There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the 60s

There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the 60s

by Peter Doggett

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“Doggett’s encyclopaedic account of Sixties counter-culture is a fascinating history of pop’s relationship with politics.” —The Independent
Between 1965 and 1972, political activists around the globe prepared to mount a revolution. While the Vietnam War raged, calls for black power grew louder and liberation movements erupted everywhere from Berkeley, Detroit, and Newark to Paris, Berlin, Ghana, and Peking.
Rock and soul music fueled the revolutionary movement with anthems and iconic imagery. Soon the musicians themselves, from John Lennon and Bob Dylan to James Brown and Fela Kuti, were being dragged into the fray. From Mick Jagger’s legendary appearance in Grosvenor Square standing on the sidelines and snapping pictures, to the infamous incident during the Woodstock Festival when Pete Townshend kicked yippie Abbie Hoffman off the stage while he tried to make a speech about an imprisoned comrade, Peter Doggett unravels the truth about how these were not the “Street Fighting Men” they liked to see themselves as and how the increasing corporatization of the music industry played an integral role in derailing the cultural dream. There’s a Riot Going On is a fresh, definitive, and exceedingly well-researched behind-the-scenes account of this uniquely turbulent period when pop culture and politics shared the world stage with mixed results.
“A fresh and near-definitive slant on a subject you might have thought had been picked clean by journalists and historians.” —Time Out London
“An extraordinary book . . . Doggett emerges triumphant. Grab a copy—by any means necessary.” —Mojo

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802197740
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 464,130
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Peter Doggett has been writing about music and popular culture for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers since 1980. His previous books include his critically acclaimed study of country-rock and the culture of the American South, Are You Ready for the Country, and The Art & Music of John Lennon. He lives in Hampshire with his wife and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt



We have paraded, we have picketed, we have petitioned our government, we have fasted, we have 'sat-in' – yet for over two years American military involvement in Vietnam has escalated relentlessly. Many of us are filled with a growing sense of weariness and despair.

(New York anti-Vietnam War activists, July 1966)

When the anti-war movement realised that conventional protest was being ignored by the White House, pressure grew for a more radical solution to the Vietnam crisis. From 1966 onwards, the campaign against the war began to merge with the crusade against racism, the first stirrings of feminism and the quest for liberation from the morals and methods of capitalist society. This crush of causes squeezed protestors out of their comfortable liberalism, into a state of consciousness where revolution – of the mind, body and spirit – became not only a dream, but a necessity. Over the next two years, this impulse would grow to the point where it seemed that only a cataclysmic attempt to overthrow the state would ease the pressure.


In the seven-second flurry of bullets that ended his life, President John F. Kennedy was translated into the realm of sainthood. In its shock and horror, America preferred to remember their lost leader as a symbol, not a flawed human being who had failed to deliver on his promises about civil rights, and steered his nation closer to its fatal entanglement in Vietnam. Older, uglier, a dirty-nailed squabbler in the political mire, his successor struggled to escape Kennedy's shadow. In the months after the assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson searched for a magical phrase, a statement of purpose, which could sprinkle the glitter from Kennedy's Camelot over his own presidency.

JFK had informed the American public that they stood 'on the edge of a new frontier – the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and paths, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats'. By 1964, with Kennedy in Arlington Cemetery and tidings darkening on every horizon, Americans were fearful that the 'threats' were no longer 'unfulfilled'. That March, a TV interviewer enquired whether LBJ could offer Americans a replacement for JFK's New Frontier. He scratched around for a moment, and said: 'Well, I suppose all of us want a better deal, don't we?'

That wasn't the poetry that history demanded. In April 1964, Johnson tried again during a speech in Chicago. 'We have been called upon ... are you listening?' he interjected, to highlight the significance of what he was about to say – '... to build a great society of the highest order, a society not just for today or tomorrow, but for three or four generations to come.' It was enough – a Great Society, a purpose that could be bent to every vision of the future, a beacon bright enough to call out to the doubtful, but yet so vague that it could be reshaped as circumstances required. It was enough to win Johnson the election in November 1964: that, and the threat, reinforced by Johnson's slick TV advertising campaign, that his Republican challenger might lead America blithely into World War Three.

Yet even the most loyal Johnsonite must have struggled to recognise the President's dream at the dawn of 1966. In the aftermath of Selma and Watts, the civil rights issue simmered just below the surface, waiting for the first spark of spring to renew the inferno. Meanwhile, it was increasingly difficult to boast that the war in Vietnam was going to plan. More than 800 Americans had perished there between August and December. As the year began, 120,000 US fighting troops were installed in South-East Asia, plus more than 60,000 euphemistic 'advisors'. Generals had already informed LBJ that the war was unwinnable unless he committed at least 400,000 soldiers to it, and even then it would take years, not months. The financial burden was decimating Johnson's welfare campaign; Vietnam was now costing the USA more than $35,000,000 per day. Johnson now realised that 'If I left the woman I really loved – the Great Society – in order to get involved in that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home.' With each passing month, the bitch sank her nails deeper into Johnson's back.

The president's exhaustion was slowly suffocating his land. Anti-war protestors had naively expected the moral force of their argument to bring the conflict to an immediate end. Meanwhile, civil rights activists sighed at the prospect of another year of begging for an end to segregation and prejudice, while all across the Southern states African-Americans were still denied the opportunity to vote. 'Negroes are defined by two forces, their blackness and their powerlessness,' noted the charismatic SNCC activist Stokely Carmichael. In Folsom Prison, Eldridge Cleaver drew the connections: 'The link between America's undercover support of colonialism abroad and the bondage of the Negro at home becomes increasingly clear.'

All this smacked of Marxism, declared David Noebel of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. It was not Vietnam or civil rights that had sapped young people's optimism, he alleged, but the entertainment they were fed by the Communist conspiracy. 'Throw your Beatle and rock'n'roll records in the city dump,' he begged. 'Let's make sure four mop-headed anti-Christ beatniks don't destroy our children's emotional and mental stability.' Listen to Barry McGuire's 'Eve of Destruction', he added, as it was 'obviously aimed at instilling fear in our teenagers as well as a sense of hopelessness. "Thermonuclear holocaust", "the button", "the end of the world" and similar expressions are constantly being used to induce the American public to surrender to atheistic international Communism.' Meanwhile, the draft loomed over 'our teenagers', who from February 1966 would for the first time be eligible for military service even if they were college students.

America was a nation edgy with impatience and frustration, and increasingly riven on generational and racial grounds. Within the civil rights movement, anger at the slow pace of change was hardening attitudes and identities. Some African-American protestors were beginning to resent the presence of young white supporters in their midst. The influx of white liberals into Mississippi in 1964 had brought national attention to the racism inherent in Southern society. Two years later, however, as activist Andrew Young recalled, 'There was a decision on the part of some of the blacks in SNCC that we don't just want to get people free, we want to develop indigenous black leadership.'

'The disagreement over whites was not on having whites,' explained Stokely Carmichael, who took over the leadership of the most confrontational civil rights organisation, SNCC, in April 1966. 'The disagreement was on having white leadership. White liberals could work with SNCC but they could not tell SNCC what to do or what to say.' Carmichael was also responsible for SNCC's decision in January 1966 to highlight the direct link between America's homegrown racism and its imperialist foreign policy. Other civil rights groups, who had not given up hope of exerting peaceful persuasion on the Johnson government, moved swiftly to distance themselves from SNCC's more militant line.


Peter Coyote of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a radical theatre group that had grown out of California's burgeoning hippie scene, looked blearily at the chaos around him. He predicted: 'We're passing now into a time of death, and we have to confront death with the vision of life.' He saw an 'ideology of failure' that was gripping the nation: 'There are internal contradictions in the society that have become heightened to such a degree that the country has become the equivalent of fascist. It's General Motors fascism. That's out front. Our lives are in fact revolutionary within the context of General Motors fascism. We expect to live our lives and to defend them. We have been cultural outsiders in this civilisation. We will become the political dynamic of the new society because we are living a new civilisation.' Asked what he saw ahead, he replied starkly: 'Civil war, with some attendant trips.' But which way would the country crack first?

Faced with the prospect of open warfare between black and white, of annihilation in the jungles of Vietnam, of losing one's soul in 'General Motors fascism', many young people reached for an alternative. Peter Coyote's 'attendant trips' exerted more pull than his 'civil war'. Instead of risking death on the battlefield or at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, millions chose to consider a different adventure – a journey into the void of their own souls. There was, according to Time magazine in March 1966, an epidemic of drug use among the young, who were choosing to lose their identity and (so Time suggested) risk their sanity by swallowing a chemical compound called lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), or 'acid'. The patron saint of acid experimentation was a former Harvard psychologist called Timothy Leary. He declared that political involvement was meaningless: 'Any external or social action, unless it's based on expanded consciousness, is robot behaviour.' LSD was the common currency of mind expansion through the mid-1960s. Along with rock music, it became the most important ingredient of the development of the counter-culture known variously as flower power, the hippie movement or, simply, as a historical cliché, 'The Sixties'. Dr Leary formed an organisation called the League of Spiritual Discovery, to normalise the use of LSD. In California, hippies organised 'acid tests', at which an LSD 'trip' would be accompanied by suitably psychedelic music from the Grateful Dead, one of the many rock bands who set out to reproduce the acid experience in sound.

Fame and wealth provided no refuge for 'cultural outsiders'. In February 1966, John Lennon invited journalist Maureen Cleave into his plush home in the stockbroker belt. She admired his playthings, but couldn't help but notice the spiritual emptiness that they represented. This was the other extreme of 'General Motors fascism' – the endless consumerism available to the rich, objectified in Lennon's life by his cars, his tape recorders, his television sets, 'the telephones of which he knows not a single number'. It was alienation personified, and Lennon knew it: 'There's something else I'm going to do, something I must do – only I don't know what it is. That's why I go round painting and taping and drawing and writing and that, because it may be one of them. All I know is, this isn't it for me.' Cleave reported that Lennon was 'reading extensively about religion'. Lennon's studies and his relaxed relationship with Cleave led him to make one of the most notorious public statements of the century: 'Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right, and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first – rock'n'roll or Christianity.' His comments passed without notice in Britain, where a certain amount of bohemian eccentricity was expected from its celebrities. But when the interview was reprinted in the US teen magazine Datebook, it prompted an outbreak of antipathy that made David Noebel's criticisms sound mild by comparison.

Lennon's ennui chimed with his bandmate George Harrison, who chose the year commonly regarded as the pinnacle of 1960s pop to lament that only Indian music turned him on these days: 'It makes Western three-or-four-beat type stuff seem somehow dead.' As Lennon noted in another 1966 interview, 'We are all old men.' The Beatles' escape routes – the recording studio, hallucinogenic drugs, the trancelike music of India, and soon Eastern spirituality as well – took them inward, at the moment when Vietnam and racism defaced the external, physical, political world.

Academic Nick Bromell has argued that the acid generation's excursions had a subtle political effect. 'After getting high or tripping,' he wrote, '60s users realised that their belief in a core self was naive, their faith in stability was foolish, and so they were fully prepared to see through everything, including truth, justice, and the American way.' All astute watchers of America's travails in Vietnam shared that lack of 'faith in stability', but there were other ways of coming to mistrust 'truth, justice, and the American way' – avoiding ambush by Vietnamese guerrillas, for one, or facing down crazed racists in Mississippi.


In 1966 America trudged deeper into the swamp of South-East Asia, convinced that with every step it was reaching higher ground. Meanwhile, the American nation looked on, bewildered. Anti-war protestors were equally mystified and jaded. Individual events drew massive crowds: International Days of Protest in March brought 50,000 people onto the streets of New York, and as many again in other US cities. Yet with Students for a Democratic Society having abdicated responsibility for the peace movement the previous year, there was no organisation strong or courageous enough to direct a prolonged campaign of disobedience and dissent.

In Berkeley, the Vietnam Day Committee kept the faith, working towards Jerry Rubin's high-profile but electorally unsuccessful bid to become the city's mayor. The VDC continued to stage low-key benefit concerts throughout this period, calling on the services of Country Joe McDonald and guitarist Barry Melton, who was now performing with Joe as 'the Fish'. In September 1965, McDonald had contributed to a record called Songs ForOpposition, which featured the original versions of two of the most memorable protest songs of the era. 'Superbird' (its title borrowed from Mac Gerson's satirical play) lampooned the president as a low-budget superhero, devoid of special powers. 'I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag' combined the title of one vintage blues tune with the melody of another, as a backdrop to savagely comic commentary on the war. The result was an unforgettable 1960s anthem, still potent enough four years later to enliven 500,000 stoned hippies at the Woodstock festival. For the moment, though, both songs were scarcely heard beyond the San Francisco bay.

Country Joe & the Fish mutated from a duo into a folk-rock band by early 1966. The extended line-up included Berkeley activist and bassist Bruce Barthol, and Paul Armstrong, whose penance for evading military service was to work in a center where the bodies of dead American soldiers were shipped from Vietnam. Thinking politically was second nature to the band. 'At a rally for a radical candidate for Congress,' explained the duo's manager Ed Denson, 'we saw the Fugs put on what was then a really mind-blowing show. The audience was stunned, and we were overjoyed. Contacting them, we arranged for a concert on the Berkeley campus presented by the Pretentious Folk Front.' McDonald reeled off his new protest gems, while the band sported T-shirts bearing peace symbols, and Melton proudly displayed a sweatshirt featuring the face of Beethoven, and the simple caption: 'Marx'. 'We thought we might be arrested for singing our songs,' Denson recalled. But as Barthol explains, 'There was no fantasy of rock stardom on the early San Francisco rock scene. The "air guitar" scenario hadn't been invented yet. The band was never intended to be anything more than a minor underground happening. Everything that happened after that took us by surprise.'

Down the coast in Los Angeles, the avant-garde elite gathered for a Concert Happening at Aerospace Hall in February 1966. Alongside a programme of experimental pieces by John Cage and Schonberg, Joseph Byrd performed a 'composition' entitled 'The Defense of the American Continent from the Viet Cong Invasion'. After several years working alongside artists such as George Maciunas and Yoko Ono in the Fluxus group, Byrd had formed the New Music Workshop with Don Ellis. His composition was inspired, Byrd recalls, by 'the absurdity of the US Defense Department (no longer the "War Department") entering into a longer and more protracted war in South-East Asia'. Within the skeletal 'score' of Cage's Notations, Byrd arranged for eight musicians, 'representing ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] units, to improvise airplane sounds on their instruments, i.e. drones. They should start softly, and build until they intercepted the Viet Cong bomber threatening California. At whatever time each player reached the target, he would stop improvising, and begin playing a chorale arrangement I'd written of "America the Beautiful", which repeated until everyone had completed the mission. So there was a gradual transition from drone to hymn.'


Excerpted from "There's A Riot Going On"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Peter Doggett.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Thrill of Propaganda,
The Curse of Leadership,
Blurring the Past,
Prologue: 1965,
Domino Theory,
Poems of These States,
Fragile Coalition,
Black Arts,
Chapter 1: 1966,
A Great Society,
General Motors Fascism,
Pretentious Folk Front,
The Opening Shots,
To a Man,
Black Power,
Luxurious Ego Demonstration,
Latent Anger,
Chapter 2: 1967,
Spiritual Revolution,
Cultural Revolution,
Violence and Rhetoric,
Blind Acceptance,
Angry Arts,
The Mobile Butcher Shop,
Guerrilla Lovefare,
Dudes on the Block,
Chapter 3: 1968,
The Creeping Meatball,
Che Chic,
Tet on Television,
Assassination and Aftermath,
Impulse for Liberation,
Street Fighting Men,
Exposing the Underground,
Vietnam Voyeurs,
Radical Noise,
Dream Mutations,
Chaotic Electricity,
Escaping Justice,
Fleshy Slices of Feminism,
The Theatre of Rebellion,
Trailing Carnage,
Chapter 4: 1969,
Corporate Revolution,
Assault on the Culture,
Beyond Interpretation,
Free Huey,
This Year's Flower Power,
Weather Reports,
Disunited Front,
Continental Drift,
Seize the Time,
Across the Borderline,
Dachau Blues,
Girls Say Yes, Women Say No,
Going Fishing,
The Pigs are Vamping,
Theatre on Trial,
Death Valley,
Freedom to Die,
Chapter 5: 1970,
Hymns of Revolution,
Heroin in the Ghetto,
X = Black Power,
Ball of Confusion,
Hip Capitalists,
Witch Side Are You On?,
Inside an Explosion,
Four Dead in Ohio,
Blood, Sweat & Bullshit,
Do Nothing,
Isle of Phun,
Political Prisoners,
No More Jiving,
Dylan's Current Bag,
The Dream is Over,
Chapter 6: 1971,
Bard on the Run,
Power to the People,
May Day for the Movement,
Reactionary Suicide,
Looking Real Pretty,
God Save Us,
People's Peace,
A Brand-name for Revolt,
Village People,
A Local Affair,
Rock Liberation,
Born in a Prison,
The Hostage,
Symbols of Sincerity,
Free John Now!,
Chapter 7: 1972,
A Political Woodstock,
A Jaundiced Eye,
Ireland and the Anglo Pigs,
Hear Me Roar,
Going to the Candidates' Debate,
Voice of Sanity,
Revolution Blues,
Welcome to Miami Beach,
Where Are You Now, My Son?,

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There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the '60s 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Darcia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book follows the counter-culture's various political movements from 1965 to 1972. Most of the information focuses on the happenings in the U.S., though Peter Doggett does touch upon other countries and how the turmoil connected. Doggett covers the Weathermen, the Black Power groups, Yippies, the start of the Women's Movement, the political activists such as Abbie Hoffman, and the musicians who got involved. Doggett gives us insight into why the underground movements took off the way they did, as well as why many fizzled into nothing in the end. While the book is divided by year, at times Doggett jumps around in his attempt to cover a person or movement's activities. For the most part, I didn't have a problem with the format. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period of history that sparked an incredible amount of change in our lives.
ChrisWildman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a compelling and detailed history of politics and music of the sixties and there relationship. What I found limited was its over all emphasis on failure, as if "the revolution" should have been achieved - and sustained. I want to hear about how ongoing all those innovations have also been: the way it has changed many aspects of global culture indelibly> How positive many of those changes have been. To use an analogy: just because we brought the flowers and the songs to the wedding didn't mean we guaranteed there would be no divorce! Let's start over!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the author views this wildly compelling era through a liberal lens (cue the requisite Nixion-bashing) and gives unsubstantiated credence to left-wing conspiracy theories and myths (such as the nonsense that African Americans served and died in Vietnam in numbers disproportionate to their percentage of the US population), that bias is largely mitigated by his unsparing critique of radical chic disingenuous rockers (eg Mick Jagger) and the many so called revolutionaries who turned out to be, or turned into, pop culture celebrities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookAddictFL More than 1 year ago
This book follows the counter-culture's various political movements from 1965 to 1972. Most of the information focuses on the happenings in the U.S., though Peter Doggett does touch upon other countries and how the turmoil connected. Doggett covers the Weathermen, the Black Power groups, Yippies, the start of the Women's Movement, the political activists such as Abbie Hoffman, and the musicians who got involved. Doggett gives us insight into why the underground movements took off the way they did, as well as why many fizzled into nothing in the end. While the book is divided by year, at times Doggett jumps around in his attempt to cover a person or movement's activities. For the most part, I didn't have a problem with the format. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period of history that sparked an incredible amount of change in our lives.