40 Years Later: the Jesus Music Revolution, part 2

It was the turn of a decade, and what a decade it had been.  The sixties had, in less than ten years, definitively demolished the look and feel of so much of the accepted American culture that had existed before. Until the Industrial Revolution in the late 1880s and 1890s, life for one generation really didn’t look much different from the generation preceding it, and the next generation was going to look pretty much the same again. The Industrial Revolution began to change every landscape it touched, physically, spiritually, and sociologically. The family, which until then had made its way through the world together, on the farm, was now being separated by factories and urban expansion so that the father, who used to be just out in the field, was now gone all day, often for weeks or months at a time, building cities and manufacturing products. Then, for the next 50 years, life in America settled into a manageable hum of achievement, patriotism, and assembly line excellence. Two-parent families and respect for authority were still the norm, and even the rebels of the 1950s were clean shaven and tucked in their shirttails.

In the sixties, though, the quiet acquiescence with which most Americans were so comfortable was decimated. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, and by the Fall of 1963, President Kennedy had sent 5000 troops to the University of Mississippi after the enrollment of its first black student; Medgar Evers was killed outside of his home; and Martin Luther King, Jr. had written Letters From A Birmingham Jail. Then, in November, President Kennedy himself was felled by an assassin’s bullet in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Add to that the escalating losses and increasing unpopularity of the war in Vietnam, and for the first time, a whole generation of teenagers and young adults were beginning to do something that had never been done so brazenly before— they were questioning authority. And so the postmodern generation drew its first tentative breath.

This new boldness to assert that maybe the people in charge might not know what is best, splashed over into every arena imaginable, and the still fledgling world of rock and roll began to find its voice in defiance. From Bob Dylan trying to find the answer “Blowin’ in the Wind,” to Barry McGuire’s warning that we were on the “Eve of Destruction,” to John Fogerty’s lament that he was not the “Fortunate Son,” guitars and voices joined together by the thousands to make their dissatisfaction with the status quo a matter of record.

At the very end of the 1960s, from August 15-18, 1969, a small village in New York hosted “An Aquarian Exposition: Three Days of Peace and Music,” better known for the name of its nearest town—Woodstock. It was actually more like three days of tents and torrential rain. Popular biographer Marc Eliot writes of that festival, “The single previously heard but still unseen act that emerged triumphant from Woodstock was Crosby, Stills, and Nash, joined onstage by Neil Young. Taking their turn at four in the morning, they sat themselves down on stools, reached for their guitars, performed their uniquely structured, lyrically sophisticated, harmonically vivid ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,’ and at a generation’s wake became superstars.”

And with the ensuing success of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the center of the new sound in rock music moved all the way across the nation from New York to the leafy neighborhood where the trio had first sat down in Joni Mitchell’s home and harmonized together: Laurel Canyon, perched high in the hills above Los Angeles. Laurel Canyon went on to be the incubator for other artists who found their voices there and delivered their newfound community’s music and attitude to the bars and clubs of Sunset Strip: artists like Jackson Browne, Jim Morrison, the Mamas and the Papas (who had migrated West from Greenwich Village), the Byrds, and the Eagles.

But as Texas boy Don Henley and Detroit-bred Glenn Frey were hitting their high notes together in the folk-rock, end-of-Vietnam, “what’s next?” atmosphere of L.A., other musicians were gathering and were finding their collective voice for what would prove to be just as world-changing, and certainly more eternal, than what was happening in Laurel Canyon. Less than an hour’s drive away, in Costa Mesa, a young pastor named Chuck Smith and a tiny church called Calvary Chapel were unwittingly playing host to other hippie musicians who would provide the soundtrack to what would soon be a sweeping, generation-impacting, Church-changing movement that Time magazine would call “The Jesus Revolution.”


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