We begin this look at our time by focusing on music from the sixties, of which Obama and Palin are echoes.
In America in the mid-sixties, the nation was rocked and rolled by race riots in major cities. Those were exciting times, regardless of how one might feel about the violence and loss of property and life. The times were exciting because they were high-energy times, fueled by youthful exuberance, by youthful self-righteousness, and by music that blew the roof off the old folk's home. Those days were very exciting. For those who missed it, they missed something special; and many of those who were there long for a return to those high times. Those there include Bill Ayers but not Sarah Palin, not Obama, not Michael Moore, though the latter must long to have been in the midst of it all. They live on the vapours. Repulsive old men like Ayers were there and they know what it was. That time is gone. They can't let go.
How far back should we go to see ourselves today? We can look at the parents who spawned the radical kids of the sixties, White people whose lives were shaped by the Great Depression and World War Two. There were Black people who's lives were hardly the worse for the depression and who weren't much welcome in the military at the time. They were affected more, and deeply, by a revolution that is seldom mentioned: the Tractor Revolution. America, with returning White men from the war after a long depression were suddenly in the lap of extreme wealth, a first for the working-classes in history. Blacks were on the move as well: to cities in the North after being removed from the lands of the South due to an explosion in tractors on land previously worked manually by Blacks. Blacks moved to cities; Whites moved to suburbs. Whites went to college; Blacks didn't. Generally. There were two kinds of American experience: White and urban or land owning rural; and there was the non-owning Black life suddenly facing each other in growing numbers in cities. Whites prospered; Blacks lagged behind. As bad as it might have been for Blacks in the 50s and 60s, it is nothing compared to the misery of many Blacks in today's Liberal urban setting. At the time, all seemed to be possible, though, that all would live in high style if only the government could equalize things by law. They tried that; but the great equalizer wasn't legislation, it was music.
White kids picked up on black people's music and turned it into "Rock and Roll," previously a Black euphemism. Electric music for an electrified time. Blacks brought from the South the seeds of marijuana, and Whites brought the rhythms of Country music to combine in a burst of noise that reverberates to this day. Country and Jazz combined in electric wailing and white hot pounding rhythms set the soul afire. And the cities, too. White kids, off to college in numbers unimaginable a generation earlier, born to parents who might have read comic books, and if they were "intellectuals," Life Magazine, read Marx and European philosophers, also electrifying, and gained a sense of utopian coolness, the thrill of finding a perfect world there for the making if only they would dare. They did. For everyone. Not the old stand-by for Americans of a man's right, but civil rights-- for all, and all at once. Equal rights for Blacks. And the music to go with it.
Coolness, a Black concept from the rural tradition of working at a regular if slow pace, of acceptance of things going on about one because there is no arguing with the weather, of putting down the boss by not reacting, became a White joy, aided by marijuana. Also transformed by electric music and the thrill of being young and right about everything moral, backed up by mysterious, exotic Europeans, philosophers so cool that no one could resist them, at least no cool guy could resist. No resistance but for the rural hicks in small towns and farms, those like the Sarah Palins of our time, those who just didn't get out and experience "real" living, the world outside the farm, the land of rural idiocy where noting ever happened and nothing important ever occurred. Suburban kids, they knew it all, and the music moved them. Philosophy, Europeans, and exotic Blacks. It was the best of all worlds, that one could live the life of a Bohemian, a beatnik, a cool guy who could almost be a Negro, so far removed from the philistine world was he in his studies of European philosophy, smoking pot in the dorm, planning the Revolution to transform the world into utopia, a place of endless sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Wow, man. It was cool. And it was hot! Black was White Hot. Those guys didn't have to put up with their parents at all. Rebels with a cause. A Great Cause. Civil Rights. And no parents. 'Cept for loans and stuff. To be cool. That was all that truly mattered.
Blacks were moved off the land and into cities where they were crowed and cramped and dispersed from former family networks into an alien place of rip and tear and patronage. Their rural culture was dropped into cities, and they were a race apart to begin with, segregated and not well-liked by the White majority. Now really, what could be more exciting for excited White kids? They got to hang out with strange people who didn't have to follow the rules. They had cool music and did cool things like use wild slang. Man. They were also outsiders one could get in with by sucking up, by sharing ones lunch with, and even by having totally wild sex that would freak out ones parents, should they ever find out, a huge great laugh and exciting. Also, seriously, a moral imperative to save them from ones parents, bigots and provincials and bores, unsophisticated types who didn't go to college, didn't know philosophy, and didn't like hanging out and being cool. It drove the folks nuts, and they barely bitched.
One way of being very cool, and hence a way of getting laid, was to hang out, smoke pot, and pretend one was Black. The focus of the hanging-out was music, played loud enough to attract girls to come and hang out too. Being in a band was the ticket to the sack every time. Being in a garage band was the local ideal. MC5 did it. They combined the energy of electric music with the rebelliousness of young White guys pretending to be Black, and they also had the added bonus of being radicals who made reference to Revolution, to European philosophers, and were very noisy. Blacks were impatient to join the general prosperity, not so satisfied with being second-class citizens when White people had so much and they didn't. It's not so noticeable on the farm. In the city it's impossible to miss that some folks like oneself are better off than oneself. Not right, not fair, and not tolerable.
White kids in cities formed garage bands and some pretended to be Black kids. they made exciting music, and sang about Philosophy and Revolution and Utopia. Very cool.
The MC5 is an American rock band formed in Lincoln Park, Michigan in 1964 and active until 1972. They played hard rock music that also included blues-rock, psychedelic rock, rock & roll and garage rock. "Crystallizing the counterculture movement at its most volatile and threatening", their far left political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music would serve as a prototype for later punk rock musicians. The band consisted of Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith (guitars) Michael Davis (bass), Rob Tyner (vocals), and Dennis Thompson (drums).
According to Kramer, the MC5 of this period was politically influenced by the Marxism/Maoism of the Black Panther Party and Fred Hampton. Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton prompted John Sinclair [see below] to found the White Panthers, a militant leftist organization of white people working to assist the Black Panthers. Shortly after, Sinclair was arrested for possession of illegal narcotics.
Under the "guidance" of John Sinclair (who dubbed his enterprise "Trans-Love Energies" and refused to be categorized as a traditional manager), the MC5 were soon involved in left-wing politics: Sinclair was active with the White Panther Party and Fifth Estate.
Fred Hampton was killed in a shoot-out with police before I had a chance to meet him, though I met some of his friends and colleagues. I also missed
Sinclair, he being in prison at the time. They were stars of the show, and I only met the roadies. It wasn't so clear to me then as now that it was all a game. I hated most of those I referred to then as "bearded assholes." I wrote for "underground" newspapers and lived what I now see as a terrifying life. Then it was simply exciting. today I love Sarah Palin, and that's because I know Michael Moore and Obama for who they are: kids who wish they'd been where I was then.
The White Panthers were a far left, anti-racist, White American political collective founded in 1968 by Lawrence Plamondon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. It was started in response to an interview where Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panthers. Newton replied that they could form a White Panther Party. The group took the name and dedicated its energies to "cultural revolution." Sinclair made every effort to ensure that the White Panthers were not mistaken for a white supremacist group, responding to such claims with "quite the contrary." The party worked with many ethnic minority rights groups in the Rainbow Coalition.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
How's this: Black guys are cool. White guys pretending to be Black guys are cool. But if a White guy were a Black guy, that would not be cool: the White guy being cool by pretending to be Black is only cool in relation to White guys who aren't pretending to be Black.
John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941 in Flint, Michigan, United States) is a Detroit poet, one-time manager of the band MC5, and leader of the White Panther Party — a militantly anti-racist countercultural group of white socialists seeking to assist the Black Panthers in the Civil Rights movement — from November 1968 to July 1969.
White guys in Detroit and other burning cities didn't burn down their own parents' houses in sympathy with Black rioters: they went to Black neighbourhoods and encouraged
Blacks to burn their own neighbourhoods. Sometimes they'd use dad's Manhattan condo to build bombs, but that wasn't to blow up the place, it was to blow up White guys' office buildings downtown. Blowing up dad's place would be a mistake. Fatal, sometimes. So too was taking drugs, like heroin. Who would have thought one could die? That was so uncool. It was very cool for others to die, though. Not from something petty like drug over-dose. That had no coolness, unless one was a famous rock star. That was cool. But for the average guy, drug-overdosing was just amateur stuff for fools. Not Romantic. Not memorable. No music in it.
Cool was MC5 making big noise and singing about Revolution. Black people were doing it in the streets, man, and that was so cool. Our parents really hated it, and we were gods. We could rock and roll all night, and the music just got louder and louder... till we couldn't hear anymore.
When I look back at the people I used to know and used to look up to as the coolest of people, I see that they aged and became boring and silly, those who didn't die of drug over-doses and who didn't spend their lives in prisons or taverns drinking and reminiscing about how cool it was back then. Today I see people like Obama who see people Like Ayers as heroes. man, they weren't there to see how shabby and phony it all was, how cheap it would have been had someone pulled the plug on the speakers and we'd had to actually listen to the drivel that passed as profundity. No kidding. Try reading Alan Ginsberg. Or worse, think back to being in jail with that creepy bastard. (For a very short time, no charges pressed.)
Some people never grew up; and some people grew up under the impression that to grow up is to be a kid in the sixties. We can see the painful result of that when we compare MC5 with their latter day kind: Jennifer Lopez and Whitney Houston. Man, the sixties rocked, and it still hurts my ears. Now I smile when I can remember something from back then that doesn't actually hurt. There is the music, mostly, the pounding, noisy electricity of it all. Today, all they have is Islam to attach themselves to, as if it's cool and Revolutionary. I call this lot "Conformity Hippies." They missed the real thing, and it's gone for good. There's no music in Islam, and the kids don't get it. Without the music it's just shit on a stick. It ain't Sarah Palin. It's enough to make your eyes water. These kids are so like my 50s parents. So uncool.
Motor City's gonna burn, but it's not going to burn hot. It's gonna burn like a wet mattress. If you know a little more now, maybe you'll shed a tear when the smoke gets in your eyes. Talk about cool!