I had a rock band in the 1960s called the Renegades (I played drums), and we were the featured show band for WLAV at many of these dances during the summers of '64 and '65. These dances were held at the Grand Haven Roller Rink on Seventh Street. The building was converted years ago to offices.
I have always said that I have never seen so many pretty girls under one roof in my life.
One Beach Bash stands out in my memory — the night the rock group the Byrds played on a hot Saturday night in the summer of '65.
They were riding high, having just released the Bob Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man," which was climbing its way to the top of the hit parade. I did not know then that this song was about drugs. In fact, I knew little about the counterculture that summer, but it was coming and my first taste of it was that steamy summer night in Grand Haven, listening to the Byrds. I still call this the best concert I have ever heard.
The Byrds drove up to the roller rink in a bus painted in wild colors and phantasmagoria. And out of that bus David Crosby (wearing his signature poncho), Jim McGuinn (wearing his signature granny classes — later he changed his name to Roger McGuinn), Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Mike Clark emerged with an assortment of groupies.
I went to the Beach Bash with a high school friend, David Hardy, and our jaws dropped to the wood floor when we watched the Byrds and their lovers roam through the vast roller rink, filled with hundreds of tanned teens off the beaches. The musicians' hair was very long — that was new to us. The women were dressed in a style unlike any of our fellow teens that night — the forerunner of the hippie look (e.g., no bras; long, straight hair; colorful clothes).
This was California culture meeting Grand Haven culture, and the contrast could not have been greater.
What this night symbolizes for me is that the summer of '65, at least for my peers, was the last summer of innocence. The Byrds signaled what was coming — not only in terms of music and hair style and dress, but in what became open revolt against the status quo.
1965 was the year our first waves of troops began fighting and dying in Vietnam. Race riots would rock Detroit and other cities two years later. The pill was rapidly changing the sexual morals among young people. Drugs began to flow into our society. Our two major political parties lost their identities, which has continued to this day.
Think of the contrasting styles of music that summer. Coopersville's Del Shannon penned a song, "I Go to Pieces," for Peter and Gordon that year, a romantic ballad about young love. The Beach Bashes would play such records between the sets by the featured bands. Remember ballads like "Yes I'm Ready" and "What the World Needs Now is Love"?
But then, that summer, another 45 was being played at the Beach Bashes — the jarring song "Eve of Destruction" by Barry McGuire, which was a prophetic discordant note in that last moment of summer love and innocence.
As I look back on that summer night when we heard the Byrds in our little town in a roller rink (a popular band playing in such places quickly gave way to stadiums and other impersonal arenas), and I think of all that came after, I am amazed at the contrast. The Beatles' album "Rubber Soul" greeted us that fall, which was unlike anything they had done before.
War protests soon dominated our college towns. Pot was now prevalent and cheap, something few of us knew anything about during the summer of '65. Assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy soon followed those of President Kennedy and Malcolm X.
The white teens attending the Beach Bashes in 1965 lived in a cocoon as compared to black teens in our inner cities or the soldiers flooding into Vietnam. We burst out of that cocoon soon after, and what we saw left many of us disillusioned and some were filled with despair. Yet many of us were idealists, too, and wanted to make the world a better place for all people.
We baby boomers have made positive changes to our nation in terms of race relations, greater equality for women in both the home and workplace, and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters. But we also have deepened our national debt and did little to stop our wars after Vietnam, almost as if we had learned nothing about military involvement in distant lands.
The greatest legacy of the baby boomer generation — at least the longest lasting — will be the music. The Byrds were part of that — and, of course, the Beatles, the Doors, the Stones, Bob Dylan and Motown. And we influenced the films, too.
But it is our music, which even my kids love, which will still be alive long after we are dead and buried.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist