TOPICS : Pop aristocracy and babyboomers
Bill Clinton’s recent 60th birthday caused innumerable media outlets to come over all emotional about the baby boomers, and celebrate their crazy lives: the marches, the festivals, the unwelcome fact that just because you still smoke a little weed but advise your kids against a skunk habit, it doesn’t mean the ideals of the revolution remain intact. The TV packages used the predictable images of guitars, riot cops and Nam-era helicopters; the abiding sentiment boiled down to the revelatory news that so many of the 1960s generation were still here, and in such rude health.
Now, I don’t know whether anyone’s noticed this, but quite a few of that generation’s icons are no longer around. Half the Beatles have gone. The same, though Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey seem able to carry on, applies to the Who. Two out of three of the Wilson brothers are dead. Recently, we have bade farewell to Love’s Arthur Lee and Syd Barrett. Bob Dylan may be on glowing creative form, but scan the lyrics of Modern Times: as with its two predecessors, its words are at least occasionally bound up with intimations of mortality. And much as a certain kind of rock hack will look at Keith Richards and project their own fantasies of groping for immortality while continuing to look coolly cadaverous and sticking to red top Marlboros, even his number will be surely up within the next 15 years. Thus, the 1960s — long after Brian Jones went for his last swim and Neil Armstrong came home — will finally be over.
It seems deeply unlikely, but I’ve checked my own memories against the historical record, and it’s true: up until around 1994, the boomer hegemony over popular culture didn’t really apply, and the 1960s’ pop aristocracy were held in a mixture of indifference and contempt. Dylan was a joke, still viewed in the context of his disastrous 1980s. The Gallagher brothers had not attached jump leads to the popularity of the Beatles, and — really, I swear this is true — each new Rolling Stones album was not actually greeted by dribbling fools claiming it was the best one since Exile On Main Street. The balance of generational forces was roughly correct.
I rather fear, however, that there is no going back. To cap it all, the post-boomer generations have rather failed to equal their predecessors’ mixture of longevity and quasi-religious respect. It is the Stones who recently played Twickenham rugby stadium, not any of the punks; it is Dylan who announces that he has a new album out and thereby tilts the critical world slightly off its axis.
Given that the historical clock is giving off ever-louder ticks, it might be an idea to start imagining rock’s temporal Valhalla emptied. Perhaps, post mortem, the Dylan estate will launch a Sinatraesque wheeze whereby some of his old musicians play along to old films of him. Cha-nces are, the reliably game Roger Daltrey will be the last man standing, still yelping Pinball Wizard to the millions. But without the actual people we’ve ill-advisedly managed to build at least half our popular culture around, how on earth will we be able to cope? —The Guardian