The Good Old Days of Who’s Youth?

November 29 marks the anniversary of the death of former Beatle, George Harrison. Has it really been ten years already? A tribute concert was performed, recorded and released on CD in 2003. A Concert for George featured many of George’s oldest and best friends: Jeff Lynne, Gary Brooker, Joe Brown, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton and the two remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

While listening to that CD a few days ago I recalled an interview George did many years ago, about his days with the Beatles. He said something to the effect that, if you were going to be in a rock and roll band back in the 1960s, it might as well have been the Beatles. It would seem George had some fond memories of his days as one of the Fab Four.

That got me to thinking about the 1960s. I can say I grew up in the ’60s even though I didn’t much participate in all that older members of the Baby Boomers did. For instance, I was too young to protest the Vietnam War. Although I registered for the draft when I turned eighteen in 1974, the draft was abolished a few months later and the war ended shortly after that.

There’s a website today devoted to Woodstock. The home page proclaims: “Woodstock is more than a moment in time. It is a way of being in the world.” I’m not sure I get that; maybe whoever wrote it is a pothead. I was twelve that summer of 1969, so to me Woodstock is but a moment in time.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. He commemorated the moment by saying, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I hadn’t yet turned twelve when, in October 1968, my Detroit Tigers won the World Series. It wasn’t easy for them—they had to overcome a three games to one deficit to beat the Cardinals. But in winning the championship, the Tigers miraculously healed a city that had been torn apart by race riots the previous year. A few years later, my boyhood idol, Al Kaline, would turn down a $100,000 contract from the Tigers, feeling himself, a future Hall of Famer, unworthy of so much money for playing a kid’s game. In the 1960s, baseball was still twenty years away from steroids.

I have fond memories of the ’60s—not that I had any choice, but if there was a decade in which to grow up, it might as well have been the ’60s.

Still, it was a decade of contradictions. Sure there was free love, rock and roll, miniskirts, bikinis and Laugh-In. But two Kennedys were assassinated, as was Martin Luther King; our young boys were dying in Vietnam fighting a war they couldn’t win, while Cassius Clay changed religions and his name to Muhammad Ali in order to dodge the draft. Richard Nixon was in the White House late in the decade, taking over for Lyndon Johnson who’d taken over for JFK.

Politics in the 1960s may have been just as corrupt as they are today, but back then freedom of the press was practiced—the media asked the tough questions. Today they contribute to political campaigns; therefore, investigative reporting is passé.

It’s been said that every generation must face its obstacle. My dad’s generation—the Greatest Generation—fought a World War; his father’s generation endured the Great Depression. And the Boomers? We seem to have faced a lot, from Vietnam and Watergate, to Desert Storm and Afghanistan; 9/11 and terrorism, the Wall Street and housing debacles, global warming, as well as a multi-trillion dollar deficit (the latter will be passed down to future generations).

A country rich in resources but unmindful of waste, we cannot hope to defeat Mother Nature, who is battling back the only way she knows how—with earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. In the end, I can’t imagine we’ll be able to stand up to her.

Billy Joel defends the Boomers: “We didn’t start the fire/it was always burning since the world’s been turning/We didn’t start the fire/no we didn’t light it/but we tried to fight it.”

In all honesty, I’m not sure that our efforts to fight the fire haven’t been half-hearted. Sure, we started out with good intentions. In the 1960s we protested the war, stood up for the environment and were anti-establishment. But the hippies of the ’60s became the yuppies of the ’80s and a lot of what we battle today we brought on ourselves, through unmitigated greed. My parents’ generation worked to give my generation a better life; since the Boomers became the establishment, we’ve worked simply to acquire more meaningless things.

So I look at the past not so much through rose-colored glasses. The decade of the 1960s was a much simpler time, with much simpler solutions. But I recall, in the 1960s, my dad’s longing for his own youth, an era to which he, too, referred as “much simpler.” My father cared for a world which he would not live to see. In fact, he cared so much he risked his life in World War II to save our way of life and to shape the world order in the second half of the twentieth century.

What, if anything, are the Boomers willing to risk to save our way of life for future generations and a world which we will not live to see? Sadly, it seems we are only intent on using up all our resources in the name of money.

And now, with my own brand of cynicism, I’ve become a chip off the old block. In the 1970s, Elvis died of a drug overdose and American hostages were held in Iran while the price of a gallon of gas threatened to eclipse a dollar. In the 1980s, John Lennon was murdered and we invaded Kuwait to drive out Iraqi troops. In the 1990s a president slept with an intern—but at least we had a balanced budget. The new millennium has seen no improvement; only a sense of sliding more quickly into a cesspool of greed and the threat of Armageddon as the planet shrinks and still no one can look at someone without judging them by color, gender, religion or ethnicity and, out of hatred the product of fear, cast stones.

Maybe that’s the way of the world. And maybe, too, it’s human nature, after reaching a certain age—an age that forces us to face our mortality—to look back at the good old days of our youth.

But if that’s true, then one can only wonder what, in thirty or forty years, today’s youth will look back upon as good?

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14 responses to “The Good Old Days of Who’s Youth?

  1. Perhaps it’s not the times that were good but the feeling of being young, alive, and the whole world new.

  2. Dana

    Bully for you Pat! I totally agree. There’s nothing new under the sun and I often find myself saying the same things I heard my grandparents saying. I have a sneaking suspicion that when each generation reflects upon their youth,comparing it to the here and now, they feel a twinge of melancholy.

    Heck, when I hear a James Taylor song I hearken back to my “simpler” youth. But I think it’s more a matter of me not having responsibility for any of that stuff that made it simpler. Not the times.

    • Good points, Pat and Dana.

      It’s interesting to note (or not), that Alex Król, the protagonist in my work in progress, 500 Miles, at age twenty-nine tells his father he’s thinking about quitting racing car because, “I’m not getting any younger.” His father laughs and tells him, “When I was your age, you were in diapers and I still saw my whole life in front of me.” I guess it’s all about perspective.

      I recall reading a profile of a ninety-one year old woman who said she looked ahead to tomorrow and never dwelled on the past. She claimed the point a person becomes old is that moment when they look behind them, at the past, more than they look ahead to tomorrow. There’s wisdom in that, and I marveled that, with all the yesterdays in her life, she could still focus on a dwindling supply of tomorrows. I still think we learn from our mistakes; so it’s important that we glance into the past once in a while. The danger comes from staring too long.

      And thanks, Dana, for the plug on One Hot January!

  3. Dana

    Oh, btw – if you’re reading this blog and haven’t read One Hot January…you’re missing something. It’s a wonderful exploration of relationships, with ourselves and others, neatly disguised in an imaginative and well told time travel mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

  4. Really good post, JC. Your well written words are food for thought.

  5. In another twenty or thirty years, I wonder what you will be looking back on as “the good old days.” The same days? Or the days you’re living now?

  6. Karen

    I agree and ask that the next ten years not only be better and greater but also make up for the last ten… or is that asking for too much?!

  7. I think the decade of the sixties were different in many ways from other decades– a perfect storm in many ways. People were doing well economically. Parents gave their kids more, and were proud they could. I think television had a lot to do with the change. Suddenly, we had a form of mass media that was available to the majority of Americans. The “beautiful people” could get on TV and tout their causes.

    The British Music Revolution took us by storm. The Beatles are my music group, now and forever!

    You mentioned free love which was aided no doubt by the advent of the Pill.

    I sometimes think I would have enjoyed being a teen in the fifties, then I think how much I love Big Band music, so I think I’d love to have been a teen in the forties, and on it goes.

    A few rambling thoughts!

    • Christine: Beatles forever! I enjoy big band music, too. Maybe it’s a tie to my deceased parents. Young people today don’t realize that the big bands of the forties were the forerunners of rock and roll.

      As for the media, well, Frank Zappa says it better than I ever could:

      I am gross and perverted
      I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
      I have existed for years
      But very little has changed
      I’m the tool of the Government
      And industry too
      For I am destined to rule
      And regulate you

      I may be vile and pernicious
      But you can’t look away
      I make you think I’m delicious
      With the stuff that I say
      I’m the best you can get
      Have you guessed me yet?
      I’m the slime oozin’ out
      From your TV set.

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