The 1968 Exhibit: "Purpose": A contemporary musical for youth, 1968

"Purpose": * What is it All About?

The cover of Purpose, ia contemporary musical for youth,i flaunts a 1960s vibe, from the big bubble letters that make up the title, to the dull yellows and bright red-orange colors that make it pop. Printed in Nashville in 1968, this musical score seems to fit right in with the hippie culture of 1968. That is, until you open it. The purpose of Purpose, the Preface Notes explain, is iTo guide youth in discovering a meaningful life in Christ.i Purpose does anything but embrace the carefree, anti-establishment mentality that is so often associated with the era. *Here are the titles of some of the numbers: "What is it all About?" *"Peace on Earth"; *"Trouble Me, Lord;" "What Does It Mean to be a Christian?" *"To Someone the Savior's Love." *And so on. * (By the way, Purpose the Christian musical is not to be confused with "Purpose," one of the numbers from the famously profane "puppet musical," Avenue Q.)


So what purpose does Purpose serve today? It reminds us that, while our memories of the year may be dominated by sex, drugs, draft evaders, and mainstream society drop-outs, there were many other sides to the 1968 American prism. *Although Evangelical Christians were no more representative of American culture as a whole than hippies or Monkees fans or segregationists, they help us understand how complex the events and reactions of 1968 were for Americans. *It's also a useful reminder that the roots of the born-again Christian movement--so dominant and headline-grabbing in the 1970s--were firmly planted in the "hedonistic" 1960s.

I'm sure that*Christian*schools and church groups mounted productions of Purpose in 1968, but if they did, there are no remnants preserved on the Internet, that great attic of memory. *(One song, "Just As I Am," *the last in the show's lineup, seems to have outlasted the others, at least to judge by the number of covers by Christian groups and singers visible on YouTube.)

Itis hard to look at any 1968 musical without thinking of Hair, and Purpose contrasts especially well. Take their approaches to religion, for example. Purpose is an overtly religious score intended to be performed by church youth groups. With lyrics such as iFor the Christian way must be walked every day,i the music emphasizes the importance of structured, institutional religion. Hair, on the other hand, relies on subtle references that emphasize spirituality outside the church. The song iLooking for My Donnai is a prime example of this approach. Even though their answers are different, both musicals are asking the same kind of questions. Purpose asks, iWhat shall I do with my life?i Hair implores, iWhere is the something/where is the someone/that tells me why I live and die?i

Together, these musicals show how multitudinous the opinions and practices of Americans were in 1968 and yet how they were connected by similar threads of a search for meaning, relevance, andOe purpose in their lives.

THANKS to 1968 Exhibit Intern Katie Bates