No, Jim Morrison was no conservative. But because I automatically associate “The Doors” with my mother’s stories of childhood dances, Morrison’s music is infused with a kind of cultural memory that doesn’t even belong to me. Call it nostalgia, once-removed.
Janis Joplin is probably as hard-hitting as my sister and I got in the backseat of our mom’s minivan. Mostly we stuck to cheesy pre-Woodstock pop tunes like Monkee’s “Daydream Believer” or the Four Top’s “Baby I need Your Loving.” My first exposure to Tudor history may have been “Henry the VIII, I am” by Herman’s Hermits. Gripping my Walkman in 4th grade and humming along to the Beach Boys, I was 50 years behind what everyone else was playing on the school bus. To paraphrase Buckley, I stood athwart the modern music industry shouting “Stop”!
Surely, the decade of Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, and Charles Manson doesn’t exactly represent a conservative cultural highpoint. But the tunes of the 1960’s–always my default playlist–trigger my conservative aesthetic. By that, I mean I am able to temporarily leave my 20-year-old existence and imagine the generations that have preceded me. I subtract the sex and drugs and just enjoy the the rock that gave voice to other young people in another era.
Having the option of muting my own age-group’s music in favor of the 60’s was my way of acknowledging that I wasn’t the only teenager to have ever graced the planet. Plus, I could find “Grazing in the Grass” catchy without ever having to actually graze in the grass. It was a cross-generational move: vicarious, experimental, but safe. The so-called “oldies,” I believe, helped me transcend self-obsessed teenage time and place. My first MP3 player, a light blue iPod mini which I received for Christmas in 7th grade, was loaded up with Leslie Gore and Gary Puckett. I was not a hip middle-schooler, that much goes without saying. Yet my peers, strangely enough, accepted my odd penchant for oldies. My tastes were quirky but honest–and I think my friends secretly enjoyed a lot of the tunes too.
Gradually, I’ve rebelled my way into the 1970’s–mostly because Connecticut’s oldies radio station (WDRCfm) realized that, as the Baby Boomers age, Jefferson’s Starship and the Grass Roots now capture more of the market than Chuck Berry. I distinctly remember a friend in high school homeroom asking me if I’d made it into the 80’s yet. I didn’t even have to answer. Another friend interjected (correctly) that I only made exceptions for Billy Joel.
Russell Kirk (a self-described “Bohemian Tory”) reminds us we are dwarfs atop the shoulders of our ancestors. And, the irony of Time is, even hippies and Beatniks eventually become “ancestors.” The 60’s may have been a countercultural decade of youth, but I didn’t understand this when I first turned to the Beatles. I just liked the songs. For me, they offer something more traditional, more wholesome and far superior to present day rap and hip-hop. Traditionalizing the anti-traditionalists reminds us that Time is a sobering force. Subverting the subverters is a subtle conservative game–and we get awesome music in the process.