I fall perfectly within that age demographic that enjoyed its adolescent idyll at a very good time for adolescent idylls. The economy seemed robust. Parents who wheezed about self-discipline, dreaming ambitiously and the connection between effort and outcome seemed merely annoying, rather than delusional. Dissipation offered the dignity of something that’s chosen.
This is the world that produced Kevin Smith’s early masterpieces.
Most people didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t expect much of the Internet. We unselfconsciously wrote letters to friends, and bought a dozen Aerograms before travelling abroad.
Although school bullies beat us up and stole our books, they wouldn’t ever have considered hounding us to the point of suicide.
America wasn’t at war. What's That I Hear? The Songs of Phil Ochs (1998) needed to include an essay in the liner notes arguing (a bit feebly, I thought at the time) for Ochs’ continued relevance.
In the East Coast Jewish neighborhoods where we lived, we looked east and saw Israel on the apparent verge of comprehensive peace.
A Seinfeld episode called “The Race” (1994) was about the revolutionary communist Elaine was dating. He was a figure of fun because he was pissed off in a world apparently devoid of anything to be pissed off about.
This is the environment that produces the Dave Matthews Band. Coming into its own in the mid-90s, the DMB represents 60’s-style hedonism, but without any of the urgency or social concern of the Woodstock generation.
There’s nothing to give the songs substance. The lyrics aren’t quite risible, but…I hesitate to say “mediocre”. They’re quite literally pointless, but not in the same way as corporate pop is pointless.
Then I look up at the sky.
It isn’t vacuity as a marketing strategy, but rather, as the honest consequence of having nothing whatsoever to say.
And isn’t this the Arcadian ideal?
It’s useless trying to argue that DMB (or any band) is “good”. But it’s necessary to defend them against the libelous snort they they’re like Vanilla Ice or the “Gangnam Style” guy. DMB isn’t a social phenomenon we should feel bullied into apologizing for.
With that established, let’s all don our Tevas, cargo shorts and hemp necklaces, make sure we have an extra pack of Camel Wides, pile into mom’s Volvo, and let the night begin.
Here are the blurbs on the dust jacket of Philip Lamantia’s (almost ridiculously good) Collected Poems:
“Philip Lamantia’s ‘Collected Poetry’ is beyond scale, weight, or measure. There is no proportion in this intertwining of soul-buildings. These are the inexorable and ineffable projects of an inspired consciousness set at full tilt in raging protest, kisses, prayers, blessings and outraged demands. All from the deepest silence and farthest travel. The reader’s excitement is carried by Lamantia’s spiritual and physical beat. This surreal and mantic project drives farther than anything before or after. Breathtaking! These works are of synesthetic beauty to the eye, the ear, and the open interior of the heart. They come from the peaks and herbs and forests where the meadowlark speaks.” —Michael McClure
Why do Beat writers insist on this kind of prose? Only Tom Clark restrains himself:
"Philip Lamantia's poems are about rapture as a condition. They are spiritual and erotic at the same time. Bright and dark, the enclosed polarities of devotion. St. Teresa and Rimbaud."—Tom Clark, author of Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems