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In Which Never Before Was There So Much For So Few

January 4, 1954

The following actually appeared in the first 1954 issue of Life magazine.

The morning traffic and parking problem became so critical at the Carlsbad, N. Mex. high school that school authorities in 1953 were finally forced to a solution: they set aside a special parking area for students only. In Carlsbad, as everywhere else, teenagers are not only driving new cars to school but in many cases are buying them out of their own earnings. These are the children who at birth were called "Depression babies." They have grown up to become, materially at least, America's luckiest generation.

Young people 16 to 20 are the beneficiaries of the very economic collapse that brought chaos almost a generation ago. The Depression tumbled the nation's birth rate to an all-time low in 1933, and today's teen age group is proportionately a smaller part of the total population than in more than 70 years.

Since there are fewer of them, each – in the most prosperous time in U.S. history – gets a bigger piece of the nation's economic pie than any previous generation ever got. This means they can almost have their pick of the jobs that abound.

They place in dance orchestras, and work at other jobs or go into business for themselves. To them working has a double attraction: the pay is good and, since their parents are earning more, too, they are often able to keep the money for themselves.

The teenagers here all live in Carlsbad, but the account of youth's opulent opportunities is not restricted to any one community. A young fellow like Sonny Thayer can earn $100 a week in the potash mines near Carlsbad and buy himself a pick up truck, hunting mule and all the equipment he wants to indulge his hobby as an outdoorsman. A Milwaukee high school senior like David Lenske can pick up enough money in odd jobs to buy stocks, all his own clothes and a 1946 Plymouth as well. In city after city merchants freely extend credit to teenagers.

One father, fearing that easy times may not be enough of a character builder, remarked, "They're lucky. But do they know it?" Mostly they seem to know it, even though they live with a worry they can never fully escape – the two years or more of military service for the boys and the constant talk of war that hovers over them all. A judge who handles delinquency matters voices concern over the fortunate teenagers: "I don't know if having all those cars is such a wonderful thing. Some kids make more money than their probation officers with master's degrees." But a filling station operator who hires high school boys declares simply, "They are hard working and well behaved."

Thoughtfully a Milwaukee girl remarks, "We have more independence and education than other generations have had. We are going to be able to take care of ourselves and of our world." This confidence and reasoning reflects in a generation which, having been brought up in and having worked in good and constantly improving times, will in the future expect – and work for – equally good times or better.

It is presumptuous to characterize a whole generation; yet each generation feels obliged to try it as soon as its successor heaves in sight, and the editors of Life are no exception. Our Time-Life correspondents recently made a survey of the mood and opinions of young people all over the country. That survey confirmed Steichen's hunch; this is in many respects the oldest younger generation in living memory. It is sobersided, unromantic, "mature." Since it was raised in a depression to fight one war and is now threatened by another, it could hardly be expected to be a carefree generation. But that is not the whole story.

In our survey one Texas college professor described his undergraduates thus: "They are a generation without responses - apathetic, laconic, no great loves, no profound hates and pitifully few enthusiasms. They are a wordless generation. If they have ideas they don't seem to like to rub them against other people's ideas."

"Unimaginative, yes," reported another teacher, "but they are very realistic. Security is uppermost in their minds." Millions of them seem to share the modest ambitions of a young Seattle engineer: "I'd just like to net $600 a month, and then my family would always be okay. You start earning any more than about that, and it's taxed away from you, so what the hell."

Youth's theme song seems to be, "I don't want to set the world on fire." Rather than take chances on their own, most college boys (there are of course exceptions) would rather work for a large corporation, making their way discreetly and securely up a prefabricated ladder. They seem to be most comfortable in groups and even tend to make dates by fours and sixes.

They show no strong urge either to glorify or to rebel against their surroundings. They are without public heroes or villains. They are reported to be not so wild as their parents, nor so hard working. They gripe less and hope less. They are willing homemakers and fall quickly into monogamy, more from imitation than from any moral or economic imperative. They are refreshingly free of bigotry or race prejudice; and they believe, if in anything, in democracy and the brotherhood of man. Yet they seem skeptical and incurious about the machinery and safeguards of democracy.

One co-ed says defiantly, "Who knows exactly what politics is, anyhow?" Says an Oregon college president, "They live like happy animals. I guess the Great Enlightenment of the last century has finally run its course."

A Generation of Aesthetes? appeared in a 1951 issue of Life.

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In Which This Is The Business Al Pacino Has Chosen

Brooding & Pop-Eyed


At the start of the 70s, Al Pacino had exactly one role in a major motion picture under his belt. The movie, Me, Natalie, was small, the role minuscule: in forty-six seconds, the twenty-nine-year-old actor approaches, appraises, and spurns the Natalie of the title on a dance-floor. Taking her in his arms without looking at her, Pacino is all hips and come-ons and cocksureness, too hopped up on the possibilities of the night to ask Natalie’s name, let alone sweet-talk her. "You’ve got a nice body, you know that?" he offers. When she tries to respond, he interrupts her: "Do you put out?" But she doesn't and he is off, eyes flaring, to seek his kicks among broads of broader mind.

By 1980 Pacino was among the most laurelled film actors in the land, a forty-year-old man up to his neck in his own mythology. Though he hadn't yet won an Oscar (that would come later, for his turn as a blind debauchee in The Scent of a Woman), Pacino had been nominated, already, for five.

Lesser honors abounded. The decade brought him two BAFTA awards and a Golden Globe. It also inaugurated the ever-flavorful tradition of Pacino homage. In Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta's Tony Manero, clad only in briefs and Scientological self-assurance, sashays down the stairs chanting Attica, drawing a shriek from his shrunken grandmother. (In Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik electrifies a crowd by chanting this.) Tony Manero keeps a Serpico poster on his wall.

on the set of the godfather with Francis Ford CoppolaFilm Forum spent a week revisiting Pacino’s golden decade in a retrospective called, straightforwardly, Pacino's 70s. The movies, which vary in quality from the indelibility of the Godfathers to the idle melodrama of ...And Justice for All, are vivid reminders both of Pacino's consistency and of his range.

As a rule, Pacino's roles are divided between the neurotically anxious and the neurotically cool, the nervous and the numb. Stress, however, torments them all. Like suavity for Cary Grant or bathos for Marlon Brando, stress is Pacino’s medium, the idiosyncratic element in which his characters come alive. He is a technician of the twitch, the eye-bulge, the temple-rub. He is also a technician of the blank stare. It reminds you why New York City, something like the kingdom of chronic stress, has always treated Pacino as royalty.

with gene hackman in 'Scarecrow'Michael Corleone, the frozen-hearted heir to his father’s empire, is neurotically cool. Frank Serpico also. "Well, am I invited to the wedding?" Serpico asks when the woman he has been dating, fed up with his delays, threatens to marry another man. Lionel, on the other hand, the vulnerable drifter at the center of Scarecrow, is all nerves and nervous suffering, as are Arthur Kirkland of Justice and Sonny of Dog Day. Bobby, the protagonist of The Panic in Needle Park, is a composite, as scheming as he is pathetic.

Yet these characters who begin as orderly types end by disarraying them. If the heart, for the Pacino of this era, has always gone too hard or too soft, by the end of each movie it is strangely difficult to say which. Late in The Godfather: Part II, Michael Corleone realizes that his older brother, Fredo, has betrayed him. It is New Year’s Eve, 1958 and they are in Cuba. The country is Castro-stalked, coup-poised, decadent. The Corleones are watching a troupe of exotic dancers when Michael catches Fredo, who does not know his brother overhears him, in a lie.

Standing in an amphitheater, the two actors face the same direction, Pacino above and behind John Cazale; the camera faces them. As Fredo natters on to his pals, Michael staggers. He must choose between his brother and the family business. His eyes bulge, brim moistly, then go blank. It is a scene of exquisite contrasts — the nude dancers, off-camera but reflected in the lusting eyes of the audience; Fredo, fluent in his duties as party-host, oblivious of his fatal error; and Michael, never more in love with his brother than against the backdrop of the need to bump him off. For the knowledgeable viewer, the moment is additionally fraught with the imminent failure of the Batista government. "It's my favorite moment," Pacino told an interviewer, "but it's subtle."

on the set of The Godfather Part IIConfronted, Fredo bolts. He is not gone for good. Michael may be unmerciful, but he is not impatient, and eventually he tempts Fredo home with a promise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is fleeting. When Fredo goes fishing one evening, Michael has him murdered. As the fatal gunshot dwindles to silence in the blue-black void of the Nevada twilight, we see Michael brooding, slumped in the semi-dark, enthroned and alone.

When the movie came out Newsweek called it "arguably cinema’s greatest portrait ever of the hardening of a heart." But this is imprecise. Has the trauma of life really hardened Michael’s heart, or has it broken it down, pulped it? A harder heart — a greater gangster — would have dispatched the feckless Fredo without remorse; a softer heart — a greater man — would have spared him. Which shortcoming Michael regrets in himself is the mystery of the film.

ScarecrowSomething similar happens in Scarecrow, when Lionel’s estranged wife tells him she had a miscarriage after he left her (this is not true, a lie prompted by spite brought on by abandonment). Lionel receives this information in a phone booth, his eyes widening as if to accommodate the size of the bad news. Yet Lionel's gaping look of feeling will shortly become the mask of its absence. Soon after the conversation, Lionel goes into catatonic shock, where he stays for the rest of the film. Lionel’s expression — pop-eyed, blown apart with suffering — doesn't change.

Dog Day Afternoon

In Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny involves his friend Sal in a bank robbery to finance a sex-change operation for Sonny’s gay lover, Leon. The robbery immediately goes awry and the two robbers are trapped in the bank, obliged to take its employees hostage as insurance against the police massing outside. Sal is played, again, by John Cazale. (Pacino: "All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life. He was my acting partner.") He is a sympathetic character, a nervous sweet fool hiding out behind a wafer-thin front of thuggishness. The smarter, more calculating Sonny is sympathetic in a different way. Yet Sonny is also irresolute, and as the standoff stretches on he may betray Sal to the FBI.

Sidney Lumet, the director, keeps it unclear; it is not even certain that Sonny himself knows what has happened. At the end, after Sal has been shot and Sonny arrested, Pacino’s face alternates looks of vacancy with looks of anguish. Sonny is a man of great, even spastic emotion, yet it is impossible to tell whether he is in the grip of remorse or resigned indifference.

Is an audience that reacts to tragedies of emotional confusion with confused emotions of its own also tragic? By the time John Cazale got shot, the woman beside me had nodded off. She may have been snoring; it may have been somebody else. I turned in my seat, disturbed but also restless, checking an impulse to check the time. Pacino did his brooding, pop-eyed, twitchy thing. When John Cazale got shot in Dog Day Afternoon, the woman beside me laughed. Others wept. Pacino did his thing again. Again, I turned in my seat. These are long movies.

The Godfather Part IIIt is not surprising that city-dwellers will be too stressed-out to absorb the moral of a movie, or movies, when this moral is that they are too stressed-out to absorb the moral of anything. Indeed, it is an unconscious tribute to the star of these films. At his best, Pacino embodies the inability of the way we feel to keep pace with the way we live, of the heart to bear up under the hassle of modern urban life.

with kitty winn in 'Panic' In The Panic in Needle Park, Pacino’s first major film, he plays Bobby, a raffish heroin addict who falls in love with Helen, a young artist. The two are as headlong in love as getting high, and the movie unfolds as both a scruffy romance and an ordeal of deepening addiction. (The panic of the title refers to a heroin drought.) First catching Helen’s eye in the hospital ward where she is recovering from an abortion (!), Bobby proceeds to seduce her, bed her, introduce her to heroin, and compel her into habit-sustaining prostitution. Unfathomably (and perhaps unfortunately), their love survives it all, even when Helen betrays Bobby to the fuzz and he goes to prison.

In the final scene of the movie, Helen waits for Bobby outside the prison where he has been incarcerated. Bobby is due for release, and when he emerges, cigarette in mouth, he is dumbfounded by Helen’s presence and stalks off angrily. But eventually — inexorably — he slows down, waiting for her. When Helen hesitates, Bobby snorts: "Well!"

Of course he is impatient. We, too, are impatient. The logic of the heart is beside the point when you have a city to get back to and a panic to beat, when you’re rushed and stressed. As Pacino himself has said, remembering Brecht, "People are strange, stinking animals."

James Camp is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. This is his first appearance in these pages.

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In Which We Can Feel The Horses Long Before Horses Enter the Scene

Girl Geniuses


I have to admit, it’s almost better than being with a man. It’s almost better than that.

– Patti Smith, 1975

Patti Smith describes Just Kids as “our story” – hers and Robert Mapplethorpe’s. Their first years in New York from the late 60s to the late 70s. From a flophouse in Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel to their own warehouse space. From Max’s Kansas City to CBGB. From lovers to collaborators to friends.

But it’s also “our story” - Patti and us. Patti and every woman who has felt within her a desire to create. Patti and herself. Patti Smith, defiant and sweaty and gripping the microphone, and Patricia Lee Smith, age 21:

I felt, watching Jim Morrison, that I could do that. I can’t say why I thought this. I had nothing in my experience to make me think that would ever be possible, yet I harbored that conceit. I felt both kinship and contempt for him.

And Patricia Lee Smith, age 22. She can hear her own future onstage howl. She recognizes it when she passes Grace Slick in the lobby of the Chelsea and when she makes small talk with Jimi Hendrix at the Electric Lady. It’s so close that the reverb scares her away.

When I went back upstairs I felt an inexplicable sense of kinship with these people, though I had no way to interpret my feeling of prescience. I could have never predicted that I would one day walk in their path. At that moment I was still a gangly twenty-two-year-old book clerk, struggling simultaneously with several unfinished poems.

Except that she could have predicted. She did predict.

This hits so close. The feeling of seeing ourselves and our ambition in reflected in someone great and immediately quashing it with self-denial. Saying, I could never do that. I could never be that. I’m just a 22-year-old girl.

She believes in Mapplethorpe, though. So much more than she believes in herself. She works as a bookstore clerk while he spends his days at home making collages and taking his first Polaroids. Once they scrape together enough money for a tiny room at the Chelsea Hotel, her devotion even extends to the way she navigates their personal space.

I had everything I needed but it was not big enough for two people to work. Since he used the desk, I taped a sheet of Arches sateen to my section of the wall and began a drawing of the two of us in Coney Island.

And again when they move into their own place on 23rd Street:

We talked about it a lot. I would have the smaller space in the front, and he would have the back.

So matter-of-fact: He used the desk. I would have the smaller space.

Even in those moments, when we are that gangly 22-year-old, we have flashes of clarity. We can step outside of our insecurities and see ourselves close the browser tab on an awesome job listing. We can hear ourselves say our art is just something we kinda dabble in. We can feel the lie when we say it’s not a big deal, that we’re just not good enough yet, that we’re not quite ready.

After a while I left and went back to our old room at the Chelsea. I sat there and cried, then washed my face using our little sink. It was the first and only time I felt I had sacrificed something of myself for Robert.

Of course, Mapplethorpe supports and encourages her, too. He is always pushing her to keep drawing, keep writing.

Robert came home late, sullen and a little angry that I had drinks with a strange guy. But the next morning he agreed it was inspiring that someone like Bob Neuwirth was interested in my work. “Maybe he’ll be the one to get you to sing,” he said, “but always remember who wanted you to sing first.”

Ah, but that sense of ownership! That subtle request for credit! See? he seems to be asking, see how supportive I am?

Women’s support for other women doesn’t typically come with baggage of this size and shape. This is why it’s important for us to believe in each other – I mean, really believe in each other. To tell each other to stop punishing ourselves when, after years of pursuing our passion but still calling it a hobby, we remain unconvinced of our own power and ability.

It came, I felt, too easy. Nothing had come to Robert so easily. Or for the poets I had embraced. I decided to back off. I turned down the record contract but left Scribner’s to work for Steve Paul as his girl Friday. I had more freedom and made a little more money, but Steve kept asking me why I chose to make his lunch and clean his birdcages instead of making a record. I didn’t really believe I was destined to clean the cage, but I also knew it wasn’t right to take the contract.

Even after we are onstage, the front-women, performing for the first time with a full band behind us, we think it’s a dream. We look for something else, anything else, anyone else to credit for this magical moment. The dudes who passed along our application. The boyfriend who made us dinner. Dumb luck. But rest assured, it’s us. We worked for this.

That night, as the saying goes, was a jewel in our crown. We played as one, and the pulse and pitch of the band spiraled us into another dimension. Yet with all that swirling around me, I could feel another presence as surely as the rabbit sense the hound. He was there. I suddenly understood the nature of the electric air. Bob Dylan had entered the club. This knowledge had a strange effect on me. Instead of humbled, I felt a power, perhaps his; but I also felt my own worth and the worth of my band. It seemed for me a night of initiation, where I had to become fully myself in the presence of the one I had modeled myself after.

Smith was 29 when she recorded Horses. Joan Didion was 29 when she wrote her first novel. Tina Fey was 29 when she was named head writer of SNL. bell hooks was 29 when she published her first major work. Oprah had just turned 30 when she got her first local TV talk show.

There is a reason “boy genius” rolls off the tongue more naturally than “girl genius.” By the time most of us accept the fact that we have earned this label for ourselves, we are most decidedly no longer girls.

Ann Friedman is the editor of GOOD magazine. She twitters here and blogs here. This is her first appearance in these pages.

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