Monday, January 02, 2023

This Year: 1969

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

I was born half-way through the last year of the Sixties; I have no independent memories of that era. Everything in my head came in later, filtered through nostalgia and common knowledge. Family lore has it that my mother could have gone to Woodstock, if not for me - she was living in Albany, New York, less than an hour from Max Yasgur's farm. She didn't; she probably wouldn't have even if she didn't have a two-month-old baby, since people often don't do the things they think they want to do, and don't consistently want the things they think they want.

My song for 1969 is You Can't Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones.

It was released as a single when I was a month old; I probably heard it dozens of times before I knew what a Rolling Stone was. It was big, it was resonant, it was a song for a moment and an era, a song that was old-fashioned enough to have a chorus of angelic schoolboys and modern enough to have those boys singing about how all desire is fruitless.

I've loved long, all-encompassing songs since then: the kind of songs that demand attention, that stretch out longer than is probably wise but hold the stage for their whole length, songs that aim big and succeed wildly. This might have been the first one like that in my life - sure, let me say that. Who could prove otherwise?

I like to focus on how little this song claims. It insists you can't get what you want. It notes that sometimes, if you try, you might get what you need. Even that isn't guaranteed. And it tells a series of quick stories, all focused on the singer (Mick Jagger, of course), all frustrating in one way or another, all a bit enigmatic and not entirely clear. Like all of life. We're all wandering down to the Chelsea Drugstore and running into Mr. Jimmys of our own.

Fifty-plus years later, during another era of frustration and upheaval and protests and law-breaking Republican Presidents and apocalyptic threats, it's still true. It's still exactly right. It's still focused on what's important: if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.

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