Happy Valentine’s Day, If Possible

Today is Valentine’s Day, although you probably wouldn’t notice it here at the home office. Ours is a contentedly solitary home life, shared only with a crabby cat named Miss Ollie, as we’ve had our fill of romance and true love and all that at this late point in life, but we nonetheless wish an especially good day to anyone out there who is still so foolhardy as to fall in love.
Based on our observations of our vast and very diverse friendships and friendly acquaintanceships, which includes a lot of young folk, ¬†falling in love is less common than it used to be, and according to an astute columnist at The Washington Post there’s more scientific proof of that. He cites a professor’s study that 85 percent of “baby boomer” and “Gen. X” high school seniors went on dates, but that had fallen to 56 by 2015. Between 1989 and 2016 the percentage of twenty-somethings who were married had fallen from an already low 32 percent to unprecedented 19 percent, and we can count many many solitary individuals among our friends and friendly acquaintances of all ages.
Having come of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when everybody seemed to be heeding The Beatles’ advice to “Do It in the Road,” we’re quite surprised and entirely unsure what to make of the evidence that there’s also less sex going on, as the percentage of twenty-somethings who admit they haven’t been getting any lately has reportedly risen by half over the same ’89 to ’26 period. It’s fine by us if more young people have forgone the ephemeral pleasures and lasting pains of doing it in the road, but the same conservative instincts have us rooting despite all evidence for the propagation of the species, and when we note the falling birth rates, except in the poorest and most primitive parts of the world, it seems a mixed blessing.
All of these desultory statistics are backed up by our anecdotal evidence from the nightspots we visit,. We’ll often see attractive young couples in the next booth, but they’re invariably looking at those confounded machines in their palms rather into one another’s eyes. Our younger friends and friendly acquaintances frequently tell us about their sexual attraction to some other young friend or friendly acquaintance, but they don’t seem very hopeful, and they very rarely confess the sort of romantic yearnings we used to share with anyone who would listen. Try as we might to avoid the contemporary popular culture, it’s so unavoidable that we’ve noticed it doesn’t encourage romantic love the way it did back in the days of MGM musicals and clean-cut pop song crooners. Our politics are full of porn stars and Playboy playmates and serial marriages, and that’s just the Republicans, not to mention all the scandalous behavior those damned Democrats have long been up to..
Which is a shame, on the whole, as we figure it. True love entails risks, as we can readily attest, but so does life itself, and there’s no way life can go on without it. Among our many friends and friendly acquaintances we count many who have been happily coupled for many years, and like Walt Whitman we revel in “the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens.”
We’ve been happily spared the perfunctory chores of buying chocolates and cards and flowers and expensive dinners at any restaurants the past several Valentine’s Days, but if you’re currently obliged to do so we urge you to do it hopefully. It might just work out happily ever after, and even if it doesn’t we can assure you there might be some memories you can warmly recall in some cold winter of your old age.

— Bud Norman

Two Obituaries for the ’60s

There were more than the usual number of famous names in Monday’s obituaries, including a comedian who used to crack us up and the lead singer for a band that some of our friends can’t believe we don’t remember, but the ones that grabbed our attention were for Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden. The juxtaposition of the clean-cut teen idol with the smooth pop sound and the unkempt activist with the radical agenda was jarring, as they represent the cultural extremes of the 1960’s, and their almost simultaneous passings are a reminder that the influence of that turbulent decade still hasn’t quite come to an end.
Born as Robert Thomas Velline in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee came right out of the rock ‘n’ roll craze of the ’50s, with his big break coming when he and his garage band The Shadows filled in for Buddy Holly and the Crickets at the nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, stop on the Winter Dance Party tour after Holly’s death in a plane crash. That crash not only ended Holly’s legendary career but also the promising 16-year-old Richie Valens’, in the same year when Elvis Presley was drafted and Chuck Berry was sent to prison on a Mann Act violation and Jerry Lee Lewis’s career was derailed by the outrage over him marrying an underage cousin while he was married to someone else, a sex scandal trifecta that even The Rolling Stones haven’t achieved, and after that the greasier and scarier sorts of rock ‘n’ roll stars were briefly supplanted by such wholesomely handsome and well-groomed and suit-and-tie wearing singers such as Bobby Vee.
Vee’s first big hit was a strikingly Holly-esque tune called “Suzie Baby,” with the first recording retaining some of the inspiration’s jangly guitar and rock ‘n’ roll authenticity, but by the time he re-recorded what proved to be a smash hit it had been ironed out to fit an early ’60s sense of decorum. He followed that up with a luscious “Take Good Care of My Baby,” written with old-fashioned Tin Pan Alley craftsmanship by Barry Geffen and Carol King, and such professionally rendered pop songs as “Devil or Angel,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” and “Run to Him,” which still stand out among the best of that brief interregnum in rock ‘n’ roll’s reign. Each had a bouncy enough beat and uptempo youth appeal to fit on American Bandstand’s roundup of the latest youth culture, but it was fare more redolent of those ’40s and ’50s crooners and their carefully polished-tunes and earnest politeness that were nearly wiped out by rock ‘n’ roll, and that’s how the ’60s began.
The decade ended with musicians smashing their guitars and setting them afire and playing psychedelic electric guitar versions of The National Anthem, and rock ‘n’ rollers were suddenly even hairier and scarier than those backwoods rednecks and urban ghetto-dwellers of the ’50s had been, and that was the era when Tom Hayden became a sort of celebrity. Born in 1939 to more or less middle class comfort in the placid town of Royal Oak, Mich., Hayden attended a Catholic school where the pastor was the infamously right-wing radio pundit Father Charles Coughlin, then wound up at the infamously left-wing University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he immediately began to acquire a left-wing infamy of his own. He was editor of the school’s suddenly radicalized student newspaper, jailed and beaten for his civil rights activism in the South, a founding member of the anti-Vietnam War and anti-capitalist Students for a Democratic Society, an author of the Port Huron Statement that became a manifesto for the New Left, and was one of the “Chicago Seven” brought to a widely publicized trial for allegedly fomenting riots at the 1968 Democratic Party’s national convention. This was lead-story-on-the-nightly-news and cover-of-The-Rolling-Stone stuff back then, so by the time the ’70s rolled around Hayden was a much bigger star than Bobby Vee.
Hayden wound up divorcing his first wife and a few years later getting married to Oscar-winning and impeccably left-wing actress Jane Fonda, with both soon heading off to Vietnam for a highly controversial photo-op with the North Vietnamese, and although they later divorced they were even more newsworthy than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie while it lasted. After the divorce he settled in the woman he would be married to until his death, and a rather routine career as a politician. He lost a California Democratic primary race to Sen. John Tunney in ’76, but won a State Assemblyman seat in 82, moved up to the state Senate in 93 and hung around Sacramento until 2000, and compiled a record that was undeniably left-wing but not conspicuously radical by California standards. He lost races for governor in ’94 and the Los Angeles mayoralty in ’97 and a seat on the L.A. City Council in 2001.
By the time the 21st Century rolled around Hayden was still reviled by the city’s growing Vietnamese refugee population and aging white Republicans, but newly regarded as something of a sell-out by the newer New Left. Hayden had written memoirs and articles confessing his regret that his anti-Vietnam war stance had spilled over into anti-Americanism, ruefully acknowledging that his Students for a Democratic Society had spawned the terrorist Weather Underground, and lamenting that the free speech and individual rights ideas of that crazy Port Huron statement had somehow led to a newer New Left that clamored for speech codes and group identity politics, and seemed to have forgotten the realism of the Old Left that Father Coughlin had railed against and Hayden’s generation had nearly wiped out, and even his impeccably left-wing voting record could not absolve his heresies or make him hip again. At one point in the early ’80s we caught Hayden’s act live, as we were on a hitchhiking trip up the East Coast and crashed at a friends dorm at Harvard University and went along to lecture Hayden was giving, and we still chuckle at how the crowd rolled its eyes at his saccharine shtick about his daughter’s fear of nuclear weapons and how a professorial looking fellow with a gray beard and patched elbows on his jacket shouted “Send in the Marines!”
Bobby Vee stayed married to the same woman for 50 years, despite the temptations that a good-looking pop star probably encountered, spent most of the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s making a good living on the oldies circuit, then settled into a quiet small town life in St. Joseph, Minnesota, then slowly succumbed to an early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Beatles covered “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him,” so the hottest band of the ’60s vouched for his coolness, and the same Carol King who wrote the former song had the biggest selling album of the ’70s with that great Tin Pan Alley hippie manifesto of an album “Tapestry,” and another big fan is the newly proclaimed Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. Back when Dylan was a small town Minnesota boy named Robert Zimmerman he had a short stint as the keyboards player with Bobby Vee and the Shadows, and we highly recommend his affectionate cover of “Suzie Baby.”
It remains how to be seen how the ’60s will ultimately play out, but we’re glad to note that this crazy election will almost certainly be the last to feature any of those damned baby-boomers, and we hope that the very best of both Bobby Vee and Tom Hayden will somehow persist, and that the worst of it will somehow fade away.

— Bud Norman

The Greatest Degeneration

The pleasant thought hadn’t occurred to us until we came across it in the lurid pages of New York City’s tabloid press, of all places, but it seems the upcoming presidential election “will likely be the last hurrah of the baby boomers.” No matter what horrors the race seems likely to inflict upon America’s once-great republic, well, at least we’ve got that going for us.
We came along at the very end of the officially-defined “Baby Boom” and are thus counted in that demographic cohort, even if our parents watched World War II on newsreels and instead served nobly in the subsequent Cold War and we therefore missed out on all the wild hippie sex at the rock festivals and anti-war protest rallies, so we’ve long been resentful witnesses to what n awful mess the bullying older brothers and sisters in our demographic cohort have made of things. Still, even we are disappointed that so many decades after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius all that talk of free speech and free love and Peter Max psychedelia the “baby boomers” are offering up the likes of 68-year-old Hillary Clinton and 69-year-old Donald Trump as leaders of the land, and that the slightly ahead-of-the-demographic-cohort 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, who is merely offering free stuff, seems to be the favorite of all the dimwitted young hipsters we know. Yet here we are, and in retrospect it all seems so predictable.
The world we were born into was by means no perfect, as there was undeniably a brutally and officially enforced racism in much of America and a more insidious but effective social restraints everywhere on women’s ambitions and opportunities and freedom to engage in wild hippie sex at rock festivals and anti-war rallies, and back then hardly anyone talked about homosexuality, much less transgenderism or any the other of a plethora newly found sexual identities, but it had its points. The “Greatest Generation” — or the “Greatesht Generashion,” as Peter Jennings once so memorably put it — had survived the Great Depression, albeit with a massive and unsustainable-over-a-century governmental bureaucracy, and had defeated Japanese Imperialism and Italian Fascism and German Naziism, albeit with a generation-long and potentially-apocalyptic Cold War against our erstwhile communist allies to follow, and it created Hollywood movies that still play well on late-night television and swing music that still sounds good on the old folks’ AM radio station and presidents who still stand well with the historians, and it was cautiously moving away from racism and sexism all on its own. The greatest generation’s children, and although we barely knew it we will miss it. Since then, the results of the greatest generation’s children have been decidedly mixed.
There’s no more Jim Crow anywhere, and we are glad of that, and we celebrate the entry of most of black America’s entry into the middle class and beyond, but we note that black lives are still disproportionately lost to the violence of liberal-run and economically depressed black inner cities, and that a “Black Lives Matter” movement more concerned with the relatively small number of black lives lost as a result of enforcement of the law is somehow as incensed as ever. Women are now empowered to run for even the highest office in the land, even if they’re under investigation for serious criminal charges by the feds, but after all that free sex now has the feminists huffing about a “culture of rape” on the liberal-run and ecumenically privileged campuses, and that woman who is running for president suddenly sounds ridiculous talking about it in light of the behavior of her predatory husband, whose “Baby Boom” presidency was supposed to wrap her candidacy in a warm sort of “Big Chill” nostalgia. We’ll no longer listen to anything about “free speech” from the baby boomer left, which now wants to constitutionally overturn the “Citizens United” decision to allow prior restraint of troublesome speech and calls for “some muscle” to turn away journalists from the public square, and we don’t even want to hear anything about free sex, given the legalistic consent forms that the feminists now want signed before a collegiate tryst, which is more onerous than anything those blue-nosed puritans on the ’50s right ever requested. There was some good rock ‘n’ roll, which pretty much had to happen once the ’50s had turned into Mitch Mitchell and there were all those cool brothers and hillbillies standing in the wings, and we still fondly recall a few of the more adventuresome movies, but for the most part it’s been all downhill.
Alas, the mostly downhill progression from good the ol’ Dwight D. Eisenhower of our birth to the current slate of presidential candidates of our middle age best tells the sorry tale. By now all the lefties fondly recall the 90 percent top tax rates and the deliriously high union membership rates and frank acknowledgement of the New Deal’s unsustainable-over-a-century bureaucracies, and they even acknowledge his cautious nudges toward racial and sexual equality, and although the right can only argue that those tax rates and union memberships would only work if you replicated the ’50s conditions of racial segregation and female workforce participation and a world where all the global competitors had been reduced to rubble by a world war, and that racial and sexual equality is best reached deliberately if not slowly, there is still a consensus that we all like the Ike who whipped the Nazis. Good luck to any of the aging current candidates who hope to achieve such a broad public agreement on their behalf, as they all represent the worst of their generation and have no one to fight with but one another and all those inconvenient Seventh Century Islamo-Nazis who seem to have followed the Cold War.
Hillary Rodham was the idealistic young woman who joined the effort to uncover the hated right-wing President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, and wound up getting kicked out for her overzealousness, then married a philandering cad who would propel her political career as a feminist heroine, and would slander whatever women her husband assaulted when he was the first “baby boomer” president, and did nothing memorable with a Senate seat won on his record of giving jumbo mortgages to subprime home buyers, and spent four years rolling over to America’s enemies as Secretary of State, and she’s now running with Wall Street cash and a Nixon-level investigation hovering over head as Hillary Clinton on her credentials as the First Woman President. Meanwhile the road followed by the presidential campaign of real estate mogul and gambling tycoon and reality show star and former professional wrestling performer Donald J. Trump has already been paved by the free speech heroism of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt and that kid who used to mock the handicapped children on your ’60s playground, and whose candidacy so uncannily recalls the “Me Decade” of the ’70s, and it seems to have missed the brief interregnum of the ’80s and gone right into all the strutting and bling-wearing of the dot-com and go-go ’90s, and for crying out loud he’s the Republican front-runner.
No wonder all those even more dimwitted young whippersnappers we run into in the X or Y or Z generations or whatever the hell they’re called these days are going with an even more geriatric old coot of a Democratic candidate such as self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander. There’s some debate among the old-time leftists about where Sanders is Old Left or New Left, as if that makes any difference, but least he’s promising free stuff, which at this point is bound to be more tempting than all that free sex and its attendant “culture of rape” and consent forms or that icky free speech stuff that now necessitates safe spaces and trigger warnings, so we can well understand how a dimwitted youth might buy into it. On the heels of a “baby boom,” such damage should probably be expected.
That oldest coot Sanders has a new ad showing an old Hollywood-style montage of regular ol’ hard-workin’ and mostly white Americans working hard in what looks for all the world like the America of our birth, and the targeted baby-boomers will immediately recognize good ol’ Simon and Garfunkel singing about going to look for “America” on the soundtrack. The ones who still retain a good memory, however, will also recall the song is a very sad one about a young couple who go out looking for America and wind up in severe nicotine withdrawal and a lovers’ spat and then sullenly read a magazine as the beautiful countryside rolls by the window and never do find America. All in all, it seems a perfect last hurrah for the baby boomers, although we wonder if Sanders paid the usual exorbitant fee for the rights to the song or if Simon and Garfunkel’s in-kind contribution to the campaign will be listed on the candidates expense reports.
Unaccustomed as we are to voting for people less seasoned than ourselves, we find ourselves with little choice but to invest our last hope in a younger generation. We can only hope that some corny old kernel of the church-going and child-raising and nudging toward equality of that old Ike world still persists in the new, and will find purchase in the soil of a still-fertile America, for we fear that our generation has cast its seed upon the ground.

— Bud Norman