Monday, October 10, 2005

You say it's your birthday

Wow, so John Lennon would have been 65 yesterday. Or perhaps I should say: it's been 65 years since JL was born. (What's the etiquette here?) I'm celebrating by listening to this remarkably disappointing radio special. I guess it's supposed to be "impressionistic" or something: just a scattered batch of familiar and unfamiliar sound bites, no chronological order, no logic of any kind. (Part One is a completely free-form collage, while Part Two focuses on people's memories of the day Lennon died.)

By chance, I almost watched Imagine, the video assemblage from a decade or so ago that I pseudo-TIVO'ed several months back, last night, unaware of this latest opportunity for mass reflection. Maybe I'll catch it tonight instead.

But something tells me I'll get more out of visiting The Johnny Bacardi Show in search of a tribute, and sure enough, he does not disappoint. Okay, so it's just a list of favorite songs, but that seems appropriate.

Between this, the Dylan documentary, a PBS quickie history of the sixties, a 2004 video biography of Howard Zinn, and some other stuff, I've been spending quite a bit of time revisiting the sixties for the last week or so. Lots of the same footage and same songs over and over again, which is to be expected, but I think I'm seeing a lot of it differently. I was too young to be directly involved in that legendary decade in any significant way beyond learning to read, avoiding neighborhood bullies, and watching The Beverly Hillbillies. In the late Seventies, I took a "History of the Sixties" course in college (the overriding theme of which was "the death of liberalism," a concept that was ongoing at the time of the class, though I couldn't quite grasp that at the time), which introduced me to the political issues beyond the music, the clothes, and the TV series of my childhood. In both cases, the major players were all older than me. Now, as a guy in my mid-40s watching all this on TV again, it dawns on me that I am 20 years older than the various rock stars, hippies, activists, and college students waving peace signs on my television screen. It's a weird form of time travel. I look at the faces onscreen and wonder, why did you people let go of all this? You thought you were making the world a better place, and you were. And for about 20 years now--since around the time Lennon was shot, come to think of it--we've been backsliding like mad. And I look at current-day college students (and rock stars, for that matter) and wonder what the hell is wrong with you people? And of course I ask the same of myself, stuck in the middle between two generations. The sixties provided a template--good points and bad points alike--for the massive grassroots anti-war movement we desperately need right now, but something's just not clicking. I'm definitely NOT saying we should or can attempt to rehash what happened in those hazy crazy bygone days; I'm just suggesting that there is precedent, and no shortage of documentation of what happened then, and analysis of what worked and what didn't. (Some of it is a matter of framing, of course: after all, 100,000 people took to the streets of DC a few weeks ago and it didn't seem to register as more than a blip on the 24-hour news channels.) As the Zinn doc in particular makes clear, we have history as a guide when writing the future, and we owe it to ourselves and our predecessors to at least do a little retrospective investigation in the process.

If we really want to honor Lennon's legacy, then we might all want to commit our own lives to putting his best ideas back into action. Instead of playing "Imagine" for the umpteen millionth time, we might want to actually carry out what he's imagining in those oft-quoted lyrics.

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