Don’t trust anyone over 30.
That was the advice proffered by my generation in the sixties. That would be the 1960’s, though after a morning of pulling weeds, it feels like a hundred years before.
My friend, Jim Sherburne, wrote an interesting novel concerning that generational advice; RIVERS RUN TOGETHER. In it, he describes a 30-something writer in Chicago in the summer of 1968, during the Democratic presidential nominating convention. The protagonist’s heart was pining to be part of the protests happening behind police lines in the parks in Chicago, while his carbon-dated time on the planet consigned his bag-o-bones to the streets nearby. I recommend the book…especially now.
I’m over 30.
So…don’t trust me…but read this…it might help bridge the gap when next we meet.
In the early to mid-sixties, I was politically born.
On an August day (no school that day), Martin Luther King revealed his dream to the largest crowd I had ever seen, in Washington. It was on TV and I could not look away.
Earlier that year, a new music show had appeared on TV. It was called “Hootenanny” and it featured folk music.
That same year, radio station WBKY (now WUKY) had a late Saturday night show hosted by Ben Story featuring even more obscure folk music.
I was twelve.
What’s folk music?
Who’s Martin Luther King?
Why’s he black?
Does that mean something?
Is somebody doing something to him they shouldn’t?
What does Pete Seeger mean when he asks “Which side are you on?”
Sides? There are sides?
I was twelve.
Patrick Sky reached for a laugh in his now-forgotten classic “Talking Socialized Anti-Undertaker Blues”; “Formaldehyde and alcohol, we’ll pickle you, and that ain’t all; black or white, to us you’re all the same.” Where’s the laugh? It plumb evades me. What’s black or white got to do with it?
I was twelve. I had to look up “formaldehyde.”
Phil Ochs’ sad musician-turned-wino in “Chords of Fame” complains in an alley; “Reporters ask you questions. They write down what you say.” Why would they do that? Aren’t reporters supposed to be covering real news in 1963? The Cold War? Polio? Cuban missiles?
I was twelve and still eating sugar cubes and mastering the scary yoga of “duck and cover.”
Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger were asking “What did you learn in school today?”
Well… I really was taught things like;
“I learned that policemen are my friends
I learned that justice never ends
I learned that murderers die for their crimes
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.”
I was twelve. It had not yet occurred to me that might not be OK until Tom and Pete suggested I cipher on that a little more.
I listened as Judy Henske and Judy Collins and Joan Tolliver sang about the problems in the coal fields using the words of Billy Edd Wheeler. Mountains being stripped, towns abandoned, rivers poisoned? In Lexington, we didn’t have rivers or mountains.
But Mr. Wheeler’s words have stayed with me for over five decades.
All their words have. I learned much from these foreign-to-me teachers.
Mostly what I learned from these singers and preachers and yes, my Sunday school teachers was to always do the next right thing. Picking sides, recognizing colors and genders, knocking down mountains, fighting diseases, corrupt authorities……….just do the next right thing.
Mortgages, and insurance bills, and utility bills, and 401K’s have distracted me.
Stormy Daniels, and the Ukraine, and Confederate flags, and face masks are thrown at me now to continue to distract me.
I learned better in 1963 and what I learned still holds true.
Stay focused on Rev. King’s dream.
It’s the next right thing to do.
Trust me on this……no…wait……don’t trust me…go vote……do this yourself.