Checking Out The Hotel

I just finished Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California this afternoon. Ever since I read Bob Spitz’s massive biography of the Beatles, every few months I feel a tickle to read another biography of a rock or pop musician. This book seemed to cover a lot of bases: mostly the LA scene 1967-1976.

The great sadness in reading these books is the thread of drug addiction. It’s much more than a thread, really. Something substantial enough to strangle a person dead–literally. And take out a good number of loved ones and friends in the process.

One theme struck me, though, as I was reading of the culture of pop musicians in the late 1960′s. Many of them thought they were advancing human culture through a better way of living. On that point, I don’t mean the drugs. Early in some of these massive careers, some of these musicians seemed to genuinely believe there was a better way. I think the optimism of the 60′s was authentic for many people.

There were two things dragging the LA music scene down. First was the effect the Manson murders had on the subculture. Hoskyns details the wake-up call it was for people on Manson’s fringe and those on the fringes of those folks. It was a very rude awakening to the abject evil that humanity, even a humanity seeped in 60′s good-feeling liberalism, could experience.

Then as I read into the 70′s, and the litany of addiction leading to wasted artistry, broken relationships, insanity, and death pounded away, this became a very depressing read. What people thought was a certain freedom in chemicals turned out to be not only a prison, but a descent far away from the ideals of the 60′s.

The children of these rock stars were mentioned very peripherally, but I wonder how their lives have turned out with parents distracted by fame and chemical dependency.

And yet, I thought how similar this has been to the conservative moral movements in the decades since. The moral majority reached a certain ascendancy in the 80′s, yet many religious leaders were rocked in scandals before the decade was out. That bumper sticker “the moral majority is neither” rang true for people who identified the hypocrisy that conservativism or religion was seen as a voucher for virtue. And it’s no different for the folks like Deal Hudson and any number of others we see falling and failing mightily as any kind of a beacon of moral superiority.

It strikes me as a sounder approach to shun the prospect of my group claiming a moral superiority over others. Certainly, it’s not the kind of thing to boast about. I was also reading in this book of the few musicians who checked out of the limelight and quietly faded to a devotion to family and good health. Those threads in Hoskyns’ book ended as musicians were fired for not buying into the drug scene, for not giving in to big egos, and for being replaced by other musicians more hip, more in keeping with the emerging corporate image.

It’s a good read. Very interesting, I’d admit. After about 150 pages, it had an eerie and sad sameness to it. I felt like I was reading about one big mistake being made over and over again, sort of like a cocaine hit being lived over and over again like on some twisted cover of Groundhog Day. I can only imagine it was far worse living through it.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Music, On My Bookshelf. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Checking Out The Hotel

  1. jeff says:

    Are you saying Deal Hudson was proclaiming himself as being morally superior to others on a general basis? Was he telling the world, “Ha, ha. I am so much better than you!”? I don’t believe that. He was telling the world what the Catholic Church teaches. Her teachings are plain and clear. You claim your group has no “moral superiority” over others. Well, then, why are you Catholic? If we have no Truth (and how could you separate the two ideas of moral superiority and Truth), then in fact we are no better than any other group. But the truth is, Jesus founded one church, our church, and it has stood for more than 2000 years. There is a moral high ground, and whether you think you belong there or not is up to you (I know I fall as much as anyone around me), but your “group,” i.e., the Roman Catholic Church, certainly does have the high ground.

  2. Todd says:

    jeff, thanks for posting.

    I don’t think Deal Hudson was any kind of official “voice” for the Church. He was a professor and a political consultant. He had lots of followers, including Bill Donohue. Popularity doesn’t mean he was truthful, accurate, or even right.

    As for my Church membership, it is based on faith, not the morality of its membership.

    The point of the post was a reminder that those who aspire to perfection, be they well-intentioned liberals or conservatives, are bound to fall.

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