Puff’s Friend Died

Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary died this week at age 72.  Folk music was the voice of the 60’s generation, and she was one of the best folk singers.  As I have said to my wife, “Among whiny protest music singers, she was one of the winiest.”  (Of course, no one out-whines Bob Dylan).

Peter, Paul, and Mary were true believers.  Unlike other singers that quickly gave up on the dream of a “great society”, they continued to fight against racism well into the 1980’s – by which time other folk singers of the era had gone on to write songs that may as well have been titled, “I sold out for large bags of cash.”

They truly believed they would leave the world a better place than it was when they were born.  Of course, they were born in the Great Depression, and would have had memories of the second World War.  Their cause was the racism struggle of the fifties and sixties.  Yet, even in the 1980’s, Peter, Paul and Mary marched against Apartheid.

The generation that succeeds them, (mine) has no real thought of leaving the world a better place.  Why not?  Perhaps it is because we were disillusioned by the ease with which the 60’s generation gave up the fight, opting instead to pursue profits uber alles.  After all, if greed was morally acceptable in the 1980’s, who were the middle aged people pursuing it?  Why, the same folks that slept in the mud and poo at Woodstock.

My generation was, at the same time more cynical, and less greedy.  We were the first generation in which many of us earned LESS than their parents.  Personal fulfillment was valued over financial success.  (Our own personal brand of self-absorption.)

The world they left us is at the same time somewhat better and much worse than the one they inherited.  Better because we have finally accorded equal status under the law to people of different races.  Worse because without a clear conception of America as a “city on a hill” (as Reagan used to call it) we are no longer able to give clear direction to the world.  While Communism has been defeated, that was the final achievement of (one may call it a going away present from) the Greatest Generation.  It was the military-industrial complex which the sixties generation so reviled that managed to topple Russia.

The contribution of the 60’s generation to the effort was to show what life could be like : Rock and Roll, Blue Jeans, and Cola.  Certainly less threatening than Communism, but far more vapid.

Their impact of the 60’s generation will be felt long after the gen-X influence is gone.  Yet, I am not certain that is a good thing.  Indeed, the songs of the 80’s are so banal as to be instantly forgettable.  (I still love them, but they are truly meaningless.)  The songs of the sixties were unforgettable.  Of course many of the best had their roots in the 30’s.  (“This Land is You Land” is by Woody Guthrie.)

Yet, it was the sixties that gave rise to the throw-away culture we see today.  Recent reviews of the Beatles have been far from kind.  Was their music anything other than self-obsessed ravings?  Not really.   Indeed, members of the 60’s generation have admitted that theirs is the most self-absorbed generation in the history of the world.  (Even in their bad qualities, they will not be outdone by other generations.)

So how would I assess the 60’s generation? How about this :

One of the voices of the sixties generation died this week.  A generation, I am proud to say, of which I was not a part.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to “Puff the Magic Dragon” and wonder what happened to my own lost youth…


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