Maybe the times really aren't a changin'

May 24, 2001|By Abe Novick

HARD TO believe, but Bob Dylan will be 60 years old today. Although prolific ever since the 1960s, he'll always be associated with that tumultuous decade.

We as a society can't seem to get beyond that decade of rebellion, protest and war. The controversy surrounding former Sen. Bob Kerrey reminded us of that.

The title from the 1967 documentary, "Don't Look Back," featuring Bob Dylan during a 1965 British tour, seems a painfully prophetic title for Mr. Kerrey's agonizing revelations about a massacre in a Vietnamese village.

At the gates of this new century, Bob Dylan still stands with us like Orpheus, who played music like a god and looked back when he rose from the Underworld. When he did, he was met with the pain of losing his Eurydice.

It's impossible not to look back to the 1960s without seeing pain.

It's also probably why the Kerrey controversy subsided quickly. It's too painful, both for Mr. Kerrey and us.

The latest recruitment slogan for the U.S. Army must capture Mr. Kerrey's own existential state: "An Army of one." Despite his service as a decorated Navy SEAL, that's how he must have felt recently.

Collectively, we Americans are like Ahab when it comes to Vietnam, in search of the haunting inner pain that never seems to vanish. Vietnam, like Ahab's whale, is an ephemeral phantom, demonically eluding any finality -- POWs, MIAs and, most recently, Mr. Kerrey.

After an amputation, the sensation one has of the residual limb is known as phantom sensation. Ours is phantom pain. Mr. Kerrey knows that feeling all too well.

Seeing the look in Mr. Kerrey's eyes as he was asked to go back in time was like watching someone being asked to look back into hell.

We watched him from the vantage of our modern confessional box, with the ministers at CBS's "60 Minutes" standing as hosts. We were still choosing sides in a war we left behind nearly 30 years ago.

Bob Dylan's 60. Oh man, times they are a changin'. In stark contrast to their music, today's Boyz II Men are like a lullaby. And seem like, well, boys.

The stakes back then were so much higher. Boys turning to men meant something different because their choices were so much costlier. No wonder it's hard to look back.

In time, Mr. Kerrey will need to reconcile with his truth, his past, his own white whale. And for all of us, whatever the truth really is, whether Bill Clinton dodged it or Mr. Kerrey ordered it, the bottom line is that the choices we make stay with us. Obsess us.

Finding the answer, seeking finality to a decade that has done more to rip apart our country than any other in 140 years, is a tall order.

Bob Dylan's torch songs lit the light with which we still view the hellhole of Vietnam.

We'll never blow it out because the answer, my friend, is still blowin' in the wind.

Abe Novick, a child of the 1960s, is a Baltimore advertising executive.

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