Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sgt Pepper and Boomer Nostalgia

I've been kinda shocked at all the media hype over the 50th anniversary of the of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album. I first remember this nostalgia being hyped all the way back in 1987, when I was first getting into the Beatles. That was during a time of intense 1960s nostalgia. We are now three decades removed from that moment, meaning we are now much further away from 1987 than 1987 was from 1967. (I feel so old writing that.)

This has inspired some "Sgt Pepper isn't that good takes" where the writers think they're original or something. In the last thirty years the critical feeling about that album has tended to put it below other Beatles output of the era, so downgrading it is following rather than bucking the critical consensus.

For that reason I think the hype has little to do with the record itself, and more to do with it as a cultural moment when it was released, a sign of the counterculture breaking into the broader mainstream and defining generational values. It was supposedly the soundtrack to "The Summer of Love," a moment I've had to take other people's words for. (My people were on the farm, in 'Nam, or in the seminary in the summer of 1967.) That's why the Boomers -or at least those who are editors at publications- are still fawning over it.

And hey, I get it. I listened to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time in years recently and felt a chill go down my spine. For a Gen Xer like me it is not a song, it is a powerful memory. I would just like to say that my generation has not been so egregious in inflicting our nostalgia on those younger than us.

And when I get down to it, part of the reason that I resent Boomer nostalgia is that it had such a powerful effect on my own outlook at a formative moment in my life. I kept thinking that nothing in the present could ever be as good as things were in the 1960s. And honestly, hearing that message amidst the vapid cultural and political black hole that was the later Reagan years, it seemed pretty convincing. While I've mostly shaken it off, the notion that I am living in a less interesting time than my forbears will still pop in my head.

My millennial brothers and sisters appear to be much more immune to the disease of Boomer nostalgia. That at least gives me hope.

Postscript: Sgt Pepper is alright, but if you want a truly great symphonic sixties album, go with Pet Sounds.


Terry said...

*sigh* I'm a Baby Boomer but I get really tired of getting lumped with the other kazillion boomers (that's why we're called Boomers, btw, because there were a kazillion of us because once our dads got home from war IT WAS TIME TO MAKE LOTS OF BABIES Y'ALL). I started out being "liberal" and have gradually over the decades got more and more liberal and my generation has always been a colossal disappointment to me - talk about wasted potential. Music of the past has never interested me much. I have no hankering to listen to the Beatles even though I was just as obsessive a fan as anyone else at the time. It's new music that interests me (should make that past tense, as I haven't been listening to music for a number of years now) so I really got into NIN and industrial, later Saddle Creek Records bands that I could see live here in Omaha (until they got too big therefore too expensive to afford tickets)...I don't see the point of nostalgia. It's like the Mirror of Erised, you turn your back on the present to bathe in the past, and then you're dead and what have you done: nothing.

I don't imagine I'm alone - I suspect millions of us Boomers feel the same way, and have tried to achieve betterment throughout our lives. I was a career wetlands biologist (not as fun as it sounds, I seldom got to splash around in the wetlands I love) trying to protect water resources. Not glamorous, no huge awards and certainly no rewards. But I, like millions of Boomers showed up day after day trying in our tiny ways to make the world better.

So it hurts when younger generations castigate The Boomers as though we're a giant bolus emulsified into sameness through and through. It isn't lost on me that this is how all our minorities feel all day, every day. Is it lost on our accusers? Remember, while we may have been saving and contributing to Social Security all these years, most of us are barely betting by. We're not the 1%. If the Repugs gut Social Security and Medicare, I'm in the soup seriously.

The Right as been very good at keeping us 99% fighting amongst ourselves for a long time. We Boomers need youngsters' energy; they may need our experience. We're their grandparents. Most of us love them dearly and despair that all our hard work is now being dismantled by monsters.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

As always, I appreciate your wisdom, Terry. In fact, when I wrote this I was thinking that you would have a response for me. I guess I should clarify that my ire is less for your generation than those in the media from it who keep pushing nostalgia very specific to them. Of course, part of the issue is that my fellow Gen Xers are badly outnumbered. We are this century's "Lost Generation" and should probably just stop kvetching about it.

Terry said...

Kvetch if it helps you feel better.

I'd also suggest to my son's and grandchild's generations: Look carefully at the videos and photos of the great protests we've had since Jan. 9. You may be surprised how many gray heads you see in them.