Special Interest: Melissa Mooney- The Sixties
Mods, moptops and miniskirts. JFK, Woodstock and the moon landing.
My passion for all things to do with the ‘60s, a decade of which even my parents’ generation were too young to have any memory, is as broad and all-encompassing as they come.
So, how did a ‘90s kid like me come to be so drawn to this now-distant era? Well, as with many special interests, it all began with a far more specific fascination.
One lazy evening, fifteen-year-old me was flicking through the TV channels and a film which happened to be set during the ‘60s caught my eye. Ever one to adhere to a theme and immerse myself in the world in which a character dwells, I found myself rummaging through my mother’s CD collection while the end credits rolled, searching for some bed-time listening from that era. Eventually, I stumbled upon a Beatles compilation album. “They’re from the ‘60s, right?” I asked myself, which Wikipedia was happy to confirm. I fired the CD into my Walkman and the rest is history.
‘She Loves You’ and ‘Come Together’ immediately stood out to me – I distinctly remember being utterly astounded not only that these two vastly different tracks were by the same artists, but also that they were released a mere six years apart.
That’s progress, I thought, transfixed by the startling versatility of their discography, that’s evolution. With the sublime, melancholic chords of ‘Yesterday’ reverberating across the fretboard of my enthralled heart, I slept sounder that night than I had in years, all in the promise that more – so much more! – of this magic awaited me when I woke up.
I worked backwards from there and expanded my listening material to the pioneering crusaders of rock ‘n’ roll in the late ‘50s. This ranged from Elvis’ iconic croon and the soulful wail of Little Richard to the Everly Brothers’ inimitably tight harmonies and ingenious fusion of this new-fangled sound with the country genre that was the soundtrack of their upbringing.
Rock ‘n’ roll has its roots in the skiffle movement, where spoons, washboards or, indeed, any ordinary household item from which a sound could be coaxed became a valid musical instrument. Suddenly, the magic of the music-making process was accessible for everyone, even a teenaged Paul McCartney, who ditched the trumpet his jazzophile father pushed encouragingly into his hands in favour of a guitar. The demystification of music as an art form which you didn’t require a formal music education to appreciate extended also to the listener, with many landmark rock ‘n’ roll tunes being based on the same three or four simple chords. Far from lulling the listener into a state of boredom, the simplicity of this Lowest Common Denominator approach was precisely what made for such infectiously catchy tunes.
I listened in wonder as these formulaic, dependable cadences evolved subtly, almost imperceptibly, into the sophisticated, experimental sounds of the latter half of the ‘60s, from Mick Jagger’s unmistakable vocals to the Beach Boys’ immaculate ‘Pet Sounds’ harmonies. In fact, I was so enamoured of this era in music that upon discovering that ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was on the Leaving Cert Music syllabus, I took the subject up in sixth year and gladly completed the entire two-year curriculum in a year, delighting in unpacking the genius I so loved in granular, micro detail.
However, my love of this era extends far beyond the realm of music, from the world of fashion to the catalysis of social change that is still in motion today. For example, the youth aesthetic of the time instantly appealed to me as I marvelled at Carnaby Street’s transformation into a kaleidoscopic carousel of geometric patterns and swinging Londoners. This was soon reflected in my own sense of style and in this respect, I do rather oddly believe that my special interest went a long way to help me become more comfortable in my own skin.
As I lost weight and gained more confidence after starting college, I found myself ditching the leg-trapping sensory nightmare pants have always been for me in favour of retro skirts and dresses that would make Mary Quant proud while chopping my hair to a Pattie-Boyd-inspired bob. It feels extraordinarily liberating to walk around wearing the clothes that feel ‘right’ on me and listen to the music that makes me giddy with joy without feeling the need to justify my unusual taste to those around me. It’s good enough for me, and that’s all that matters.
In retrospect, I also think it is possible that a subconscious identification with the social expectation that I behave in a very particular way may have had a role to play in my sustained interest in this era. Peeling away the superficial glamour of the ‘60s, I’m not blind to the fact that gender roles still reigned supreme at this time; indeed, women, people of colour and other minorities often had the way they were to lead their lives dictated to them and were expected to mask in a similar way to many autistic people today.
Despite these unspoken rules and limitations imposed on them, however, the ‘60s also set the wheel of women’s emancipation in motion and for this reason, I take courage and inspiration from this post-war societal shift, causing the phony age of consensus to rupture with all the glorious volume it deserved. Fifty years down the line and the chain reaction of social change for good still doesn’t seem to have lost its momentum, which is why I live in hope for the day where autistic people, too, will have the freedom to be whoever we want to be.
I forged some wonderful (albeit long-distance) friendships through this passion of mine and I love all of my crazy obsessions for their daily reminder to me that it’s great being an Aspie. As the Beatles themselves would say: “with a love like that, you know you should be glad!”
by Ian Lynam - 4 September, 2019
Last updated by Ian Lynam - September 4, 2019
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