It’s been said that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. I was there all right, as a young boy, the eldest child of a growing, suburban, middle-class family. My dad was a sober, hard-working, conservative Catholic public servant, and the Beatles, flower-power, hippies and Woodstock were just things we saw on the evening news on our black-and-white television. Many of my school friends had older brothers and sisters with LP records and posters on their bedroom walls, and my own experience of the zeitgeist of the times came largely from them.
And I remember. I recall as clearly as yesterday the day when, as a first-grade student at our local convent school, the nuns at lunchtime gathered the entire school into the one classroom with a television set. Sitting in the front row, with wide eyes and open mouth, I watched those famous grainy pictures live, as a man in a spacesuit climbed down a small ladder, pronounced a brief, immortal speech and planted the American flag in the soil of another world. I remember watching the Vietnam War every night on television. Gun battles in rice paddies and anti-war protests in city streets. What’s the domino theory, Dad?
Back then, I admired the hippies. More specifically, I envied them. They didn’t have to shine their shoes or cut their hair, they played the guitar, they appeared to answer to no authority, they appended man to every sentence and generally behaved in the sorts of ways that would have earned me and my contemporaries an instant backhander from our parents or teachers. The baby boomers, I concluded, had it made. The ones who weren’t sent overseas to die, anyway.
I’m afraid to tell you my attitude has changed over the decades since. Never knowing the peril of foreign invasion, disdaining history books as political artefacts of their conservative parents, the Boomers concluded all war was immoral, cast their own times into a never-ending now and proceeded to embark upon a life of self-indulgence, drug-taking, sexual abandon and contempt for generations past and to come.
Filling the demographic gap left behind by the blood of recent wars, they found work easy to come by and career paths smooth and easy (and as I can attest, burned many of their corporate bridges behind them to keep out their younger rivals). They convinced themselves that it had always been thus, and always would be. It is a measure of the freedom bought so dearly for them by their parents’ generation that the baby boomers could not even imagine the poverty endured by their grandparents’ generation, and dismissed their own childrens’ futures as something that would look after itself as naturally as they fondly imagined their own to be.
Which brings me to the aforesaid Mr. Lennon. I had a poster of him on my own bedroom wall as a teenager, and held the distinction of being able to play every Beatles song on the guitar. I had just completed my high school final exams when he was shot, and I remember my own granny-glasses-wearing girlfriend at the time crying for weeks afterwards. Death had elevated him into martyrdom.
But the more I read about the bloke, the less he impresses me. Sure, he was a fine singer and songwriter, but being the same age as his son Julian, I tend to hear the truth in his words: the main lesson he gave me was how not to be a dad. Abandoning himself to every excess which fame afforded him, John Lennon, the idol of the age, became in reality a profligate, philandering, drug-addled cad who very nearly joined his contemporaries Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison as casualties of the self-indulgence of the era. His music remains as a testament to his undoubted talent. But a prophet? Someone give me a bucket.
I don’t mean to throw every individual from that age under the bus. Every negative generalization has its honourable exceptions (like those who’ve found their way to LibertyGibbert, for instance :-)). But folks, it is really any coincidence that the generation who forty years ago proclaimed, if we just throw down our guns and stop fighting, war will be over and we will all live in peace and harmony, are now trying to persuade us, if you just cut your carbon emissions and pay higher taxes, the earth’s climate will cease careering on its catastrophic course, and humanity will live forever in clean-aired fairness?
Al Gore’s generation clearly believes my generation has a very short memory.
As the cynic once suggested, Imagine John Lennon with no possessions.