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Book Excerpts

Concepts of Pain: The Stuff of the Sixties

By Published: February 11, 2012
England's Pretty Things built the very foundation of 1960s rock. Guitarist Dick Taylor and singer Phil May were originally in a group with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones

' original rhythm guitarist Brian Jones who started the world's longest-lasting band, and Taylor lost out in a fight with him as to who would play that role in the new band. And though Pretty Things had a fairly hardscrabble career, they have inspired as much great rock as their former band mates. S.F. Sorrow (Mississippi) came out in 1967, recorded at Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capital). It is a kind of musical radio drama about the difficult coming of age of an English war child. The music has the same, soaring golden harmonies as The Beatles, and though it is a little rough and tumble, it is a masterpiece and would go on to inspire The Who's Tommy (MCA, 1969). The Pretty Things inspired England with their mutually incompatible gritty, nasty stage presence and their simple, glorious purity. In recent years the band's reunions have been true spectacles, the musicians playing their early work with mature mastery. Again, as the Stones trot themselves out as if in formaldehyde in our time, Pretty Things are still pumping out a vitality and gathering ever new fans.

The '60s are still with us, as they were in the '70s. We are left with a kind of unconscious landscape, on which buildings that seemed solid tumble, and structures that seemed unfinished are redeveloped, or even shown to have a beauty in their unfinished state. Behind these are the nascent ideologies of the '60s, ever-present as the hypostasis of the music. In the '60s culture reached the speed of light. We have been going backwards ever since. But reinvesting in the buried dreams, we become spiritual contractors, making the monuments our own and for our time.

Music is an orchestration of pain, and through pain we reestablish our belief systems. All the slipping out of social conventions, the dislocations—these shared experiences of the '60s youth generation exposed them to a new social nerve center. In The Gay Science (1882) Friedrich Nietzsche lamented that we no longer build for the ages, as in the age of cathedrals. 90 years later, that was still true, but with a difference. Hippies were taking drugs and experimenting with sex, living in the moment as it were. But this is deceptive. Their goals were still long term, establishing civil rights, ending the Vietnam war, creating a more loving society. The pleasures of the moment, by becoming ends in themselves, at once satisfied the instincts on their road to political idealism, and led to a new understanding of human sexual response, extrapolated into a whole new sense of human relations. Much went wrong in the '60s, and that wrong still persists in the form of drugs and crime, but a new understanding of the psyche came with it—or rather the dawning of a new understanding that will take the patience of an age to fulfill.

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