Friday, May 25, 2007

Chain, chain, chain...

There has long been afoot the effort to emasculate the import of the 60s. First the era was demonized by the right as nothing but wanton, self-indulgence in sex and drugs . This narrowed and superficial view has for decades become the standard understanding of that era. Little analysis is given to the era's powerful creative vitality of a singularly unique nature. The intelligence and meaning of the politics, and the art of the political voice, is woefully unexamined. Now that it has been emasculated, the new trend is toward sanitized, commercial presentations of the period. These slick, brightly colored exhibitions miss altogether the gravitas of the time.

Thankfully, Holland Cotter's NYT review of the Whitney Museum's exhibition, Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, catches them in the act. It is well worth the read. This brief quote helps nail-down the problem.

"To many people who came of age between 1963 to 1972 political intensity was the defining feature of the period and its most interesting art. It never let up.

In 1965 antiwar protests started — 25,000 students marched on Washington that year — and they grew larger and more frequent. By 1967, more than 400,000 troops have been sent to Vietnam. Che Guevara was killed that year; the Black Panthers had formed the year before. In 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Racial uprisings spread across the country. The Democratic convention brought the war home to the Chicago streets. In 1969: university takeovers, Altamont. In 1970: Jimi dead. Janis dead. Cambodia. Kent State.

You will learn almost nothing about any of this from the show. Or about the gay liberation movement. Or about the gathering women’s movement, although militant feminism makes total sense given the relentless sexism of psychedelic art, in which all women are young, nude, available “chicks,” and very rarely artists.

Nor would you have any inkling that, for Americans at least, pop culture during these years meant black culture. Apart from Hendrix’s presence, the show is overwhelmingly white. Aretha Franklin’s first big hits — “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “Natural Woman” — were all 1967. You won’t find her here. Nor will you find Marvin, or Smokey, or Otis, or Fontella or Ray. Again, take one style for the whole picture, you leave most of the picture out."

That brief window of time and the events that formed and moved it were really like no other. I continually think that such faith in the power and art of audacious action will return, especially given our current urgencies (which is putting it mildly) and our abusive government(again, putting it mildly). The youth of today seem more geared to getting in on the game. What they fail to realize is the game is a scam. When they do, it could be rock and roll all over again. Until then, steal this blog.

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