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Their hour came round at last
on 11 September 2009
A number of journalistic pieces collected under Flamingo's Sixties Classics imprint, one can see how this book made an impact in America on publication. Joan Didion is a highly respected writer and though many of the name-checks and cultural appurtenances went over my head, I enjoyed this even though I felt I was looking through the wrong end of a telescope some of the time.
Her piece about the sixties in Haight Ashbury, when the flower-power `revolution' was happening, is suitably sceptical of the times and the culture of San Francisco's hippy scene. Drug-taking, child neglect and sexism, lay just under the counter of the synthetic sixties, yet there is a sense of the freedom, or an illusion of freedom, wafting in the air. She does not write much about the music, however, which remains a severe loss to the totality of the picture painted.
The hippy article and that of the title, are the most interesting pieces in the book, which consists elsewhere of a kind of travelogue of various places where Didion has lived. The title comes from the W B Yeats poem and sets up a dark frisson which is never quite lived up to in the content.
"A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, it's hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"