Until this week I had never heard of #P.J. O’Rourke. Don’t know how I could have missed him. I just finished reading his latest book called “The Baby Boom” which is an account of his life from the perspective of a Beta Boomer, like myself. Born in November 1947 in Toledo Ohio, he is now a high-profile American satirist, political journalist and writer. His reflections are funny, enlightening and so very familiar – except for all the drug use which I was never a part of. And judging from his productivity during his drug years, I’m not sorry I missed it.
O’Rourke lived the quintessential American Boomer life, growing up in a safe neighbourhood in the company of loads of other kids in the same age group. He compares the boomer habit of driving around in cars listening to car radios, going to drive-in burger joints and going “parking” during high school years as our version of Facebook, although he never actually met a car-hop on roller skates. I’m not sure if roller skates was the qualifier here or carhop. I should refer him to my earlier post, Memoirs of a Teenage Car-Hop. His experiences and perspectives on the sex, drugs and rock & roll generation are a great read.
On sex, he says, “Fumbling anticipation generated a kind of prolonged bliss that fumbled completion has rarely matched.”
On drugs: “Drugs taught a generation of Americans the metric system. And who indeed knew what a kilo or a gram was before pot and coke began arriving in those quantities.”
On rock’n’roll: One of his more interesting observations is that most of the great music loved by baby boomers was not actually the product of boomers themselves. For example, all of the Beatles were born in the early 1940s, as were all of the Stones and most of the social icons we claim as our own, such as Bob Dylan (1941), Marvin Gaye (1939), John Lennon (1940), Mick Jagger (1943), and Gloria Steinem (1934) were pre-boomers. Elvis was born in 1935. Not one of the organizers of Woodstock was a Baby Boomer. He further qualifies the sixties timeline as actually occurring between 1967 when the Baby Boom “had fully infested academia and coming to an abrupt halt in 1973 when conscription ended and herpes began”.
On retirement: “It’s estimated that by 2030, when the last of our generation is struggling with how to get the Depends on after the Levitra’s been taken, Boomer-Americans will be raking in Social Security and Medicare benefits costing half of all the money spent in Washington. We’re riding down the highway of life in a Welfare Cadillac (with the right-turn indicator blinking for miles and miles).” While we cannot argue that we’re going to be a huge drain on social spending, at least we can take comfort in the thought that we earned it, most of us contributing enormous taxes for 40 or 50 years. Ironically it won’t be our money that will be subsidizing this; it’s the Gen X’ers and Y’s. They’ll be working their young fannies off as our money has all been spent on current political folly.
Describing the ridiculousness of so-called creativity at the time, he quotes a poem by Aram Saroyan that goes as follows: “priit“. That’s it. One word. This resonated with me because a couple of years ago I attended a writing workshop that included one such poet. He arrived late because his bicycle had a flat tire on the way over. He was 60-something, lean, sweating, wearing a tee shirt, shorts and sandals, and was bald with a long, gray ponytail. This guy was a total holdover from the 60’s hippies era who specialized in one-word poems that he said needed an understanding of the hidden mathematical connotations to be understood. Sheesh! That was taking Japanese minimalist poetry a bit too far for my liking or understanding. These people really do exist.
O’Rourke missed Woodstock because his girlfriend at the time had made a feeble gesture at committing suicide by swallowing too many Midol and One-A-Days. “I was also slightly disappointed about missing Woodstock until the nightly news reported that it had turned into a catastrophic, drug-addled, rain-drenched disaster area lacking food, shelter, drinking water, and Porta Potties. Then I was furious about missing Woodstock.”
I’m at risk here of wanting to quote the entire book I loved it so much. Although obviously written from a purely American perspective, Canadians can find much to relate to. We had Yorkville, Rochdale and our own hippie 60s scene. And we provided refuge to countless American draft dodgers, many of whom chose to remain in Canada even after amnesty. O’Rourke is intelligent and literate with an extensive vocabulary, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his material.