Carroll: Talkin’ about our generation
Some moved. Some settled down. Some quit the drugs and booze. Some are still at it. Some are in prison. Some are dead.
“I don’t think I’ll ever come back to Aspen. I burned too many bridges,” he told me the other day. “I had to move or I’d be dead now.”
This wasn’t an interview for a story about Aspen in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s. This was just a telephone conversation with a friend I had met in Aspen in 1997, the year I moved here.
Nightly dates with decadence — Bentley’s at the Wheeler was our venue — gave us a few more scars and gray hairs, but for the ones still standing, they were worth it.
We weren’t changing the world at the time, but some of us sure as hell thought we were. Rather, we were just altering our worlds, and for a while, it was a grand old time.
Grand as it was, no books have been written about my Aspen generation, and our lives seemed to have been chronicled only in cop blotters or obits.
Even so, a few of us, myself included, still speak fondly about those days because they shaped us in one way or another, for better or worse.
One of the favorite parts of my job is writing and reading about Aspen’s past. Aspen is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its compelling history and stories, from its Wild West silver-mining days to the late 1960s and ’70s, when Freak Power ruled the day.
Were I from any of those generations after the ’40s, there’s no doubting I would cast a frown down on today’s Aspen with a look of cynicism and grave disappointment.
And I’d probably hold the local newspapers in low regard, too. They’d no longer be the reflection of the Aspen that once stood for something proud, creative and righteous.
No, these days the papers would merely reflect the Aspen I had grown to resent: spec homes and mansions. Mom-and-pop lodges being torn down and replaced with future second and third homes. A mammoth art museum sprouting up in the middle of downtown. Paparazzi infesting the town during the holiday seasons, like German cockroaches hunting for cookie crumbs. Big-time anonymous money, rigging small-town elections. Frou-frou handbag boutiques lining the streets of downtown. Know-it-all outsiders moving in and declaring what’s best for Aspen. The erosion of a level playing field in favor of class structure — and warfare.
That’s one way to look at it, but is Aspen really that flawed? Well, yes. Absolutely yes.
Developers’ financial interests trump Aspen’s best interests. The town’s expensive as hell to live in, and there’s a swelling conglomerate of self-serving and stingy residents who’d prefer to run all of us measly serfs to Silt. Meanwhile, we throw down wads of cash to pay astronomically high salaries for CEOs of Aspen’s blue-blood nonprofits, while our suicide-prevention organization struggles to raise funds to stay afloat.
But despite all of that (and much, much more), Aspen remains a special place. And this certainly isn’t a unique opinion — just attend a government meeting or read the letters to the editor, and you’ll find that people still care and are still fighting to preserve the town’s history that’s reflected in its architecture and buildings.
But we also forget that the town’s waning identity is still reflected in its residents who have lived here for dozens of years. They have stories to tell, and there are plenty of them.
In turn, while the Times consumes gallons of ink reporting on the next big development or tear-down, we also devote some of our time to looking at the past. Every other week we run a feature titled “Their Generation,” a profile of longtime locals that tells their stories, and the Aspen Times Weekly, in collaboration with the Aspen Historical Society, has a “Legends & Legacy” page, which is dedicated to the days of yore.
But our staff is relatively young — our oldest newsroom members are in their early 50s. So we must depend and rely upon our longtime readers to tell us their stories and give us their insight about those glory days. Their stories are important to Aspen’s soul, and it’s critical that we relay them not only to the choir that wants to hear them, but to the newcomers who could use an education.
And perhaps one day, when I’m old and gray, my old friends and I can tell a young writer about our times at Bentley’s. And believe me, there are stories to be told. They just need the benefit of time before they’re actually relevant to readers other than ourselves.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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From behind the scenes, the sights and sounds of horse and cattle, and the raucous lifestyle of rodeo culture hasn’t changed all that much since the Snowmass Rodeo arena opened here in the summer of 1973.