From the Author
1969 is long gone. Like the year before and year after it, however, all of us who experienced it as young adults remember it as a significant time, both in our personal lives and the life of our nation.
But memories, as I know only too well, tend to be tricky ... backfilling as the years go by... erasing the individual who really stood there, replacing him with a younger but just as sophisticated version of the person doing the remembering.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I wrote it all down the year I was discharged from the service, before it all was lost. The 1969 section of that manuscript, the part that had been missing for years, was discovered in an old box this past January as my wife and I braced for a hurricane hours away from the small South Pacific island on which we live.
As the hurricane hit and the power failed, I read it by kerosene lamp, utterly amazed at how naive,unsophisticated, opinionated,cocksure, frightened, foolish, and, yes, joyful, I really was back then.
History can be very embarrassing, but it has a value and significance all its own, particularly for a parent trying to understand his own children's outlooks and issues as they cope with their late teens and early young adulthood.
My loved ones, the people who brought me up, died much too early in my life to allow me to ever get an up close and personal feel for the times in which they lived and their struggle as young people to make some sense of them.
By contrast, Crossroads is a fact and detail-rich account of the way it was,in the Year of Our Lord 1969, when young John Cassell, always amodel of responsibility and ambition, yet inevitably both hobbled and advantaged by the realities of his childhood, stands at the brink ofgraduation from the college he has struggled so hard to get to, and get through.
Yet as those who `were there' well remember, this was a time of great turbulence for America and the world. A combination of movements and events which had been building for decades came together from 1967 onward to send this nation as close to the brink of all out revolution as it would ever get, and plunged the younger generation, my generation, into an all out war with its elders and their values.
Though about as straight-laced and suspicious of mass movements and those who exploit them as one could be, John shares in many, and experiences all, of the ideas and circumstances that catapults his generation onto an entirely different road. He finds himself having some decisions to make, decisions no longer guided by the old imperatives.
This is the story of that year, and those decisions. That our generation has, in the intervening years, become so stodgy and anxious to forget those times, and so acquiescent in bringing about today's government-controlled society, is but a testament to just how wild and upside down things really were for those brief moments in our history.
It is to those moments, and those that shared and shaped them with me, that this book is humbly dedicated.
John W. Cassell
Nu'uuli, American Samoa
November 28, 2004
From the Back Cover
John W. Cassell traveled to Europe in search of America and to understand this it helps to be a Child of the 60s -though in a sense we are all Children of the 60s since the art, the music, the literature and even the politics of that era, all of it is still very much alive. In "Crossroads: 1969," Cassell' uses a bio-novel technique to recover the past - the second half the 1960s and into the 1970s - and the result is a masterful rendering of an era.
In trying to find America, through the backroads and the highways of Europe, Cassell was obviously trying to find himself as well, and this no one ever achieves, something nearing perfection, but it's the pursuit itself that makes for an exhilarating adventure; in this case, Cassell's adventure, wherein he introduces us to new landscapes and new people, and we never know, until we turn the page, who might be waiting for him around the next corner.
Cassell writes it straight and his most noticeable skill is in his ability to take us with him wherever he goes. We're with him when a friend turns into an enemy and we're with him when strangers turn into friends and we're with him when at any moment he could be arrested by the French police or the Spanish police - or the dreaded ESTABLISHMENT.
Cassell doesn't lecture or pontificate. He only observes and lets us, his readers, arrive at the conclusions. That's what we call good writing, and as so often happens in this bio-novel - great writing. There are so many nuggets to choose from here, but Cassell pretty much puts his finger on what the 1960s were all about when he writes: "The future was certainly ours - there was nothing but time. Yet there was not a moment to lose."
His greatest achievement, though, as far as this reviewer is concerned, is in reminding us that once upon a time we were young. Once upon a time everything was possible.
Maybe such a time will come round again.
Bravo, John W. Cassell! ---------Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard's latest novel, "The Bathsheba Deadline," is now available in paperback. Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel "Indecent Proposal."