The bittersweet nostalgia of Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood

Was 1969 the last good year?

Apollo 10.5.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Netflix, iStock)

On an unseasonably warm day last week, I was interrupted from desultory browsing of social media by the ringing chords of Bryan Adams' single "Summer of '69." Outside my office windows, a group of students on campus were selling snacks, recruiting members, or engaging in some other wholesome enthusiasm-raising activity. Displays of youthful pep can be wearisome to middle-aged grouches like this one. But after a long winter and a longer pandemic, I couldn't help humming along.

The choice of song probably didn't mean much — it was part of a playlist of familiar hits. Yet I was struck by the contrast between the youth of the audience and the antiquity of the theme. Adams, who was just 10 in the titular year, has claimed that the lyrics refer to a sex act rather than a historical moment. But his older cowriter's recollections and the imagery of the original music video support the conventional interpretation that it's an ode to the heyday of American youth culture.

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Samuel Goldman

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard and was a postdoctoral fellow in Religion, Ethics, & Politics at Princeton University. His books include God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and After Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). In addition to academic research, Goldman's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.