The WSJ taste page declares that the 60s are back. Frankly, to those of us who follow hard on the heels of the ubiquitous boomers, the whole decade feels more like the Thing That Wouldn't Leave. And after all, how can I miss you if you won't go away? This particular nostalgic wallow is brought on by an art exhibit in Montreal, gagnaciously titled "Global Village: The 1960s."
[M]any pieces are trivial or bizarre. A work by Christo marking the construction of the Berlin Wall consists of a pile of oil drums between the walls of a street. The wall text says the wall divided the world between the "egalitarian utopia of the communist regimes" and "the 'free world' of the capitalist societies." (Note the scare quotes around free world.)No surprises there. Last week I attended an exhibit of pop art at the Guggenheim in the Venetian in Vegas; the first room had a number of 'multimedia' pieces which consisted pretty much of apparently random groupings of crap you'd find in your garage, plus some nice Lichtensteins, some pretty good Warhols (4 soup cans, 2 Liz Taylors, and "Orange Disaster #5", with its interesting repeated images of an electric chair); though I admit I'm a bit skeptical about the artistic value of silk screening, the soup cans are nice), three Dines (mostly lame, particularly "shoe", seen here in a small black and white that really doesn't do justice to the nasty color and overall slapdash feel of the original), a really annoying Rauschenberg black-and-white silk screening of, again, seemingly random images ("Barge"), and my favorite, Rosenquist's "The Meteor Hits the Dreamer's Pillow" (with actual bedsprings!)
A video monitor showcases "Meat Joy," a 1964 film by Carolee Schneemann featuring nude performers writhing about in a sea of raw fish, uncooked chickens, paint, plastic and rope. (A PETA ad before its time?) Other pieces feature "celebrities" from Yoko Ono to Charles Manson and Ho Chi Minh. Ho is gone and Manson is behind bars, but last month, in Paris, Ms. Ono reprised "Cut Piece," a 1960s performance art effort in which audience members are invited to cut away her clothing one piece at a time.
And I know why that piece is my favorite: I like commercial art. I like the colors Gain and the other detergent manufacturers use in their packaging, which may mean I've been successfully brainwashed by the admen of the sixties and seventies. (They also had the Rosenquist with the giant sub sandwich, pack o' cigs and can o' Budweiser; I like that one too, and "Barge", with its presumed buckets o' symbolism, left me utterly cold.)
So where the hell was I going with all this? Not really sure. I think about the sixties fairly frequently, but most of my positive non-musical associations are reserved for the period prior to the so-called Summer of Love; it just seemed to me that by 1968 a large segment of the population had decided to wear bad clothing, let their hair go and stop bathing, and I couldn't figure out why. Then the long, slow nightmare ride through the seventies until we hit the cultural nadir during the Carter administration (by which time the Grease soundtrack constituted about 3/5 of AM radio playlists, alternating with Disco, causing the desperate flight to FM radio. Pity those of us with no FM radio in the family car. Feel my pain.) Then Reagan and the eighties; got my license, put an AM/FM/cassette deck in the car, Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon brought sweet musical relief to my ears, and off to college. People bathed again. Skinny ties, straight leg pants, and styled hair came back (not for me personally, but in general.) And then the 90s brought back the self-absorbed angst of the late sixties, the oughts resurrected the ghastly fashion mistakes of the early seventies, and now here we are again, theoretically poised to dive back into the early sixties, possibly via the eighties. When are we going to get off the boomer treadmill and do something new that doesn't depend on ironic inversion and post-modern revisionism? As Buz said when he and Tod were kidnapped and forced to be schoolteachers, it's a new day, the world has turned on its axis, and we'd like to hear something a little more "real" than the voice of the Turtle.