If you were a rocker in reasonably good health who put out a reasonably successful record in the 1960s or 1970s and had yet to write a book, chances are you wrote a book or had one written about you in 2016. As the publishing industry has become more vulnerable, it has become more risk-averse. Established names with established audiences—preferably older audiences, who spend money on things like books—have become increasingly valuable. After the success of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Keith Richards’s Life, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, publishers are hot for baby boomer nostalgia, while musicians are just as hot to cash checks. In 2016, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Robbie Robertson, Johnny Marr, and Sebastian Bach all published memoirs—in a few cases, they even wrote them, too.
But, with the exception of Springsteen’s joyous memoir, a feeling of resentment permeates these books that are supposed to serve as well-earned victory laps. The desire to bask in glory turns out to be inseparable from the sense that credit hasn’t been given where it’s due. This curious mixture of self-satisfaction and resentment—call it the baby boomers’ revenge [emphasis added]—was reflected in the politics of 2016, which was defined by a reactionary nostalgia that led to the Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, two catastrophic events that came over the expressed opposition of younger generations.
One thing these books have in common is a general ambivalence about the time period their authors are largely identified with. For Love and Robertson, it’s the 60s and early 70s; for Springsteen and Collins the 70s and 80s. These writers know that they made history, but are not quite sure what that history means. They are baby boomers who are abundantly proud of their generation’s cultural achievements but wary of its political legacy.
It's not entirely clear to me that the mixture of self-satisfaction and resentment is the peculiar domain of baby boomers who decided to go for Brexit and Trump. But then this is the New Republic we're quoting here. After all, it's the sort of magazine that can also feature stuff like ... :
So, Meryl Streep’s presidential address from the Golden Globes podium this weekend felt familiar. When FDR held his fireside chats over the radio, he codified the sound of both the American president and the American patriarch in his castle. Hollywood depictions of the American political voice have been various but contain certain definable strains. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Frank Capra brought an existential sweetness to the Senate, throwing the system into a reassuringly contained and inconsequential chaos as an unknown enters the system by chance (literally, through a coin toss). Similarly, in Forrest Gump the hero accidentally makes an excellent speech about the unmentionable horrors of the Vietnam War due to an unplugged mic. On our televisions, The West Wing fooled us into thinking that grandiose monologues delivered by clever white people could right any wrong in the world.
Whoever this "us" was that actually thought Sorkin-penned dialogue solved anything at all must have been subscribing to The New Republic. I've mentioned how The West Wing and Gilmore Girls can be thought of as blue state power fantasy/wish fulfillment narratives in the way that 24 was a red state power fantasy somewhere else at the blog, but overall it seems that the temptation to regard yourself as part of the greatest generation is a temptation that will erupt in every American generation. As some old aging pop star put it in some song, "I won't be coming home tonight, my generation will put it right. We're not just making promises that we know we'll never keep."
Yup, because only baby boomers have that sense of entitled we'll-change-the-world hubris?
Generation X has had a few men and women who are able to simultaneously reveal self-satisfaction and resentment. There might even have been a local case study here in the Puget Sound area who wasn't even a rock star ... .
But the desire to bask in glory may, really, be inseparable from the sense that credit hasn't been given where it's due for any human being who is not simultaneously also Jesus.
There's this line from The Right Stuff where Wolfe described how all the astronauts wanted was to be led on to a stage where they then received at least as much adulation as the Pope and that this was really not so much to ask. Recognize that we changed the world and we'll feel like the world is a basically fair place, perhaps?
My thinking of late has been a great deal about whatever our legacies are are ultimately not things we can control. Legacy sounds great on paper but what it turns out to be is beyond you or me.
Kyle Gann blogged years ago about how he came across classes of students where not a single one of the students had heard a song by the Beatles. When a commenter lamented this observation Gann, iff memory serves, replied that he was glad there was finally a generation of students that wasn't obsessed with the Fab Four for a change because he never liked them half a century ago when they were a thing.