Erudite conversationalist Stirling Newberry, of BOPnews and Symphony X, thinks the phrase consciousness revolution has "charm," as I wrote in a post about Steve Reich's 60s-ish Pendulum Music.
To elaborate on my thinking, it is my intention to understand American classical music via periods in American history by exploring the context of the time in which the music was written. For historical periods, I have adopted the ideas of William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book, The Fourth Turning, where American history follows the "saeculum." Each saecular (or generational) cycle is maybe 80 years and consists of a sequential pattern of 20-year periods: a high, an awakening, an unraveling, and a crisis. So, life during the years 1929 to 1946 was driven by the social crisis (and successful resolution) of the Great Depression and World War II. I am not saying that these historical periods necessarily correspond to musical periods, but they do provide a tool to help understand the cultural dynamics of the time.
So, what does this have to do with John Cage's percussion music of the thirties and forties, for example, 1939's First Construction? In a time of crisis, one might expect the soothing, poignant Americana of say, Aaron Copland. But Cage's achievement with his percussion works (and his general idea of organizing sound beyond European musical orthodoxy) strikes me as even more impressive given that era's focus on cultural survival rather than cultural expression.
To continue the analysis, Strauss and Howe would say we are now near the end of an unraveling; "culture wars" as they call it. Thus, the arts are more amenable to individualism, innovation and feeling rather than social cohesion. Carried to an extreme, we end up with, for better or worse, Korn and Karen Finley.
In any case, I am still struck by the avant garde John Cage.