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Source: Ann Arbor News (MI)
Author: Marianne Rzepka, News Staff Reporter 
Published: Sunday, April 4, 2004 
Copyright: 2004 The Ann Arbor News
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.mlive.com/aanews/index.ssf


The Del Rio and its hippie cooperative business plan are gone, the Ann Arbor Film Festival is accepting digital films and the Hash Bash has devolved into an event for high school poseurs and medical marijuana petitions. 

Ann Arbor is the kind of city that seems to have held onto the 1960s longer than some other towns, but even here the icons of those tumultuous years keep disappearing. 

Longtime residents still remember the Sun Bakery and the Star Lounge. Though their eateries live on, Dominick DeVarti, founder of Dominick's, died nearly three years ago; and Jim Shafer, who founded Blimpy Burger, died in January. 

The film festival for years held to a purist tradition of showing only 16 mm films before accepting 35 mm last year and digital submissions this year. 

This year started with the closing of the Del, where employees had a say in hirings and what was on the menu. In December, owners accused the employees of operating the bar like a private club for themselves and their friends. Employees denied it and picketed the bar. 

As more and more signs of the '60s dissappear, is it time to say that decade is over? 

"The easiest reaction is to say, 'yes,"' says Judy Calhoun, who was a University of Michigan student in the '60s. "Then I got to thinking." 

A lot of ideas and innovations from that time 40 years ago have changed our lives. Some have never gone away, like the environmental movement. 

"Recycling is much better now," says Calhoun, who works at the Ann Arbor District Library. "People didn't think about recycling before then." 

There were vast changes in the way people spoke, dressed, what they read and painted, and what they ate and smoked. 

In Ann Arbor, students protested the Vietnam War, had sit-ins for their own bookstore and marched in support of civil rights. 

Ann Arbor still bears the marks of what happened at that time, when performance art was just beginning and rock was really starting to roll into other forms of music. 

Karl Pohrt went from membership in the radical Students for a Democratic Society to owning Shaman Drum Bookshop. 

"I'm not holding my breath for the revolution any more," he says. "For the past 24 years, I've had to meet a payroll, and that's changed what I was." 

Pohrt's served on core business groups like the Downtown Development Authority and the State Street Area Association, but he retains a love of books and thought. He believes in a "human scale of capitalism" and a sense of community. "I can't believe place isn't important to people," he says. 

In Ann Arbor, "there's still a kind of question-authority thinking," Pohrt says. "Everybody has an idea of how things should be and is not afraid to say what it is." 

Looking back 

Of course, just labeling that time as the '60s ignores the fact that the times weren't limited by a simple, definitive decade. For some, it started after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and ended with Watergate or the withdrawal from Vietnam. 

The '60s extended to the early '70s as far as Rich Magner is concerned. "Up to about '63, it was the '50s," says Magner, current owner of Blimpy Burger, where he started work in 1968. 

Why do the '60s have such a hold on us? Does anyone ask if the '50s are dead? Or even the '70s? 

"It was the huge change," says Tim Sever, who owned Pizza Bob's in the early '70s and now owns Tios. "It was a monstrous change from 'Leave it to Beaver' to 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."' 

Ira Lax, who coordinates programs for the Ann Arbor District Library, sees a nostalgia now for the time, when cars were small and a benefit to free John Sinclair, in jail for possession of marijuana, could bring John Lennon to sing at Crisler Arena. 

"So many aspects of our culture were challenged, and I think many, many people just thought that would continue," he says. 

Lax supervised a show at the library last fall on the '60s, and staff showed up with memorabilia of their own from that time. "People just scoured their attics," he says. 

Michael Homel, history professor at Eastern Michigan University, hosted the series of talks and films. 

"We hear so much (about the '60s) because there were so many changes then that have lasted," he says. "So much of our daily culture was affected by the '60s. 

"If you look at photographs of people in the early '60s or before, the men are wearing suits and ties and hats, and women are wearing gloves and dresses. You look around today, and that's all gone." 

There was the culmination of the civil rights movement that started in the 1950s, there was the women's movement, and "Vietnam taught Americans to distrust the government and authority," he says. 

There were the culture wars of the '60s, including attitude changes about drugs and sex and what's proper language in public. "We're still fighting those same culture wars," says Homel. 

Both conservatives and liberals feel the '60s were a watershed, Homel says, but for different reasons. 

"There are conservatives for whom the '60s are important as examples of all the things that can go wrong," he says. "It's a real object lesson to them." 

Liberals would point to the changes in the '60s as examples of how government can improve things. "They would use the '60s as a vision of what's possible that was cut off too soon and never completely realized," Homel says. 

The conflict turned the coming decades into a kind of anti-'60s, with the rise of evangelicalism and a new conservative movement. "The past 20 or 25 years was a rejection of the '60s," Homel says. 

Echo still in the air 

Sometimes, just when you think the '60s are decades behind you, they're right in front of you again. 

You think John Sinclair has left the country, and the next thing you know he's speaking at the latest peace demonstration. You think Iggy and the Stooges have grown up and moved out, and suddenly they've got a comeback album. 

Shocked that Emmylou Harris was accompanied by an electric guitar at this year's Ark fund-raiser? Bob Dylan shocked everyone when he went electric in 1965, and he even got booed for it at the Newport Folk Festival. 

Still, Ann Arbor music was in the forefront in the '60s, with the Stooges, the MC5, Bob Seger and the Rationals. Now, emerging music groups say they're being pushed out because of rising rents and snobby attitudes. It was only last July that the Technology Center, emptied of young artists and musicians, went up in flames and smoke. 

In 1972, the Human Rights Party got two candidates elected to the Ann Arbor City Council, leading the way to long and noisy meetings and to passage of the $5 marijuana law in the city. 

Now council seats are filled with elected officials with more mainstream political affiliations, though residents might still hear a radical leftist opinion on solar cars or treatment of animals. 

Politically, the war in Vietnam was different from the invasion of Iraq, but more than 2,000 people turned out in Ann Arbor two weeks ago to protest that conflict. In the next week, 150 U-M students marched to the administration building to protest cuts to programs. 

Sam Eldersveld, mayor of Ann Arbor in the mid-1950s and head of the U-M political science department in the '60s, says he isn't sure he'd like to see a return of the time 40 years ago. 

"I would like it back if we could get some more liberal legislation dealing with health and poverty," says Eldersveld. He adds, "I don't want Vietnam back." 

Note: Era's cultural impact resounds even as area signs of it vanish.


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