Monthly Archives: September 2005

“Ironically, all the hoopla ends up reducing Dylan to the avatar of the 1960s that the film makes clear he has never pretended to be.”

claims David Greenberg in a characteristically snotty little Generation XYZ screed in Slate that brings out the “Damned kids — Get Off My Lawn!” in me. It also reminds me of the opening line from The Wild Bunch ” I know what you meant to do, it’s what you did that I don’t like!”

“One part of the answer is that Dylan shares a problem with the 1960s as a whole: Scholarship and popular commentary alike are shaped by the baby boomers who lived through the period and have never quite transcended their own youthful enthusiasms.”

Always amusing to witness the historically blinkered testily discount their elders and betters.

“As Rick Perlstein noted in Lingua Franca several years ago, the preponderance of boomers in the historical profession—and, he might have added, in the culture overall—has made it hard for younger voices to gain a hearing for ideas that argue with the prevailing, familiar tale of the decade: Rebellious student youth challenges the conformity of establishment liberalism.”

Since you’re clueless, why should we listen to you?

“But the problem isn’t just that boomers are influential. Even historians of the post-boomer generation (i.e., mine) don’t usually assume deeply critical attitudes toward the 1960s. Although a few historians have recently done admirable spadework in such new research areas as how conservatism in these years gained strength (as the news media were looking the other way) and the international dimension of the youth revolt, such efforts are not the norm. Revisionist scholarship about the student left, for example, tends to be minor and esoteric—contesting, say, precisely which social groups or political organizations formed the center of the era’s social activism. “

More important than that, is the question of which era we’re talking about. For like most Generation XYZers, when Greenberg says “The 60’s” he’s actually talking about the early 70’s. The anti-Vietnam war movement was a long time gestating. Most of the 60’s protests revolved around the Civil Rights movement. Dylan’s early songs — like “Blowin’ in the Wind” — were part of that struggle and only later became politicized because “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

“Our generation has envied our elders’ experiences more often than we’ve questioned them. Growing up in the shadow of the ’60s, we couldn’t help viewing the political involvement of the age as nobler, the culture and the music as more vital, the shattering of social norms more exciting, than the zeitgeist of our own formative years.”

As we used to say at the High School of Music and Art — “Tough Darts!”
Dylan made frequent appearances on the Morningside Heights campus of that fabled “Red-Diaper Baby” public school. But the Class of ’64 wasn’t impressed. “His real name is Zimmerman, and he’s just a third-rate Woody Guthrie imitator,” was the general consensus.

“Besides, bashing the ’60s seemed the province of conservative cranks like William Bennett (and even he always seemed to be making it known that he once dated Janes Joplin). Younger Dylan fans today, similarly, are often more eager to revel in the chapters of his fabled story that they missed out on than they are to engage with the songs and albums of his that we ourselves grew up with.”

And some of them may prove quite adept in this regard. My darling Todd Haynes is currently in pre-production on I’m Not There, a film that will recount Dylan’s history not as a straightfoward biopic, but rather on in which setting and incidents he knew will be refractewd through a host of fictional characters of different ages, races and genders, thus comprising what Todd hopes will be “the secret history of the sixties.” If his recreation of the 50’s in Far From Heavn is anything to go by this should be quite a treat.

“The central role that personal feeling and recollection continue to play in our thinking and writing about the 1960s suggests that nostalgia will be hard to push aside.”

Greenberg claims. But I can’t agree — to put it mildly. Working on my memoir Raised By Hand Puppets, I’ve been struck over and over again at how recollection plays havoc with sentiment — things that seemed sweet at first turn sour on further consideration, and vice versa. There I was going to a Communist Martyrs High School, yet while fliers were passed out every day, only the most dedicated (I’m talking actual party members folks) went to the demos. Me? I was too busy hanging out at the Museum of Modern Art. As for poetry, while I glanced at the work of Zimmerman’s pseudo-namesake (his Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog being as popular as Siddhartha and The Catcher in the Rye at M & A) the poet that had truly captured my imagination was Frank O’Hara His lyrics weren’t put to music. They didn’t have to be. We had Cole Porter, and John Latouche, and Lieber and Stoller. O’Hara had his small but vibrant circle of friends — and the Olivetti typewriter on Fifth avenue outside of the Olivetti store next to Brentano’s, where he’d dash off a spare verse of two in passing.

“So, maybe we have to resign ourselves to accepting “the 1960s” as it’s purveyed in mass culture—and to concede, with the postmodernists, that ultimately there’s no real way to separate the 1960s from our myths of it.”

Speak for yourself, junior. The myths of the 60’s never impressed me — or anyone else who was actually there.

a suivre