The White Album: Joan Didion on The 1960’s & 70’s,The Doors, Jaycees and music people

            Finishing Joan Didion’s collection of essays on the 1960’s and 70’s, “The White Album,” I’m reminded of why Didion is one of my, and America’s, favorite writers. Posted below are a few of my hundred-something favorite passages from her collection…

Didion on the bridge of the 1960’s and the 1970’s, California 

            “We put ‘Lay Lady Lay’ on the record player, and ‘Suzanne.’ We went down to Melrose Avenue to see the Flying Burritos. There was a jasmine vine grown over the verandah of the big house on Franklin Avenue, and in the evenings the smell of Jasmine came in through all the open doors and windows. I made a bolognaise for people who did not eat meat. I imagined that my own life was simple and sweet, and sometimes it was, but there were odd things going around town. There were rumors. There were stories. Everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of ‘sin’- this sense that it was possible to go “too far,” and that many people were doing it- was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969.” p.41

“I had, at this time, a sharp apprehension not of what it was like to be old but of what it was like to open the door to a stranger and find that the stranger did indeed have the knife.” p.47

On The Doors:

            “The Doors were different, The Doors interested me. The Doors seemed unconvinced that love was brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. The Doors’ music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation. The Doors were the Norman Mailers of the Top Forty, missionaries of apocalyptic sex. Break on through, their lyrics said, and Light my fire, and…” p.21

On the Jaycees: 

 “There was a heavy jocularity, the baroque rhetoric of another generation entirely, a kind of poignant attempt to circumnavigate social conventions that had in fact broken down in the twenties. Wives were lovely and forbearing. Getting together for drinks was having a cocktail reception. Rain was liquid sunshine and the choice of a table for dinner was an executive decision. They knew this was a brave new word and they said so.” p.94

On “Music People”:

  “Music people never wanted ordinary drinks. They wanted sake, or champagne cocktails, or tequila neat…We would have dinner at nine unless we had it at eleven-thirty…we would go down to U.S.C to see the Living Theater if the limo came at the very moment when no one had just made a drink or a cigarette…First we wanted sushi for twenty, steamed clams, vegetable vindaloo and many rum drinks with gardenias for our hair. First we wanted a table for twelve, fourteen at the most, although there might be six or more, because music people did not travel in groups of ‘one’ or ‘two.’”p.26

Joan Didion will speak at Tulane University on Monday, April 6th at McAlister Auditorium at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Jordan Braun 


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