End of things/new beginnings

It does something to see your life pass in pictures, as I did watching a PBS fundraiser of the early Newport Folk Festival. The young Joan Baez was on stage asking the audience, “Is Bobby here?” And Bob Dylan was there and he jumped up on the stage with her. I was there too, sitting somewhere in the audience. Now his voice pops up on “Mad Men,” ominously foreshadowing “something coming” in 1962. And it was coming. Now it’s leaving.

The mastery of this elegant dream comes not only with the troupe acting and writing, but in the details. Indeed, nurses, existential and independent, much like the one who lives down the hall from “creative shaman” Don Draper, did drink at The White Horse and that was one of the draws to writers and executives in those days. That and in November 1953, Dylan Thomas set a personal best there. As I heard it, after drinking 21 shots of something, he said to the bartender, “I believe that’s a new record,” and went outside and dropped dead. Probably not exactly true, but it was a day and place where the repeated anecdote felt truer than the thing that really happened. Most have since been forgotten or passed on. In contrast to the immortal Don, the shadow which walks alone, sitting calm and relaxed as it falls before him, watching — slouched back in his chair in “Mad Men’s” iconic intro. As in the fable in which Lord Krishna lights a cigarette and an eon passes before he ends his smoke.

 We are winter now in 1963. The president has just been murdered. Don asks his secretary to buy a few “Beatles 45s” for his kids for Christmas. The old pass before us in exquisite detail. Most of them today are dead. And more falling is ahead.

As John Feehery wrote here last week, Old School is Out Forever, commenting on the passing of the larger-than-life Danny Rostenkowski and others who made the age. I received a photograph on the same day of my old friend Barr Ashcraft taken in 1972 in Saigon and a letter asking how he died. It came from Neal Ulevich, who photographed the war with Barr, and it contained an outlay for a book of photographs of those involved in the war. Details of the photos speak of the day; Saigon tailors had their own sense of style. Fu Manchu mustaches didn’t last that long. Conservatives reacted to the ’60s style with white plastic belts and plaid and check polyester. Some of the most featured and representative journalists, like Hunter S. Thompson, died as the memories died, as my friend Barr did. “In with the dust and gone with the wind.” But their work and lives will pop up like angels or specters in Don Draper’s saga.

There has never been a time in my life like that. The world changed overnight. But our times now are like that again and “Mad Men” forms a paradigm of the present. We are waiting again and sensing a change again, but waiting this time for something different.

These times are what Mekong Buddhists call a “between.” They are quiet and undifferentiated times; time as the Buddhists think of death. Ours is the biggest “between” — between centuries, between millennia. And the life which will spring again from it will be as vastly different and unsuspected as that which dawned on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in 1963.

Just ahead. I tend to look forward to it.


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