Culture

Are we coming out of it?

Culture | Now that the 20th century is over, the Lord's Prayer tops the British charts and Norman Rockwell is back

Issue: "On Earth Peace?," Dec. 25, 1999

The lord's prayer, countercultural in Britain
The world's most controversial hit single of 1999 is a recording of the Lord's Prayer. Veteran singer Cliff Richard, 59, who has been a professing Christian since the 1960s and is a pop legend nearly everywhere but the United States, released a song called "Millennium Prayer," which is "Our Father" set to a synth-orchestral rendition of "Auld Lang Syne." The song prompted a backlash before it was even released. Mr. Richard had to switch record companies after EMI refused to release it. Critics trashed both the song and the singer, and many radio stations refused to play it-but it still hit No. 1 on the British charts at the start of December. George Michael, the bisexual pop star who recorded the immortal "I Want Your Sex," took to the airwaves, calling the song "vile" on London's Capital Radio and suggesting that people buy a re-release of John Lennon's "Imagine" instead. (The one where we're asked to imagine that there's no religion and no God, "above us only sky.") Meant as a Christmas carol, the song is heavily produced, features a colorful backup choir, and sounds a little cutsey. It tacks on additional lyrics to the biblical text, saying, ''Let all the people say Amen/ In every tribe and tongue./ Let every heart's desire be joined/ To see the kingdom come.'' Proceeds from the song go to Children's Promise, a charity. Mr. Richard's part Elvis, part Pat Boone image is helping to fuel the controversy: The rock establishment considers "niceness," moral goodness, and faith to be bad things. He launched to stardom as the UK's answer to Elvis, but never had the personal downfall of his American counterpart. Despite the secularism and lack of church attendance that plagues today's England, "The Millennium Prayer" still became a No. 1 record. A century of rock 'n' roll rebellion in pop music closes off with the Lord's Prayer. The day the '60s died
Did the 1960s end on Dec. 31, 1969? Or 25 days earlier? For some, the end of the Flower Power decade was Dec. 6, 1969, the date of the deadly Altamont concert. Intended to be a West Coast version of Woodstock, an anticipated crowd of 10,000 turned out to be 300,000 flocking to the countryside about 40 miles east of San Francisco. People came to see a monster lineup: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones. Concert promoters made the fatal mistake of hiring the Hells Angels as security, paying them with $500 worth of beer. While the Stones played, one of the motorcycle gang members attacked and stabbed 18-year-old Meredith Hunter. That was just the most sensational incident. Three others died; two were run over as they slept, and one drowned in the California Aqueduct. Meanwhile, doctors treated more than 800 people for the effects of LSD. The disastrous night was later turned into the documentary Gimme Shelter, which can be rented at any video store. For many, Altamont meant the final end of hippiedom, the dream that peace, love, brotherhood, and stringy hair could rule the world. Yet the music played at Altamont is now called "classic rock," churned out endlessly to a graying audience. The Rolling Stones are now the world's ultimate corporate band, popping up every few years to toss out another album, do another tour, and collect another fat paycheck. The clothes may have changed, but the culture of Altamont is now the culture of the American mainstream. Norman rockwell is now shocking and daring
The biggest touring modern art exhibit in the country showcases the work of Norman Rockwell. Yes, Norman Rockwell, the man who painted numerous covers for the Saturday Evening Post and Look. He died in 1978, but his legacy carries on with some of the most recognized work in American art. Rockwell's tributes to America were the opposite of Andy Warhol's sarcasm. "A lot of artists and art critics got into the field to revolt against just what Rockwell was doing," said Ann-Sargent Wooster, a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Yet for the modern art world, Rockwell's small-town images are strange and unusual. He is far more unsettling to denizens of high culture than, say, Dada or the Bauhaus. Rockwell's genius lay in painting whimsical or evocative scenes in loving detail. Today's independent filmmakers show the same scenes as vile and threatening. In an aesthetic that values shock, what is more shocking than Thanksgiving dinners, Boy Scouts, patriotism, and family values taken seriously?

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