Today I wrote a song. I can truly say that. I didn't have the idea for a song, I didn't just write part of it to be finished later, I didn't just write the words and plan to write the music later. No, I wrote a song. It came from whatever mysterious place songs come from complete. Words, music, arrangement (in my head).
Lady Gaga on a British chat show, 2010.
‘Barack Obama,’ the civil rights hero John Lewis once said, ‘is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma’
There it is – in this New York Times book review by Gary Wills – the connection that seems, at first, obvious but which has far greater implications I think.
Some decades are dull in their predictability. Some are transitional. And others are transformational.
I cannot escape the feeling that the 2010s will be as transformational as the 1960s.
I believe we will be dealing with some familiar issues that were long thought to be part of America’s past but how and why they reappear will be what’s different this time around.
The most worrying of these – and the one to which John Lewis refers – is racism.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that many people are against Barack Obama, calling him all the names that are guaranteed to get a certain group of Americans riled up like socialist, communist, nazi, solely because he is black.
The difference is he’s our first black president. And that tells these people that the world they knew and secretly (or not so secretly) loved has finally gone for good. There have always been people in this country who accepted the equality won by the civil rights movement grudgingly – people who would roll back those rights at the drop of a hat.
The only thing that kept these people from expressing their thoughts (most of the time) was the fact that the white guys still ruled. It was totally okay for a black person to climb the pop charts but not to climb the political ladder that leads to the White House.
Right. Now you know why my previous attempts to write this piece have failed. It turns into a novel. Well, if not quite that long, way too long for a blog post.
So, having dealt with the new face of racism, here’s the rest in short form.
They will be as much in the news in the 2010s as they were in the 60s. Ban the bomb. If you’re old enough to remember that movement then you know it failed. We didn’t ban it. And that failure will come back to haunt us in the next decade. Barack Obama, again, just convened a gathering of 47 world leaders in Washington DC to start to try to reign in the ‘loose nukes’ or more specifically the enriched uranium that could fall into the hands of terrorists. He is inviting countries to send it to the USA for safe processing into useable fuel or for safekeeping. What an amazing start – but one that is getting much more coverage around the world than it is here. If we do not end the tyranny of nuclear weapons (including nuclear terrorism) in this decade then a new generation of American children will grow up in fear of the mushroom cloud just as they did in the 60s. The only difference will be who is threatening to drop the bomb.
These too will be making news. Not for the reasons they did in the 60s but because we will finally understand the devastation they have brought to American life. There is something about this country that makes people want to escape from normal daily life. In the 60s a whole group of people – young people – wanted to escape the routines and lack of imagination they saw their parents imprisoned by. In the 2010s the focus will shift not from escape but to improvement. Why is life so dull that we need drugs to escape it? There will be a shift to understanding the need, rather than fighting the habit. But the goal will be identical to the 60s – personal freedom. We will refocus on what we as human beings actually need to get out of life to make it satisfying. And we will recognize, finally, that this can be a huge variety of things depending on the person. But the 'freedom' to carry a gun will not be one of them. Remember, when John Lennon sang 'Happiness Is A Warm Gun', he wasn't talking about firearms.
This will again be news but not for the reason you think. The children (flower children?) of the 60s helped invent the concept of youth culture. Unfortunately future generations did not understand the battles that were fought and the freedoms that were won. Of course, some adults didn’t either, which is why racism will be on the front pages again as I already said. The perpetuation of youth culture has come largely from the media and the entertainment industries. They were guided by the misconception that youth is where the money is. But that was only true of the baby boomers. The money was there simply because there were so many of us! And we are still here. Youth culture will be news in the 2010s because it will become radically less influential. The people who fought racism, who fought for equality, who believed in a better world, will have their voices heard once again. And they may no longer be young, but they are still as powerful. If youth learns from the example, all the better. The children of the 60s rebelled against the apathy of their parents. The parents of the 2010s must rebel against the apathy of their children.
Music will resurface, after decades of decline, not because the record labels finally come to terms with technology but because the value of music as communication will once again be appreciated. The arts in general will be revitalized. We have tried greed as a guiding principle - it failed. We have given up much of what drove us when we were young - we need it all back. Somewhere in your own heart, if you are over 40, you know this is true.
A new Dylan will come along (sorry, I know that many artists, The Boss among them, has suffered from that comparison, but there’s no other that works). Someone will start turning the turmoil of the times into song. And music will change – again. The role of the songwriter as social and political commentator will be renewed. But most importantly, his or her music will be bought by people of all ages. Again, money is not by definition where youth is, it is where the people are – the most people. Entire industries are on the verge of learning this inescapable fact.
I will not say that either Iraq or Afghanistan are America’s new Vietnam. But war will be in the news for exactly the same reason it was in the 60s. The feeling that we are fighting unjust wars, unnecessary wars will mount in this country. And president Obama will take us out of both of those countries (this is his goal despite some unavoidable short-term actions that his enemies joyously use against him). It may be in his second term in office but we will be free of war by the end of the 2010s (hopefully well before the end). But his efforts will first create the kind of conflict internally that we haven’t seen since the Vietnam war. The same people who are bringing back racism, the same people who defend their rights to carry guns (even openly to political rallies) will not just shut up and blow away – just as the anti-war, civil rights activists of the 60s would not give up. The people who were on the side of right back then need to get re-involved and fight the fight all over again. Because this is not a simple phase in our country’s history. What happens in the next decade in America will shape the kind of world we live in for the foreseeable future. If, as we worried in the 60s, there is a world to live in.
No, you didn't read that wrong. I truly believe our immediate future will seem very familiar.