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The year it all changed. I’d like to think it were true. Even before I was political, I can look back and say that most of my instincts have always been conservative. While listening to the Grateful Dead might not seem a conservative practice, in a musical culture such as ours and for a kid merely conceived in 1979, it is. No matter what the Grateful Dead’s political affiliations were, their music, despite its psychedelic tendencies, was essentially conservative. It was steeped in the American folk tradition of nameless ballads and characters whose motto was “don’t tread on me.” Modern musicians, who seldom look further back than the preceding generation, have lost that conservative balance, and when each song aims to do something new rather than something better, the music becomes nothing more than a puerile attempt at creativity, which even falls short of cliché. Perhaps the soul, as unpalatable as that word has become, is not born with each individual but is an inheritance passed from generation to generation and either developed or squandered in each. As there is a soul in everything, the abandonment of tradition by modern musicians has left music essentially soulless. As Joni Mitchell said a few years ago, explaining the condition of modern music,

You’ve got all these assorted divas, like these sappy, romantic singers. They are not tender like Nat “King” Cole — they are overwrought. And it’s very flashy, but it’s soulless. You look into the eyes of these people, and you know they are looking at themselves in the mirror. There is nothing to them but their own image…. We are drowning in images. We don’t know fantasy from reality. Especially the generation coming up. Something happened. Anything that is so accessible becomes disposable: You sit in your living room and you drink your cola and you eat your pizza, and you just watch all of this, you know, pornography. It’s not even music.

“There is nothing to them but their own image”: They have no past, no base, no tradition. They have found a beginning and an end within themselves, and so are left with only their vanity, which soon fades and becomes a living grotesque of makeup and surgery.

It may seem like a huge jump from an article about 1979’s importance to folk music. It may be. But it has always been my impression that the best of my generation, those conceived in 1979, have found the soulless modern age wanting and have looked back for something better. In the Grateful Dead, or in Joni Mitchell, or in Winston Churchill, or in Edmund Burke, we have found it. There is no doubting that the social guillotine may drop at any moment, lopping off the head of prescription and leaving the body politic with only that organ of passion to guide them. Then again, 1979 may have been the year it all started to change. As the vestiges of the last generation fade out of the media and out of power, the beginning and end they found in themselves will prove fatally accurate, and m-m-my generation will be inspired just enough to ignore them. With “so many roads” out there, why would we take their worn-out one?

I’d like to think it were true.

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About Chase

  • I was born in late 1969, which means I was 9 years old for most of 1979, and the impression I was left with was that this was not the same decade I’d grown up with. Just a few years from puberty, I found things changing. While I danced to M’s “Pop Music,” the shift from Carter’s liberalism to Reagan’s conservatism took place in America while on the world stage, Iran had finally asserted itself, and drastically. It was the year of an anti-disco riot at Comiskey Park, Chicago. It was when punk started to evolve into new wave, and even Billy Joel took notice. “Glass Houses” was quite a departure from his previous 1978 offering, “52nd Street.” I don’t know all that much about folk music, but I’m sure that began to change in 1979 too. I’d say it was an apt way to end the ’70s and enter the ’80s; in fact, the perfect blend of the two decades would have to be 1979 itself.