"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

We recollect history through prism of today

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
- William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun
A friend once called me when he was in transit, such was his excitement about having just seen the movie "Almost Famous." The friend was my age so his excitement was well-founded. It was a tailor-made movie for the boomers.
It showed our excitement about the rock music of the 1970s (an era that by extension includes the '60s). It showed our vices but didn't show any long-term bad effects of them.
Our vices were more like a rite of passage, perhaps even more like a badge of honor. They were a part of rebelling.
I once read a book about how public reminiscences have more to do with issues of today than the issues we're reflecting upon. A big example was the centennial of the end of the U.S. Civil War.
Boomers like me tend to look back on all our passages as leading to a totally fulfilled conclusion.
"Almost Famous" was actually made through the prism of when it was made (2000). It was made in a time of heady optimism. It came before Wall Street stumbled.
The movie ended with all the sympathetic characters getting everything they wanted. Thus it fit the mold of movies made at that time. There is still a lot of optimism in our movies but maybe not as much.
"Almost Famous" was set in the early 1970s when young people were almost like a mob. There were so many of us!
We grew up in systems that had lots of imperfections. We stumbled badly in our free time. An idle mind is the devil's workshop indeed.
"Almost Famous" had some accuracies but it showed everyone happy at the end, whereas there weren't that many happy endings in that era. There were issues gnawing at our national psyche.
It took an excruciating span of years for common sense to prevail in terms of getting out of Viet Nam. Our "connected" society of today would never have permitted that.
Kids with special needs pretty much "toughed it out." A lot of racial and cultural attitudes were still Neanderthal. My generation saw all those defects but found odd ways to rebel.
I'll make a confession today that I'm not sure I've ever shared with anyone: I never enjoyed marijuana. Oh, we called it "pot." I'm not sure where so many of my peers got those little plastic bags of the stuff. I wouldn't have been savvy enough to do that. Weren't they afraid of being caught in some sting?
"Almost Famous" had a scene where a kid pulled out his "stash" at a typical party of silly and aimless boomer youth, at the home of an affluent family where the parents were of course not home.
The parents seemed distant back them. Perhaps because of the adversity they experienced when young, e.g. the trauma of WWII, they were just thankful for their standard of living and left their kids alone. If the kids "went wild" to a certain extent, so be it. This theory has circulated quite a bit.
Kids should have just been thankful for their environment. But we were restless and had a hard time feeling happy. Mad Magazine crafted humor out of parodying the very symbols of the good life our parents gave us.
Our parents were "uptight," to use the lexicon of the time.
For some reason we saw marijuana (pot) as symbolic. I can't believe that a substantial portion of us actually enjoyed it. To the extent it was political, just think back to how ostracized you'd feel if you rejected it. You'd be persona non grata with many of your peers. I won't say "all."
There is always a portion in any generation that quietly goes about addressing the proper priorities in life. My hats off to those in my generation who could do this.
To the extent that "protest" was needed, this could be pushed through the conventional political channels, once we got a little older and got some power (and money).
Perhaps the problem was we were too impatient. We can easily forget how powerless we were back then.
Some of the rock and pop music performers who are bathing in money now, playing casinos and the like, could barely scrape by when they were "contemporary." Their fans were young and lacked money. Oh, the fans were loud but not well-endowed. Those rock music crowds in "Almost Famous" were a sea of adrift youth.
Ironically, the performers we liked (like the fictional rock group in the movie) are doing much better as "retro" acts. When I last checked, Paul Revere and the Raiders were still doing their thing.
Boomers loved the Raiders. Mark Lindsay was their lead singer in their heyday. I still have a couple of the 45 RPM records in their jackets - items that would be interesting to take on "Pawn Stars." I remember liking the song "Too Much Talk" which was actually not one of their more popular hits.
My generation grew up before our elders could give us a lot of the programs and resources we might have deserved. I say "might have" because our elders perhaps thought we didn't need a lot of that stuff. But as the boomers themselves grew older, we sure thought it was needed.
By "stuff" I mean highly organized, regimented activities designed to protect kids from emotional abuse. When I was a kid, everyone knew about bullying but there were no programs to combat it. Just "tough it out." Same for kids with learning disabilities.
When we got older, we thought we were smarter. We set up organized programs for kids because of our desperation that they not end up like us, dipping into bags of marijuana in idle time. We wouldn't say that, but this was in fact our motivation. Have kids rise early, go to bed late and be fixated on constructive, safe activities in between.
I don't think I could have cut it. I'd want to find unstructured diversions. But I'm a boomer at least by definition. I'm not sure I'm proud to be a boomer. I've already confessed in here that I never liked marijuana. So I'm probably disowned by my generation anyway.
Why a mind-altering substance would be an essential rite of passage is beyond me. You've heard the old expression "man without a country." I guess I'm a man without a generation.
OK, I'm exaggerating, or perhaps just venting some bitterness or confusion. I resent the peer pressure that often guided us down a self-destructive path. In hindsight, was all of that essential as a way of protesting what we saw as the confining norms of the older generation? But wait, wasn't that generation the one that let us "run wild?"
There is irony and confusion here. All I know is, the 1960s and '70s were not a time of happy endings, not like in the movie "Almost Famous."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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