authors index

books index




click to enlarge

Charles Hamblett & Jane Deverson
Generation X
today's generation talking about itself...
Tandem, London, 1964
price: 3/6
192 pages + 4 pages of b/w photos

click to enlarge

Alan Bestic
Turn Me On Man
the drug rave - face to face with young addicts today
Tandem, London, 1966
price: 5/-
256 pages

Before the term was appropriated by British punks in the 1970s and by America in the 1990s, Generation X was the title of one of the key texts of 1960s British sociology. Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson were a couple of journalists who decided that it might be worthwhile asking young people what they thought, and then reporting their words with a minimum of narrative gloss. It sounds like a simple idea and indeed it is, but it works damn well.

The interviews were conducted over an 18-month period from January 1963, which makes them particularly fascinating. British youth was just emerging - much to its own surprise - into the world's spotlight, dragged centre stage by The Beatles as the epitome of cool. Mods were winning the battle against rockers, sexual liberation was in the air, black culture was colliding with lower-middle-class art school style and there was a sense of optimism in popular culture, possibly for the last time (Second British Invasion and Britpop notwithstanding). On a wider front, the long winter of Tory hegemony was coming towards its end, Camelot was being gunned down in Dallas and the post-Cuban nuclear threat was still in the air. The times were - as they say - a-changing.

Although the book is largely transcripts, the authors are by no means impartial observers in the process. In the Introduction they quote a remark by Bertrand Russell: 'One should love everybody, not distinguishing between good and bad', and comment:

If this sentence bothers you, you're dead, man. If you dig it, you're on camera. For the ultimate responsibility of Generation X is to guide the human race through the final and crucial decades of this explosive century into the enlightenment of the next one. Failure to achieve this enlightenment can only result in the total extinction of mankind.

I'd like to think that I'm on camera, so I'm going to say that it's a classic book and - despite the fact that it inspired Billy Idol and Tony James - every home should have a copy. Otherwise you won't be on camera, dad,

Much less celebrated is another Tandem paperback from a couple of years later. Unlike Generation X, which the cover explains has young people 'talking about Education, Marriage, Money, Pops, Politics, Parents, Drugs, Drink, God, Sex, Class, Colour, Kinks and Living for Kicks', Turn Me On Man is exclusively about drugs. The agenda is spelt out early:

'Turn me on, man' is a death sentence, It is whispered by the addict without drugs to those who are leaving the all-night chemists, their ration of prescribed heroin in their pockets or their handbags.
It means: 'Give me some. I can't live without it.' And it is becoming the plaintive catchcry of more and more teenagers in Britain today, as serious addiction spreads.
How do these youngsters get hooked? This book charts their pathetic, tragic progress from the first purple heart, the first drag at a 'joint' of marijuana, to the moment when they realise that life means heroin - and heroin means death.

If all that sounds like a shock horror exposé, then you wouldn't be far off the mark. You're not going to find any arguments here that you haven't come across ad nauseam in the drug debate that has been continuing for the last thirty-five years or so. But Alan Bestic is a proper writer and he'd done some serious research, which means that at least the testimonies and personal experiences of various users are of value. Definitely worth a read.

Gen X
a youth club yesterday

  Bestic's best-known book, incidentally, was his collaboration with Holocaust survivor Rudolf Vrba on I Cannot Forgive, which is still read.

see also...
False Idols

non fiction