Saturday, September 01, 2007

Come Together

The late Ian McDonald on the Beatles, the Sixties, the Left and the Right:

"It was hard for (Christopher) Booker, or Malcolm Muggeridge, or Mary Whitehouse to understand that much of what appeared to be profane in Sixties youth culture was quite the opposite ... by a devilish paradox, those who thought they were at the cutting edge of social development in the Sixties - the hippies, the New Left - soon found themselves adrift in the wake of the *real* social avant-garde of the period: ordinary people. The individualism of the Me Decade, as Tom Wolfe dubbed the Seventies, was a creation of the Sixties' mass mainstream, not of the peripheral groups which challenged it. Former hippies and radicals who abandoned the utopian 'we' for rueful self-interest in the Seventies, far from leading public taste, were merely tagging along behind it. As for the punks, their blurt of betrayal in 1976-8 was apprehended by the comfortable, sensible majority of Western society with no more than mystified amusement.

The irony of modern right-wing antipathy to the Sixties is that this much-misunderstood decade was, in all but the most superficial senses, the creation of the very people who voted for Thatcher and Reagan in the Eighties. It is, to put it mildly, curious to hear Thatcherites condemn a decade in which ordinary folk for the first time aspired to individual self-determination and a life of material security within an economy of high development and low inflation. The social fragmentation of the Nineties which rightly alarms conservatives was created neither by the hippies (who wanted us to "be together") nor by the New Left radicals (all of whom were socialists of some description). So far as anything in the Sixties can be blamed for the demise of the compound entity of society it was the natural desire of the 'masses' to lead easier, pleasanter lives, own their own homes, follow their own fancies and, as far as possible, move out of the communal collective completely.

The truth is that, once the obsolete Christian compact of the Fifties had broken down, there was nothing - apart from, in the last resort, money - holding Western civilisation together ... It is, in short, no accident that Mrs Thatcher should have founded her outlook on the conviction that society does not exist - and no surprise that her favourite Sixties tune is 'Telstar' by The Tornados, a record symbolising the rise of technology-driven post-war prosperity and mass social emancipation. She and her radicalised, post-consensus Conservative voters are the true heirs of the Sixties. *They* changed the world, not the hippies (and certainly not the New Left). What mass society unconsciously began in the Sixties, Thatcher and Reagan raised to the level of ideology in the Eighties; the complete materialistic individualisation - and total fragmentation - of Western society. Hoist with its own petard, the New Right now seeks to pin the blame for the unhappier aspects of the Sixties' social revolution on groups whose influence on the course of events oover the past quarter of a century has been at best peripheral, at worst non-existent ... When contemporary right-wing pundits attack the Sixties, they identify a momentous overall development but ascribe it to the very forces who most strongly reacted against it. The counterculture was less an agent of chaos than a marginal commentary, a passing attempt to propose alternatives to a waning civilisation ... At their heart, the (Sixties) countercultural revolt against acquisitive selfishness - and, in particular, the hippies' unfashionable perception that we can change the world only by changing ourselves - looks in retrospect like a last gasp of the Western soul. Now radically disunited, we live dominated by and addicted to gadgets, our raison d'etre and sense of community unfixably broken."

Brought up in an age of consensus the like of which I know I'm never going to see, [Ian McDonald] could still remember the days of togetherness - his greatest break with Received Wisdom, and hence his finest moment, was his claim that "All You Need Is Love" was not the start of a new era in Western society but the end of the one that came before, the final moment when Everyone Joined In.


  1. Is there a causal relationship between the A and B side of this record? If so, in which direction does it go?

  2. I can't answer that question, Dave. But I'm sure the Beatles saw the irony of having those two titles on the same record.

    You keep all your money in a big brown bag, inside a zoo.
    What a thing to do.
    Baby you're a rich man,
    Baby you're a rich man,
    Baby you're a rich man too.
    How does it feel to be
    One of the beautiful people?