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Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Milwaukee, WI (USA)
Local Time: 11:46 PM
Counterculturalism in the 21st Century
This appeared in my local paper (the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) this morning. It's an editorial piece by one of the paper's "community columnists" (local residents who write regularly for the paper).
Have we found what we're looking for?
By Rick Esenberg
Oct. 2, 2005
I am in the trailing half of the baby boom, but I am old enough to have shared its aspirations and conceits. I may not have truly been a child of the '60s, but I was at least one of its toddlers.
So I remember when rock concerts were not just entertainment but a Gathering of the Tribes, a meeting of a clan that was going to change the world.
For Joni Mitchell, Woodstock was not a sign of the time of year, but of the time of man. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang that we would change and rearrange the world.
We weren't going to just make it better, but different. Boomers were convinced that their world would be unrecognizable from that of their parents. "Hope I die before I get old" was the ultimate statement of transgression. If something was a middle-class convention, we were against it. Imagine no religion, no country and no hang-ups. Far out.
Young people (as we once were) would usher in the Age of Aquarius.
Except that we didn't. We got married, got jobs, got old. We never got around to tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Instead, we settled down, set up house and sold out.
My generation never gave up on rock concerts, but the shows reflected what happened to us. In 1969, the Rolling Stones were outlaws who gave free concerts with security provided by the Hell's Angels - Pinkerton's being too bourgeois and expensive. This year, the Stones were sponsored, fittingly, by Ameriquest, and the price of tickets just about required a home equity loan. Mick and Keith, the Glimmer Twins, seem to be getting quite a bit of satisfaction.
All of this has become a cliché, so I was surprised at the return of rock as revolution at the Sept. 25 U2 concert at the Bradley Center. Here were things I thought were gone. Amnesty International set up tables in the halls, and vendors wore aprons reading, "If you want peace, work for justice."
Between songs, lead singer Bono talked about aid to Africa and a campaign to end world poverty. Maybe, in our dotage, we could save, change and rearrange after all.
But it wasn't quite the same. If an aging hippie, we'll call her Moonbeam van Winkle, had finally come down from a 35-year acid trip, she might have noticed that, aside from holding up cell phones in lieu of Bic lighters, something is happening here, and what it is ain't exactly clear.
To begin with, this guy on stage singing about a better world was religious. I do not know how many in the sold-out crowd knew, as they sang the refrain to "40" ("How long to sing this song?"), that it was, in Bono's words, "pinched" from Psalm 6 ("My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord - how long"). A clue may have been that the preceding song was called "Yahweh"- essentially a prayer that ended with a benediction to Milwaukee ("Take this city's heart and make it safe"). This isn't quite the revolution we expected.
The other thing that Moonbeam may have missed was smug derision of convention and authority. We delighted at mocking Ronald "Ray Gun" and the president ("Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?").
Bono makes peace - and deals - with the likes of Jesse Helms, Pat Robertson, Pope John Paul II and even President Bush. In dedicating "Miss Sarajevo" to the men and women of the U.S. military, he acknowledged, without taking a position on Iraq, that sometimes evil must be opposed by force. He doesn't burn the American flag; he waves it.
I am not claiming U2 for the religious right. That would be silly. But our notions of right and left and of what is and is not countercultural may need rethinking.
It may just be that serious Christianity (or other forms of faith) can be cool. It could turn out that "conservatives" can be "compassionate." It could be that the expression of moral indignation and self-righteous superiority may have to take a back seat to getting something done.
Rick Esenberg of Mequon is an attorney who will be teaching a law and theology course at Marquette University in the spring. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org