Today I was hit by the spirit of the ‘good old days.’ Back in Berkeley and sipping a dark roast sitting at a café on San Pablo Ave. It is a great 21st century coffee house with fine organic, fair-traded coffee, ample room, classic knick knacks, and free wi-fi. An empty bottle of Lancer’s circa 1966 sits on the window sill as nostalgic decoration. Surrounded by old stuff, the café seeks to evoke a calmer, simpler time. For us back in the 60s and 70s they were anything but simple and calm. They were times of great rebellion and conflict in society. We wanted a change and we wanted it now. The song that was a harbinger of what was to develop was Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin.’ We got some changes; the lowering of the voting age, end of the draft, civil rights for woman and so-called minorities and the impeachment of Nixon. Buddy Miles reflected the stress of those many changes in his 1970 song ‘Them Changes.’ In systemic changes we demanded such as stewardship of the environment, ending pointless wars of adventurism, worship of materialism, and economic fairness we have failed miserably. The bottom line is clear, we have left our children a country in worse shape in significant measures.
The most enduring gift from the Boomer generation is the music and the accompanying freedom to express. The music created a patina of an idealized time of peace, love, freedom, and harmony over a highly contentious time. We pointed the middle finger at our elders who were ‘square,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘uptight.’ All things Establishment were at the risk of our ire and idealism which showed up in the lyrics of the songs and other forms of expression such as movies, clothes, and hair. We considered ourselves different, the Now Generation who would set about making the world right in human relations, cleaning up the environment, ending pointless wars, and moving towards economic democracy. We played with the dark side as at Altamont and the killings that occurred while Mick Jagger sang, ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ but many of us were idealistic and lived for the revolution. Guided by John Lennon’s words in ‘Revolution’ we sought to free our minds instead of violent revolution. Following that guidance we were going to build a new society but we did not. Our nation took a drastic turn in the wrong direction and we are now faced with challenges greater than the Soviet Union and its missiles. The Soviet menace imploded on itself. Staring at extreme natural disasters, long term environmental degradation, greatly increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us, religious bigotry against Muslims, and never ending wars (currently three and counting), it is no wonder that the youth of today look to our music for inspiration. We had the great ideas and slogans but the results are another thing altogether.
We had our hand on the joystick of life in 1970 and we made the wrong turn and took the road most traveled and reaped the fruit of an unsustainable life style. We Boomers have led the world to this point through the power of our numbers in the market place and the voting booth. In addition to positive trends such as expansion of gender and sexual equity, organic food, yoga, electric cars, society has lost ground on key quality of life indicators; obesity, traffic, environmental degradation, economic security, wars, et al. At a recent talk in Hawaii an important researcher on human consciousness and science, Peter Russell, was asked if he felt there was hope for the human race given the extremity of the challenges. His answer, “I don’t know. I hope so but don’t see the evidence for it.” As I sat in that room of 100 Boomers and the handful of 21st century yogi/ hippies, I was struck that a challenge of positive aging is to be knowledgeable, appreciative, and in integrity with one’s past.
We can stay in integrity with our youthful vision of equal rights, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and the end of wars of aggression. An honest inventory of our successes and failures is needed. This recollection may be infused with sadness or longing but within the group memory is the power of community. The photo of the Bed-In in Montreal was emblematic of the hope and power of our generation. We once had hope, vision, and purpose. We can make a difference again. We now have the age and the boon that comes with it; time, economic freedom, wisdom, and mobility. Those of us who are called can leave a positive legacy. To paraphrase Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, ‘Let’s not blow it again.’ Perhaps 'Give Peace A Chance' can be more than a song and a memory. More on this topic in future blogs.