I’m a baby boomer, born just after the end of World War II. You’re technically a baby boomer if you were born between 1946 and 1964, so I made it just under the wire. I was among the first in an enormous wave of boomers who screwed it all up, who left too much wreckage. So, let me start with an apology.
We didn’t intend to screw the pooch, to make it all so difficult for the rest of you. We did it naturally, without any forethought and, mostly, without malice. In fact, we never gave it much thought, which was the whole problem. Nonetheless, when it comes to screwing up everything that followed in our wake, we did the job.
We were born and raised schizophrenic. Most of us enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and full bellies, along with a daily infusion of nuclear threats, pervasive paranoia, suspicious and self-serving politicians, and parents who were just lagging behind the times. We had it easy, we had it hard. For the most part, we just had it. We had an itch on our communal backside that was driving us nuts. We knew it was there but we just couldn’t reach it, make it go away. We weren’t sure where it came from or what it meant. We just wanted it out of our lives. We had to blame somebody because that was the mode of the day.
Throughout the 1950s, life was stuck in this la-la land of schizophrenia. We spent, we worried, we watched too much of the new-wonder TV, and focused exclusively on ourselves. We were selfish and denied it. We scared our parents because it worked, scared ourselves because we were bored, and scared each other because it felt so good. The world was divided into two camps; those who got bullied and those who were doing the bullying. Naturally, we all wanted to be on top.
We were also amazingly creative, but in a selfish sort of way. Our music reflected this egocentrism. So did our writing. So did most of the media. We were the “Me Generation” long before that term became commonplace. Predictably, we denied it. In reality, we invented it. In subsequent years, our leaders would jam it down everyone’s throats.
We found a world that was in chaos and blamed everyone else, a country at war and blamed others, a generation that was feeding on itself and we blamed the earlier generations. It wasn’t long before we created powerful rebel hero-figures who embraced and embodied all of this chaos. Many of them died young. Too many. That just served to make them legendary, which was a generational imperative of the time.
OK, enough of the doom and gloom part of the saga. Here comes the love story.
As I mentioned, we were also creative. Too creative, much of the time. We stretched out like no generation before us. Maybe it was because we shared a sense of world doom that was the red meat of the era. Maybe not. Maybe it was just a new incarnation of that sense of self-discovery common to each new generation. However you define it, we were creative. We left our mark in the arts and across the country and the world. We were also short-lived. Most of our art disappeared. What has lived on is mostly a legacy of nostalgia. Yes, it was art, it was our own, but it wasn’t great art, for the most part.
Suddenly, we found a universe of love, sort of. At least, we thought so.
In the 1960s and into the 1970s, it was common to hear us chant about changing the world, working hard to create a new paradise on earth. Ah, that was all swamp gas. Sure, we believed it, a little bit. But, at its core, this was self-serving. It was a nice wrapping for experimentation, spreading our wings, trying on the new clothes of a new generation. Like us, the whole idea was short-lived. It was an exercise in self-marketing.
At the extremity of the youth journey, we probably left things worse than we found them. We still made war, ignored the rest of the world, centered everything upon ourselves, and continued to feed a general indifference towards most everything we encountered. We promised to be truthful but we lied. We guaranteed that we would care for others but we forgot the commitment. We assured the world that we would change it for the better but, in the end, we left it mostly the same. We were windbags.
So, to the generation that followed, please accept my apologies. I, for one, wish I had done a better job. Like the other boomers, I was a product of my era and never took the time to look at things more closely, with more intent. Now, I’m old, but the wisdom of years came too late. I’m hoping that you will pick it all up where we dropped the ball.
If you remember us at all, remember us for our art. It was our best legacy.