I spent a fascinating afternoon with award winning British writer, Linda Grant, this week, discussing her timely new novel, We Had It So Good, (published January 20th 2010) about the babyboomer generation and going through photos she’d dug out for my news cameras, to help analyse how she looked back on the Age of Aquarius. You can see how we used them and that song from Hair in my Channel 4 News report today here, and the story of the people in the photos, below.
So how did the generation of peace and love, who were going to change the world, end up accused of screwing the young of today? Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (Oxford boomers, of course) appear at distance — in the lives of 4 students who meet at Oxford in the 60s and rise effortlessly in London’s media elite, to affluence. The failure of the West to avert genocide in Bosnia, and 9/11, expose their generation’s failures, and the credit crunch is looming….
While there’s been no shortage of scathing political and economic analyses of the babyboomer role in creating a Jilted Generation , including Conservative minister David Willets in The Pinch and What Did The Babyboomers Ever Do For Us? , Grant revealed a more subtle, philosophical perspective on her much maligned generation.
Only after the 9/11 attacks she says, did she realise how lucky her generation had been. As we looked at her — a babe in the arms of her parents posing in their oh-so middle aged smart suits in front of their car in Liverpool suburbia — she articulates the point that all the great legislative liberations ascribed to the 60s, are the legacy of that 30s generation who fought fascism: Legalised abortion, decriminalised homosexuality, equal pay and race equality law. That recognition is still rare.
Photos with her fantastically handsome draftdodging boyfriend in Canada in the early 70s show an equally stunning, freshfaced Grant with Bowie style face paint. There is Grant in a khaki boiler suit on a pro-choice rally with fellow feminist activists. While the interview is not about clothes, the author of The Thoughtful Dresser does of course, reveal so much about identity through what people wear. And she makes the times come alive, outside the newsreel cultural memories of those too young to be there. Among the fascinating things we talked about that didn’t make the final cut of the interview, her memory of the reek of patchouli oil everywhere, and the DIY fashion for inserting brightly patterned swatches of fabric into the seams of jeans to create your own flares.
The most fascinating photo you see in the report is the dinner party — not dissimilar to the Islington dinner parties of her fictional friends. She picks then all out: the draft dodger (another one), the feminist, the one who became a Labour MP.
And when I asked, looking at that beautiful black and white image of a wistful and ethereal teenage Linda, taken by a boyfriend, about what a 19 year old today would get out of reading the novel, Grant quite rightly lays her generation’s claim to have brought on the achievements of feminism. The drug culture, for better or worse, is there too, and most thoughtfully of all, she suggests an unexpected “toxic legacy” in the obsession with youth, of some of her generation, that has normalised the self mutilation of plastic surgery and botox.
Longer version of the interview here: