Ready, Steady, Go!: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London [Secure eReader (recommended)/Microsoft Reader/Adobe PDF]
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by Shawn Levy
Category: Sports/Entertainment/General Nonfiction
Description: In Ready Steady, Go!, Shawn Levy captures the spirit of the sixties in all its exuberance. A portrait of London from roughly 1961 to 1969, it chronicles the explosion of creativity--in art, music and fashion--and the revolutions--sexual, social and political--that reshaped the world. Levy deftly blends the enthusiasm of a fan, the discerning eye of a social critic and a historian's objectivity as he re-creates the hectic pace and daring experimentation of the times--from the utter transformation of rock 'n' roll by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to the new aesthetics introduced by fashion designers like Mary Quant, haircutters like Vidal Sassoon, photographers like David Bailey, actors like Michael Caine and Terence Stamp and filmmakers like Richard Lester and Nicolas Roeg, to the wild clothing shops and cutting-edge clubs that made Carnaby Street and King's Road the hippest thoroughfares in the world.
eBook Publisher: Random House, Inc., 2002
Wildside Press eBook Store Release Date: November 2002
Available eBook Formats [Secure eReader (recommended)/Microsoft Reader/Adobe PDF - What's this?]: SECURE MICROSOFT READER FORMAT [478 KB] - Requires Microsoft Reader 2.1.1 for PCs, SECURE EREADER (RECOMMENDED) FORMAT [435 KB], SECURE ADOBE PDF FORMAT [3.6 MB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [754 KB]
Reading time: 285-400 min.
All formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
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It happened to happen. All at the same time. Every day was a party. It was like a child who has been under the parents' control, and all of a sudden on the eighteenth birthday, they say, "Here is the key to your Ferrari, here is the key to your house, here is your bank account, and now you can do whatever you like." It was enough to go mad! The new century started in 1960. After that, it's only been perfecting what we started.
-- Alvaro Maccioni,
The air, the buildings, the clothing, the faces, the mood.
Britain in the mid-1950s was everything it had been for decades, even centuries: world power; sire of glorious intellectual, aesthetic and political traditions; gritty vanquisher of the Nazis; civilizing docent to whippersnapper America; bastion of decency, decorum and the done thing.
But somehow, in sum, it was less.
Its colonies were demanding freedom and getting it; its unilateral forays into geopolitics were fiascoes; its cuisine, fashion, cinema, popular entertainment and architecture succeeded -- barely -- only when mimicking Continental or American models; it stood stubbornly outside a centralizing Europe while shrinking alongside the U.S. as standard bearer of Western values in a crystallizing cold war; it was a noncompetitor in the arms race, the space race and, more and more, the prestige race. With Winston Churchill still in Parliament and the spoor of antique manners still thick in the air, it seemed a nation not so much in decline as one left behind.
The States, France, Italy all felt modern. Rock music and the rise of the teenager as tastemaker made the American scene come on, naturally, loudest, while decadent, savvy, grown-up style made existential Paris and La Dolce Vita Rome meccas for both the international jet set and an emerging global bohemian underground. England, by contrast, was dowdy, rigid and, above all, unrelentingly gray, gray to its core.
In 1953 -- fully eight years after the war ended -- Britons were still eating rationed food, answering nature's call in backyard privies and making their daily way through cities that bore the deep scars of Luftwaffe bombing. Germany, Italy and Japan -- the losers, mind you -- were seeing their economies revitalize; France, which had been ravaged, was in recovery. But in Britain, the hard days -- harkening back twenty-odd years by then -- seemed still alive; to many Britons, the mid-fifties were materially and psychologically a lot like the mid-thirties. It was, in the words of critic Kenneth Tynan, a "perpetual Dunkirk of the spirit," made more bitter, perhaps, with the false glimpse of spring that was a young queen's coronation.
Within a few years, however, that was to change. By 1956, the British economy had finally relaunched itself: Key industries were denationalized by a Conservative government; American multinationals were choosing Britain as the home base for their expansion into Europe; unemployment dipped, spiking the housing, automobile and durable goods markets; credit restrictions were eased, encouraging a boom in consumerism; the value of property -- particularly bombed-out inner-city sites -- soared. In just three years, the English stock market more than doubled in value, and the pound rose sharply in currency markets.
Inevitably, as in America, prosperity led to complacency and nostalgia for a prewar era that only in retrospect seemed golden. There was no widely held notion of "cool" or "hip." The mood, taken at large, was smug -- or would have been, if smugness were considered good form. The prime minister, Harold Macmillan, patting himself on the back in 1957, declared, "You've never had it so good." And in many respects he was right -- if you were of certain tastes and strains of breeding.
The common conception of big city excitement -- women in long skirts, men in dinner jackets, dance band music, French cuisine, a Noël Coward play and a chauffeured Rolls -- was just as it might have been in the twenties. "London was kind of a grown-up town," remembered journalist Peter Evans. "It was an old-man's town. Nightclubs were where you went if you wanted to hear people playing the violin. There was nowhere to go. Even Soho closed early. There were drinking clubs, but they were private." "There was nothing for young people," remembered fashion designer Mary Quant, "and no place to go and no sort of excitement."
But as, again, in America, there were intimations of a burgeoning dissatisfaction with the status quo that had become the landscape. And, perhaps because it had been beaten down for so long, or perhaps because its increasing marginalization on the world stage liberated it from grave responsibilities, Britain seemed particularly fertile ground for this sort of seed.
At a pace that seemed wholly un-British, various strains of unofficial culture -- defiant, antiauthoritarian and hostile to such commonplaces of tradition as modesty, reserve, civility and politesse -- were coalescing not so much in unison as in parallel. Bohemians in Chelsea and Soho; radical leftists from the universities and in the media; teens with spending money, freedom and tastes of their own: These three groups would evolve and meld over the next several years to bring forth a dynamic that would center in London and become a global standard. You could point to a few shops, pubs, coffee bars, theaters and dance halls where it all started; you could walk to all of them in a single fair day; and you would, in so doing, encompass an entire new world.
Ten years, maybe fifteen, maybe six.
London rose from a prim and fusty capital to the fashionable center of the modern world and then retreated.
The fifties were Paris and Rome.
The seventies, California, Miami and New York.
But the sixties, that was Swinging London -- the place where our modern world began.
Copyright © 2002 byShawn Levy