Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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How the Left Lost Teen Spirit


Includes Goldberg’s groundbreaking book Dispatches from the Culture Wars, plus a new author introduction and additional chapters.

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Excerpt from the Introduction of How the Left Lost Teen Spirit

Last night I had a dream
That the world had turned around
And all our hopes had come to be
And the people gathered ’round
They all brought what they could bring
And nobody went without
And I learned a song to sing
The revolution starts now.

—Steve Earle

Don Imus hated the title of the original hardcover edition of this book, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and urged me to change it to the subtitle, How the Left Lost Teen Spirit. “Dispatches sounds like you’re a member of the Communist Party or something,” the talk-radio superstar grumbled.

Besides being my personal homage to Kurt Cobain, I appropriated the phrase “teen spirit” to refer to the energy that a political movement needs—not only to mobilize young people, but also to touch older people who make political decisions based on emotional and spiritual reasons rather than purely intellectual ones, and who are thus more affected by the language of popular culture than by the language of editorial pages. In the quarter-century since Ronald Reagan was elected president, Republicans and conservatives have understood such populist emotions better than Democrats and the political left.

This book is a rant in the form of a memoir. The rant is against a particular kind of liberal self-destructiveness that masquerades as pragmatism but has been, instead, one of the main causes of the decline of progressive political power despite widespread support for progressive political goals.

I have been in the music business for more than thirty years as a PR guy, a personal manager, and, for the last decade, a record-company president and owner. I have worked with rock legends such as Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, KISS, REM, Warren Zevon, and Nirvana, with pop icons such as Diana Ross and Madonna, with politically committed musicians like Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and Steve Earle, and with gangsta rappers, singer-songwriters, boy bands, heavy-metal icons, classical tenors, country divas, jazz masters, and critical darlings, as well as with counterculture icons such as Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, and Cornel West. I am fifty-four years old, a “baby boomer” and an “aging hippie.” I am also a businessman. I live in New York now, which is where I was born. But for most of the 1980s I lived in Los Angeles, and when I visit there I am still a “Hollywood liberal,” and have worked with such conservative targets as Norman Lear, Barbra Streisand, and Jane Fonda.

My wife, Rosemary Carroll, and I are parents of a girl and a boy, which, contrary to conventional wisdom, hasn¹t made us any more politically conservative. We have hosted fundraisers for, among others, liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, and Ted Kennedy, and worked with independent progressive leaders like Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader (although not in 2004!).

To some establishment Democrats, it is people like me who have screwed up the party. I was against the war in Iraq, and I met with and supported Howard Dean in the early stages of the primary campaign, thinking that he was a strong vehicle for that opposition. I have been involved with political fundraising concerts, I¹m an ACLU board member, and I¹m a friend of Michael Moore. To me, it is the conventional wisdom prevailing in Washington, D.C. that has screwed up the party.

In November 2004, many Washington pundits began reviving the term “culture wars.” Post-election polls indicated that “morality” was the number-one issue for voters. Of the 22 percent who said that issue motivated them, more than 80 percent voted for George Bush. Democratic soul-searching began in earnest and focused primarily on three areas, all of which have long intrigued me: youth, spirituality and religion, and cultural positioning.