"Too Good to Be Forgotten," by David Obst. John Wiley & Sons. 274 pages. $24.95.
In this baby boomer's explanation of his psychedelic generation, David Obst reports one rollicking adventure after another. By his account, the Vietnam War, Richard M. Nixon and the Chicago Democratic Convention were the only things not to love about the 1960s. Yet the upside was that each provided plenty of material for street protests, which, in those days, were the best kind of party. Without protests, the '60s experience could not be called complete.
In his exuberant memoir of that era and the Watergate years, Obst - then a student, journalist and literary agent, now a writer and producer - doesn't skip the bad stuff, but he doesn't let it get him down. The heartbreak caused by the three assassinations of 1963 and 1968, for example, is skimmed.
People's Park in Berkeley, that subversive decade's epicenter, was one place where Obst was hanging out: "I would venture to say that being a graduate student at Berkeley in 1968/1969 was the most fun time to be alive in the history of the world." Understatement is not one of his major strengths.
Still, Obst succeeds in his mission of breathing life into a series of snapshots of his youth and capturing the tempo of the times. And his book demonstrates his remarkable good fortune in showing up at the right place to meet players in the nation's destiny.
dTC Two were Daniel Ellsberg, who turned over the explosive Pentagon Papers to the nation's newspapers, and Seymour Hersh, the journalist who first reported on the My Lai massacre in 1969. Obst helped Ellsberg while he was hiding from the law and peddled Hersh's investigative story to the mainstream press, which resulted in Hersh winning a Pulitzer Prize. A few years later, Obst negotiated a book deal for Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
That gets ahead of the story, though, which starts with a straightforward public school California boyhood in Culver City, a modest neighborhood in Los Angeles. Obst's comic gifts as a writer emerge in telling the tale of a high school romance that suddenly started during the fearful days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when he and a girl named Jill watched what they thought might be their last sunset over the ocean.
When he was ready to see the world beyond Culver City, Obst did a good job of it. His travels, from China to Chicago, make for a light read with some hilarious moments, such as the scene of Obst's commune arguing about how to spend a windfall that might come with the publication of the Pentagon Papers: "There is nothing uglier than listening to a bunch of radicals arguing about money."
He vividly captures the violence on the home front, recalling police clubs raining down on student skulls in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.
The Yippie party platform drawn up in Chicago included the abolition of money, disarming the police, ending censorship and free love. "Hey, if that wasn't a platform you can get behind, what was?" asks Obst.
The epiphany comes during a conversation in Washington with journalist I.F. Stone, who sits Obst down on a bench and has a fatherly talk with him about why "the movement" will ultimately fail.
Yet nothing was ever the same again after the '60s. Obst's lively, letter-like dispatches show the reasons why and seem more suited to the period's spirit than one more academic analysis. While he seems to be playing to an audience of his like-minded peers, this book may also be of value to those who missed the '60s - as the next best thing to being there.
Jamie Stiehm has been a staff writer for The Sun for two years and before that was on the staff of the Hill in Washington, D.C. She has published articles in the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and many other newspapers and magazines. At the time of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, she was about to enter the second grade at Shorewood Hill Elementary School, Madison, Wis.
Pub Date: 12/13/98