Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Having been inspired and stimulated by two excellent entries, here, and here, in two excellent blogs, I thought that I would spin off something from them and talk about 1968. Btw if you aren’t reading the musings of James Lileks and Ann Althouse, you’ve probably just rolled into blogland on a cabbage truck. Correct this error and enlighten yourself forthwith.

First, let me talk about my own personal 1968. This is pretty easy; I was 10 years old and living in Detroit, so it can really only be about the ’68 Tigers and Denny McLain. My 9 year old self knew that the Gods rolled crooked dice in the end of the 1967 season, and that 1968 was going to be a pro forma easy victory for the Tigers. No, really, I was sure that this was going to happen, surer than I was about anything before or since in my life.

And sure enough -- it happened. Denny McLain went 31 and 6 and seemed unbeatable. My older, more baseball knowledgeable self knows this wasn’t true, and he may not have even been the best pitcher in the AL at the time, (Luis Tiant?) but my younger self is unburdened with such knowledge. I am now grateful that I lacked such insights. It made 1968 a magical place. I was old enough to remember what was most beautiful to me, but not so old that I was wrapped up in worrying about the Tet Offensive. It’s true that there was a lot of physical confrontations of campuses that year, but growing up with the Detroit riots of the previous year, I may have just assumed that Armed Insurrection was something did in the summer like, well, baseball. This summer the campuses, last summer the inner city; who knows, maybe next summer would be Stalingrad in the suburbs. Not your typical coming-of-age story, I’ll grant, but…so it goes.

But my personal 1968 is not really what we are discussing; rather we’re using the number as a shorthand about the present. Although this post of Lileks is mostly about Bob Crumb, there is such a strong anti-60’s flavor that I feel it deserves some comments:

Never liked Crumb -- his work always gave off that foreign 60s vibe that was so beloved by a certain demographic of the Stoner-American community, the Loser Whom Time Passed By. By the mid-70s there was nothing so pathetic as someone who held on to 1968 as the ne plus ultra of civilization, and felt content to ride out the subsequent decade in a haze of genial aimlessness. I used to wait on these guys every night -- they'd get off work at the U, order up a pitcher of 3.2 beer, and wander over to the jukebox to play Janis Fargin' Joplin tunes, A sides AND B sides, with a little Marley to show off their spiritual side. Urgh. One of them drew Mr. Natural on the wall of the men's room. They were distinct from the other Stoner demographic, the guys who would play old Stones tunes and play pool and smoke the strongest cigarettes allowed by law and give you an Elvis sneer if you came back to empty the ashtrays. They hated, on sight, the other college stoner clique, the Sensitive Types who listened to complex progressive rock and ordered tea with six packets of honey. (Dude, pack the bong. This cut has 7/8 time AND a Mellotron!) But somehow, if you were a stoner, you were supposed to appreciate Crumb. I never got it.

As much as I like the Whitman’s sampler of bon bon mots that Mr. Lileks provides, I just can’t accept the Grouchy Old Fart approach to ones past. Was he an Old Fart back then, or is he just a Neo Fart? If he was this cranky back then, my advice to him just for his health if nothing else, is to let that old wind blow away. And if this is a new animus, well, what are we doing at this late date choosing to pick on old stoners for? Dick Nixon was right when he said that you can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube, and James, you just can’t pass the same gas twice.

So some stoners remain caught in time; what of it? That chimera of a special time and place sure is hell isn’t limited to Joplin fans. Look how many WWII vets can’t get off Normandy! What’s the point of sarcasm when discussing why someone remains completely committed to a moment in the past?

God, I hate to say it, but isn’t it the most obvious thing that just to be the person we are today we HAD to be forged in a “1968,” a year, a place, another person that sets our course for a long time to come. Not all moments are equal, and even when we have forgotten those past enthusiasms (like Dr. Althouse does when she recalls her ‘70’s furnishings!) they shape what we react negatively to today, such that isn’t all we’re saying is what we don’t like about ourselves NOW?

It’s interesting to note that my 10 year old self didn’t think for a second that the 1969 Tigers would win, or that even that club in any form would win again. It was nice to be proven half-wrong when the over-the-hill Tigers won the American League East in 1972. In the end I am glad that I didn’t make a hero out of Denny McLain as the subsequent 30+ years would have revealed him to be a poor role model for Charles Keating. See here for the grisly details. But then again none of that later stuff affects how I see 1968.