Thursday, March 29, 2007

[boomers] the party continues but for how long

Croydonian asks "Just what's with the over 50s? They are into heroin, mysticism, atheism, questioning their sanity and schmaltz." Or so a poll of their favourite songs would seem to suggest. A list of songs follows .

The estimable Man from Croydon would appear to be a Generation X or no older than a latter day Boomer.

The Boomers are remembered for free love, Woodstock, Timothy Leary, the universality of jeans and T shirts, Vietnam, rebellion, letting their children run wild, Charlie Manson, helter skelter, hard rock, Twiggy and hippies. Musical innovation, as a cultural phenomenon, began with them - Floyd, the later Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Doors, Eno and so on.

The drugs and craziness were certainly there - White Rabbit, Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Joplin et al, until the grand dream finally crashed. The last generation to do anything like them were in the 20s - Beiderbeck, Jelly-Roll Morton, Charleston, flapper girls, the Bright Young people and so on.

Both eras were born out of adversity - the aftermath of the Great War and the Korea/Vietnam experience, both started partying like there was no tomorrow, both rebelled against all constraint, all religiosity. Donald Ogden Stewart, in A Parody Outline of History, (New York: George H. Doran, 1921), touched on it in this dialogue:

MILES: I didn't see you at church last night, Mistress Priscilla.

PRISCILLA: Well I'll tell you, Miles. I started to go to church-- really felt awfully religious. But just as I was leaving I thought, "Priscilla, how about a drink-just one little drink?" You know Miles, church goes better when you're just a little boiled-- the lights and everything just kind of-- oh, it's glorious. Well last night, after I'd had a little liquor, the funniest thing happened. I felt awfully good, not like church at all-- so I thought I'd take a walk in the woods. And I came to a pool-- a wonderful honest-to-God pool-- with the moon shining right into the middle of it. So I just undressed and dove in and it was the most marvelous thing in the world. And then I danced on the bank in the grass and the moonlight-- oh, Lordy, Miles, you ought to have seen me.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was being parodied here, wrote an ode to the times: The Beautiful and Damned (1922). He believed the party would never end, it must not end; for it to end was admission of something darker:

The gaudy world of which Fitzgerald wrote-- the penthouses, the long week-end drunks, the young people who were always on the brink of madness, the vacuous conversation, the lush intoxication of easy money-- has in large measure been swept away. [New York Herald Tribune Obituary, 21 December 1940]

Fitzgerald and a generation somehow knew it couldn't be sustained:

"the sense that life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat, and that the redeeming things are not 'happiness and pleasure' but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle."

The post-James Dean
Boomers were also rebels without a cause until the cause presented itself in the form of Vietnam and the generation finally had a cutting stone on which to hone its nihilistic disdain. Student unions were alive and vibrant, huge demonstrations and sit-ins abounded, free love was the ideal in the late 60s. The Weathermen bombed. People were stoned out of their brains, as they were in the 20s.

A reporter once asked Fitzgerald what he thought had become of the jazz-mad, gin-drinking generation he wrote of in "This Side of Paradise." His answer was:

"Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows. Others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters. And a few became successful authors." [New York Herald Tribune, op.cit.]

There'd been a definite edge, a global sense of the power of youth, that anything was possible. It was a high, a buzz and they never wanted it to end.

Ditto with the Boomers, with one added proviso - most are still partying, even now, unto credit debt and second mortgages - parties, after all, require money to sustain; they have absolutely no idea when the party must stop, no concept of growing old gracefully, to hell with all other generations. There's one life to live and it's getting shorter and shorter with every passing year.

This is the real tragedy of the over 50s.

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