ANOTHER VIEW

The sound and fury of turning 50

When the baby boom generation reaches 50, it will make a loud noise, although some boomers might ask to turn down the volume

CHARLES GORDON July 13 1992
ANOTHER VIEW

The sound and fury of turning 50

When the baby boom generation reaches 50, it will make a loud noise, although some boomers might ask to turn down the volume

CHARLES GORDON July 13 1992

The sound and fury of turning 50

ANOTHER VIEW

When the baby boom generation reaches 50, it will make a loud noise, although some boomers might ask to turn down the volume

CHARLES GORDON

Paul McCartney turned 50 the other day and you would have thought something important happened. First, the advance stories, the buildup: Paul McCartney would turn 50 on June 18 and what did this mean and what did everybody think about it, including some of his contemporaries and various experts on various aspects of civilization, plus newspaper essayists sharing their own feelings on mortality. Then the actual day, with one news-wire service describing him as having “his boyish looks and enthusiasm for music undiminished” and another noting that he spent the day in the recording studio making rock ’n’ roll—the 23rd album he has recorded since the Beatles broke up in 1970.

Then, as if to underline the sheer weight of the occasion, a wire service quoted the old boy’s reaction to the fact that Time magazine was running an interview with him on the occasion of his 50-hood. Let’s stop on that one for a minute. A wire service interviews a rock star about the fact that a magazine is doing an interview with the rock star about the fact that the rock star is having a birthday. You are truly a citizen of the Nineties if you can ponder that without at least blinking.

Now, here’s what McCartney said about Time magazine interviewing him about being 50. “I was thinking, What’s this article going to be called? My bet’s on ‘Paul at 50’ so that everyone can go, ‘What?... He’s 50? He isn’t, is he? Bloody hell! That makes me old!’ That’s what they want. They want to use me as a gauge.”

Well, yes. Right. They do want to use you as a gauge, Paul. They used it as a gauge when Dylan turned 50 and when Elvis turned 40 and they’ll use it as a gauge again next February when George Harrison turns 50, and maybe they’ll even use it as a gauge in July when Ringo turns 52 and in October when what would have been John Lennon’s 52nd birthday arrives. Please, also, do not forget that 25 years ago, a

Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.

couple of weeks back, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

This is the most generational-minded of generations, and turning 50 is beginning to be on its mind. The leading edge of the baby boom will be hitting 50 in three years, and for the next five or 10 years it will be worth your life to try and rent lawn flamingos anywhere in North America. Those novelty stores you remember from 1985, the ones that featured all those turning-40 cards and all that tuming-40 paraphernalia—they’ll be turning 50 any day now. When the baby boom generation turns 50, it will make a very loud noise—although some of the boomers might, for the first time in their lives, ask someone to turn the volume down a little.

Dylan and McCartney are advance scouts in this and everyone is watching them like a hawk. Meanwhile, every minor icon’s birthday, every anniversary of every Sixties and early Seventies event, brings forth a flood of reminiscence that drenches entire newspaper entertainment sections and is ankle-deep on the hosts of Entertainment Tonight.

Since we are stuck with all this looking backward, we can either wallow in it or try to put it to some good use. One way is to look for

the things of value that were produced in those allegedly golden years and wonder how they can be brought to bear on these, the wretched Nineties.

It is not an easy task. While the Sixties have taken on a mythic quality, most of what came out of them falls into the fashion and lifestyle quality. Despite the putative revolution that took place, we seem to be governed by political leaders no better than the ones who were around when McCartney had a Beatles haircut. Pessimists look back and say that all we got out of the revolution was drugs and loud music on patios, although optimists are quick to point to the end of the Vietnam War and much more comfortable footwear.

What is important about the Sixties—or what people think of as the Sixties, which included the early Seventies—is that young people enjoyed them a lot and worked hard at whatever it was they were trying to do, even when they weren’t quite sure what it was. The key to that was the peculiar combination of idealism and hedonism that characterized the era. Kids could justify all the fun they were having because they called it changing the world; and they could work at changing the world because they were having such a good time doing it. If it’s true that a lot of them were just along for the party, well, so what? They were probably helping anyway.

Now, here they are, thinking about turning 50, watching their own kids face quite different times. In the Nineties, the enemy is less oppressive outwardly than the potbellied cop of the Sixties and the Nixons and Johnsons he worked for. But in many ways, the enemy is more deadly. It is a series of economic forces that seems incapable of being turned, at least by the people who should be in control—people who are about to tum 50.

Facing this, the kids are not idealistic. They are not thinking about changing the world; they are thinking about finding a job. And the fun they have seems less interesting than the fun people were having while McCartney sang with his first band. If today’s kids could find a way to combine social life and social change, there might be some hope for the planet yet. But what will the causes be? And what will the music be?

The question is important. Democratic revolutionaries, from the Canadian socialists of the Thirties to the hippies and yippies of the Sixties, have always had fun. Politics was fun, and the politics and the music went together. Now, politics is a joyless thing, concerned mainly with keeping taxes down, and what passes for revolution is led by straitlaced men—Preston Manning, Ross Perot—who are as old as Paul McCartney.

Actually, Perot is much older. But at least he is trying to change the system, as Manning is, instead of just hunkering down and hoping it will all go away, which is what seems to pass for political activism these days.

The people who have decided, somehow, not to change the world are missing out on one hell of a good time. True, the world may be a lot harder to change than it looks. On the other hand, the effort always produces good songs.