Comfortably numb?

It was interesting to watch a documentary about Pink Floyd the other night on BBC4, which was about the making of Wish You Were Here in 1975.  The documentary was made in 2005, when both Richard Wright and founder member Syd Barrett were still alive (Barrett died in 2006 aged 60, and Wright died in 2008 aged 65). 

I always think it interesting to see (multi-millionaire) rock stars reminiscing about the good old days.  However, I think there was something particularly interesting about this programme.  Wish You Were Here was essentially a tribute to Syd Barrett, whilst also taking a side swipe at the record industry – which Pink Floyd did very well out of after Barrett had taken one too many acid trips and was replaced by Dave Gilmore.  Barrett was one of the people who took the sixties a bit too literally – and ironically perhaps, died aged sixty, having spent his life post-Floyd in seclusion.  

And this reminded me of another interesting phenomena: we are now witnessing those children of the 1960s growing old – many are now well into their sixties and some even older.  And not only are they growing old, they are growing ill and dying.  This was never supposed to happen, of course.  The ‘sixties’ generation were never supposed to get old, let alone die of diseases such as cancer.  And yet, the irony is they were probably the first generation that stood a chance, on a mass scale, of actually reaching old age in the first place. 

At the same time, how many Syd Barretts are there, how many causalities of ‘the sixties’ are there lost in ‘the community’, in mental health day centres, in psychiatric hospitals, or just living alone in some cramped bedsit, still reminiscing about ‘the good old days’? 

Of course, it’s almost too easy to knock this generation.  Those baby boomers who never had it so good (and never realised it), who benefited from a proper welfare state, free university education, social mobility, and, at the end of their working lives, a proper pension.  It’s their children and grand-children who are well and truly stuffed, and many feel their parents and grandparents robbed them of the chance of a decent life (nothing new here then).  And yet the twist to all this is that it’s precisely this generation (the ‘sixties’ generation) who, to a large extent, created the fantasy life that is now imploding rapidly.   Although this generation did not create the welfare state, they were the ones who made the most of it, who lived the dream that the welfare state made possible, and which New Labour did their best to perpetuate, even when it was clear the game was up. 

This is something that isn’t mentioned very often when talking about the current economic crisis, which shows no signs of abating.  In other words, the effect it is having on people’s dreams, their aspirations – both individually and collectively.  Those who did well out of the sixties (and who are now in their sixties and early seventies), such as Pink Floyd and the other rock stars and other celebrities of that era, are desperately trying to hang onto the dream (why else the endless reunions – they can’t be doing it for the money, surely?).   And, strangely enough, so are many of those who didn’t make it, but believed in the dream enough to make the Pink Floyds of this world very rich and successful. 

As Roger Walters once asked in one of his songs: whatever happened to the post-war dream?  Maybe it became real and now we live the nightmare….