Friday, November 23, 2012

A Generation in Motion

1979, undated later edition, from Schirmer Books (Macmillan)
David Pichaske
A Generation in Motion: Popular Music and Culture in the Sixties
Original price $5.95, purchase price $4.95
Worn paperback

It's ironic that I'm ending the 1970s with a "left-wing" book that pissed me off as much as the book that I started the decade with, Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch.  Regular readers of this blog (if there are such things) know that I don't usually write in my books, but here are some mental notes that I scrawled in thin air as I went along, reading this book for the first time in over 20 years, and with much less of an inferiority complex than last time:
  • When Pichaske says that violent political protest is American as the CIA and John Wayne, "And that's exactly the problem I'm talking about."
  • When Pichaske fails to see that "I Am the Walrus" is a parody, "You, Sir, are an idiot!"
  • When Pichaske says that "Mother and Child Reunion" is about death, "No, it's about a menu."
  • And when Pichaske whines that "the free-wheeling, wild, magnificent sixties" turned into "the sober, circumspect, temperate seventies," I thank him for perfectly encapsulating the biggest reason why this book doesn't work for me.
The generation in the title refers to "the children of the sixties."  With most of those he profiles, he does not mean people like my boyfriend, born in 1958, who were in fact infants to preteens during the 1960s.  He doesn't even mean Baby Boomers.  He means people like himself, born during the War, 1943 to be specific.  He also mostly means white, middle-class males, since when he does write about the poor, or nonwhites, or women, he does it in a very othering way.  (Using an occasional "she" as a generic pronoun, does not get you off the hook, Buddy.)

Now, obviously on a subject like this, a personal perspective can be welcome.  But Pichaske doesn't have Schaffner's gift for telling his own story and the story of a generation in an accessible way.  It's not even clear if he's writing to anyone beyond himself and people like him, despite the dedication addressed to his children.  If you're writing so young 'uns can understand, don't keep asking, "Do you remember?"  And although he points out early on that not everyone was everywhere in the 1960s, he seems to frequently forget this.

The main problem though is I am an unashamed literal child of the 1970s.  I adored the first decade I remember and did not find it in the slightest bland or quiet.  If it was less violent and angry than the 1960s in some ways (although that's debatable), that to me is a selling point.  I consider the machismo and self-righteousness of the '60s to be two of that decade's most unpleasant aspects, and not in the slightest ways to bring about a better society.  Unlike Pichaske, I see them as an extension of, not refutation of, the 1940s and '50s.

I enjoy much of the 1960s, particularly pop culture, from dope songs (although I've never been stoned) to, yes, Annette Funicello, the latter blasphemy in Pichaske's eyes.  I love the '70s in all their tacky, shallow yet deep, feminist, gay-friendlier, and idealistically cynical glory.  I'm grateful to the '60s for being the Point B to the A of the '50s and the C of the '70s.  So even though Pichaske is wrong, and bullying and sanctimonious when he thinks he's open-minded and wry, I'm oddly grateful to him, too, for making me thank the 1970s for giving me my start, as a reader and a critic.

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