Tag Archives: the 60s

Have the best minds of my generation been destroyed by madness?

From Ann Charters’ introduction to The Portable Beat Reader:

Earlier in the history of American literature, the novelist Henry James acknowledged in his biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne that “the best things come, as a general thing, from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation.” As a facet of our country’s cultural history, clusters have been an outstanding feature of our literature. They can be a group of writers joined by a common geographical location who share philosophical sympathies, such as the cluster of transcendentalist writers in Concord, Massachusetts, in the mid-nineteenth century — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. More often, given the sheer physical size of the United States, the writers share a temporal rather than a spatial proximity along with their lieratary aesthetic, for example the local-color realists Sarah Orne Jewett, Lafcadio Hearn, and Kate Chopin, all born between 1849 and 1851, or the experimental modernist poets born in the decade between 1879 and 1888 — William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Hilda Dolittle, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.

I have often found myself in groups like those described above, usually geographical rather than temporal. Which leads me to wonder: of those writers that are of my generation — the lost years between Baby Boom and Generation X, those who arrived in this incarnation between, say, 1962 and 1968 (with myself smack in the middle at 1965), of those who potentially would have gone to high school together, what are the commonalities? the aesthetics? the influences and, since it is almost forty years since that time, the descendants, if any? In looking across the Internet, which some could say serves as an artificial sense of connectivity, since the barrier of geography has been eliminated, and the notion of “age” is muddled and clouded, particularly given the large degree of anonymity and lack of personal information about those who come in contact with each other, but to me serves as both a surrogate “coffeehouse” and pipeline for correspondence, the writers of my generation who have achieved any sense of notoriety (as determined by whether I am familiar with their work, at best an extremely subjective criterion) seem to be:

Quentin Tarantino (1963), JK Rowling (1965), Poppy Z. Brite (1967)

Whereas the writers who DIED within that time seem to be of a much greater number (and societal impact, I think):

William Faulker, e.e. cummings, Herman Hesse (1962), Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Theodore Roethke, Jean Cocteau, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley (1963), Flannery O’Connor, TH White, Ian Fleming (1964), W. Somerset Maugham, T.S. Eliot (1965), Andre Breton (1966), Langston Hughes, Carl Sanburg (1967), John Steinbeck, Neal Cassady (1968)

Of course, I’m sure there are countless others … Henry Rollins (although maybe born 1961, I can’t remember), for one. Chuck Palahniuk (1961, too, and perhaps in many ways the reincarnation of Hemingway, who died that year), for another. But unless I’m missing something, it looks like American literature died while we were being born, and not too many of us picked up the torch. Of course, that could be due to the fact that less than 10% of the current population of the United States reads books on a daily basis. But I think it’s something more — like the progression of population magazines mirrors our evolution from the fifties – Look (1950s) to Life (1960s) to People (1970s) to Us (1980s) to Self (1990s), I feel that there is a sense of disenfranchisement from ourselves, from our own. So many of my peers, agewise, seem to be caught up either in decades we barely experienced (the 60s), struggled through as children (the 70s), barely survived (the 80s), and would like to forget (the 90s). And where does that leave us now? We are not Boomers, so the likelihood of our relating to the power-struggles there is small. And we are not Xers – so there is something missing there for us, too. Our angst is primarily self-directed, self-aggrandizing, and self-generated. We are the ones who can remember Nixon lied to America, and the ones who are still young enough to do something about it.

So my question is this: where are my peers, where is the “cluster” to which I belong? I know I have been searching for it my whole life, and for the most part, have been sadly disappointed.

If you’re out there — speak to me. We surely have something to say to each other.

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I just watched a special on PBS that featured a lot of old folk singers from the late 50’s and 60’s, and I was struck by a very peculiar notion. That notion started to bubble through my brain a trickle at a time, and finally, when Barry McGuire came on and sang “Eve of Destruction” it found its way to the surface. What I started wondering was this: it has been said that we as a society have changed our focus over the last fifty years, and that focus shift is mirrored in the names of major trade magazines that are widely read. In the fifties, there was “Look”. In the sixties, “Life”. In the seventies, “People”. In the eighties, “Us”. In the nineties, “Self”.

As Barry McGuire sang the words to his poignant, troubling and magnificent anti-war, anti-apathy, anti-hate anthem, I looked as the camera swept around the auditorium, and I saw a lot of people, now aging and respectable, singing along. And I wondered … how many of them voted Republican in this last election? How many send their children to private schools? How many look back at their troubled youth and say, “Well, it was just a phase we were going through. We had to grow up, you know.”

I realize that in actual numbers, the percentage of the American public that opposed the war in Vietnam, at least publicly, was a miniscule number. Granted, they were a very vocal, colorful, and persistent minority, but they were definitely a minority. This country has not been about the underdog, the underprivileged, the dignity of mankind, or representation prior to taxation for a LONG time. This country is about the status quo. It is about comfort. It is about a place where revolution is against the law.

Where have all the flowers gone? Is it true, as Dennis Hopper quipped in the movie Flashback, that the nineties were gonna make the sixties look like the fifties?

You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. That sentiment is just as true now as it was in 1965.

When Stevie Wonder, at the Bob Dylan tribute concert a few years back, came out to do “Blowin’ in the Wind”, he said that the most troubling thing about the song was that it was still necessary to sing it. That people apparently didn’t get the message.

I felt the same way tonight watching Barry McGuire. And you could tell by watching him sing that he was asking some of the same questions. When will they ever learn? How can you not believe we’re on the eve of destruction? Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody REALLY care?

I still think, occasionally, that Musicians, poets, artists, writers, etc. serve society as its conscience. But does anyone REALLY listen to that conscience? Can the songs that I write make a difference, when a song has to be POPULAR to even get airplay in this country anymore?

Abbie Hoffman is burnt out. Lenny Bruce is dead. Timothy Leary, too. And so many others. Who is picking up the torch, and more importantly, who thinks that light is necessary, when you can flip on a switch and see “revival” and “reunion” and “comeback” tours of people who somehow, in a freak stroke of luck, by chance, convinced some other people, oh, so many years ago, that it was worth any price to give a damn?

Or has modern convenience progressed so far that the milk of human kindness, the bonds of brotherhood, are now available in a water-soluble form, easily washed off when you want to conceal the fact that you went to the meeting last night and had your hand stamped?

Eve of Destruction by P. F. Sloan

The Eastern world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’.
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’,
You don’t believe in war — but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
An’ even the Jordan river has bodies floatin’.
But you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say,
An’ can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away,
There’ll be no one to save, will the world in a grave.
Take a look around you, boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’,
I’m sittin’ here just contemplatin’.
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation,
An’ marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’,
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’.
An’ you tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China,
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama.
Ah, you may leave here for four days in space,
But when you return it’s the same ol’ place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride an’ disgrace.
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace.
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
An’ tell me, over and over and over again, my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction,
No, no, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

How Much More Time? — John Litzenberg, 1985

Time? How much more time?
Til we reach the point of no return
Must history’s sad lessons be re-learned?

War? What good is war?
When you reach the point of no return
And you can’t go back, because the only bridge
You had is burned?

Love, where is the love?
Have we come along so fast, so far
Have we forgotten who our friends and neighbors are?

You can call on your gods, feast and pray
That you can live to fight another day
And kill because your god says its OK.

Run, nowhere to run
When two opposing worlds collide
There is no where that you can hide your face

Cry, just sit and cry
For all your kings, police, and czars
Have signed away the humans and their race.
So send out your bombs and boys to the fray
Till the world is only a nuclear haze
And life on earth is a long forgotten phase.

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