Funny thing is, though, that those exact statements — every single one of them — could be applied to 2007, 1997, 1987, 1977, 1967 and so on. For each era of American history, the themes, players and ultimate results usually remain the same. But, for each foot we step back, either in social or economic progress, we tend to persist with a reckless abandon for those two steps ahead. The pendulum, though it may not seem it on a daily basis, is moving in the right direction.
Lately, I’ve been finding myself in a Netflix binge of “The Twilight Zone,” an eerie 1950s/1960s TV show way ahead of its time, in terms of political and social commentary, as well as cinematic brilliance. And amid the themes of nuclear war, Russian interference and social injustice, one episode real stuck out for me. Season One, Episode 22, titled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” In it, a meteor shoots across the sky above a small Main Street USA town. Suddenly, the power goes out and it gets suggested that aliens are coming to invade. The panic, the fear and misinformation, leads to a mob mentality, murder, chaos and social unrest, when, in fact, the “monsters” turned out to be mankind itself.
Couple that episode with my conversation this week with Jorma Kaukonen, iconic guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. At 76, Kaukonen has bared witness to the better part of the last century in American ingenuity, progress, and turmoil. And yet, Kaukonen sees the bigger picture, where though the issues and climate may remain the same, he sees the change — the much needed and vital change — that will ultimately decide the fate of this planet, and all for the better, so long as we keep pushing forward, alongside each other, in hopes of the greater good…
Smoky Mountain News: Now, with having young kids, are you optimistic about the future?
Jorma Kaukonen: The answer is yes. I’m an eternal optimist. We’re going to be OK.
SMN: Nothing’s the same, everything’s the same, especially with the social issues.
JK: Yeah. Well, when I was in my late teens and early to mid-20s, it was so much more clearly defined, in my opinion, than they are today. The Civil Rights, things were literally in black and white. The Vietnam War. Things are much more multi-dimensional today. I talk to people that are much younger than myself, and they’re thinking about the environment, they think about the next election. They’re really in tune to what’s going on, and I have confidence in them.
SMN: With that said, I always have this conversation, especially when I tell people that I write a lot about 1960s rock-n-roll, and they say, “The 60s were over with Altamont.” And I say, “Well, no, think about how much social progress we’ve made. It’s not a perfect world, but we’re trying to get there …”
JK: Sure. I disagree with that. A lot of guys that write, they think, “It started with Monterey, and it ended with Altamont.” I mean, com’on, Altamont was just another festival, and there’s a lot of ways to look at it. I think it gives too much importance to any of these festivals to say “that’s what was going on.” Interestingly enough, I was just reading a bunch of stuff that people said about Woodstock, and a lot of them thought that festival was a drag in a lot of ways. I understand that [Woodstock] gave an identity to my generation back then, in a way that may or may not ever happen again. But, as a festival, none of us would ever want to work a gig like that again ever.
With that Woodstock statement, Kaukonen dialed into my exact point, that certain things in history get glorified — certain times — like Woodstock for some or the 1950s for others, where, perhaps, personal sentiments of those there first-hand may differ from what was said or written about in hindsight, and vice versa with events and eras not so in focus, or harped on when being told it’s time to “Make America Great Again.”
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
Editor’s Note: For the full interview with Jorma Kaukonen, go to YouTube and search: “Jorma Kaukonen Garret K. Woodward.” Hot Tuna will be opening for Tedeschi Trucks Band alongside The Wood Brothers on Friday, July 14, at the Red Hat Amphitheatre in Raleigh, and also Sunday, July 16, at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre.
1 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host Porch 40 (rock/jam) and Tea 4 Three at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 15.
2 Concerts on the Creek (Sylva) will host Ol’ Dirty Bathtub (Americana/bluegrass) at 7 p.m. Friday, July 14, in Bridge Park.
3 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host PMA (reggae/soul) at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 15.
4 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host Mean Mary (Americana/folk) at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 22.
5 The Nantahala Outdoor Center (Nantahala Gorge) will host Empire Strikes Brass (funk/soul) at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 15.