Many People have a special feeling for a certain year. For Salvador Dali it was the year 1900 (‘every ornamental object of the year 1900 is full of mystery, poetry, eroticism, etc’). Which reminds me that year worship is obviously a fetish. It is both rational and irrational. We don’t know why we were drawn to a particular year although it is possible after the event to rationalise the decision.
My year is 1962. Perhaps the reason is that it was obviously a year of transition in the world and national life and I was 15 years old. This convergence of the personal and public is what selected this year strongly for me.
1962 was not yet the 60s of course. The Beatles made their first bleat of a blip on the national consciousness with Love Me Do, released in October, but they didn’t become a phenomenon until 1963. But being a time of transition doesn’t mean that 1962 was dull or colourless. It seemed to me at the time to be replete with the glamour of a kind of life I hoped I would inherit as I became a man.
Here’s how it looked to me. That Was the Week That Was set the tone. This satire was knowing and very cool. The music of the era was jazz. Millicent Martin’s songs on the show were hip and scat jazzy. Jazz’s annus mirabilis was 1959 but Davis, Coltrane, Mingus, Horace Silver were still blowing confidently, unaware of the rock explosion that would soon hit them.
This irreverent new culture was sophisticated; the scruffiness of hippiedom had yet to assert itself. Peter Cook, the coolest funny man around, wore Italian bum-freezer jackets. The first Bond film, Dr No, appeared that year and set the style. The musicals How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (‘You have the cool, clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth’), The Music Man, and Anthony Newley's Stop the World I Want to Get Off were running. This was the world of Vance Packard: the new consumer society with its button-down collars and whisky sour edge of cynicism.
Anthony Newley was a characteristic figure: an East End Jew with all-round abilities: singing, song-writing, acting, comedy. The early Beatles took on some of the colour of this time. Epstein dressed them in suits and in photographs of the time they have belonged alongside Cook and Newley as representative figures. The Beatles, whose main roots were in the R&B and rock ‘n’ roll of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly actually included ‘Till There was You’, a melodic show tune from The Music Man, in their set.
And then there was Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, a manifesto way ahead of its time, foreshadowing the submissive slut era of Sex and the City in the 2000s: ‘Good girls go to heaven; bad girls go everywhere.’
At 15 I couldn’t wait to join this world but when two year later I went to university and started to live, the mood had already changed. Dylan and R&B replaced the sophistication of jazz with a new rawer edge. It was goodbye bum freezers and hello the donkey jacket. I vaguely missed the buttoned down cool which was still out there somewhere but at 17 you go with the tide and the tide was going somewhere else. Now, everything connected with the year 1962 seems imbued with an impossible charisma, glamour and eroticism.
I'm a writer whose interests include the biological revolution happening now, the relationship between art and science, jazz, and the state of the planet