A tryst with destiny. Went to a steve winwood concert at Chicago theatre. Been listening to winwood since my teen for the past 45 years or so – starting from the great blindfaith album where other legends like eric Clapton, ginger baker and ric grech also performed, then the super group band traffic with jim capaldi, ron wood and dave mason. Winwood performed a lot of the traffic classics like low sparks….it was indeed a nirvanic experience. Winwood was 67, I am 63 and about 75% of the audience was above 60.
It was strange how an aging audience gathered for an aging rock star. Presently the rolling stones are touring us for the nth time I guess. Today sir mick jagger is 72+ and he is still belting out the best rock n roll live gigs. Indeed an aging society still hearing their childhood and teen idols now half a century later. Strange but true.
This has set me thinking that maybe there is something magical, exclusive, perennial, epochal during that age of the 50s and the 60s decades post world war II. For the moment sticking to good old rock n roll, more than half of the highest selling bands belong to that era: beatles, elvis, Elton john, led zeppelin, pink floyd and rolling stones. Apart from these highest selling bands, there are some iconic bands like jethro tull, bob Dylan, Manfred mann, Santana, miles davis, …the list goes on…the most seminal bands really belonged to that golden era…subsequent music had their roots in all these bands..compared to that era the past half century has hardly spawned half a dozen bands of that caliber...
The best of music equipment started in that era. The first stereos made their entry in the 60s in Kolkata. Now they say the best music is from analog vinyl records heard on stereos with transistor diodes.
Now coming to movies, there was an amazing bunching of the most seminal directors and actors during the 1940s to 60s. there are very few directors in the same class as chaplin, jean luc goddard, Ingmar bergman, Truffaut, passolini, fellini, kurosawa, satyajit ray, Alfred Hitchcock, Louis malle, Antonioni, Bunuel, hitchcock and the list is unending…their film techniques with very basic equipment was most pioneering. Their leading actors are yet to be matched in virtuoso. Its not that there aren’t great directors and actors since then. But the auteur of the celluloid of that era have not been matched even though filming techniques and digital editing have made it much easier to create movies with greater range of visuals, colours… in a sense there are probably a lot of real great cinema being created now with directors like Kieslowski, ceylan, coen brothers…..an endless list…
Next if we take up books…here the field is vast…the greatest ever could be Shakespeare, dickens, Dostoevsky…all of them pre 20th century…these three are giants…till 60s in the 20th century…some more existentialist and magic realism greats like Sartre, kafka, camus, marquez,…post 60s…few like kundera, saramago….i would say that in books too…the seminal ground broken by the existential writers is yet to be matched be later writers…
There is a need for an invariant measure of rating mechanism which can rate artists spread over several decades or centuries. Some of the parameters in the model could be:
1. No of books
2. Copies sold
3. Translated into how many languages
4. Whether taught in universities
5. Critical books on author, his books
6. Movies made from books
7. Plays made from books
8. Whether started new school of writing
9. No of authors influenced by books.
The above is a simple outline of a rating model. It will need weights and scores. This can be suitably adapted for cinema, music, etc.
Apart from the arts discussed above, we have seen that even in sports, cricket, space exploration, the records notched during the earlier era has seldom been exceeded except in incremental terms. These areas also owe their breakthrough performances during those golden years.
The one mile four minute barrier was broken only the 1950s by Roger Bannister. Since then the record has been improved by 17 seconds in 60 years. The incremental improvement been tardy. In the marathon for men, since 1964 the record has been reduced from 2:12 hrs to 2:02 hrs inspite of all the improvements in healthcare and training techniques. Breakthrough records came in long jump when bob beamon broke the record by almost 2 ft in 1968, since then there has not been much improvement. Similarly in high jump after Fosbury there has not been much progress.
In cricket, probably what don bradman showcased in 29 test matches, 52 centuries at an astronomical average of 99 runs per innings can never be surpassed. Nowadays with greater commercialization, techniques, technology…sports has become more dehumanized and lacks the spirit of human endeavour.
In space exploration US took a leap by placing a man on moon in 1969. Indeed it was an epochal event for mankind. But since then there has not been any such sheer breakthrough. Similarly in science since Einstein there has not been any greater scientist.
Since the 80s or so, we have made giant advances in technology, computers, internet, biogenetics, medical sciences, robotics, telecommunication like mobiles… in a way for most us born till 1970 or so, the earlier 50s/60s were a golden era. But for the millennials the digital era is the greatest. They are truly natural born digitalists. They will be the true inheritors of the age of singularity…