What I've been reading (Looking through the past darkly)
"That was then, and this is now. All such periods of intense excitement and change -- a wider way of thinking and being -- are short-lived. They are a true ‘high’ and the intoxication of those who help create them or even just live through them neither lasts nor disappears.
So we in Berkeley are living in a deep deep post-high nostalgia which we love and nourish and want to talk about in order to preserve it if only in words.
We don’t want our physical/psychic landscape to alter, so against all odds we resist. ... We listen to Dylan and Judy and Joan and Mick albums to remind us it was all real."
(Musings on an Identity Crisis
(all below from an article about Joan Didion's "Years of Writing Magically
"There is the sense in that piece, and several others of hers from that time, of someone looking on with a kind of appalled fascination at the excesses of late Sixties counterculture. The title essay of Slouching Towards Bethlehem was actually written in 1967, and dissects the ascendant hippy scene in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury area with a mixture of wry observation and mounting unease. 'I didn't see a lot of peace and love on the Haight in the so-called summer of love,' she says now. 'It seemed like every kid I talked to there was desperately unhappy.'
Was her original point of view essentially generational, though? Might she have immersed herself in the hippy scene had she been younger? 'I was from a different generation,' she drawls. 'I grew up in a different time and my writing was formed by the values of that other time. Had I been of the generation I was writing about, I don't know if I would have been swept along.'
I tell her that my favourite book of hers is The White Album, particularly the long title essay in which the dark energy that seemed to pervade California in the late Sixties is somehow reflected in her own faltering mental state. That was a time when a creeping paranoia took collective hold of the residents of Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood Hills, when what Didion calls a 'sinistral inertia' settled on Sunset Boulevard and its environs like a dank fog. In the tapestry of reportage that makes up The White Album, she moves in strange circles, crossing paths in her reportage with Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton of the Black Panthers and Linda Kasabian, a hippy girl who had become an acolyte of Charles Manson. The killing of actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanksi, and five others, by the Manson Family brought all that Hollywood paranoia to a head. 'The tension broke that day,' wrote Didion. 'The paranoia was fulfilled.'
The title essay has a more personal subtext, though, the unravelling of Didion's psyche. 'I was supposed to have a script and mislaid it,' runs one memorable section. 'I was supposed to hear cues and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot, but all I knew was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no "meaning" beyond their temporary arrangement, not a movie but a cutting- room experience.'
Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
In her first book of essays, Didion explores the fragmentation of American culture and writes in detail about her experiences in California during the late Sixties. In contrast to the usual rose-tinted views of the era, she paints a bleaker picture of hippy life on Haight-Ashbury, exposing the dark underbelly of the free love years. The title comes from Yeats's 'The Second Coming'.
The White Album (1979)
A companion-piece to 1968's Slouching Towards Bethlehem focusing again on the Sixties and countercultural California. Didion writes on subjects as diverse as the California Water Authority, psychiatry and bike movies, and portrays individuals such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Doris Lessing.