Boom and Bust

Late one night, during a songwriting session, my friend Sean said something I’ll never forget. “You know The Who’s tune, ‘Baba O’Riley’?” He got quiet for a moment, considering his words. “This sounds crazy, but I’ve always felt that God was in the opening chords of that song.”

It didn’t sound crazy at all. Any sense of transcendent truth I could claim was rooted in the music I loved, not the church I attended. Finding God in a song was not a stretch for me.

His words came back to me recently when I picked up Pete Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am. As The Who’s mastermind, Townshend was the vulnerable, gawky art school misfit. His music testified to rock and roll’s cathartic, transformative power for those of us who felt similarly vulnerable and out of place. Townshend was a fiercely intelligent and socially conscious ugly duckling whose spiritual quest led him to a lifelong devotion to the Indian spiritual master, Meher Baba. He was an enlightened, self-aware artist who had been married to the same woman for 30 years. He wasn’t a cliché.

Then I read his book.

It was disappointing to see how disconnected Townshend’s rhetoric was from his reality. The man who wrote “Behind Blue Eyes” and “The Seeker” and had helped inspire my own creative/spiritual journey was in many ways a petulant star. One minute he was spouting mystical ideas about finding the sound of the entire universe in a single note, the next he was absolving himself for his own selfish behavior.

Discovering my heroes have clay feet isn’t crushing anymore, but it does stoke a strange fantasy in which I finally vent some long-simmering frustrations. It goes, tongue-in-cheek, something like this:

Dear Baby Boomers,

On behalf of Generation X, I want to formally say thank you.

Thank you for David Crosby and Woodstock. While we’re at it, thank you for the miracle of Viagra, the wisdom of Dr. Phil, the spiritual insight of Oprah and the ubiquity of Bill Clinton.

In your recounting of the ‘60s, you created a counterculture. You told us to “imagine no possessions” and that “a change is gonna come.” Since then, you’ve taught us that our goals should include a “confident retirement” (Ameriprise) while the Most Interesting Man in the World exhorts us to “stay thirsty, my friends” (Dos Equis).

Really? This is how the ‘60s’ idealism ends? I’m starting to think it was less about change and more about you.

If the Greatest Generation is remembered for saving the world from fascism and building our nation, Boomers will be remembered as the Self-Actualized Generation. You’re determined to have it all, even if it kills us, while being your kids’ best friends and having amazing sex until you die. Actually, I’m pretty sure some of you are secretly planning on never dying.

We get it. You won’t be going gently into that good night.

Every generation has its dark side (my apologies for Lance Armstrong and Monica Lewinsky). But after staring at the world through a Boomer lens, it’s impossible not to notice a lack of depth perception. To our eyes, you asked important questions on everything from politics and culture to religion, but simply passing on a critique isn’t enough. If the arrogance of youth convinces us that history began at our birth, when will the wisdom of age finally temper us to see how we are connected down through countless generations to something larger than ourselves?

The explosion of the religiously unaffiliated or nones is well-documented. Having worked for years at the intersection of faith and culture among millennials and fellow Gen Xers, I’m always amazed not only at how religiously illiterate they are but also at how curious they are to know and understand more about faith. A structured belief is no longer baked into their lives; it is one more voluntary choice among many competing for their attention. Unfortunately, compelling translations of ancient truths for a 21st-century audience have been conspicuously lacking.

The Boomers’ cultural footprint has been enormous. But ultimately, you can’t gut something, then leave behind a void and call it a legacy. Finding God in a song only works if you have a language for God in the first place.

Chris NUNEZ
4 years 6 months ago
Is that the best you can do, sonny?
michael baland
4 years 6 months ago
Speaking of petulant.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 6 months ago
I'm a boomer. I didn't know the Age of Aquarius would be getting so warm. So fracked. So bellicose. So economically nasty.
Anne Chapman
4 years 6 months ago
I honestly don't understand why this article was chosen to be the lead story. In fact, I don't understand why it was published at all. It says nothing of general interest nor of any importance - there are no interesting insights, no challenging ideas. It simply describes the dislike of a member of Gen X for the generation called "boomers." Frankly, it comes across as a bit of a whine. What is going on with the editorial decision-making at America? One hopes that this article was a slip-up.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 6 months ago
Frankly, I affectively agree with the article. Ultimately, the baby boom generation got the "me stuff" down very well. It's the "we stuff" that's found wanting. A generation come in with a bang will be leaving with a whimper and leaving behind a world headed for a climate disaster.
Anne Chapman
4 years 6 months ago
The baby boomers are a mix of people and as a generation accomplished some things and maybe failed at some. This is true of all generations. Baby boomers marched for civil rights for African Americans and women patiently kept knocking on doors for more rights and greater equality in society as well. They demonstrated en masse for peace during times of war, often risking arrest. They volunteered in the Peace Corps and in Vista. Were they really any more about "me" than younger generations now? Isn't the current generation of young adults criticized for being of an "entitlement" mindset? They want it all and they want it a year after graduating from college and they think that society (particularly the boomers) "owe" them. It seems to have never occurred to them (all growing up with their own private bedrooms and often their own bathroom) that they chould share rooms in a group apartment to save money and afford to live on their own as their boomer parents did. Instead they go back home with mom and dad because they can't afford the downtown loft they want, love having mom cook for them and do their laundry, nor do they wish to give up their expensive electronic toys and visits to trendy bars and cafes and clubs - nor even give up their $3.00 lattes. Yes - the youngest of the younger generations are facing a tough economy for getting jobs as well - but they aren't the first generation to graduate from college and face a bad economy. Most of my generation of boomers knew they would start at entry level jobs - a lot of the current young people seem to believe that they should not be required to do that - if the job isn't the "perfect" job, "worthy" of their education, they would rather keep looking and bunk in with mom and dad. Are all of them like that? Of course not. Are all Gen Xs whiners? Nope, only some of them. As far as climate change goes and in spite of the media hype, many very knowledgeable and serious scientists don't actually believe that the evidence is strong enough yet to justify spending billions on "solutions" that not only may not work, they may be "solutions" to a problem that doesn't really exist or about which nothing can be done. After all, there has always been "climate change" - ask the dinosaurs. In the last 30 or so years, we have been warned in terms bordering at times on hysteria about the "coming ice age", and the 100% depletion of ALL the world's oil reserves (by the year 2000), about how the "ozone hole" was going to be over the entire earth soon, etc. Hurricane Katrina resulted in lots of chicken little predictions about how it was just the beginning and every year would see more and more hurricanes like Katrina. Actually, the hurricane seasons have been quieter than usual during the years following Katrina. There are stories about the northern icecaps melting, but few about the increase in the icecap at the south pole. Etc, etc. There have always been droughts, floods, hurricanes and other weather extremes. Always. So, indicting an entire generation for not doing something about "climate change" seems a bit premature. Perhaps with life experience, some have instead learned to wait and watch, rather than jumping on the latest disaster bandwagon.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 6 months ago
Stick to economics, Anne. It's a man-made game like backgammon. The earth temperature is, on average, 37 degrees warmer than the moon, and that is due to a mass of greenhouse gas that, if separated to the bottom, would only be around ten feet high at normal temperature and pressure. And we will be doubling this layer over the next century. The fault of our future climate disaster will not lie with the ignorant but with the bolstering by intelligent people like yourself who allow your politics to drive your "science", and substitute what I call "whizzdum" for scientific understanding. My science drives my politics. Your assertions about climate change are absurdly wrong to the point of being immoral.
Kevin McDermott
4 years 6 months ago
You don't like someone's opinion, Stanley, so you call their reasoning "immoral"? What sort of person argues like that? Oh, right.
Stanley Kopacz
4 years 6 months ago
When someone who should know better spreads untruths that can result in harm to billions, it is immoral. That CO2 increase is critical to climate on the planet is not an opinion. It is physics. There is no time or space for opinions. And I don't have any time for the deluded, the self-deluded, the ideological or the downright liars. I will fight them all to the best of my ability. As for your opinion of me, it is unimportant. The biggest insult to me is the inference that mine is one opinion among any. My assertions are based on a certain level of understanding of physics that doesn't allow me to believe anything that politicians and Fox news tells me. Go to http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm Or Real climate.org And read some real science, not opinions.
ed gleason
4 years 6 months ago
Bill McGarvey and other posters overlooked my generation 'The silent generation'. we were born in the thirties, too young for WW11.Some of us fought in Korea..[a war Palin did not know about] . Our generation was overlooked by voters to the presidency too. But we were first in line to protest racial discrimination in the early sixties. [Boomers were still teenagers] We were the Grey suited parents of half the Boomers ... We apologize for our failure of pass on discipline to our half of the Boomers )-: Our Silence was the silence of those who were watching the huge clouds gather. (-:.. We loved and embraced Vatican11 and were the most disappointed by the retrenchment. We are the greyer hairs still seen in the pews.. and sadly, still too much Silent .
Joseph J Dunn
4 years 6 months ago
Our thanks to Bill McGarvey for helping us Boomers to see the failure of our ways. His comments are offered "tongue in cheek,", but they prompt a few thoughts. I'm a Boomer, born in 1947. The first Boomers were born in 1946, They reached voting age (21 in that era) in 1967. In that year, one third of the world's population lived in extreme poverty. The Soviet Union pressed its people into a life of enforced collectivism while Communist China was trying to purge all signs of independent intellectual life. Most nations in Latin America were ruled by dictators, some of whom were supported by U.S. policies. Our nation was losing (we now know) a war in a country that had no strategic relevance to the U.S. Blacks were so socially and economically segregated that riots broke out in every major city. Women were barred form most colleges and universities, and from most careers. The first Boomers turned 65 in 2011. While we'll be active for many more yeas, some reckoning is appropriate, at least to address Mr. McGarvey's anxieties. The Soviet Union is a few paragraphs in history texts. China's rulers are coming to realize that they cannot repress the souls of one billion citizens. Of the world's 7 billion inhabitants, about 800 million (11%) live in extreme poverty, and that number continues to decline. In America, our first black president has just been re-elected. Men and women of every race are CEOs, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, physicians and scientists, presidents of universities. When the ledger is finally closed on us Boomers, we will have plenty of mistakes to answer for. Thank goodness for McGarvey and others who help our children recover from our shortcomings. (Is it just possible, that this soul-searching and identity-questioning he observes are part of the growth of any person obtaining a serious education?) We will count on a merciful God. I think our generation has had some of the best music ever. If we have not found God in those songs, as McGarvey suspects, perhaps we have seen Him in the face of our fellow humans, and worked to make their lives a bit better. If so, then maybe we did not just "gut something, then leave behind a void and call it a legacy."

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