Entering this world at the very, very tail end of the baby boom, I’ve constantly felt that I just missed out on something special. The party ended moments before I got there, pot still stinking up the room, a little cold beer remained at the bottom of the keg. Embers glowing in the campfire outside.
Subsequent generations, the Ys and the Millenials, well, it might as well have been Mount Vesuvius. Ancient history, told by their smug and self-satisfied elders. Man, you just had to be there. Yeah, yeah. Thanks, gramps.
I was this close. So my life is haunted by The Wave passage in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run…but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket …booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)…but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
What was it like to be to be part of a moment that seemed like everything could change, could change for the better? To be in the grips of a truly revolutionary era. To believe whole-heartedly in “…a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”? Instead of this slow playing out of counter-insurgency, the golden age of reactionism, a half-century roll back?
Why did the ‘high and beautiful wave’ of upheaval break and how come it did before I could get me some of it?
I think the only way to answer that is to settle the still lively debate over who was better, the Beatles or the Stones?
(Wow. That was a long set-up for something of a limp punchline.)
Yes, John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones was my holiday, kick back and don’t think much read. And I will tell you that while I was reading it, the unfulfilled promise of the 60s did feature prominently in my thinking. These two bands probably best reflected the mainstream zeitgeist of the era. What was interesting is that both of their images they projected were largely manufactured. The Beatles were the scrappy, working class bunch the Rolling Stones would morph themselves into. While certainly not the squeaky clean lads the Beatles portrayed, most of the original Stones, save perhaps Keith Richards, were largely middle-class.
That’s not to say the music was inauthentic or any less vital. It’s just got me to thinking about the bigger picture.
None of the original members of either band was, by the strictest definition, a baby boomer. Most were all wartime babies, born to parents of the great depression. In England, they grew up during a time of severe rationing.
These were part of a demographic who knew only a sense of the collective, pulling together to defeat the Nazis, to sustain themselves through the depravation of the pre-war depression and post-war rationing. It would be logical to imagine this kind of perspective to continue through their coming of age in the 60s. Together, we can change the world!
Certainly, when it was advantageous to their careers, both bands embraced the youthful call for change. That was the Stones’ trademark, their schtick. “Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution.”
But it’s hardly surprising that that’s what most of it was, schtick, a pose. Ultimately, these guys were all about money and fame, fame because it meant more money. And that’s the other side of it. We were looking to people to lead the charge who were really in it for themselves. Finally, prosperity, crazy, crazy prosperity, was within their reach after a lifetime, generations of doing without. Their time was now.
The Beatles and Stones provided the soundtrack to rebellion. They weren’t going to risk being on the losing side if it all went to shit.
Martin Luther King dead. Bobby Kennedy dead. Vietnam kicking into gear. Richard Nixon back from the political grave. With the right kind of eyes, you saw the wave break.
And me, puberty still a few years off. Oh come on! You have to be kidding me.
How did we get here?
No, I mean here, on this particular train of thought. The mind does wander so when you get to a certain age.
Beatles vs. Stones is a pleasant enough read, probably revealing nothing new on the topic. It’s one of those books that you wind up feeling was either too long or too short. I could’ve done without a lot of the gossipy aspects of it or put up with it in a more substantial recounting. The sidelining, firing and death of Brian Jones is a defining story of the Stones and it almost gets lost in McMillian’s telling. You could see it coming, building and then, it’s just happened. Sort of like the book.
As for my preference, the Beatles or the Stones?
Well frankly, the Beatles were finished before I turned 10, the Rolling Stones’ best work done just after that. By the time I hit my musical stride, they both represented my dad’s music. (Actually, not my dad’s music. He discovered the joys of Lennon-McCartney by listening to Percy Faith’s The Beatles Album. But that’s another story.) We didn’t need the Rolling Stones. We had Aerosmith!
Decades later, I conducted my own retrospective and found myself to be more of a Stones guy. I appreciate the Beatles, understand they were the real trailblazers in many aspects of the industry. Without them, I think it’s safe to say, there would be no Rolling Stones. In McMillian’s telling of it, disturbingly so. I own Rubber Soul, Revolver and the White Album but rarely listen to them.
The Stones’ 4 album run from 1968-72, Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street, is perhaps the greatest successive output of pop music ever. The only rival I can think of off the top of my head is The Clash, eponymous debut to Sandinista. Forget the old guys still out on tour, waxing Jumpin’ Jack Flash nostalgic. Sympathy for the Devil through to Soul Survivor, 47 songs that, to me, stand for an era in all its glory and ultimate disappointment.
A glory I missed out on. The disappointment continues to resonate.
— still bitterly submitted by Cityslikr