confrontational as those of many a Lisbeth Salander wannabe are now, were sweeping the nation and you were on the leading edge, jacket or no. Because by the summer of 1968 work clothes, jeans, and military surplus were replacing the flower power look. Remember pea coats, chambray work shirts, work boots? Remember how hard it was to find Levi's blue jeans at the start of 1968? I got mine at a place that sold horse tack and farm and garden gear.

If anybody was a media creation, it was the beats, whose number was small and whose short lived influence was completely eclipsed by the Beatles and the ensuing hippie culture of young people. Those kids likely wouldn't know about the beats unless they read The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, which didn't exactly make anyone nostalgic for the late fifties.

Anonymous said...

There were demos in Detroit, too, and no one wore any beads, either, as I recall.

My mom took me to Women Strike for Peace demos with a few labor people maybe there, too, just a handful but enough for the Red Squad to take your picture for their files like they did when she and I took two buses there and back for a demo against Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I started protesting while I was in high school and had a group of folks who did so too as friends.

Yes, we did dress pretty conservatively back then. I wore a Jackie Kennedy style suit when I went to my first trip to DC for Women Strike for Peace before Vietnam was the focus and it was the peaceniks - Quakers, labor, groups like Women Strike for Peace.

Thanks for your memories.

Christina Pacosz

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this, John, especially the bit about Heinlein's influence on counterculture. Thanks for posting, Jad

John Guzlowski said...

Here's a comment from Joe Manfredini, a friend from back then (and still):

That may have been the same "rally" Pete K. and I were at, and got gassed. We were approaching the Grant Park bandshell, I think Country Joe and the Fish were there, and then like storm troopers the pigs (that's what we called them then, remember?) came across the roadway over the railroad tracks. Dozens of them, swinging their batons and firing off canisters of tear gas. Those were the days…

John Guzlowski said...

I got a note from my friend Tony Bukoski:

Dear John,

I very proudly joined the Marines in June 1964 and served in Vietnam in 1965. On March 8, 1965, I was part of the first major landing of Marines in that country. I should say that joining the Marines was the best thing that ever happened to me. I think your father would have been proud of me.


Urkat said...

Always wondered about that photo.

Stephen Lewandowski said...

Jesus, John, we have more in common than just the "ski"s.

My father Stanley (whose relatives were both in Chicago and Buffalo) was elected Commander of the American Legion in our small town at about the time I began to seek Conscientious Objector status in 1969. He was probably mostly a a "Daley Democrat" and had served in both the CCC and the Navy during the war. I was a recent college graduate and, probably like you, thought I knew everything necessary. I had even taken a couple courses in philosophy.

In some ways, what happened between us would have happened anyway, but the war was the crystal around which the rest of the pattern formed.

Now 40some years later, he's gone but my questions linger on: did I miss something important when I finally got that CO status? What kind of man am I? What do we owe one another? Nothing that I expect to answer other than by living it out.

Yes, that attire is exactly the kind of smart-ass things I might have worn at the time. It meant I didn't know any better, I think my father would have said.

-Steve Lewandowski