There was a time that I genuinely believed that my generation in the UK (i.e: now aged 31-40) would be different and change the world for the better. This probably has something to do with certain chemicals I was using at that time, ahem, recreationally. Summer of Love, 1988. The place to be in the early nineties was Manchester. With well know outfits like the Happy Mondays and start-ups like my friends Ed and Tom, still going strong today as The Chemical Brothers, it was a non-stop party. But there was also an idealism, a hope- that we, as ravers, could do what our parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Our recreational pursuits (somewhat purer, chemically, than today’s offerings…) were not hedonistic, they were internal journeys- or so we thought. Jonathan Porritt had released his book warning us of the impending doom to the environment if we didn’t act. Bernard Mandelbrot had discovered the Chaos Theory. We were just doing what our ancient, tribal forefathers had done and we were the Timothy Learys of the New Age. Pity nobody mentioned the word serotonin…
The only experience that I have to go on, in evaluating my US counterparts during the same period, is during the summer of 1991, when I worked in a hotel in Montana- Many Glacier Hotel, part of Glacier National Park. If you haven’t been there, btw, a truly beautiful place and well-worth the visit. When you watch The Shining (one of the greats, Jack!)- the opening scene shows Jack Torrence driving to the remote “Overlook Hotel” and that is the Many Glacier. Anyway, as a summer job, it was intriguing. The hotel is closed for the winters, so hires its staff on a holiday basis from all over the US and just about every state seemed to have one representative. With such a wide cross-section of students, I felt it was a good barometer, comparatively, of the differences with my own mates in the UK. This especially, as one of my big life “what ifs” was having chosen not to go to University in the US, despite being offered a place at Brown, where some of my friends from school ended up going to (in the UK- University is effectively free, so money was a big part of my decision).
I found that nobody was “into” the same stuff that I was, especially on the “house music” scene. It was really all Grateful Dead stuff and if not the beer, then the green stuff- or rather, the obsession of the wheres and hows of scoring it. I made some good friends and found that my US counterparts were much more “active” than us in the UK- who, while we talked a lot, were really just a bunch of slobs. No, my US friends were signing up petitions to protect the lake where we worked and a bunch of other do-gooding stuff from the get-go. I didn’t get the whys and whats of most of it- mainly, it seemed to me, was just doing things for the sake of it.
What I got passionate about (and this was more as a consequence of the aforementioned search for green stuff- than philanthropy), was the situation with the local Native Indians, the Blackfeet. I don’t have time here to tell the whole story, but it was a real eye-opener staying on the reservation in Browning. I bought into the whole sense of injustice hook, line and sinker. 10,000 year residents- their land now stolen, beaten by missionairies, given a rubbish tip in land compensation- man, I was an active protester handing out flyers en masse to get a Blackfeet to a position higher than dishwasher! Oh- and I learnt that alcohol and Joe Last Star don’t mix. And then I got fired from my job at the hotel as Gift Shop Assistant Manager, for “demonstrating“, and that was that. When push came to shove, all the do-gooders disappeared and seemed more worried about their bonuses, than doing the right thing- standing up for Native Indian rights.
What I learnt in terms of the difference about my generation in the UK, as “ravers“, was that we were just all talk, no action. And my peers in the US were in most respects the opposite- openly admitting and even celebrating hedonism, but at the same time actually trying to do something to make the world a better place, but with a lack of moral certitude.
So it seems that the change is in the doing, as well as in the conceptualizing and there’s no doubt, as ravers and as do-gooders, or Generation X, we all failed miserably then and nothing has happened since to change this opinion. In fact, if anything, on both sides of the Atlantic- it’s just gotten worse with age.
Joel. A. Barker summarizes it well enough-:
Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.