I was born the same year as Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Bridges, Pam Grier, and Bruce Springsteen—which, unless all the calendars have somehow been altered, makes us 66 years old. And if the actuarial tables remain consistent, that means that all of us—good and bad, kindhearted and creepy, George Foreman and Gene Simmons alike—we’re all due to be bundled up pretty soon and dropped off into that Great Recycling Bin of the Cosmos.
It’s a curious bunch. Hank Williams Jr—with whom, as a fledgling journalist, I stood in an Alabama field, firing rifles, machine-guns and his prize bazooka—unforgettable detonations! Even then, Hank Jr—with his deep bass voice and Oedipal backstory, his face scarred up from a terrible fall down a mountainside—seemed much older than me. “Well, Jawn,” he allowed, “I’ve just had a few more oil changes than you.” Great line. And the truly magical Phillipe Petit, with whom I used to play badminton inside a poet’s Soho loft–back in the ‘70s, when Soho lofts were dirt-cheap, because no one wanted to live there. Ann Romney, George’s wife, with whom I never did anything. Jessica Lange, still a major crush—though not as big a crush as Pam Grier; one kiss from Pam Grier could still power entire cities. Cool Sissy Spacek and sleazy Don Johnson. The always-underestimated Larry Holmes. Twiggy. Caitlyn Jenner, world-famous for being a creep in two different genders. Jeremy Corbyn. Rick Springfield.
The mulch-pit awaits us all. What traces will we leave behind?
Fifty years ago I was a snarling anarchist with a serious methedrine habit, a bone-handled switchblade, and a passion for William Blake. The knife and the speed are gone now, and the snarl is rarely unfurled, but the Blake thing never wavered. Cf “London”:
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe…
As they say on TV: fresh as today’s headlines!
But of course, so much fresher, because today’s headlines are drivel, composed by kiss-ass pseudo-journalists in thrall to boring power-figures. Substitute “Potomac” for “Thames,” and Washington, DC for London. “Marks of weakness, marks of woe:” here’s looking at you, Hillary Clinton, Reince Priebus,, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence: the spiritual weakness burns right through your pancake make-up..
My generation, of which so much was written, sung, and expected! Well, by now my generation is wrapping up its shot at running the TV networks. How’s that workin’ out for ya, as Sarah Palin used to say, back in those halcyon days when we thought she was as bad as it could get. CBS, which once seemed like Ed Murrow’s legacy-zone, doesn’t even bother with overseas correspondents any more. Fox, a much-too-obvious villain in the World Wrestlng Federation of American media. But worst of all, by far, is MSNBC, with their very poorly-chosen new motto: MSNBC: Mostly Snivelling Non-entities and Black Cop-Outs.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear…
You wanna talk mind-forg’d manacles? Jesus Christ, watch MSNBC for fifteen minutes, you can practically hear them clanking! What a soul-crushing array of gelded liberals, dull-eyed Wassermans, and servile House Negroes. Any host who dares to wander out to the left of Nancy Pelosi is immediately banished to some public-cable hinterland—the savvy, ballsy Cenk Uygur; the scattershot-but-sometimes-on-target Keith Olbermann…And let’s not forget Phil Donahue, MSNBC’s Original Sin, deep-sixed for daring to question the (first) American rape of Iraq. And what’s left?
The Champions of Incrementalism!
Brian Williams. Say no more…
And Jonathan Capehart, the simpering mediocrity who tried to peddle that bullshit about Bernie Sanders—remember his soon-discredited expose that that “it wasn’t really Sanders” in photos of a ‘60s civil rights demonstration? What a creepy piece of Clintonesque disinformation; what an ugly, small-minded use of precious air-time: imagine spending your energy, as a black journalist in 2016, trying to smear the only candidate with any history of civil-rights activism. Why didn’t MSNBC Dan-Rather this guy when his poorly-sourced story was proven a lie? (By weird coincidence, my friend Scott Spencer actually got arrested with Bernie Sanders in a ‘60s Chicago anti-slumlord demonstration. He describes Sanders back then as just another good Jewish leftist kid. My generation does have a few things to be proud of.)
And Rachel Maddow, who can never contain her girlish euphoria over the latest exit-polling in some obscure precinct in some who-gives-a-shit primary–even though she knows very well that 1/6th of American children go to bed hungry every night while our arms-manufacturers slaughter whole populations. But this is “The Place for Politics”; hunger and slaughter don’t make the cut.
And of course Chris Matthews, still faux-elfin at 71, his hair-dye nearly as bad as Trump’s, who constantly talks just to be saying things, many of which literally don’t make any sense at all—“we’re getting this news fresh off the barrel!” The King of False Equivalence, a man well-paid to play a reasonable Democrat on TV, but whose only shtick for twenty years has been to insist that both the Republicans AND Democrats have become extremist parties, that characters like Hillary Clinton and Terry McAuliffe have been “way out there on the far left.” Yep! Harry Reid = Ted Cruz. Both fanatics! QED!
How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls …
And this is why it all really matters.
I read Blake’s “London” fifty years ago, and I came to believe that his truths were so self-evident–to coin a phrase–that my generation would act on them. It wasn’t just William Blake; it was Lenny Bruce, it was the “naked lunch” of William Burroughs, it was there uncoded in the lyrics of the Beatles and the Stones. They were all screaming out versions of the same message—that a country suffocating on its own riches could no longer tolerate the starvation of the poor. That the lower-class white kids I grew up with, and the black ghetto kids I did not, and the Native American sons of great lost tribes, weren’t dying in Viet Nam “for nothing”: no, much worse! They were dying so that the patrons of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party could enrich themselves even further.
It was as plain as the nose on Lyndon Johnson’s face. And when Johnson stunned us by dropping out of the ’68 election, it seemed our time had begun…
Cut to 2016.
Our “presidential electon” is nothing more than a lover’s spat between plutocrats who attend each other’s weddings. The one slight shot we had at changing things, Sanders, has died the death of a thousand paper-cuts at the hands of the Capeharts of this world. Elizabeth Warren joins hands in triumph with Hillary Clinton.
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.
Chelsea Clinton’s wedding cost $3,000,000– while the single mothers whose pitiful lifeline was cut off by Bill Clinton turn tricks behind dumpsters to feed their kids.
They say one good thing about getting old is you can speak your mind more freely. I really hope that’s true, Because my generation still has a right, and a duty to speak—no, to scream. Now more than ever. Now louder than ever.
And by the way: I still haven’t given up completely on Pam Grier.