Music and History

October 15, 2008

I just finished reading a book about the California folk / rock scene of the 60s and 70s, called Hotel California, by Barney Hoskyns.   For someone like me, who knows a lot of the context but doesn’t have encyclopaedic knowledge, it was a really good read.   For someone like me, who thinks she should have been born in about 1951 so she could have heard all this awesome music firsthand and driven a 1969 Corvette Stingray convertible, books like this are always great (the only problem with that whole 1951 thing would have been being a sentient adult in the 1980s).  If people are interested, they should also check out books by Greil Marcus (including Mystery Train), and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)’s Blues People.  I’ve got a few more on my to-read list, including Clapton’s autobiography and one about the ladies of the scene: Joni, Carole, Linda, Joan, etc.

But the end of this one got me thinking:

“In selling their souls for fame and riches, the stars of the 1960s and 1970s helped create a world where passive consumerism replaced emotional engagement and political commitment.  The apathy of twentysomethings over the environment and Iraq is shocking when one harks back to the civil rights and Vietnam war protests of the 1960s.” (272)

I have problems with most forms of absolutism, and this sort of historical assumption has been bothering me more over the last couple years.  People who spent the last year in school with me know of my issues with Michael Gorman, who asserted in an essay we read that people (and he makes the subject female) born in the 1980s do not have “rich interior lives” because of technology.

That’s an extreme case.  And I do appreciate that times were a lot different four decades or so ago.  I’ve listened to all the music, read all the books, know about the issues and the politics, and still know that I’ll never know what it was really like.

But on the other hand, nothing that I’ve read really convinces me that people were a whole lot different then than they are now.  Hoskyns’ book, to me, describes people who thought they had a lot figured out and going on but that never really did anything (socially or politically, I mean) or effected any change other than personal enrichment. And I get that he’s saying that was the beginning of the problem, but it’s hard to see how promises of revolution could be ‘betrayed’ when, if you really get down to it, the revolution never got started in the first place.

I’m not being critical of my parents’ generation.  I just think that, from a long time before the 1960s to a long time after any of us are around, each generation has had its own promise, its own coming of age, and its own tragedies.

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2 Responses to “Music and History”

  1. kiirstin said

    I was starting to write a thoughtful response and got about halfway through when I realized that there is just so much in that quote that I’d like to blast apart. And then pick apart with tweezers.

    So, I’ll just say this: Nostalgia apparently makes idiots of everyone. Whining about how “kids today” can’t seem to get it together and how everyone/thing was so much better “back then” just drives me crazy. It’s lazy for an author to dismiss an entire generation like that without making any attempt to understand them; and it’s lazy for an author to pander to nostalgic sentiment in his/her readers.

  2. Does not each generation replace the previous in their thinking that their own generation defines the world and has the most impact. It is very much a selfish part of our society that our current generation always sees our problems as the most pressing,

    It’s easy to look back and point fingers and say, “Look how sad and absurd you were….” It is human nature and our poetry, literature, music, they all reflect this attitude.

    I do not see anything wrong with this as things that are around us do tend to draw the most focus and those previous generations do not resonate as well as with our own. But being aware of this is important, it’s when people start to ignore the past and trivialize it that real problems arise.

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