I'm surprised by how much my turning 65 this week is affecting me. Some of it has to do with the political turmoil roiling in my home state of Wisconsin -- I figure older adults like me should be able to convince people to get along!
The rest has to do with the seeming significance of 65 in my life...
Being in my 60s and of the 1960s can be bewildering. I find that I'm alternately in both eras -- 2012 and 1965 -- at the same time. And like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, I continually slide up and down, back and forth, on that continuum. Along the way, I try to connect as many of the dots as I can -- my Medicare card reminds me that I am indeed 65, while the passage of that groundbreaking legislation occurred in 1965, when I was preparing to first leave the bosom of my family and take on the world.
That line of thinking pulls me deeper into the 47 years (is the fact I was born in 1947 yet another coincidence?) between then and now, a then when I was an optimistic, albeit anxious, 18-year-old. President Johnson's Great Society (which included Medicare), the burgeoning Civil Rights movement and my preparing for college were fueling my optimism. Bloody Sunday in Selma, the Dominican Republic "invasion" and the war in Vietnam were increasing my anxiety.
Oddly, if I gave any thought at all to Medicare or elderly people in their 60s, it was prejudiced by my belief that I wouldn't live to see 30, let alone 65. That stark reality crept closer a few years later, when the Vietnam War caught up with me after I graduated from college. I ended up spending 365 (there's that number again) days in what was then called South Vietnam, trying to stay alive and sane.
Were all of us baby boomers doing the same dance? And where were our parents, the people, like my Mom and Dad, for whom Medicare was truly a life insurance policy? They were sitting across the able from us, arguing about hair and drugs and race and the war. As great as the Great Society was, it only went so far. It couldn't bridge the gap between generations that I first felt in 1965.
But what really connects, and sustains, those years and now is music, especially the music of that time -- and that very year, 1965. There were so many seminal songs that came out in 1965 -- from "Eve of Destruction" and "Satisfaction" to "My Girl" and "Like a Rolling Stone." Those songs accompanied us on our way to awareness and young adulthood. Not only have they stood the test of time, but they've also become even more meaningful in the course of the hundreds of interviews Craig Werner http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-werner/ and I have conducted for our book about music and the Vietnam veteran experience.
For Vietnam veterans, songs like "My Girl" and "Like a Rolling Stone" were their lifeline, a link to home, the purest way of connecting with the things that enabled them to "keep on keeping on." From the peaks of the Central Highlands to the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta to the "air-conditioned jungles" of Da Nang and Long Binh, Vietnam soldiers used music to form bonds, express their feelings and hold on to the humanity the world was trying to take away.
Perhaps the strongest musical connection for me is another song that came out in 1965, one that eventually became the Vietnam anthem, the title of our upcoming book, and the message that was on the lips of me and my fellow high school grads in the summer of 1965 -- "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." If it's the last thing we ever do...
And now? The Medicare card says 65, my own personal speed limit. Maybe it's time I got myself back on the highway and see just how far this baby will go... that Great Society still needs to be realized.
WATCH: "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place"