By Eleanor Sly
The 1960sThat legendary decade that changed the face of western youth culture, with its hit songs, household names, upheaval and a new sense of freedom. A revolution, or so the V & A would have you believe in their exhibition ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70’. You would be forgiven for wondering how another retrospective on this famous ten years could be shown in a new light. Yet with its engaging layout and interesting content, it manages to avoid falling into the category of a nostalgia trip for the over 70s and provides a fresh look at these rapidly changing few years.
Growing up, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Simon and Garfunkel were an ever-present soundtrack to life. Everyone knows the classics, but aside from these musical triumphs, I have to admit knowing little about the events of the decade itself, apart from some vague notions on the invention of the mini skirt (being a big fan) and a bit about the cold war. If you want to learn more about the historical context and backdrop to which these famous bands and artists penned their songs, I would highly recommend a visit.
I’m not normally one for audio guides in exhibitions, but apparently, a headset was an integral part of the experience and I was actually really impressed. The soundtrack and recording would change according to whereabouts in the room you were standing. As you moved nearer to film clips, one of President Kennedy for example, your headset would tune into the dialogue, but when you were back in the main space of the exhibition, it would revert to the general soundtrack for that room. This meant you could go at your own pace and there were no large crowds around particular exhibits, apart from a booth containing The Beatles original costumes for Sgt. Pepper and other memorabilia, which was obviously very popular.
The chronological layout of exhibits allowed you to move seamlessly from politics to music, to fashion (a section on the mini skirt and Twiggy), the Vietnam War, drugs and LSD, all interspersed with adverts of the time, which in a strange way helped set the scene and make it relevant to the individual, rather than simply focusing on pop stars, models and politicians. Civil rights, Martin Luther King, feminism and the invention of the Pill, were equally sensitively covered with accompanying soundtrack. There was even a section on the development of air transport, and some architecture in there too.
You really got a feeling of how quickly things were changing
In fact, by the end of the exhibition, the focus had shifted towards the 70s, the beginning of the hippy movement and a retreat to a simpler way of life, contrasting with the excess and consumerism of the previous ten years.
Particular highlights included McCartney and Lennon’s handwritten lyrics (complete with crossings out) to several of their biggest hits, including ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Revolution’, a piece of moon rock, and a room dedicated to Woodstock and the invention of the festival, complete with fake grass and bean bags – you could lie on the floor and watch recordings from the actual festival projected onto huge screens.
I left the exhibition feeling considerably more knowledgeable and with a distinct feeling that events and politics this generation lived through were not so dissimilar to those of today. In the face of adversity, a counter-culture sprung up with the young determined to make their mark, in spite of the threat of the Cold War. In this way, the exhibition and content seemed accessible and relevant, and although there was a noticeable proportion of silver-haired ‘baby boomers’, I did spot several other curious students and twenty-somethings amongst the crowd.
The exhibition is open until 26th February.
Photograph: Manhhal via Creative Commons