When underground comix were de rigueur, Robert Crumb created a character that was depicted as walking determinedly down the street that popularized the phrase, “Keep on Trucking.” This phrase was probably influenced by “keep on keepin’ on” that was a phrase in Tangled Up In Blue by Dylan.
The phrase means to just keep on living life and putting one foot in front of the other without getting too caught up in the details. The phrase according to Crumb-lore was derived from Blind Boy Fuller song “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” In any case, the Grateful Dead released the song “Truckin‘” on the 1970 Album “American Beauty” that was certainly derived via influence from all of these.
A phrase diametrically opposed to this understanding of truckin‘ was also in common use, “Be Here Now.” This was the title of a book by Ram Dass, that was originally developed from Ram Dass’ manuscript, and illustrated by Lama. The eastern, spiritually inspired text encourages living in the moment and being aware of all that is.
It intrigues me that these two phrases both became emblematic of the attitude associated with the 1960s and 1970s counter culture without any real awareness that they advocate completely and distinctly disparate attitudes about how to happily live life.
Early and Contradictory Memes
It is not strange that complex culture contains contradictions, it is, if not strange, at least intriguing, that such contradictions are overlooked by the people who were influenced by both of these countercultural memes.
A concept that I am playing with is that these are some of the first identifiable memes for the later born boomers created by These are both versions of 1970-ish memes, slow memes, or concepts that went viral in a pre-digital world. When did ideas become memes? Even though I really do not like the man’s other ideas that are all focused on “gene” centered evolution, Richard Dawkins author of the Selfish Gene, did coin the term meme.
Memes in the Digital Age
What meme has come to mean is a bit different from what Dawkins intended. The way we use the word meme is distinct from how he used the term where meme was the smallest replicable bit of cultural meaning akin to the smallest part of a replicable hereditary trait.
The biggest difference that is easy to explain between what he originally meant and how meme is currently used, is that it now needs to be viral. It needs to disperse successfully at frenetic rate – but it does not need to be the smallest unit of meaning. It just needs to be dispersible as a unit, in this case a visual unit, in what is viewed as “the same time.”
If you are intrigued by this concept, I will talk more about slow memes in a future post.