HISTORY | Brokaw fails to dig deep in his profiles of famous and
November 18, 2007
BY LLOYD SACHS email@example.com
My name is Lloyd and I'm a baby boomer. It's been eight months since
my last gratuitous reference to the '60s.
Well, OK, I may have told my kids the other day how I almost went to
Woodstock. And, yeah, I won't deny it, I did go on a few weeks back
about getting a number in the Selective Service lottery that was
almost low enough to get me drafted. I was this close to going to Nam, man.
But those hiccups aside, I've kicked my boomer habit, with your
understanding and support. You'll hear no more tales of flower power
or the Fillmore East from me. I live for the moment, dude. I'm down
with text messaging and am watching an episode of "Lost" on my iPod
even as I write this.
So what am I doing reviewing these "personal reflections of the '60s"
by Tom Brokaw, Mr. "Greatest Generation"? The Books editor knows she
can count on me to resist cheap boomer nostalgia. She knows if Boom!
can score with someone as de-boomed as yours truly, it's probably
worth reading, not only by my fellow '60s travelers, but also by
page-turning tourists from other generations as well.
I wish I had happier news. Having dutifully completed this 600-page
slog -- er, journey -- I've no doubt those who warmed to Brokaw's
flag-waving appreciation of the men and women who served this country
during World War II and beyond will warm to Boom! A plainspoken
primer for those who need priming, the book weaves first-person
accounts by South Dakota native Tom with brief then-and-now portraits
of famous and forgotten figures from his own less-great but still
pretty darn good generation.
As you might expect, most of his subjects still derive great meaning
and purpose from the social activism of those days gone by, even
celebrities who are rolling in money. But many of them lament the
failure of their generation to deliver on the promise for sweeping change.
"We want to do something, but we don't want to give up anything,"
says Woody Miller, still-free-spirited father of slacker skier Bode
Miller. He is speaking about global warming, but could be talking any
number of causes.
Assassinations, protests, scandals, election campaigns, the rise of
feminism, the reinvention of popular music -- they're all here. But
for a book called Boom!, they're treated in disconcertingly ... quiet
fashion. Brokaw writes as if he's doing a voiceover, with a special
fondness for cliches. You don't have to wig out like Hunter Thompson
to capture the excess and craziness of the '60s. But you surely do
have to avoid writing things like, "Personally, as someone who lived
through the Sixties... I have many personal memories" and "Suddenly,
the screen erupted into chaos" and (ouch) "We are profoundly changed
in so many ways and yet so much the same in so many others."
For Brokaw, not surprisingly, "ageless troubadours" such as James
Taylor, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell provided the soundtrack for the
'60s. But what about the Who and Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane?
Where in this book is the defiance that defined this era for so many?
You may read in wonderment as Brokaw profiles our current mayor,
Richard M. Daley, without even mentioning corruption in City Hall.
Steadfastly "objective" in his mini-portrait of Dick Cheney, Brokaw
resists saying anything about the ruthlessness of the vice president.
But he feels the pain the Halliburton profiteer felt when the press
jumped on his hefty tax refund, ignoring the millions he gave to charity.
Having made his own millions as NBC reporter, "Today" host and
"Nightly News" anchor, Brokaw finds it a little too easy to reconcile
'60s ideals and material wealth. Pop star Simon may be richer than
some Third World nations: "Yes, he flies in private jets and keeps a
spacious apartment in Manhattan, a large home in the Connecticut
suburbs, and an estate on the ocean in the Hamptons. But Simon,
Brokaw assures us, is not "a show-off rich man."
"We were anti-corporation," Simon says, tracing his heroic lack of
ostentation to the '60s.
Any book that gives voice to live intellectual wires such as Gloria
Steinem, Warren Beatty, Jeff Greenfield, Joan Baez, Sen. James Webb
and Bill Clinton ("Elvis of the new generation, a rock and roll
politician with all the new moves") can't fail to score points. But
you know Boom! doesn't make much of a noise when even a Boomers
Anonymous member finds no difficulty putting aside the book in favor
of his iPod and those groovy sounds of the '00s.
Lloyd Sachs is a member of the Sun-Times editorial board.