Please, please give me a break, I'm so sick of the '60s
The 1960s have barely started and I am already sick to death of the bloody things. At some point in the past year, writing in this place, I advised readers to beware impending golden jubilees for various supposedly swinging events. We would get stamps celebrating 50 years of the Velvet Underground. Banners would be erected to acknowledge half a century of Steptoe and Son. Fireworks were due in late 2013 when the greatest of all 1960s phenomena – me, obviously – reached his sixth decade with relatively few scratches on the smug carapace.
But we never imagined fatigue would set in so quickly. Barely a week has gone by without some telly documentary on a supposed landmark in the Beatles’ career.
Various weary talking heads gathered to discuss Lennon meeting McCartney at a garden fete.
They were back again a few weeks later for the film on George Harrison buying a new guitar pick. Last month, BBC4 convened a group of mostly useless middle-of-the-road singers – it’s nice to know Stereophonics are still alive, mind you – to rerecord the Beatles’ first LP.
Hang on a moment. We’ve only got as far as Please Please Me? At that stage, folk still wore cloth caps to football matches and stood up for the national anthem in cinemas. Sex had only just begun for Philip Larkin. By some reckonings, the 1960s themselves had not really kicked off. And we have to suffer another six years of this twaddle.
The 1960s are just so blasted pleased with themselves. Oh, look at us with our sexual liberation and our great pop music and our epoch-defining embrace of modernist aesthetics. If there were a club for decades, that 10-year span would be squatting smugly behind the most exclusive velvet rope, while the wartorn 1940s, hide-bound 1950s and inflation-scarred 1970s fight to order at the plebs’ bar.
Woody Allen’s recent Midnight in Paris hangs around an effective musing on the myth of the golden era. Owen Wilson plays a writer who, much to his delight, finds himself transported back to Paris in the years of the lost generation. The film consciously re-creates the myth rather than the reality. The likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F Scott Fitzgerald sit around chatting pompously about the next great leap forward in literature. Wilson is, however, surprised to learn that at least one character finds the (current) present unsatisfactory. Marion Cotillard, playing Pablo Picasso’s then muse, yearns for the purity and elegance of La Belle Époque. Sod Dalí and Man Ray. She wants Degas and Gauguin.