I went to a restaurant the other day to celebrate the birthday of a friend. The place was a cheerful surf-themed tacos ‘n’ booze joint of the kind you see a lot around here. It was the early end of Saturday night and a covers band was playing.
We had a good time. The food was mediocre, the band was awful, and we were all good friends who don’t see each other enough.
While waiting for my car outside, I heard the band go into CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” There was a happy yell from the crowd and the all-white, mostly middle-aged people on the dance floor capered inexpertly.
I am too young to remember that song as new, but I know its story. John Fogerty wrote “Bad Moon Rising” on the occasion of Richard Nixon’s election as President in 1968. Nineteen sixty-eight was one hell of a year. Nixon’s election came after the disastrous Chicago Democratic Convention where the liberal dream died, after the Tet Offensive, after another thousand things gone wrong, many of them permanently. Fogerty’s song is an accurate assessment of a grim situation.
Watching the boomers and fortysomethings shake it happily to CCR’s doom song wasn’t easy. Some of them were old enough to know better: old enough to have fought in Vietnam or lost friends there, old enough to have seen badgeless cops beating people in the streets of Chicago. What the hell were they doing here? It’s a great song but it’s not boogie. It’s a warning. These people had chosen isolation: not just from poverty, not just from the poison gift of privilege, but isolation from meaning itself. War and terror and the loss of innocence? Maybe partying will help.
Later that night I went to the drugstore. I entered amidst a wave of high school boys. The high schoolers were laughing and punching each other and jumping up and down for nothing. One of the drugstore employees, a large affable black woman I’d talked to before, was restocking nearby.
The kids recognized her and ran over to say hi. They knew her son from school, although he was older and had graduated. She asked how they were doing and they gave bouncy teenager answers, “just hanging out!” and “oh I’m all around!” She smiled indulgently. “So how’s Greg?” one of them asked. “What’s up with him?”
She kept her smile. “He’s serving. Abroad.”
The kids didn’t know what to do. They kept hopping about, looking blank. She kept her pleasant smile. After about ten seconds of this some more kids came roaring up and greeted her and things were easy again.
Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye