The last 50 years in 4,000 words (or the Death of a Hipster in something less). Andrew E. Hall gets it on.
WE’RE going to take a little trip.
No, not Timothy Leary-style, but we’ll start our trip in the decade he was famously quoted as saying: “My advice to people today is as follows – if you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
The ’60s baby!
We’re going to have a look at some fads of that time and others that have appeared (and disappeared) since.
Because that’s what the editor wants . . . so don’t blame me.
However, given that an accepted definition of “fad” is, “a widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is (often) short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities”, the editor might not be off his rocker after all.
At the beginning of the ’60s quite a popular fad in the United States was dominos – as played by US President Dwight Eisenhower and his sidekick, Richard Nixon. The ‘domino theory’ was a metaphor they trotted out to justify America’s support for the corrupt South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem against the naughty communists in Vietnam’s north. In many ways the domino fad set the tone for the decade and inspired other fads that followed.
Against the backdrop of what became the Vietnam war, young people in the western world (at least those who weren’t being sent off to meet new and interesting people . . . and kill them) created another fad – hippydom. These were the baby boomers liberated by the music of the times, politicized by the war in Vietnam, befuddled by a range of certain substances, and dressed by someone who had ingested those certain substances for way too long.
The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and The Fish laid down the tunes and rhythms and the hippies danced and swayed. They marched for peace. They burnt their bras and draft cards (although I think the bra burning might have kicked off the “cosmetic” surgery industry a couple of decades later). They gave us hope that when their generation came to run the place, the world might somehow be different – more peaceful, more tolerant, more loving. What the hippies really were, in the main, were middle class kids and adults who could afford to be hippies. Bill and Hillary Clinton were hippies (albeit that, apparently, they never inhaled . . . which begs the question: why stick a joint in your mouth in the first place?).
Sex, drugs, rock n roll, long hair and beads – the hippies were making a statement against their parents’ generation. The old folks, however, more often than not, were picking up the tab for the tabs and protests.
I can hear hippies screaming (chanting?) from the past: “It wasn’t a fad! It was a social movement!”
. . . everybody must get stoned.
And, as for the domino theory – whoops, not in South-East Asia, but in Eastern Europe, with the Soviets driving their tanks into sovereign nations like Czechoslovakia.
It has been said that if you remember the ’60s you weren’t there. Well, I was but I was too young to have sex and smoke dope and, thankfully, to go off to war. But one fad I did get into was making cardboard models of Apollo rockets and lunar landing modules which, I think, were given away to kids when their parents filled up the car at petrol stations.
It was a bit tricky putting the lunar lander together but well worthwhile getting woken up by my dad on that July night in 1969 to help Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon for the first time, okay, yes, from a distance and watching on the family black and white TV. I made a fairly good landing in the lounge room as I remember except that one of the legs fell off my module.
This event, however, was the trigger for another fad that has endured until present times . . . conspiracy theory. Because those who subscribe to such “theories” maintain that the whole Apollo 11 mission was staged in an earthbound film studio.
Get a life!
As we drift-dreamed into a new decade we reflected on the fact that John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert; Martin Luther King Jr.; and Ngo Dinh Diem had all been shot to death by their own countrymen. Thousands upon thousands had given up their lives in various wars. The hippies were a bit addled at having their fashion-sense challenged by the more colourful (but no less garish) members of the “flower power” movement.
Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin were at the top of their musical games. English band, The Who, had released one of the first real rock operas, Tommy. Hunter S. Thompson had written and published Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and attracted a cult following for his “gonzo” journalism (and had gotten himself quite badly beaten by the Hell’s Angels for writing the book). Jack Kerouac was still cross with the hippies for being hippies – accusing them of being no better than any other faddish group that sought power and control while purporting to be something else (i.e. soulful, spiritual and self-aware).
Probably not the best form of self-promotion for the “children of the universe” when they spat upon, and otherwise chose to abuse, the young men and women returning to their homes in America and Australia after their tours of duty in Vietnam – thereby completely ignoring those who were responsible for the whole charade in the first place.
In the ’70s fads were to become more consumerist than conscientious.
Fashion trends were to become downright discombobulating.
The Coca-Cola company came up with an ingenious marketing plan aimed at young people by turning the simple pastime of yo-yoing into a semi-professional sport. As fads went, this was a beauty – it became a “craze”. Professional yo-yoers toured the world emblazoned with company logos (also on the yo-yos we bought at our local newsagents and delis) teaching us youngsters (dressed – quite snappily, we thought – in our flared pants, body shirts and platform footwear) how to loop-the-loop; rock the cradle; walk the dog; and other excellent tricks. Competitions were held and one of my school friends won one after a playoff saw him do 300-plus loop-the-loops in a row. His prize was to go on a 10-day cruise with the cast of a popular children’s TV show which included a person dressed as a large, fluffy cat (or was it the penguin?). Us losers got to drink bucket-loads of sweet, fizzy drinks.
Coca-Cola and dentists made a fortune.
While we were perfecting our yo-yo technique, we often tried to loop-the-loop in time with music that we played from things called “records” – large vinyl discs (and smaller ones called “singles”) that spun on “turntables” in things we called “hi-fis” (pronounced hi-fyes) or “radiograms”. Hi-fis were large pieces of furniture that sometimes were covered in fake ostrich skin. And the sounds emanating from these gorgeous pieces of kit (that we used to stare at more than the television) in the early to mid ’70s was a wonderful fad called “glam rock” – sometimes referred to as “glitter rock” after a rocker named Gary Glitter (who turned out to be a paedophile). Oh man – we used to say that a lot – who can forget
Dave Bowie as Ziggy Stardust? And his distant relative Alvin Stardust?
“. . . Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with weird and gilly
And the spiders from mars . . .”
Lou Reed (somewhat dark); New York Dolls; Iggy Pop (barking mad); The Sweet; and Slade. Suzi Quatro was hot. But what bound these bands together in the space-time continuum was androgyny – everyone wore makeup, painted their fingernails (which tended to get us copycats at an Anglican boys school into deep shit in the form of getting caned on the back of the legs – which hurt like hell!), and wore outrageous clothes. It was a special time when the boys looked like girls and so did the girls.
The music was fantastic, the stage shows were . . . well, a bit camp really, but spectacular. And no matter what you say about digital music and the iTunes store, nothing, nothing, will ever beat going into a record shop to buy an album. And the very best digital reproduction will never sound as good as vinyl.
And then the yo-yo craze died and all the yo-yo professionals went to the quantum space where old yo-yoers go.
The music was still good but the evil genius, Malcom McLaren, unbeknownst to us, was busy plotting the emergence of new wave and punk . . .
. . . then some toy company came up with the next fad – “clik claks”. This onomatopoeic toy comprised two hard plastic balls on either end of a piece of string with a plastic tab in between that was jiggled between thumb and finger to bang the balls together in an over and under fashion. What usually happened, however, is one would achieve a couple of cliks and maybe a clak or two, and then the practitioner would end up in a doctor’s surgery with a fractured wrist. Now, you might imagine that letting several hundred students at an Anglican boys school loose with these toys – that were actually handy weapons – was probably not the best idea. Puberty being what it is, often what a person going through it wants to do is bash someone else, and clik claks were perfect for the purpose. Heaps of bumps and bruises and then, I believe, the school brain trust – sick of beating boys who’d already been beaten – banned them. And that was that.
The music was still good but by that time Debbie Harry had blown Suzi Quatro into the weeds. Malcom McLaren gave birth to Johnny Rotten and Syd Vicious. We wiped off the nail polish and ripped our shirts. We became anarchists and left school to inflict our nihilistic nonsense on people who were still listening to Bing Crosby and Beethoven (although once we grew up a bit we realized that Ludwig von Beethoven in his time – and any other time, for that matter – was far more avant-garde than the Sex Pistols could ever hope to be).
Bing Crosby was still rubbish, though.
The North Vietnamese had beaten the South and the West several years previously and taken it upon themselves – despite being somewhat war-weary – to go into Cambodia to stop Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge thugs from completing a genocide. Only to be greeted by opprobrium and sulking from those policy makers in the west who facilitated the whole sorry Cambodian situation in the first place.
The dominos had not fallen.
But The Deer Hunter had come out and it put a new spin on the Vietnam experience. One of the best movies ever made.
We supplemented our reading of Hunter S. Thompson with the remarkable “insights” of Carlos Castaneda because we’d damn well missed out on the ’60s and wanted a piece of that action.
The 1980s crept up on us in a sneaky sort of Staying Alive way – which was quite a popular film starring John Travolta and directed by . . . guess who?
. . . go on . . .
Some say the ’80s was a black hole in the history of the 20th century. Although the disco phenomenon had been going for a while, Saturday Night Fever cranked it up again, so the decade’s naysayers were probably right. After all it was the decade that the UK’s Margaret Thatcher concocted a war with the Argentine people over a couple of very small islands and an awful lot of sheep (no, I’m not a conspiracy theorist – it was simply a pragmatic way to stay in power as prime minister). And her great mate, Ronald (Cuc . . .koo) Reagan held America’s top job.
The Soviets thought it was a superb idea to invade Afghanistan which helped ruin their economy and credibility enough that by the end of the decade they decided to stop being communists and became, instead, rampant capitalists – appropriating all aspects of that organizational system that had been carefully weeded out in other capitalist countries.
. . . humans are excellent at not learning the lessons of history . . .
The CIA gave birth to Osama bin Laden.
Sony sold millions of Walkmans; Apple computers attracted a cult following; “Slinkys” walked down stairs and their owners became aware that this toy was a one-trick pony.
And on and on.
I won’t bore you with my escapades but I had a great time and eventually became a newspaper editor as a way of legitimizing long, boozy lunches.
The music was forgettable in the main.
… Sylvester Stallone directed Saturday Night Fever by the way – it still elicits a chuckle.
In a galaxy far, far away the last two episodes of the first Star Wars trilogy played out. Back on Earth George Lucas probably bought a yacht.
The 1990s might well be described as the Bill Gates era when personal computers pervaded hundreds of millions of homes throughout the world.
And Bill’s company, Microsoft, became the behemoth it remains today.
With the rise in computer-based pastimes came the real birth of the world wide web (although it had been around for a while) and a new form of surfing that had nothing to do with the sea. I suspect this craze contributed significantly to a deterioration in people’s muscle tone (especially the legs) and a concomitant increase in the size of the average arse.
While web surfing was a toddler, the craft of journalism was in its death throes, as another evil genius, Rupert Murdoch, crept across the globe dumbing down (and propagandizing) every form of media he got his grubby little hands on.
Vis-à-vis Murdoch, a sick joke I occasionally perpetrate on my American friends (especially when they go off on their “we’re the greatest nation on earth” rant) is a friendly reminder that we (a rather small nation called Australia) took over your whole country with just one man. And not a shot was fired.
Of course Mars – the god of the war fad – couldn’t keep his nose out of earthly affairs with incursions into Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Kuwait, and Rwanda.
Generation X will roundly chastise me when I say that I just gave up on music and retreated into my ’60s and 70’s bubble (selected bits of the ’80s maybe) – and Beethoven, of course.
Oh yes, speaking of bubbles, there was another one that swept through the ’90s. The dot-com bubble.
As Andrew Beattle in Investopedia.com explains:
“Companies underwent a similar phenomenon to the one that gripped seventeenth century England, and America in the early eighties: investors wanted big ideas more than a solid business plan. Buzzwords like networking, new paradigm, information technologies, internet, consumer-driven navigation, tailored web experience, and many more examples of empty double-speak filled the media and investors with a rabid hunger for more. The IPOs (initial public offerings: mine) of internet companies emerged with ferocity and frequency, sweeping the nation (and many others: mine) up in euphoria. Investors were blindly grabbing every new issue without even looking at a business plan to find out, for example, how long the company would take before making a profit, if ever.”
Bottom line: when the whole thing went “pop” in 2000 lots of people lost lots and lots of money. Where did it all go, though?
At the end of the decade another hysterical (in every sense of the word) fad gripped the world – the Millennium Bug, or Y2K. If I’m not mistaken the whole fracas occurred because a bunch of geeks determined that when the ’90s clicked (clakked?) over to 2000 all Microsoft-based computers would suddenly forget the date and crash.
To my great amusement “Y2K-safe” stickers appeared on everything from petrol bowsers to supermarket checkout tills. I thought about putting one on my willy!
I felt somewhat smug because I’ve always been a Mac user. And if the end of the world was going to happen for such a pathetic reason I figured we probably deserved it.
So the gates (not the Gates – they were doing okay), not only to a new decade but a new century, were a bit squeaky from the get-go. They nearly fell off their hinges when in November 2000 a fad called “let’s not count the votes properly” swept Florida leaving poor old Al Gore swinging in the breeze and the rest of us with the fact that the most powerful nation on the planet was in the hands of someone not quite as cuckoo as Ron Reagan, but dangerously stupid nevertheless.
It was enough make us atheists want to get religion – until we remembered that George W. had one and called upon its cracked actors to guide his decision-making. Better to hang onto our nature spirits and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, the young and not-so-young had became completely infatuated with on-line gaming. Forget the yo-yos and clik-claks of a more innocent age . . . the joy of receiving a football for your birthday and spending the next 48 hours playing kick-to-kick. No, no, this was serious stuff about killing things. And the more you killed the better you were. The human leg had finally become redundant and will probably drop off in a generation or two. Very few appear to question the sanity of such killing sprees but we can all rest assured that some big companies are making even bigger bucks out of them – justification enough for just about everything in this day and age. Morality and ethics – fads that had come and gone since the Ancient Greeks taught us how to think – had finally been defeated and disappeared from the public space. They are an “inconvenient truth” for the likes of Murdoch and his sycophants as much as global warming is for those who make their money from creating pollution.
In their place we got religious fanaticism and its little brother, terrorism.
Terrorists trained in Afghanistan. Towers fell. Thousands died. George W. and his cabal of nefarious nutbags went to war with … Iraq.
Mars was laughing his arse off.
The conspiracy theorists were similarly having a hoot. I sat, incredulous, as they, in all seriousness, tried to convince me that the cause of the tragic events of 9/11 was not two airliners loaded with jet fuel but a timed implosion.
My response, after fruitlessly searching for a spare joint was, more often than not, to ask: “Have you ever blown anything up?”
I have (in a nice way), but that’s another story.
The internet is a tricky thing and people’s crapometers are seriously flawed these days.
This decade, of course, can also be commemorated for its economic meltdowns that resulted from the time-honoured practice of rape and pillage – see also, unreconstructed, un-repenting, unscrupulous, unmitigated bastardry committed by those in charge of the world’s largest corporations. Enough said or I shall start to weep and fry my keyboard.
In February 2005 something quite sad (for me) came to pass – no, not because of the economic meltdowns; I’ve never had any money anyway – the death of Hunter S. Thompson. He’d always liked his guns and on the 20th he used one on his own head.
His contribution to journalism – not the cheap and shallow repetition of events that stands in its place these days – has yet, I think, to be fully understood. The father, son and unholy ghost of gonzo journalism, he told it like it was and had a damned fine time doing so.
Gonzo to the last, his final missive read:
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.”
His ashes were fired from a cannon atop a 47-metre tower of his own design (in the shape of a double-thumbed fist clutching a peyote button) to the tune of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Johnny Depp paid for the whole thing saying: “All I’m doing is trying to make sure his last wish comes true. I just want to send my pal out the way he wants to go out.”
… so, here we are in 2011. Osama bin Laden has been zapped in Pakistan and the conspiracy theorists are, once again, having a field day.
Can’t find a spare joint anywhere.
What have we learned?
What are we doing differently?
Why is Mars still laughing?
I will leave the final words to two musicians from two different periods in recent history.
Pablo Casals – pre-eminent cellist and musical maestro: “The situation is hopeless … we must take the next step.”
Leonard Cohen – pop poet and musical legend: “… we are ugly but we still have the music …”