Just Above Sunset
November 7, 2004 - Be careful what you dream...

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World’s Laziest Journalist

November 7, 2004

By Bob Patterson


It’s been a long, long time since my last hangover, but like riding a bike, you never forget the symptoms. 


Odd thing was I couldn’t remember drinking the previous night and furthermore I hadn’t the foggiest notion how I had managed to get to New York City.  I started walking.  It felt a bit wobbly like when a sailor who is used to being on a ship that is pitching and rolling comes ashore and finds it unsettling to perambulate on solid ground. 


At the first intersection, I approached a news kiosk and experienced another wave of disorientation when I noticed that all the publications proclaimed it was a bright sunny summer day in 1968.  They must be going to use the newsstand for the filming of a period piece, I reckoned, and it seems they had gone to considerable expense to recreate the illusion.  All the magazines and newspapers were bright, crisp, and shiny.  It was like they had just been printed.  They were not old and brittle like ones dug up in a back periodicals specialty shop would be.


I looked around for the production trucks that are a sure tip-off that a movie studio is doing some location work nearby.  All the cars and trucks, not just the ones close to me, were authentic 1968 vintage vehicles.  The supply of antiques autos and trucks stretched out as far as the eye could see.  Then, I noticed one of the trucks carried the Branch Motor Express name.  Whatever the explanation, the attention to detail was microscopically “spot on.”  The whole of Manhattan seemed to have been part of the set decorators participation in the shoot.  It didn’t make sense.  It was so real that it was unreal.  Unless….


On the first go around in 1968, I had tried my best to enjoy the spectacle surrounding me, but I made a pact with myself.  When I get old, I’m not going to rely on memories of the sixties like a crutch to recreate the illusions of my lost youth.  The WWII veterans who seemed lost in a time warp where Henry James and Jimmy Dorsey were still battling for supremacy on music charts were pathetic.  When I get to be retirement age, I promised myself, I won’t be some old geezer looking back fondly on the competition between the Beatles and the Stones.  No matter what happens I’ll listen to the latest music and consider it groovy.  


In the 1980’s, I very assiduously avoided the classic rock stations… most of the time.


Besides, they only played the top forties rock music.  To hear some of the other stuff you had to play your own albums.  At one point it seemed like everyone owned a copy of the soundtrack for A Man and a Woman.  When was the last time you heard a radio station play some Quicksilver Messenger Service music?  I see the kids wearing Quicksilver T-shirts but I don’t hear their tunes on the airwaves. 


I’ve bought one CD.  Do you think they are going to catch on and ease vinyl albums out of existence?  Will I have to scrap my turntable and buy a CD player soon or is it just a fad?


Looking around New York City and realizing the AARP age “me” had somehow slipped through a time warp and landed in the Big Apple was disconcerting, to say the least.  I realized it would provide me an excellent opportunity to write a novel in the speculative fiction genre.


I was in New York in 1968!  Harry Harrison.  Cousin Brucie, Maxwell’s Kansas City, Horn & Hardart cafeterias, Play It Again Sam on Broadway.  Had Hair opened or closed by the summer of ’68?  This time for sure I’d make the effort to get a bet down on Joe Nameth in the Super Bowl. The record stores were selling all kinds of collectors’ items fresh in the wrapper!  Everywhere you turned there was a cornucopia of opportunities to take historical record photographs.  Not to mention the likelihood that my favorite New York pizza parlor would be right were it was supposed to be!


How about catching one more episode of Hogan’s Heroes?  How about seeing a W. C. Fields or Bogart revival at the Thalia?  It was time to start muttering:  “Sock it to me!” and “Here come de judge” again.  Hippies think that when they die they’ll go back to 1968 again.


Wait a minute!  What happens if the graybeard me meets the younger version?  Could I warn myself about certain bad decisions or would it be like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object?  Would both of us disappear in a nuclear time warp meltdown?  (Did you see the video of the fireworks factory going up in a penultimate spectacle on the NBC evening news Thursday, November 4, 2004?  The hypothetical meeting could be something like that.)  If I lived through this strange bit of 1968 revisited, it was going to be the basis for one heck of a book (which would have to be labeled fiction because no one would ever, ever, ever believe the back story.)


Then, with a start, I really did wake up.  Dang!  The Beatles did break up.  John Lennon got shot.  Richard Nixon almost got impeached.  The Who did grow old.  In 1968, a glitch in the computer was called a “bug” (as were the ubiquitous autos made by Volkswagen), but if you went “on the road,” you were incom incog.  That is you were incognito and incommunicado.  There were no cell phones or e-mails whereby friends and relatives could contact you while you roamed the world. 


Dang!  In spite of my best efforts, the fate I dreaded had sneaked up on me.  When the new millennium began, I started writing a column for an online music magazine, and I would always refer back to groups from the Sixties.  They were my measure of excellence.  (Yeah, U-2 came along, but did any other really good music group play their first gig after Jan. 1, 1970?  Nah!  All the good stuff had been recorded the rest was only sad attempts at trying to recreate the magic that was fading into history.)


On the morning after the November 2004 elections, I woke up early in my apartment in the Mar Vista section of Los Angeles.  I wanted an early start so that I could fire up the ‘puter and start my daily production of keystrokes as part of the National Novel Writing Month worldwide marathon of creativity.  I find it best to leave the radio silent before unleashing the torrent of words, but for just the one time, I granted myself an exception to the rule.  I turned on the TV and got the gist of what was happening.  George W. Bush seemed poised for the opportunity to give a victory speech later in the day.


Later, after I had met that day’s production goal, I listened to Rush Limbaugh, but mostly I tuned into the college radio station KXLU and listened to the smorgasbord of contemporary music.  (Yeah, occasionally I call in and request a song but the ones I like were stolen from their collection ages ago, but it’s fun to ask.  It’s like a pitcher throwing a brushback just to wake somebody up.) 


After getting the Nanowrimo chapter for Thursday, November 4, 2004, written, I bought a copy of the New York Times and read it while sipping some coffee and munching a treat.  These days it’s punching a button not twisting a dial, to go back to KXLU again. 


The girl on the air was “bummed out” and, she said, so were the other on air personalities at the station.  It was all so déja vu.  It seems everyone was upset with the war and the president.  The kids who voted (according to the opinions being broadcast) felt that they were impotent in their attempts to change the world.


I flung open my Venetian blinds and half way expected to see a title over the sunrise saying “Welcome to 1968!”  The more things change… the longer the Sixties are relevant.


In an era when Americans are used to being told what to think by the New York Times, what happens when the junta on 43rd are left asking: “What hit me?  Did anyone get the license number?”  How are we, their faithful readers, going to know what to do or where to turn?  The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour isn’t there to help.  Will Jon Stewart fill the void?


Where the heck did I file my copy of the Her Satanic Majesty’s Request album?  For that matter, where the heck is my turntable?  I called the DJ on KXLU and asked to hear the Fugs.  What was the name of the theater in the Village where they played for about a year straight?  Where’s a videotape of the movie, Monterey Pop? 


Think it would help if I called KXLU again and told them to savor it and drink in each excruciating moment because I know for certain that thirty five years from now they will look back at this particular point in time and be thrilled if they dream that they have gone back to the start of Bush’s second term in office?  Did a Brit reader just say: “Not bloody well likely!”? 


They would never believe me and who can blame them?  I can remember sitting in a bar on Third Avenue (before the aforementioned “last hangover”) and lamenting America’s fascination with “Tricky Dickie” and the older fellow next to me dryly commented, “Yeah, that’s what my kid calls him, too.”


I never understood how he could be so phlegmatic about the impending doom that I foresaw so very clearly.  Now, suddenly, this week, I understand.   Perhaps he knew (and approved of) the Hunter Thompson philosophy: Buy the ticket; take the ride.


KXLU features a program, She Comes in Colours, on Saturday night (usually starting 10:00 Pacific Time), that features the psychedelic music of the later sixties years.  Some week maybe they will just play the original cast version of Hair in its entirety.  They seem to find obscure music from that era that I’ve never heard before.  It’s groovy.


Didn’t the souvenir printed t-shirt thing begin with the Strike t-shirts at Columbia University in 1969?  Will certain t-shirts now be collectors’ items in the future?


There are a few differences with this new Sixties flashback period.  I checked with my young sources at DOA online music magazine and found out that this time around it is Brand New versus Taking Back Sunday as far as a rivalry between bands is concerned.  (Mick Jagger is featured in a new song on the Alfie Sound track album which should be in stores this weekend, proving that the more things change the longer 1968 is still relevant.)


This week Thursday (November 11) will be Armistice Day.  Take a minute to give a salute to those who gave the last full measure of their devotion to their country.  The list of those who have done so continues to grow every day.


Nathan Hale (as quoted in Bartlett’s 16 edition on page 354) said: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play Kate Smith’s version of God Bless America, we’ll file out silently.  Come back again next week.  We’ll stir up more memories than a Peter Max poster.  Until then, have a WMCA “home of the good guys” type week.  “Say good night, Dick.”





Copyright © 2004 – Robert Patterson


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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