I proposed to my wife at midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999 in New York City which I think was a suitably memorable and positive way the mark the start of a new decade* and millennium. We were having a party at the apartment of a friend of mine but couldn’t see the Times Square fireworks from the roof of his building as we’d planned because it had been closed by the police, as had every other rooftop in the city, because of worries about a terrorist attack. There was also anxiety that something catastrophic was going to happen when the calendar rolled over to 2000 because of the Y2K computer bug, the power was going to go off, planes fall out of the sky, and we’d all have to start using rocks for money or something, and people were stockpiling food and guns in preparation for the worst. Thankfully the evening ended without incident (unless you count me getting engaged), nothing blew up and the machines kept working, and we all stood there amazed that here we were, living in the year 2000. The 21st century! The future! And we’re not dead!
Unfortunately “we’re not dead” was about as positive as it got for the next 10 years.
The historian Arnold Toynbee famously referred to history as “just one damn thing after another” and the decade which just ended (The Noughts? The Aughts? The Zeroes? The Thank-Christ-That’s-Overs?) saw such a never-ending parade of “damn things” that I sincerely hope history takes a holiday for the next few years so we can all catch our breath. I must have been feeling fairly chirpy and optimistic at the start of it because I was stupid enough to think that the “election” of George W. Bush later in 2000 wasn’t a cause for too much long-term concern because the country seemed to be ticking over smoothly (and had a budget surplus) so he couldn’t possibly fuck things up that much, could he? Silly me, but how was I to know the stakes would soon get so much higher? Then, that sunny morning in September 2001, those planes flew into the World Trade Center and The Pentagon – images which still give me the willies — and suddenly it seemed like someone floored the accelerator and sent history careening like a drunk down some really terrible roads: more horrific terrorism in London, Madrid, Bali, Beslan and Mumbai, anthrax in the mail, two wars which are still dragging on, the “War on Terror”, torture, rendition, reality television, an entire city drowned by a hurricane, a tsunami of Biblically-deadly proportions, glaciers melting, bees dying, bird flu, swine flu, and, the icing on the cake at the end, a global financial meltdown that looked like it might suck entire economies down the plug hole with it and cause another Great Depression.
So much of what happened was like something out of a big-budget Hollywood disaster movie — Skyscrapers collapsing! Drowned cities! Killer waves! Super germs! — that films which predicted a grim dystopian future like Children of Men and The Road (and even WALL-E and Idiocracy) no longer seemed like science-fiction fantasies but were scarily believable. I know I go on a lot about how awful the 1970s were but the gloomy malaise of those years seems like a nice daytrip to the seaside compared with the paranoia and anxiety of the past 10 years which left us feeling as if we were wobbling on the edge of a cliff in a high wind and our politicians and institutions didn’t have the will or wisdom (a nice way of saying they’re too corrupt) to keep us from falling. Here in America the country just seems sort of broken and dysfunctional after a decade of neglect, mismanagement and political cynicism.
It was an eventful decade for me personally too, after getting engaged in its very first minute I got married in 2000 (also in New York, you can see the World Trade Center in our wedding video) and in the following 10 years I moved to a new city, bought my first house, my dad died, I had a kid (and – newsflash – have another one on the way) and then my mother died too. It was like the Stars on 45 version of a life with nothing but the memorable bits spliced together in quick succession over a disco beat. Obviously, with the sad exception of my parents, those were all good things and my life is better in lots of important ways than it was 10 years ago, but I would just like to look at my daughter (and my son when he arrives in May) and not worry that she’s going to grow up in a remake of Mad Max with very real special effects. That’s not too much to ask is it?
And on that cheery note, here’s a wonderful track from one of my favourite albums of the decade (produced by Mr. Richard Hawley no less), the next 10 years will be considerably brighter if she ever gets around to following it up.
Download: People Used To Dream About The Future – A Girl Called Eddy (mp3)
*I know some calendar pedant is going to point out that technically the decade started in 2001 and will end in 2010. Yes, you’re right, now bugger off.