A Valhalla for the Sixties

The heroes depart – Lemmy, Bowie, and now Glen Frey of the Eagles, who wrote or co-wrote with Don Henley their most enduring songs. These are the times of parting and we must get used to it.

History has its cycle of highs and bummers, although we never know just where we are in the cycle until it becomes where we were. After every golden age is a silver twilight under which we can almost believe ourselves back when the world was young and dragons walked the earth. In the past decade I have seen Leonard Cohen, America, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, Ravi Shankar and, to my surprise, Hawkwind, still touring to this day. If I were richer I could have seen some truly big ticket Sixties names. Thousands did.

All that talent, we sigh, still up there playing after all these years, and it makes us glad. But not for all that much longer. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever hear Joni Mitchell sing Edith and the Kinpin live.

Back in those same Sixties, over a period of what seemed like a few weeks, most of the names I had grown up hearing on the radio died. They were mostly comedians or comic actors, who learnt their trade in the music halls and war-time tours of battlefronts. They could do it all, sing, dance, juggle, joke. During a strike, Norman Wisdom and Bruce Forsyth (still with us), played the whole hour of the TV variety show Saturday Night at the London Palladium on their own. By the end they were visibly exhausted, but victorious. That era was soon forgotten, its jokes too topical to repeat, its songs too trivial to endure. If there is an afterlife for old artistes, it must be a kind of Fawlty Towers seaside residential hotel, where the guests live out eternity happily recalling times and triumphs nobody else remembers.

What then for the Rock ‘n Rollers? Is there a Valhalla for the Sixties, an eternal Hotel California where the guests have finally taken over? A definition of Heaven as being No More Managers? Or do they embark on the Biggest Tour of All, across all the heavens and hells, nirvanas and happy hunting grounds, that have ever been and ever will be?

Am I just being romantic in believing that some at least of the work of the Sixties generation will endure, that it embodies some eternal verities, shines a timeless light on the human plight? Not since the Romantic poets of the Nineteenth Century has any art form been so enthusiastically embraced both by the public and by intellectuals. Just what it is all about may be a matter for dispute, but the very fact of that dispute, that attention, suggests that Rock n’ Roll, in all its manifestations, far from being an ephemeral amusement, is the voice of humanity, freed at last from cloister and academy.

So as the Pete Brown album title says, Things May Come and Things May Go, but the Art School Dance Goes on Forever.


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