COLUMN FIFTY-FOUR, DECEMBER 1, 2000
(Copyright © 2000 Al Aronowitz)
LONDON, MY L.A.
[Lionel Rolfe is the author of DEATH AND REDEMPTION
IN LONDON & L.A. from
which this is excerpted. He also wrote FAT MAN ON THE
LEFT: Four Decades in the Underground, IN SEARCH OF LITERARY L.A. and
coauthor of BREAD AND
HYACINTHS: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles. DEATH AND REDEMPTION
IN LONDON & L.A can be obtained from deadendstreet.com.]
number of people in Los Angeles have offered suggestions as to what I
liked about London.
thirty years behind us. They’re still in the ‘60s,” said one.
what way?” I responded.
still slow. Slow like it was 30
donąt think that is really so. London has changed a lot since I
was there in the early ‘70s. My impression on the street was Londonershad more
cell phones than the denizens of Los Angeles. Everyone was on
computers and the Internet. I saw ads all over the Underground for net
in case my critics are right, I contemplated what it was about the
‘60s I might be still been attracted to.
we knew a lot was wrong with the world in the ‘60s, we had
something major that folks at the end of this particularly brutal century do
not have anymore: a sense of hope.
of what happened in the '60s was simply an explosion out of the
dull rigidity and repression of the Eisenhower ‘50s and the McCarthy Era.
there was an economic rationale, a base which supported what was
happening too. Back in the ‘50s
and ‘60s, a guy with a regular job in a
factory could work and pay the rent and all the bills without his wife
having to go out to work. You didn't need two salaries.
And, in fact, a lot
of women didnąt work. Partly
because women werenąt encouraged to work, but
also because they didnąt have to.
lot more people then had union jobs, where decent pay, decent hours
and security were what they expected, and got.
This was the country's
legacy after coming out of the Great Depression of the ‘30s during which its
enormous organizing drives garnered social
justice, which the
post-war-against-fascism ‘40s era solidified.
then only one spouse had to hold down a stupid, boring job---not
both, as is the case nowadays. Women are now allowed to do the same stupid
meaningless work and paper-shuffling men are allowed to do. Wow! Hooray!
women are empowered; they can be sharks and corporate executives just
pay was $85 a week,
was $65 a week
the good economic times rolled into the ‘60s.
In 1961 I went to
work as a reporter on the Pismo Beach Times, making $85 a week. It wasnąt
much then---but funny thing. My
rent for a nice place with two bedrooms a
quarter of a block from the beach was $65 a week. These days I have a
typical journalist salary, and I sure as hell canąt pay my rent with any
money left over from a weekąs salary.
was a lot of social repression in the generation preceding the
‘60s. Jack Kerouacąs On the
Road reflects that. McCarthyism reflected that.
the late ‘50s and early ‘60s broke down those barriers.
We stormed out
of our hothouses, the coffeehouses where jazz was played, and new kinds of
poetry and prose were written and read--where blacks and whites hung out
together. A lot of the fight for black peopleąs equality began in the
coffeehouses. Certainly the plight
of the blacks has always been the
country's greatest inequity. So,
symbolically, the culture's liberation had
to begin there.
civil rights movement in the early ‘60s was beginning. From the
Xanadu, the coffeehouse I went to near Los Angeles City College, people
headed directly to the Deep South to assist in voter registration drives.
marched on picket lines to end segregation.
Some of the social bullshit
seemed to be ending and we still could make a living. Hope was stirring.
attacked the social repression of the ‘50s which was a backlash and
antidote to the spirit of social justice fostered by the Depression and the
War against fascism. Another
important trend was happening. Big
technological changes were occurring, from printing to cybernetics. Camelot
started us going to outer space. By
the early ‘50s, a guy named Norbert
Weiner, an MIT mathematician, had already coined the word, ‘cybernetics,
which was all about automation and machines making machines.
Los Angeles Free Press, the first of the Underground newspapers
spreading across the country, began in the early ‘60s at the Xanadu.
Kunkin, the papers founder and a Xanadu regular, soon was selling 100,000
copies a week---for 25 cents, at a time when the Times had recently
its price from a nickel to a dime. Opposition
to the war in Vietnam was
part of the reason. But none of it could have happened had there not been a
major technological breakthrough in printing. Hot type was giving way to
cold type and offset printing. This meant you didnąt have to be a
millionaire to start a newspaper. A varitype was a lot cheaper than a
hot-lead linotype. And the whole underground press movement took off.
mightily affected the overground press. The Counterculture could not have
been born without a change in the way printing presses worked.
got my start writing for the Los Angeles Times at the very beginning
of the '70s. Editors from the paperąs
Sunday magazine, West, picked some of
the more talented Los Angeles Free Press scribblers to write for them.
things ended that heady feeling of hope. Camelot
was brought down
by bullets from several assassins. For
a while it seemed as if nothing had
changed. The ‘60s seemed to last right into the early ‘70s.
But the phony
oil crisis of 1973, when the Seven Sisters showed us who really owned the
world, brought an end to those good times.
must admit I wasnąt always enamored by the cultural revolution. A lot
of people were consumed by it. Then came the bad economic times that began
experienced being mugged by the Seven Sisters directly. I had just
received a $10,000 contract in 1972---which would be worth a lot more
nowadays---to write The Menuhins when the Oil Crunch came. Overnight my
money was worth half what it was.
throughout society, the notion of a good union job began to
disappear, as giant conglomerates---the oil companies only the first---started
moving in to declare an end to the way things were in America, economically
American corporations are extortionists: they tell us they can
take their business anywhere, so weąd better learn to like living as slave
labor lives in the Third World. These big corporations began running
roughshod over any efforts to mediate the excesses of predatory capitalism.
fell into disrepair. Talking union became anathema to a generation
who had no idea why people had them in the first place. We were told that
life should be nothing but work, work, work---partly because real wages have
fallen so much since the ‘60s, proportionately.
biggest achievement of the Reagan years? Shift the tax burden to the little guy
biggest achievement of the Reagan years was to shift the tax burden
from the corporations---who used to pay fifty percent of the federal income
tax---to the working middle class. Now
corporations pay something like five
percent of the taxes.
the ‘60s the big talk was of the imminent Leisure Time Revolution.
irony and reality? Nowadays the
media celebrates Supermom, who works,
raises children and cooks.
who were the heroes and the villains? Will
the ‘60s ever return?
hope that people could change things---engendered in the ‘60s with
the rise of the civil rights and the anti-war movements---has not survived
well. For a while, Counterculture newspapers, books, movies and music
flourished. The good times, they never seemed to stop rolling. Camelot,
never claiming revolutionary status, was still part of a continuum
engendered by the Counterculture, and was dead long before John Kennedy Jr.
his airplane into the cold, dark ocean off Martha's Vineyard.
Counterculture values have found their way into the mainstream,
but not all. In some ways, racism has been modified, although it is ever
present beneath the surface. War does not seem quite as onerous as the
Vietnam adventure was, but this may be due to some clever disguises.
drug component was the most suspicious part of the Counterculture.
Pushing it along were the proponents of a mush-brained philosophy combining
revolution and mysticism and a belief that drugs could liberate.
donąt think it was just a bunch of hippies pushing that line.
Luce in his Time-Life magazines told us how great LSD was. The CIA
conducted all kinds of horrendous experiments on people using mind-altering
drugs which were initially designed to disable and disorient enemy armies.
hippies, who survived these drugs, either died on the streets or
expired in nut houses or became todayąs BMW driving Yuppie scum.
Age stuff fits right in with this nationąs historical puritanical
social control mechanisms burdening its populace. On the surface, the
bizarre crusade against President Clinton by his persecutors over sexual
matters, which most recognized as so much hypocritical blather, seemed
indicative of a new more insidious kind of McCarthyism in the making.
if they can do in a president for an illicit blow job, think what they can
do to the rest of us.
course the Monica Lewinsky thing was something deeper and more
insidious than a quickie in the back room.
Essentially, it was the
insurance companies trying to pay back the Clintons for trying to institute
a national health plan. The
insurance companies like it the way it is. They
have a tremendous stake in collecting premiums from the healthy and leaving
the poorest and the sickest for the taxpayers.
novels, our music, our films, increasingly remind me of Brave New
World and 1984. Is there a hope
for a new reawakening, such as occurred in
early ‘60s, when people began busting out from the years of repression?
can always hope that underneath the dreary exterior of the harsh,
gray life of the ‘90s, new cultural and social forms are waiting to be born.
the Internet will be the new technology that makes this so.
revolution will again rekindle hope, and the peopleąs rulers will
tremble once again. ##
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