The times they didn't change at all
I sit here at Vox Pop, bastion of lefty radicalism, and the PA is playing “The Times They Are A Changin’." I love that song. Like all of Dylan’s stuff from that period, it eloquently expressed the feeling of so many 60s idealists that a new world was upon them and that a peaceful utopia based on social justice and true equality would be reached within the next generation.
So what happened? It’s two generations later, and we have regressed to a gilded age the likes of which we hadn’t experienced since the 1920s (and we know what comes after that. Hell, with the run on Indiebank and the mortgage crisis it might already have started). I was an impressionable youth of 5 years in 1968, just old enough to know what was going on around me but still young enough to think it was a game.
But I was promised a utopia, dammit! I was promised world peace and universal justice! I was promised an end to racism and bigotry! Me! My generation (not Pete Townsend’s) was supposed to be born into the Age of Aquarius, when peace would guide the planets and love would rule the stars.
We were cheated. We were lied to.
So what happened?
Lefties feel that 1968 was the high-water mark of American civilization. That we were on our way to that utopia and then in 1968 it all came crashing down. Was it really Bobby’s death, as so many people say? Was that truly the moment? Was it Dr. King’s death a few months before? Was it Chicago?
Was it, in fact, Woodstock in ‘69, the mythical perfect moment which has never been recaptured? Or was it Altamont four months later, Woodstock’s evil twin, Rock and Roll’s dark underbelly exposed along with Meredith Hunter’s blood?
Or was it the excesses of Thompson's 70s, when, with the war over, the party began and truly got out of control; when free love and drugs led to the porn industry and AIDS? Whatever juice the movement had was sapped when it ceased being a movement and became, as all movements eventually do, a marketing tool. Once Revolution became big business it ceased to be revolution. The backlash that elected Ronald Regan was inevitable (that backlash was as much against the New Deal as it was against the 60s and 70s). Some people have said that conservatism is a movement while liberalism was a collection of causes. Well this is both true and it is not. There is a core to democratic liberalism built around labor and a regulated economy that *was* a movement in the 1930s, and conservatism *is* a collection of causes (which is ripping at the seems this election season). Yes, the left attracted every fringie and radical who was dissatisfied with the Establishment at the time, but the backlash did the same.
No, the end was inevitable, just as the end of communism was inevitable, because the world is cyclical and because people grow up. I’m certainly more conservative than I was at five or even than I was at thirty-five. The movement was doomed because the market works, and the market decreed that revolution was a marketable business. It was doomed to fail because eventually, people are going to have to worry more about making the house payment then they about World peace. It was doomed to fail because self interest nearly always trumps egalitarianism. Yes, communism has always seemed a morally superior position but it also a utopian vision, an impractical ideal that, as has been proven in practice, cannot survive.
What it Thompson said in Fear and Loathing n Las Vegas? "There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.
And that, I think, was the handle - -that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
Yeah. That's it exactly.
Here at Vox Pop we don’t really get it, that our time has come and gone. The generation before mine had dreams and ideals and envisioned a better world for everybody. Their dreams came crashing down, and all we are left with is the music.
And what great music it is.