American Culture

Boomers, part 3: Beatle and other manias…

Ceci n’est pas Pink #@#@^&%$ Floyd…

Historians often argue that dates should not be the focus of history. Hell, much of the last quarter century has been dominated by intellectuals arguing that history doesn’t matter.

To understand the Boomers, however, it’s essential to focus on both history and significant dates in history. Truth is, two dates in the personal histories of Boomers matter so much as to have become mythic:

  • November 22, 1963: Boomers lose the president they most closely identify with, John F. Kennedy, to an assassin’s bullet;
  • February 9, 1964: The Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, on television (see Boomers, part 2 for discussion of  TV’s validating power) and proceed to take the generation by storm, unleashing pent up emotion and energy that will spin out of control over the next ten years and change America profoundly – for both good and ill.

Yeah, yeah, yeah….That TV appearance by The Fabs appealed to Boomers on a number of levels: 1) After the grief and sense of loss and confusion of the weeks and months following Kennedy’s assassination, The Beatles offered an opportunity to cut loose, to yell and scream and dance – and they looked cool and were smart and smart alecky (especially John Lennon, their clear leader); 2) parents seemed both dumbfounded and appalled at the lads – and much of their consternation and ire focused on a minor detail: their hair; 3) The Beatles, as very early Boomers (arguably at least) were a sort of “message from God”: The message? You could, if you had talent of some kind, control your own destiny, be your own person, be free – and you did not have to “get good grades, mind your elders, play by the rules.”

And so across America battle lines began to be drawn between The Beatles’ “little brother and sister” Boomers and their parents over who was to be the dominant influence – Mom and Dad®, the traditional font of wisdom and guidance or the “shaggy haired” smart asses from Liverpool who were cheeky to authority, played loud music, and ruled the freaking world. On their own terms. All the time.

I think we all knew who got the nod from Boomers….

The profundity of this existential choice that Boomers made cannot be underestimated. And it played itself out in shouting matches between fathers and sons over haircuts and between mothers and daughters over skirt lengths and between Boomers and every social institution for the rest of the sixties.

And the “adults” made every mistake they could. They exhausted themselves fighting  Boomers over the small stuff mentioned above and in so doing gave Boomers implicit permission to fight them on the most serious social and political issues of the time.

Including war…

Part 4 to come….

6 replies »

  1. I wonder if we’ve reached a point where the onslaught by popular culture on “family values,” or whatever you want to call the dynamic you’re talking about here, is so constant and so over-the-top that the kind of wedge you saw with The Fabs is now more or less impossible to repeat. I mean, in an age where music videos might as well be porn and actual porn is free and ubiquitous for any kid who knows how to operate a mouse with one hand, what the hell would it take to seem legitimately dangerous in a way that was somehow novel?

  2. Lex: Maybe what The Beatles did as much as anything else was START the Boomers to thinking for themselves…. That will,, I hope, become clearer in parts 4 and 5. We all need role models – that “think for yourself” thing (actually the phrase is the title of a Harrison song from RUBBER SOUL, so there we are) is usually triggered by something – in the case of Boomers, I’d argue that the “alternate life route” the Beatles’ very emergence suggested spurred many Boomers into thought….

    Sam: I will argue somewhere around part 7 that the 1980’s was the beginning of the end of anyone – band, president, ayatollah, whoever – having that “wedge” effect you mention above. If anything, that might be where Boomers failed the succeeding generation…we didn’t offer Xers the steak – just the sizzle….

    Jeff: Thanks, man. I’m trying… We’re so all over the map and we got there by such long strange trips that I doubt I can ever explain…as I quoted in part 1, “It’s like tryin’ to tell a stranger ’bout rock ‘n roll….” 🙂

  3. Did I miss the time in the Sixties when I made a conscious decision to defy any and all institutions? As I recall, I was wasted much of the time. Oh, well. I’m with Sam. Can we have a do-over? 🙂