As I look at my generation with a cold eye, I don't see anything worth crowing about except rock n roll. I remember in high school believing my generation was going to be "awesome," really believing it, even feeling a pride in my generation. We were the first white people to use the word "cool" outside jazz circles. There were so many black people in the early years of rock n roll from the rhythm n blues angle that I believed this was the end of racism. Then came the time of civil rights protesting that had an air of righteousness about it. The emergence of Bob Dylan in the early Sixties was even more evidence that my generation was extraordinary. We who listened to Bob Dylan in his early years became convinced right away that he stood somewhere beyond the others. Dylan has been the pop star of my lifetime like Frank Sinatra was for my parents' generation. I've seen both in concert. Sinatra was dynamic in his style and Dylan was dynamic in his style. Sinatra sang. Dylan sang, wrote the lyrics, composed the music, played guitar, hand-picked his band, tours with the band every year. Sinatra was an artist as a performer and actor, Dylan an artist all the way around. Dylan blew my mind then, he blows my mind now. Mr Tambourine Man never gets old, nor does Sinatra singing Watertown.
My generation, like the musicians of the Sixties "classic rock," then "underground," meaning you couldn't hear it anywhere on the radio, and the musicians of Punk, that also was not played on the radio except college stations, they went Pfitzzzz, shooting stars taken down by heroin. As was the case with the Be-bop jazz musicians the generation before, where the white kids picked up the word cool. I did jr hi and high school through the late Fifties. The music was my connection with the world outside home, school and church. Bill Haley convinced me my generation was cool, We're gonna rock around the clock tonight, we're gonna rock, rock, rock til the broad daylight, we're gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight. The poetry of my youth. Well I saw uncle John with bald-headed Sally, he saw aunt Mary comin and he duck back in the alley. I didn't get it til many years later that Long Tall Sally was about masturbation. Long Tall Sally was uncle John's wiener. Busted. I knew Edie Sedgwick was the "you" in Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone a long time before I got it about Long Tall Sally. That was the time in my life when I knew all the words to all Little Richard's songs, Chuck Berry songs, Bill Haley's and Buddy Holly's, esp Rave On. They are still with me. Can't leave out Ronnie Hawkins' Mary Lou, perhaps my favorite song of the whole period. I can pull up the words of any of those songs at will, as well as many others, like Heartbreak Hotel. Fifties lyrics are the poetry in my head.
The music of that time was so great to a teenage kid coming up on radio music parents listened to, none of it resonating with me, though some of it I liked. Peggy Lee was pretty cool. When rock n roll happened, I found my heartbeat. The music was rebellious, just the way I felt, though had to internalize it, which I did with the songs in my head and listening to stations on the radio that played the new music. Bought 45s and had the next thing to a tin can to listen to them on. Didn't matter. We didn't know about CDs and Bose then. Anything was better than nothing. My generation has made great leaps in sciences, fields we know nothing about, because interest in the field rarely extends beyond participants. The same applies to poetry, theater, fiction, film making. The greatest rock n roll band in the world is my generation, the Rolling Stones. Then, of course, there is the Who's My Generation, Peter Townshend who pointed a finger toward Meher Baba with the Who's album, Tommy. Perhaps the greatest discovery of my generation is recreational drugs right there alongside rock n roll. The drugs have taken their toll on my generation, though most survived, all the wiser for having been through something really dangerous and come out the other end. My generation has also been one of embarrassing conformity. We grew up believing television propaganda, like all generations since.
In college, nobody wanted to grow up and be like their parents. Thirty years later I went to a reunion and thought I was back then in a big room full of everybody's parents. It was disheartening, but I already knew it. I was surrounded by people who bought the package I rejected. I meant it when I said I didn't want to be like my parents. The laugh for me after thirty years of living outside group-think by intent and many of those years living with hillbillies, adopting their vision, it was disconcerting to find myself in the midst of lawyers, doctors, judges, and their dolled-up wives, putting on the dog for each other in suits that cost more than the pickup I was driving, suburbanites good at cocktail party chatter. Some winters before, I had carried a newborn calf through sixteen inches of snow to the barn to put it on some hay. Mother would not follow. I carried calf back to mother to let her smell it, carried it back to the barn, mother didn't follow. I took some hay bales to the spot on the snow the calf was born and made a nest for it, carried the calf back from the barn to place it on the only spot mother recognized it. Sixteen inches of snow. I didn't feel less than any of the judges around me and didn't feel better. We had very different experiences behind us and very different ideas of how we want to live our lives. They paid people to mow their lawns more money than I made.
My goal over the last thirty-eight years has been to live in the world, not of the world. It took several years to figure out what "the world" meant to my satisfaction. What I've come to is that the human mind is "the world." Creations of the mind constitute the world. Conformity is living of the world. Anti-conformity is living of the world. I'm not the only one of my generation who has stepped outside living of the world. We ask more of ourselves along the way through life than what channel is playing Cheers reruns. Maybe. That's a little high-sounding. Let's just say my generation has an awful lot of us who go our own way for our own reasons, checked out of the System consciously, however we individually interpret the System, uninterested in playing the climbing game, the status game, the money game. We leave that merry-go-round so we can have another ride of our preference, Ferris wheel, rollercoaster. In my case, I've rarely made over minimum wage, never wanted more, did not want to need to be an accountant just to live my life. I never wanted to live in a suburb where the houses are slight variations of each other and the mailbox out by the road needs to be housed in a brick structure because of kids bashing mailboxes on Saturday nights. I'd rather listen to the call of the crows, the tweet of the towhee, the buzzing sound chickadees make, the tree frogs, fiddle and banjo music, and conversation with my friends at the coffee shop in Sparta. Am in a place now where I want my life in first person instead of third person.
the roan mountain hilltoppers