Since the appearance of HIV and everything that came with it in the decades since, it has become rather unpopular to be too openly nostalgic about the free-wheeling period of the mid-60s through the 70s. Those old enough to remember it often miss it in one way or another and don't want to be reminded, while those too young to have a first-hand experience of it are put off in various other ways.
Without wishing to offend either sensibility, I think I need to say how I myself feel about that period, precisely because it contrasts so strongly with what came later. This later period, 1980-date, strikes me as quite bizarre in ways I will try to elucidate.
There's no doubt in my mind that the hippie period of the 60s and 70s was one of the great youth movements, not just in US history, but in world history. I was 35 in 1970, not exactly a youth myself, but nevertheless very much a part of those times.
The Civil Rights struggle, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, Jr., the government-sanctioned murder of Fred Hampton, the Vietnam war, anti-war political activism, the deep polarizations and upsurge of radical movements (both right- and left-tending), the defiance of bourgeois mores (especially concerning sex), the widespread use of drugs other than the officially approved, heavily subsidized ones, and many other things, were all important aspects of those times.
The latter part of this history, I would say, became cynical, disillusioned, even bitter, as the Reagan/Bush era began to leverage the entire society ever more strongly to the right.
But the earlier part was remarkably joyful, at least within the youth-dominated subculture. The word now is "cool," but then it was "groovy" and "far out," as befits a highly intoxicating personal and sexual freedom in the presence of potent mind-altering subtances. I think that period was the freest American society has been since the very beginning of the 20th century.
We did a lot of drugs, and we fucked each other with wild abandon, but we also cared about each other and our fellow citizens in ways the self-absorbed generations that were to follow would barely comprehend and certainly were quick to reject in favor of self-aggrandizement, self-promotion, and utter callousness. This halcyon period was to be followed by the me-first generation and the ethics of greed, tendencies that to me seem to mark a certain kind of death in the human potential.
This remains to this day the greatest source of my feeling out of joint with the times around me. Who in his or her right mind would choose this way to live, yet millions do exactly that! To me it is incomprehensible.