Last year, Scorsese released “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story,” deemed a “mesmerizing motion picture” by one influential critic. Anyone in the audience for the afternoon show at Boston Music Hall on Nov. 21, 1975, or any of the other 56 shows of the tour, agreed. Catching Dylan in the mid-'70s was a unique experience.
The music of that brief, post-Vietnam War era was wildly mixed up, great fun, not linked to protest or politics, except for some faint echoes of the decade before — a jumble of great sound just before it degenerated into disco.
The makers of the music were coming off a young adulthood full of drama and dread. That many of the great artists and their fans of that era collapsed into a fatigued relief after so many years of intensity seems inevitable in retrospect.
Many of today’s decision-makers in America are of the Vietnam protest era, including President Trump, born in 1946; Anthony S. Fauci and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), both born in 1940; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former vice president Joe Biden, who would take the controls from Trump, both born in 1942. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is the child among them, born in 1950. Most don’t remember World War II, but they all heard a lot about it, and the Great Depression, and they can recall the Cold War, with its duck-and-cover drills in full. Being scared a lot no doubt scarred them all at least a little.
Just a few years, but an entire cultural era behind, come Vice President Pence, born in 1959, and Deborah Birx born in 1956 (the “blessed year,” I call it, “the best year ever to have been born,” which I can defend at length some other time). Not for the mid- to late-boomers any of the anxiety-laden years of the Cuban missile crisis or worrying about the draft and being dispatched to Southeast Asia. The cut-off from anxiety after age 18 comes for those born around 1953. Arrive in that year or later, and you or your friends weren’t going to be drafted.
Other fears clobbered the younger set. AIDS and its deep pall hit all the boomers hard, as friends and family grew sick and many died. Financial shocks (and far worse) became the norm for everyone born after 1960: Three or four economic swoons have seared all who are now of working age; senseless terrorism and 9/11 would sear every American with eyes to see.
But the politically powerful people named above hail from a generation that was reared in fear. Most of that age cohort are connoisseurs of dread.
They did not live this long to die before their time and in a random way, struck down by a mysterious viral enemy they cannot see. Much older now than in their heyday years, they are again playing roulette with an invisible enemy.
As young people, old people menaced them. As old people, young people do. Their parents voted in presidents who sent them or their friends to Southeast Asia. Their kids have children who are asymptomatic balls of kryptonite.
Most Americans, speaking very generally, don’t have serious complaints relative to those broadly weighing on most of the world. There are exceptions, of course, lives of suffering and tragedy. We have mostly all, however, won history’s lottery to have landed here and to have largely been spared the desperate scramble for life’s basic needs.
That said, this cohort of our fellow citizens that is finishing its run this decade or next — the one that Scorsese studies in his Dylan documentaries (his first was in 2005, titled “No Direction Home") — has had, if not a rough time of it, then at least a particularly trying one. By and large, they are not warriors. They are not a “Greatest Generation,” though some among it are heroes, of course. They are most definitely of a piece. The date stamps on our entrance tickets are a mix: 1956 was a good year to step on stage; 1941, not so much.
If past is prologue, the “Dylan-Baez” generation will produce some lasting art and commentary about their age and this crisis. They have done so before because of fear, and perhaps fear will prod them to do so again.
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