In January, David Bowie's 50th birthday concert is requiring the building of a special extra arena in Madison Square Garden to hold 18,000. Last June in Hyde Park there were Bob Dylan, 54, Eric Clapton, 51, and The Who, whose surviving three members total 152. It's hip to be 50. If this sounds like whistling in the dark, you may be right, as my own half-century creeps up on me shortly. We are the monster generation, the post-war baby bulge, the biggest, toughest and most dominant generation there has ever been, towering over those that came before and those that come after. We cast a long shadow, and the older and the younger all stand in it, crossly and resentfully sometimes. They have a lot to resent. We are the have-it-alls, always have been, always will be until the day we die - if we ever do. Maybe no one will ever have it quite as good again.
The NHS was created as our cradle: we were its first babies. The tranquil and secure, if deadly dull, Fifties nurtured our thriving childhoods. We left school and university in a full employment world. A swathe of new universities was built for us. Optimism and hope were all about us; we could be anything we wanted to be. Harold Wilson was not exactly a youth cult hero, but the mostly much despised Labour government in 1964 radiated change.
Whatever we thought of Labour, was it the last time anyone will believe in a new society, in a solution to every problem, in progress itself? We did. That made it a good time to be young. I don't envy my children's experience of politics so far. By 1979 hope had turned sour, and so Sixties liberalism descended into the atavistic economic liberalism of Margaret Thatcher. True individualism was the child of the Eighties, not of the Sixties as the current moralisers claim. In the Sixties we did our own thing - collectively. The spirit said, idealistically, we are all in this together. What each of us does, matters to the rest of us. No, it was Thatcherism that privatised the individual. Now even that idea has crumbled to dust.
Can we hope that 1997 and a new Labour government will be 1964 all over again? It takes a strenuous act of will to believe it. But perhaps there is still time to change the Zeitgeist.
For, nowadays, the vogue is for moralising, stopping things, banning things, denouncing things, a V-chip planted in the public mind to censor and censure every thought that may not pass the Disney test. Everywhere, thresholds and watersheds are being drawn in, horizons lowered, old properties brought out of the attic and dusted down. All change is a threat, not a chance, and the future holds nothing but fear. The very word "progress" rings out as a term from a long-dead political lexicon. Retro-values rule - at least in public.
And yet the Sixties live on in the private sphere. In private, people continue to behave as before - sex, divorce, cohabitation, soft drugs, abortion and self-determination. Liberal tolerance of the behaviour of their own nearest and dearest contrasts so strangely with the megaphone morals people choose to devour in most of the press. We live in contradictory and ambivalent times.
Why, even the Archbishop of Canterbury exhibited these same confusions in his pre-Christmas message on GMTV yesterday. He warned about the loss of traditional moral values and the advent of a "DIY morality". He said that individual should not decide their own morality. "I want to remind people there is such a thing as objective morality." Then he called for "faithfulness in marriage or in a single lifestyle". (What did he mean? He has the same felicity with words as our Prime Minister.) But, yet again, he refused to criticise the most famous adulterer in his flock, Prince Charles: "He has struggled as many people struggle, with broken relationships." Well, there is moral relativism for you. Where is the "objective morality" in that? Quite right too. The Prince deserves the same understanding we afford to our friends. That is tolerance and fairness, not moral laxity.
DIY is exactly what we should bring our children up to do. Trust no nostrums, follow no leader blindly, obey no orders without thought, listen to Jiminy Cricket - "Always let your conscience be your guide." Oh, there may have been a lot of dope and sex in the Sixties, but we were priggish too, about the moral evils in the wicked world around us. Shudder when you listen to an old Hair album, at the way a search for innocence led to sanctimonious smugness. But we were into morality, no doubt about it. People always are and always will be. It is the kind of morality that changes.
So if we are in a retro frame of mind, with Mick and the rest strutting and strumming in the old way, then it is time for the good old boys and girls of the Sixties to do a bit more. Time for them all to get back in harness. It's one thing to have them up on stage doing their stuff, but what about the culture out here? Have they nothing to say any more about that?
Can anyone who met their twenties tuned in to Hendrix, anyone who shook their afro to "Wild Thing", really have succumbed to the current mean- minded and frightened little homilies from our newspapers and politicians? That spirit of experiment and daring may be dormant in the fiftysomethings who now hold the reins of power - but somewhere in all their bottom drawers, (well, maybe not John Major's) there is a picture of them in an Afghan and satin flares with a bell round their neck. However much their children may clutch their sides and fall on the floor with ribald laughter, it is a picture of a better time, when we looked forward to the future. If you are buying into the Jagger tour, it is time to buy into the rest of the good old values too, and fight off the forces of reaction and suppression as we did back then.Reuse content