Those were the days

Google is on a history jag. Yesterday’s Google Doodle featured Shakuntala Devi, the Human Computer. Today it’s the turn of Raymond Loewy, who designed cars, locomotives, the logos of Shell and Exxon, the Lucky Strike package and the Air Force One livery. Reading about his long life — he died in 1986 at the age of 92 — made one thing clear to me. The world is no longer as creative as it used to be.

I know this sounds strange, what with the internet, social media and new gadgets that seem to be proliferating like bunny rabbits. But look at all that happened between the advent of the King in the Fifties and the split-up of the Beatles in 1970.

Let’s start with the Wikipedia article on Raymond Loewy. The cars designed by him seem straight out of the Godfather movies.

And that reminded me of Elvis Presley and rock’n’roll.

The Corleones ruled the New York underworld (1945-1955) when Frank Sinatra was still hot but Elvis had just started recording (1953) and would soon deliver a string of No 1 hits — Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog, Love Me Tender (all in 1956).

Seven years later, the Beatles had their first No 1 hit, Please Please Me, in 1963 and four years later came the Summer of Love, in 1967, by which time the adorable moptops from Liverpool had turned into the long-haired Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In a decade, pop culture had gone from rock’n’roll to psychedelia.

And big things were happening not only on the ground. Scientists were also shooting for the stars, sending off rockets into space. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,” he said on live TV from the lunar surface, and he was right. It was an epic achievement.

Mankind was conquering space and finding new ways to prolong life too. Dr Christian Barnard performed the first human transplant in 1967. Scientists were unlocking the secrets of life. The structure of the DNA was established as a double helix by James D Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 and the first DNA sequences were obtained in the early 1970s.

By then a network already existed for US universities and research laboratories to exchange computer messages. The first message on the ARPANET was sent by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline on October 29,1969.

It’s true that did not attract much attention then because there was so much else happening in the arts, literature, pop culture and almost every other field. What did I care what the scientists were up to when there were exciting new records — and new books to read by masters like PG Wodehouse, John LeCarre and Len Deighton?

True, there’s more to read now with the internet. But look at the writers who came up then — VS Naipaul, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, John Updike, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Wolfe, John Fowles. What a bunch!

Now we have the internet and social media and a profusion of gadgets that seem to be getting smarter and better every year. So the world is not out of creative juice. But in arts and culture, I think, we have seen better days.

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