Terra Sigillata

Just a quick note this morning as I picked up the dead-tree version of The New York Times this morning in the PharmDriveway.

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For some reason, I recognized the name of Anthony DeCurtis in the byline of this short essay on the Manson family Tate-LaBianca murders marking the demise of the 1960s counterculture movement. I posted yesterday on the speakers at the upcoming conference, U2: The Feedback and The Hype – DeCurtis is keynote speaker.

No surprise here since DeCurtis – Dr. DeCurtis, I learned below – has been a contributing editor to Rolling Stone mag and books, with many works in the NYT. From the conference website:

Anthony DeCurtis is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where his work has appeared for more than twenty-five years, and occasionally writes for The New York Times and many other publications. He is the author of In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work, as well as Rocking My Life Away: Writing About Music and Other Matters. He is also the editor of Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture, and co-editor of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll and The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd edition). His essay accompanying the Eric Clapton box set “Crossroads” won a Grammy Award in the “Best Album Notes” category, and he wrote the liner notes for U2’s recent release of the remastered live album Under a Blood Red Sky, and for the DVD release of their historic Live at Red Rocks concert. He has written about U2 since 1984, and his most recent interview with Bono was for Rolling Stone’s 40th anniversary issue. He holds a Ph.D. in American literature, and teaches in the writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Today, his NYT essay details the influence of the Manson family killings on the decline of the 1960s free love, counterculture movement. I learned therein that Manson had a rather close musical relationship with The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson (who recorded one of Manson’s songs) and was acquainted with Neil Young.

For those young’uns who don’t know, Manson and three of his followers were convicted of the grisly murder of 8½-month-pregnant actress Sharon Tate, then wife of director Roman Polanski, and houseguests Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, and Jay Sebring (Polanski was filming in London at the time; superb account from Univ of Missouri Law School here) and, on the next night, of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The 40th anniversary of these killings is next weekend (correctly the early morning hours of the 9th and 10th August 1969 but sometimes listed as 8th and 9th).

DeCurtis speaks of the tremendous convergence of events in the summer of 1969, far more weighty than the trite Bryan Adams song released in 1985:

Speaking about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, Arlo Guthrie recently asked, “How many other events from 1969 are we still talking about?” Plenty, as it turns out, and for reasons far more compelling than inexhaustible boomer nostalgia. By any measure, the last year of the ’60s was crammed with events, Woodstock among them, that have lived on as symbolic battlegrounds in the culture wars that have dominated our country’s politics since then.

Do you perceive the Apollo 11 moon landing as a triumph of cold war America’s technological might, or as the “Oh, wow” first journey to places “where no man has gone before”? Was the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick a tragic accident that ultimately and unfortunately put out of reach the presidential ambitions of an idealistic young senator from Massachusetts? Or was it the most egregious consequence of the Kennedy family’s long chronicle of recklessness and self-indulgence? Your answers to those questions most likely reflect your place on the political spectrum.

A few of our more senior colleagues such as Effect Measure blogger, revere, lived these days firsthand and could probably speak to this essay with a perspective similar to that of DeCurtis. Those of us who were toddlers then at least learned of these events through our babysitters and grade school (a friend of our babysitter was killed in a rollover car accident while returning from Woodstock). DeCurtis brings this time alive for the rest in a relatively short piece that reflects on the cultural significance of the monumental events of 40 years ago.

I’m really looking forward to meeting Dr DeCurtis in October at the U2 Conference.