When trying to gauge the zeitgeist of our era, you have to size up the politics. But to understand the politics, you have to grasp the economic situation that shapes them. For this reason, it’s helpful to compare and contrast our era with past times.
For source material, the personal history of the 1960s by Richard Goldstein, who coined the term “rock critic” – because he was among the first of them -offers some telling, eye-witness accounts of social mobility as it related to society and music.
The Bronx-born journalist and critic applies a class-consciousness to the music, culture, and events he witnessed, many of which became defining moments of the decade.
The link between the politics and the economics of our time matters a lot for those who wanting to understand our geopolitical reality. Understanding the resentments of our time is also helpful for the forces that would undermine society from the outside – including people working information operations against democracy.
In keeping with these observations, this quote from an interview with Goldstein discussing the difference between now and the 1960s serves as a good reminder of the seemingly invisible weight holding back needed political reform in our age.
Speaking of the 1960s, Goldstein says:
“It was a time of enormous social fluidity in England as well as in the United States. This social fluidity, which the Civil Rights movement played a major role in unleashing, is what creates this music because almost everyone who made it went to a state university. There are not a lot of wealthy people making rock music.”
“So this is very important: you’re talking about a product of a social era that is very different from the one we have today – when there was much more class fluidity.
“Of course it leads to sexual fluidity, cultural fluidity — all of these fluidities come from the fact that people were moving up, that the working class was moving up, $10,000 more in salary by the end of the decade.
“This makes an enormous difference in the culture of the era.
“So when people talk about the 60s, it’s not just beads and bangles, it’s class mobility.
“If we’re ever going to get class mobility again, it may happen again.
“…The spirit of the 60s is embedded in American history. It’s been there since the Great Awakenings of the 18th Century which were abolitionist religious movements. Since the Transcendentalists, it’s very much the spirit of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman.
“If you read ‘On Civil Disobedience’ by Thoreau, you’re seeing the very basis of all the protest movements of the 60s, and even today of course….These mystical new ways of life, radical new ways of thinking of existence- this is an American tradition, going all the way back.
“It could happen again if the economic situation permits it, and very interestingly, it doesn’t today.
“If you want to know why it’s so different for young people to imagine the 60s, the economy puts them in a vice that makes it very hard for them to aspire to a more radical existence.
“To the extent that they do so at all, it’s very brave of them.”