COLUMN FORTY-ONE, JANUARY 1, 1999
(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)
PART 14: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: RETROPOP SCENE---END OF A DECADE
[Technically, this is not yet the end of a decade. Technically, this isn't even the end of a century, not quite yet. But time flies, and I can tell you from my 70 years of experience that the older you get, the faster the days, weeks, months and years fly by. Soon, we will be living in the next century. I just wanted to give myself a pat on the back for being so prophetic when I wrote the following piece for my POP SCENE column in the New York Post at the end of the 1960s, which, as I predicted, seem to have endured right up until today. And I'll now prophesy again: that just as the influence of the 1960s still continues to endure, the influence of this century will last far into the next.]
It's not easy. The ball rolls down the spire of the Allied Chemical Tower and Guy Lombardo plays Auld Lang Syne on TV and you kiss your love with warm, wet lips and 10 years of your life are wiped out without even a glimmer of what you did on New Year's Eve 10 years before. All I can tell you about the 1960s is that the music became so important to me that I had to quit writing for two years because only music could say what I believed had to be said.
Is it different now? The 1960s came with too many promises rot to have to break them all, and every joy that wasn't born in torment seemed, in the end, to die in it. Only music was able to dance through it all. Like Zorba, it danced when it was very, very happy and it danced when it was very, very sad. Now we leave the 1960s still married to them. Like one of those years when you found yourself writing the wrong date for months after It had ended, this was a decade that will extend for years into the next.
And yet I'm glad I was there. I can remember interviewing Miles Davis at Birdland, where he told me that the Beat Generation was just some more synthetic white bullshit. I can remember stony nights with LeRoi Jones, dancing in our seats at the Village Gate while John Coltrane triple-tongued the soprano sax into sounding like a whole brass section. I can remember riding up to the Concord Hotel on the band bus with Ray Charles, who walked inside, put his hands on the wallpaper and said, "This looks like a very nice place."
Who would believe in these Godless days that music could make walls crumble? Ten years ago, Allen Ginsberg prophesied a nervous breakdown for America and now our country is in
that began with poetry
and ended with a song
fragments. In 1964, I can remember sitting in a drunken black jazz club in Boston, telling Allen that this decade had begun with poetry but it was going to end with song. Four years later, Allen was thinking about learning how to play guitar and teaching himself how to read music. In an era when men can walk on the moon, there is still more magic in human voices. What is more interesting to people, finally, than other people?
Ask for the future and you wish your life away. Demand that this moment linger, and, like Faust, you lose your bet with the Devil. I went hungry in the 1960s. I was promoting a rock group known as the Myddle Class, and there were summers I was so broke that I had to drink kool-aid when I was dying for a bottle of soda pop. Is there any greater indignity for a man my age to suffer? And yet I also rode with the Beatles through the streets of Liverpool while 200,000 people clawed at our limousine. I sat backstage with the Rolling Stones in a London club called Beat City, where the sweat was so heavy it collected on the ceiling and rained back down on us again.
I also wondered what a man my age was doing in places like that, but that was the 1960s for me. A man my age? The only fountain of youth is youth itself, and if you can't drink from it you can at least bathe in it. Has a generation ever tried to build a greater monument to itself, even at the cost or reaping the whirlwind? The 1960s came on us like a plague but they will be the only 1960s we will ever have---if the 1960s ever end. The horns will blow. The people will cheer. But this decade isn't over yet. ##
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