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.