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Bluegrass Poet

Here's a little snippet from Charles Bernstein's A Poetics

For the Left, especially, it is vital to be able to identify those elements of contemporary culture that have been negatively described ... as postmodern. In their distrust of traditional modes of authority, postmodernist works may express a positive social value, but insofar as they reject the possibility of new forms of socially grounded meaning, such postmodernism appears to undercut the potential for any transformational political interpretation of action. However, in this arena of postmodern negativity, it is necessary to distinguish between an expressive pessimism and an opportunistic "apolitical" cynicism in which values are strictly market values, determined by the specific needs of fashion, celebrity, and a targeted audience. Both of these manifestations share a similar evaluation of the loss of a fixed, authoritative, transcendental set of values, though for one the response is that of multinational capital--to cash in and have a party--and for the other the response is a deep despair at the passing of a world that once seemed to have a purpose that now seems irrevocably lost.

I was 18 when Kennedy was shot, 35 when Lennon was. Pretty much defines my youth. For me, the nostalgia tends to be for the late thirties, early forties. Then all things were better: president (Roosevelt!), fashions, movies (Astaire! Bogey!), music (Cole Porter!), cars.

Though I'll admit, I'll take Grant over Pitt any day.


I've realized that part of my own feelings of nostalgia about the time before I was born, or when I was very young, is this: I had no responsibility for my life or decisions (especially before I existed!) so I can project on the past a delightfulness i would not have experienced had i lived through it.

I can't have nostalgia for the 80's because it was when I made decisions, or failed to, and this has consequence for where i am today. Having lived through that decade, I recall mostly regret and difficulty and sorrow. Being reminded of then makes me queasy, anti-nostalgia.

But I can daydream about the 1930's with pleasure.


"I've realized that part of my own feelings of nostalgia about the time before I was born, or when I was very young, is this: I had no responsibility for my life or decisions (especially before I existed!) so I can project on the past a delightfulness i would not have experienced had i lived through it."

I fully agree, when I think of times or watch things from before my time, I see only an open road. I think of all that is yet to be. It reminds me of Peggy Sue going back and realizing she could discover the Beatles.


I got out of high school in 1965 so the sixties for me were the early to mid 60s. It has always been irritating to me that people say the sixties and mean two years at the end of the decade. I gravitated to jazz, blues and beatniks - believe me, not mainstream at the time is small-town America. I welcomed the end of mindless restrictions but always had a bit of contempt for the self-regarding element of the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll group who thought that they had invented it all. Just shows my age, I guess.

Bill Altreuter

"North By Northwest isn't a film about what happens to Cary Grant, it's about what happens to his suit." I miss men's hats, too, and the notion that musicians should look sharp. I miss the idea that everyone should look sharp, and the expression itself. Back then, to show up without a jacket and tie was to demonstrate that one was utterly clueless, without any class at all. I suppose my nostalgia-- a disease, after all, a yearning for a time that never was, is for post-WWII America. Let's put it right at 1948 through the year I was born. If I were the age I like to imagine I am today back then I suppose I'd be my own father, in his coconut straw hat and rep tie. Hell, I have his record collection, although I'd like to imagine that I'd have been hep to Miles and Monk too.

Of course, to have lived then would have been to have fallen prey to the same appalling social attitudes prevalent at the time. My old man dodged the bigotry, somehow, but that wouldn't be a guarantee that I would have, and in our search for our inner Cary Grant it is probably worth recalling that there were any number of similar attitudes that we would no doubt be wishing upon ourselves. Lately it has become current to quote Faulkner's remark about the past not even being past,(are so many people suddenly reading "As I Lay Dying" or is something else going on?) but although that's true, I am mistrustful of any impulse which assumes that somehow anything was better at some specified point years ago. I am, it must be said, similarly skeptical of the notion that there is such a thing as human progress, which leaves me mired in the present, I suppose. In my hat, with my Sinatra records, drinking a Rob Roy.

richard locicero

I'm nostalgic for a time when I had no real consciousness of events - the post war forties. I was born in LA in 1946 and something that Robert Towne once wrote in an appreciation of Raymond Chandler has stuck with me. What I wouldn't give to have cruised Sunset Blvd then - the Macombo, Trocadero, Brown Derby. Maybe even seen the master hoisting a G&T at Musso's in Hollywood. Somehow that just seems like a more interesting time.


Lance, you're entitled to your nostalgia. Writers need it, I think. They need to believe in then and now and the difference and see to it (as best they can) that other people believe it, too. Where would writers (or anyone else) be without a soupcon of self-pity?
And taste in clothes, movies, cars, music,TV shows, etc: That's what writers and bloggers (and what bloggers aren't writers?) *should* be all about.
Furthermore, I don't accept you were a generic kid. No one is or was, but you of all people!

joel hanes

Have you ever actually driven a '65 Mustang?
It's an awful car by today's standards.

Suits and hats went out of style when we (young people) realized that we were being lied to and killed by men wearing suits and hats -- it became the costume of the Enemy. Why would one want to dress like J. Edgar Hoover?

Jim 7

I can't convince you. I won't try. But I can tell you why I can't convince you.

A '65 Mustang, under the skin, is just a Ford Falcon. The magic was that a guy that was driving a longerlowerwider Riviera or Grand Prix thought he might look good in one. And so did his wife and his son and daughter. It was a car that was appropriate for anyone to drive, universally acceptable at the supermarket and the club and bowling alley. They were affordable but not cheap, and I can't think of anyone that was alive in the sixties that would have looked wrong getting out of a Mustang. Jackie Kennedy. Cary Grant. Mort Sahl. Jane Fonda. Bob McNamera. Barry Goldwater. Jim Morrison. Nothing else has been so right for so many since. The only equivalent would be the cross-class appeal of the Mini in England during the same time.

Now, a 'better' car? The first Mustangs weren't as good as you remember. The brakes and the steering and the acceleration were, um, Falconesque. They were unlikely to break 15 seconds on the dragstrip or get 15 mpg on the highway. There is a halo effect from the racing Shelby Mustang GT350s that lingers but they sold a lot of them with drum brakes and a straight six. The back seat was only good for kids and groceries and the driving position is a little close to the wheel and the vinyl seats would stick to you and melt. By today's standards of reliability, comfort, quiet, performance and especially safety, the new one is a much better car. So is every other new car on the market. And none of that matters. People loved them.

What we quit building was a car the second owner would love and the third owner would maintain and the fourth owner could restore. It wasn't just us. Nobody builds one. Who's going to restore an '01 Camry? With the complexity and the plastic materials, who CAN restore one? Somewhere some kid is losing his virginity in one tonight. In 20 years he will remember this experience. He will not remember the car in any special way and be motivated to buy one and fix it up. It's just not that kind of car. Just for starters, it has four doors and was not driven in a movie by Steve McQueen.

For example, Neddie Jingo just bought a 1964 Triumph Bonneville. It requires more owner participation than a modern bike when it comes to maintenance and parts and tools and knowledge. The new ones look almost the same but start every time and don't leak oil. Doesn't matter; he wanted an original because it was an original. You can't argue with how the bike makes Neddie feel when he rides it and when he walks out to the garage and looks at it. It's love. Zing go the strings.

So, when you ask if we have built a better car than the '65 Mustang, it begs the response "Better for what?"
Better for the function of a car, yeah. Better for the dream of a car, no. And that's why I can't convince you that a new car is better; you're seeing through your heart.


i've always held that "the sixties" were really the consumate commercialization of "beat generation" ... which held forth in the 50's. an oversimplification to be sure. but i like my concepts simple. sometimes.


Whenever I find myself wallowing in that eternal 1958 I was too young to experience for myself, I interrupt my reverie on lost elegance, style, and -- I use the word very deliberately -- class, and remind myself how unlikely it was that I would have been able to live that kind of life. Tailored suits? Can't afford them now, and I'm doing pretty well for myself, thank you. White tablecloth restaurants a couple of times a week? Ditto. Dressing for dinner? And doing all this on one salary from a not-too-demanding, rather vaguely defined 9-to-5 job? Not bloody likely, mate.
We all want to be Cary Grant (including, famously, Cary Grant himself) or Humphrey Bogart, but on the odds we're all far more likely to be Ernest Borgnine or Ralph Kramden.
And the food sucked then, too.

joel hanes

If I were to undertake restoration of a 1965 Detroit car, one that had about the same amenities as the Mustang but that actually drove like a car instead of like a boat, it would be the 1965 Chevy Corvair Monza Spyder. Yah, Nader and all, but still, a 2+2 Detroit car that knew how to corner and how to brake. Probably too sporty-looking for your everyman's-car mythos, though, at least in 1965 terms.

Underlying Patterns

The culture you describe was still confident and growing. In the U.S., real income per capita topped out in 1968, a point that might be termed Peak America, and that confidence has slowly melted away ever since. All of the examples you cite are true, but as margins have shrunk, changes have been made. Some of the changes have been positive, and some have been made to seem so. Some are mixed blessings. Women can work now, but 'fashion' is trash and popular music is dead from the genitals up.

All of these are signs of the decay. Who can afford a good suit? An appropriately printed t-shirt is much more affordable. What to celebrate in song except cock and wallet? Beauty and craft cost extra.

This is also the source of the cynicism and self-reference of the politics of the time as we are sold backlot stage-dressing versions of past glories.

It ain't coming back, so Caveat Emptor.


Every time I see an movie from that era, everyone looks so wonderful - the clothes, the hats, the shoes.....I was thinking about this this weekend while watching Pleasantville. It's a lovely fantasy.

And then I think about those clothes...the women's clothes in particular. How complicated, how constricting, how confining and torturous the undergarments must have been, how expensive even the most basic and limited version of it would have been. How a secretary could have afforded it. Or a teacher.
My mom was a secretary in adversing in Boston in 1965. My recollection is that she made 60 dollars a week. Her parents still paid most of her expenses. It took four suitcases to get those clothes home for the holidays. And my grandparents were also the ones who decided when it was time for her to stop stop playing at work and get married, when she was 25 and the last single girl in their social circle.

I'd love to think I'd have been the iconoclast making a different path, but it would have been a lonely one, and unlikely really. So no nostalgia here. We've lost civility and hats - that sounds flip, but I don't mean it that way - but gained a few things that are pretty important to me.

harry near indy

And I know it was the point of Everybody Loves Raymond, but Rob and Laura were sexier, funnier, and cooler than Ray and Debra.

true that, lance.

i love brad garrett and doris roberts on everybody loves raymond -- those two are the only reasons i watch the damn show. but morey amsterdam as buddy sorrell and rose marie as ally rogers beat them as supporting players and comic relief.

Steve Paradis

HTSIBWRT, to be short, was a very successful musical that had to be translated on a movie into a replication of the theatre experience that improved upon it--impossible, and typical--see also "The Music Man", in which simple stage music and vocals are translated into Red Army Chorus level sound.
It doesn't help that David Swift seemed to think his players had to project to the people sitting in the restaurant across the street.
At least they kept Morse. The studio was after Cary Garnt to play Harold Hill, but he insisted that the role belonged to Preston (and he didn't want the backlash that befell Audrey Hepburn).


Oh come now Lance, how can you give me an easy lob to slam like that? The obvious answer to your plaintive request is, of course; the 1967 Mustang!

Kevin Wolf

I, too, often feel that nostalgia for times long gone - times even before I was born.

But I was recently watching The Twilight Zone, which covers the early 60s, with the suits and ties, etc, and if that show captured the zeitgeist at all (I'm too young to know) than nostalgia for the period is unwarranted.

Still, I know what you mean and find myself agreeing with a lot of your post anyway.


Can't really dig the 1980s, which is when I grew up. Now, what I do have nostalgia for is the 1480s - man, they really swung some style back then (no, I'm not joking actually).


I know I'm late to this party. But, the best car of the 60s was the 1970 Chevelle.

Hands down.


I honestly believe that movies were better then.

That the fashions were better then.

"That the music was, if not better, more varied and more complex in ways that made listening to music a better experience, and at any rate listening to Sinatra on the hi-fi was more pleasurable than listening to Green Day on your iPod.

People looked and moved better then.

Ok, Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint looked better than Brad and Angelina."


I'm even later than Domoni but, to both echo and disagree with him, what about the '69 Mach One?


Yes, the mustang was indeed a champion. I was wondering if you'd like to trade site links. I'm at:


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