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'BALSAMIC DREAMS' | A review Vinegar wit skewers the boomers



Published: Sun, July 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The humorist claims his peers were the first to 'sell out and insist they hadn't.'

By ROB STOUT

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

"Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer," by Joe Queenan (Henry Holt, $23.00)

Humorist and professional critic, Joe Queenan, who has established quite a reputation by skewering just about every icon, myth and mecca of American popular culture, has finally turned his seasoned, hostile wit onto his generational peers, the now much-maligned baby boomers. As usual, he's not out to make any new friends.

Cross-examination: Anyone even vaguely familiar with the exploits of this generation that Queenan has christened "the most obnoxious people in the history of the human race," will savor every page of this alternately cranky and deadly accurate cross-examination.

Queenan, 49, is in his boomer prime. His biggest beef is not that the boomers were the first generation to sell out, "but the first generation to sell out and insist they hadn't."

The root of this unforgivable transgression lies in the rabid enthusiasm boomers initially imbued in such causes as civil rights, the peace movement and feminism. "Then, oddly enough, when they grew up," Queenan notes, "they moved heaven and earth to erect complex lifestyles dedicated to shielding themselves from anything that struck them as even mildly annoying like poor people or minorities or immigrants or rap music."

Mythology: Another sin lies in the creation of a boomer mythology, audible at any dinner party. The generation takes credit for everything good that has happened to society in the last three generations ("the Beatles, the ouster of Nixon, greater racial tolerance, and the first two Allman Brothers' records") while everything bad ("John Tesh, school busing, The Gap, and Andrew Lloyd Webber") is blamed on anonymous wayfaring strangers.

In a similar merciless and forthcoming style, Queenan attempts to explain how his cohorts -- themselves the progeny of a truly confident generation of Americans who overcame the Great Depression and then went on to defeat world tyranny -- turned into such a "stupefying, self-centered, unbelievably rude group of elitists."

Downward spiral: In his search to find the one seminal moment that explains a generation's downward spiral, Queenan narrows it down to April 21, 1971, a date as cataclysmic as the fall of the Roman Empire. On this day, Carole King released her album "Tapestry" and introduced boomers to three themes that would form the fabric of their later lives: genteel lameness ("You've Got A Friend"), a collective, never-ending nostalgia for the recent past ("So Far Away") and incessant self transformation ("Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow").

The boomers remain " as convinced of their uniqueness as the Bolsheviks, as persuaded of their genius as the Victorians, and as self-absorbed as the Romantics," while they have yet to put any real points on the scoreboard of history.

That is, unless you consider "making millionaires out of Tom Clancy and Deepak Chopra" while the true talent of their generation ended up holding a sign proclaiming "will work for food."

Although such biting commentary may label Queenan just another surly misanthrope shooting fish in a barrel full of (Perrier) water, he leaves us with one clear and irrefutable point: When baby boomers grow old, there won't be anyone out there making a "Saving Private Ryan" to commemorate this generation's finest hour.




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