Thursday, April 20, 2006

Now Back To Our Regular Programming

I haven't been posting regularly, I know. Chalk it up to distraction, other writing projects I'm working on, and a head cold I just can't seem to shake. Plus, my wireless at home has been on the fritz. But I'll whip my brain-hampsters on their little wheels, and hopefully they'll come up with some new ideas.

I just finished reading Joan Didion's non-fiction book of essays about California, Where I Was From. It's full of her memories of her post-war childhood and adolescence in the Central Valley. I also watched Good Night and Good Luck last night. These two books got me thinking nostalgically about the generation that they most mark, the World War Two generation that is now slipping away into the inevitable.

As a history-obsessed kid, I always felt that I had been born in the wrong time. Since I was obsessed with the Civil War and the American Revolution, I often daydreamed what it would have been like to have been alive through such events. But now, if I were picking a time to have been alive in America, it would have been to be born into this now-fading group. Here's how I would have done it:

Born in the roaring Twenties, I would have witnessed the calamities of the Depression and the rise of modern liberalism is response. Maybe I'd write letters to my heroes like Marc Blitzstein and Paul Bowles and John Steinbeck. Maybe I'd join a nice "subversive" political group. And get thrown out.

As a young man, I would have gone off to fight in the last good war.

After the war it would have been New York. 1945-65. The artistic height of the American Century. I could have haunted Birdland, watched art history being dismantled, and seen the birth of the American literary voice on stage, brought to life by Marlon Brando. I would have booed Stravinsky and seen my mind blown by modernism and watched Mingus wave a gun and gotten into a fist fight with Arthur Mailer at Lenny Bernstein's pad. I'd flirt with Tennessee Williams, break Truman Capote's heart, and fuck Jack Kerouac at the Chelsea Hotel. I could have beaten the shit out of Roy Cohn at the St. Mark's Baths, and gotten Gore Vidal to introduce me to Jack and Jackie at a party. I could have bought some amazing art, made the scene at the Black and White Ball, taught young Larry Kramer a thing or two about the life, listened to Martin preach from the pulpit at the Riverside Cathedral, and gotten out of town with it while the getting was still good, before Ford to New York: Drop Dead.

Then off to California. 1965-80. First San Francisco, for all that. The birth of modern rock. The death of the old establishment. Good drugs and free love that wasn't free. Goofing on Henry Miller and fronting on Eldridge Cleaver and making out with Susan Sontag for the hell of it. Then down to L.A. for the Seventies, with the requisite trip back North to march in the streets when Milk was run down, to try and find communal enlightenment I didn't really need.

Yeah, L.A. in the Seventies. When the old guard died and everyone looked good. An old house in the hills, with music drifting up from Joni's place down the street. A Mercedes convertible and easy money, galleries and sunshine, and getting out before the cocaine and Reagan ruined everything, watching the last American frontier die in a faded technicolor sunset light.

So I would be an old man now, in my rustic cabin in Guerneville or Provincetown or Monterrey or Santa Fe, with my books and my records. I would be watching the fading of my empire, the death of the nation my generation once saved, savoring the bitter wisdom that comes with age and shaking my head at the puppies who presume to run things, the half-men and marketers who distract and manipulate a nation of children, all the while remembering what it once was when we were men, for that too-brief moment when America ruled, when America ruled as no one had ever ruled, not just power in arms, but power in culture, power in knowlege, power in art and life. That one moment when everyone wanted to be us. My generation's moment, when the West climaxed and America shot off like a bottle rocket, before it all turned to ash in the mouth.

Yeah, it would have been a pretty good life.


Anonymous geodel said...

I found myself swept up in your post, which I think very accurately descibe's a generation's progress, and, although I was born in 1945 and missed the beginning of the party, brought back many memories. Thanks.

9:02 AM  

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