When Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in June 1967, it was treated by some as a hippie apotheosis; theater critic Kenneth Tynan called it “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization.” It’s not that I necessarily disagree (just the other day a baby boomer friend of mine who never listens to rock music reciting the running order of the entire album, strictly on the basis of how many times he heard it wafting through the walls of the dorm of his Ivy League schools), it’s that Sgt. Pepper was not great art because it represented a marker in some generational war; it was great art because it staged that war within itself.
Exhibit A: the loveliest moment on the record, the song “She’s Leaving Home,” a haunting cry of sympathy for the Depression generation parents who wished nothing more than to love their children, and whose alienated children’s thanks was to run away—perhaps to a place like Haight-Ashbury, the hippie Mecca in San Francisco, or New York’s East Village, where indeed, the NYPD maintained a 20-man undercover detail to help terrified parents find runaways, and where the New York Times’ J. Anthony Lukas reported a Pulitzer Prize-winnig story about the supposedly cheerful and well-mannered debutante from Greenwich, Connecticut who turned up dead in an East Village boiler room, the capstone to a brief career picking up, according to her rooming house’s desk clerk, “anybody off the street—the dirtiest bearded hippies she could find”
You won’t find the lyrics from “She’s Leaving Home” in Nixonland. But you can read (some of) them on TAPPED!
She (We never thought of ourselves)
Is leaving (Never a thought for ourselves)
She’s leaving home after living alone
For so many years (Bye, bye)”
Next comes a gem from 1971. Eighteen million Reader’s Digest subscribers received detachable flag decals inside the special February 1969 “America In Transition” issue. Thirty one million more wrote in to request one. The hit film Patton, from spring of 1970 — Richard Nixon’s favorite movie—began with the legendary gentleman delivering a stirring speech in front of a gargantuan American flag. The same spring when 15,000 gathered on the New Haven Green in support of a group of imprisoned Black Panthers, city fathers arranged for the 60 foot flagpole above the World War I memorial to be slathered with grease (the flag in front of Center Church had already been replaced by a Yippie banner).