Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sixties Serenade

ROME - I returned to the Spanish Steps on a sunny morning to see if I could view the elegantly cascading stairway unimpeded following the installation of a replica Berlin Wall for 20th anniversary celebrations on the night of Nov. 9. The installation, complete with sound and light (the latter only at night) is still there, so I have not been able to get the classic view.

It looks like the celebration - well-earned and enjoyable - will go on for a while yet. This is a big deal in Europe, bigger, I suspect, than in other parts of the world. While snapping photos and wandering up and down the steps - you can still do that - the milling crowd in attendance was serenaded by recorded 1960s hits over a powerful sound system. There was the metallic whine of the young Lou Reed doing "Heroin'' (the song, that is) with the Velvet Underground, Peter Paul and Mary belting out "If I Had a Hammer,'' John Lennon in his late-Beatles phase performing his half-serious, half-satirical call-out "Come Together.''

It seemed a bit incongruous at first, this 1960s open-air concert, given that it is celebrating events that erupted in 1989. But then, I recall that the Wall went up in 1961. Moreover, a generation of political leaders in the 1980s and 1990s - think of Havel, in Prague, who loved Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention - took inspiration from the social movements of the 1960s, not least from their music, and it makes sense. Certainly, the fall of the Wall and the riptide of political change that raced through Eastern Europe signaled the ascendancy of communal capitalism and self-empowerment. There is a strong connection between those cultural and commercial changes ano the way we live now, including the triumph of global companies that embody these changes. Apple, for example. Google, for another, and the Whole Foods supermarket chain.

Besides, the songs were good and I liked hearing them. So, I settled back and listened to the music, my eyes sweeping over the rooftops for views of the Eternal City.

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